With screen adaptations of his books popping up with dependable regularity, Stephen King has become a constant presence in popular culture. King is a prolific writer, and finding the best entry point to his expansive works of fiction can be a daunting task, so we’ve selected seven of our favourite King books to get you started.
1. It – 1986
Okay, so if you’ve never quite understood why some adults still nurse a paralysing fear of clowns, there’s a good chance they’ve read It. Set, like many King books, in a small town, this one follows a group of bullied misfits who have all come into contact with the horrifying, shapeshifting being they dub “It”. It most often assumes the form of Pennywise the Clown – hence the many, many people who still won’t go with you to the circus.
2. Carrie – 1974
Carrie was King’s first published work, and was written as a way of defying an acquaintance who told him he could never write about women (Twilight Zone Magazine v1 n.1). With the help of his wife, Tabitha (to whom the book is dedicated), who offered to help him with the female perspective. Over 40 years later, and Carrie White is one of the iconic protagonists in literature – a teenage girl bullied by her classmates and her mother, who discovers she has telekinetic powers, and uses them to rain destruction down upon her town.
3. The Shining – 1977
This horror classic is perhaps defined by images you know from the 1980 feature film adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick. Even those of us who have never seen it undoubtedly recognise flashes of Jack Nicholson, his face peering through a partially smashed door, or a pair of twin girls standing in a long hotel corridor. For anyone who hasn’t seen the film (which King reportedly dislikes), The Shining follows Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic, who takes a job and residence at a hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His son, possessed of psychic abilities, is able to interact with the horrific past of the hotel – revealing forces that eventually begin to drive Jack insane.
4. Misery – 1987
Inspired in part by his own fans’ reaction to the publication of a fantasy novel almost devoid of horror elements, Misery’s protagonist, Paul Sheldon, is a writer famous for writing romance novels about the character of Misery Chastain. After Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, rescues him from a car accident and brings him home to care for him, she discovers who he is and what he has done to her favourite character, and holds him captive while forcing him to write a different fate for Misery. It’s violent and disturbing and will make you understand why so many celebrities don’t interact more with their fans.
5. The Green Mile – 1996
Initially published as a serial in six parts, The Green Mile follows Paul Edgecombe, a death row supervisor who meets John Coffey – an inmate with remarkable healing powers and empathetic abilities. Edgecombe tells the story of his time on “The Green Mile” – the name for death row at his prison, given because of the colour of its floor – and, well, let’s not spoil the rest.
6. The Stand – 1978
After a potent strain of influenza is accidentally released into the atmosphere, 99.4 per cent of the world’s population is killed (this is why you always get your flu shot). Envisioned as an epic on the scale of The Lord of the Rings, The Standfollows a number of protagonists as what remains of humanity fights for survival.
7. The Dark Tower Series – 1982
King’s self-described “magnum opus”, The Dark Tower is a series of novels that follow a “gunslinger” who is journeying towards a dark tower. Our protagonist is the last remaining member of an order of knights, and the last line of “Arthur Eld”, analogous with our own King Arthur. It’s difficult to succinctly describe the books without spoiling reveals that come when King wants them to, but suffice to say that this dark, sweeping fantasy saga is well worth your time.
Which is your favourite Stephen King book? Let us know in the comments.
This article was written in partnership with Over60.