Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Since the mid-1970’s, Stephen King has ranked among the most popular of American authors. Many academic and literary critics likewise rank him among the country’s best writers. His readership reaches into the tens of millions, and he has fed its appetites with new books (as well as their film versions, articles, and written conversations) almost every year. His canon ranges far more widely than can be inferred from The Dark Half, encompassing science fiction, elements of legends, myths, tragedy, the political and historical, and every imaginable aspect of the gothic, macabre, and horror genres. His capacity to mine and recast materials from all these areas attests an assiduously acquired mastery as well as to his unique perceptiveness and immense enthusiasm for his work. His genius for fascinating and drawing in his readers is palpable. A self-described “guru of the ordinary,” he beguiles with replications of commonplace dialogue, feelings, sights, and experiences, the better to stretch imaginations, to shock, or to horrify.

Critics note that The Dark Half, with its play upon pseudonymous authors—King and his earlier pseudonymous self, Richard Bachman, whose “death” King cites in the author’s note, and Beaumont and George Stark—represents the liberation (and improvement) of King’s writing. As Bachman, King struggled to get things out of his system, wrestled with himself, and experimented. Creatively, Bachman may have made King possible, and in that sense The Dark Half may be interpreted as autobiographical. Perhaps King’s anxieties make possible his rapport with an anxiety-ridden American culture that nurtures self-destruction.