For Stephen King Fans: A Question about Misery!

Although this blog is titled "Votaries of Horror," I am not actually a big fan of horror (and I can't write it--I've tried!). I am also not a huge Stephen King fan although I recommend his book On Writing as the best book on writing I've read.

And I do admire his work, AND I have seen the man in person plus his house (thanks, Mike!). So, when I needed to come up with contemporary examples of captivity narratives, I thought of Misery.

I didn't really want to read the book (see above), but I got out several books on King, including detailed synopses of Misery, analyses of Misery, and yes, I did actually skim through Misery itself, closely reading the last pages.

I knew the overall plot, of course (mostly from spoofs), but I hadn't realized until I read the detailed synopses and the end of the book what exactly King had done with the idea, and I was impressed. (And yes, Misery is a good example of the captivity narrative.)

Then I read some of the analyses. One essay I read is actually more about King's films than about his books, but in the analyses, the author (preparatory to making a refutation) brings up a feminist critique of King in which, well, I have to quote it since there's no way I will do it justice otherwise: "In Misery, creativity is solely a masculine prerogative, for the artist is male, and both the reader and the character/antagonist--made one in Paul Sheldon's vicious and dangerous fan Annie Wilkes--are female . . ."

I was completely flummoxed. I thought, "Did the feminist who wrote this even READ the book?"

Well, I didn't read the book, so I have to ask Stephen King fans:

Isn't Annie Wilkes a kind of muse for Sheldon? Far from being a stereotypical non-creative female reader/character/antagonist, isn't she, to a degree, the source of his creativity? (I'm talking about what King actually does with her, not what Annie or Sheldon say--remember, literature students, the narrator does not always tell the truth.) She demands excellence from him (she wants him to keep writing about her favorite character but won't let him do it in a token, off-the-cuff kind of way). Doesn't that make her some kind of sociopathic/psychopathic Calliope (muse of epic poetry)? Doesn't Sheldon thank her ghost at the end for making him a better writer? Doesn't that make her the source of his creativity? Isn't King writing about the writing process, as hard and demanding, in a way that involves both Sheldon and Wilkes? Doesn't that kind of undermine the feminist critique I quoted above?

After reading that critique, I could see why King might have a problem with higher academic intellectualism.

Now, to be fair, feminism is a very broad ideology, if it's even fair to call it that ("broad umbrella"?). There're many different forms. And I actually think of myself as a feminist these days (once I realized there were many different forms, not just 80s-NOW-political feminism). But there's a particular form that usually appears in academe that is so dumb it makes your head ache. It's so dumb, female scholars in women's studies programs will often feel called upon to write about how dumb it is at the risk of being labeled "traitors" to their programs.

It's the "I've decided life is unfair, patriarchal, and misogynistic--so that's all I will see. No matter what!!"

I took a class in which the professor, who was otherwise a well-read, intelligent sort of person, went on about the Statue of Liberty being ironic because it is a "silent" woman which is symbolic of women not having rights in the America's history.

Uhhh, okay. That makes sense . . . if one's brain stops working, and one knows nothing about women's history. Suppose the statue had been built with her mouth open: wouldn't that make the statue a symbol of the "gossip," a stereotyped image of women who chatter incessantly about nothing? And suppose it was a man instead of a woman? That symbolism isn't too hard to figure, so I won't bother. Suppose it was a man in drag--wait, it kind of looks like a man in drag. And that means . . .

Not an argument one can possibly win--one way or the other. (We have a statue of a Woman of Victory here in Portland. It was built to represent the North winning the Civil War. The woman holds a sword but is wearing some off-the-shoulder Greek-type outfit. Maybe . . . she's a dominatrix? The statue is symbolic of . . . porn? Personally, I think it's kind of cool she's not a guy, whatever she symbolizes. In London, you can't walk through the meridian of a round-about without stumbling over a statue of a guy on a horse. And all the statues seem to be from the Crimean War era.)

In any case, if I'm right about Misery, I'd be happy to hear! You can let me know if I'm wrong too though I warn you, I have a hard time taking "there must be symbols in here about women being marginalized because the writer is male!" explanations seriously.


Mike C said...

The Thing I've realized about Stephen King is that he always... ALWAYS, writes about himself in some way.
Annie might symbolize how his fans demand more and more writing, and how hard it is to create something of worth when the fans are clamoring for ANYTHING. And so they drive him to create, and being happy with the process of creation is grateful for the pressure that the fans exerted.

The Again, Annie might be a interpretation of his wife, who uses tough love sometimes (which he readily admits) to get his fat butt off the couch and on the typewriter.

Then Again, it may have just been an idea that he ran with without caring about the implications, which is something else King Does. While he does have at least two Books worth meeting with some sort of an actual message (The Long Walk, Cell), many are merely an exploration of a thought, or am idea. Maybe he knows a couple woman who are fierce fans, and decided to carry that stereotype to the eventual conclusion.

a calvinist preacher... said...

I saw this, and just had to laugh...

"feminism is a very broad ideology"

Whether intended or not, it's funny. :-)

Kate Woodbury said...

If I were a less honest person, I would sit back, smirk, and take the credit.

It wasn't deliberate, but I wish it had been!

Cari Hislop said...

When I was in my early teens I tried writing a horror short story. It freaked me out so bad I threw it away and never tried that again.

All writers write about themselves.
Some writers may be better at hiding it than others, but the creation can never be seperated from the creator.

One of my Social Study professors at college one day told us that she wasn't a feminist, that she was an equalisist and I like that. Feminists these days may cover a broad spectrum, but to me the word "feminist" is divisive; it brings to mind a "them or us" scenario as if it's a the ring tonight we have, "men vs women".

As for the Statue of you probably know she was made in France. The French have a long history of depicting "Liberty" as a woman. It would not have occured to the artist to make a statue of liberty that was a man. The lady does look rather mannish however, but I suspect we can blame the committe who commissioned the piece...they probably wanted it to look "classical" ie Grecian or something suitably old and all those Grecian female statues look suspiciously manly! But then so do Michelangelo's women...they all look like men with two weird blobs on their chests.