Wednesday I was listening to an interesting show on Chicago Public Radio’s “Odyssey.” It’s a good program, and this episode, on “The Ghost in American Culture” (audio available here), featured interviews with Renee Bergland (Associate Professor of English at Simmons College) and Jeffrey Weinstock (Assistant Professor of Language and Literature, Central Michigan University). They both had some interesting things to say, and Weinstock in particular made some good points about the ideological work ghosts do in American literature, historically and in the present (I’d like to take a look at Spectral America: Phantoms and the American Imagination, which he edited).

But at one point in the conversation, Renee Bergland referred to the “Indian burial ground” theme (asking, “I have a house for sale, but it’s on an Indian burial ground. Are you interested in buying?”). It’s a very common theme, I don’t dispute that at all, but she went on to say that this was a device which Stephen King had used many times. I think she said “specializing.”

That claim is just not right. Stephen King has almost never used the Indian burial ground…in fact, the only time I can think of is in the (relatively minor and unsuccessful) Pet Sematary–and that’s not even a use of the theme in the way that Bergland meant.

It’s fine (and a good idea) for academics to connect their study of “canonical” literature to popular culture–I do it all the time. But if we can’t get it right–if we haven’t at least read Stephen King well enough, and respectfully enough, to make the connections accurate, then we’re really better off sticking with Hawthorne and Henry James.