Stephen King is known for his masterful fusion of horror genre tropes with non-horror themes. Such was the case for It, a refreshing work of sentimental horror that witnesses friendship triumph over monstrosity. It’s this playfulness with the horror genre that makes readers look forward to every King book. It has also inspired other thriller writers like Amy Grech who has been reading King ever since getting a copy of Cujo from her aunt.
The prolific horror writer has already published more than 70 works, and if you don’t know where to start, this list rounds up some of the best Stephen King books of all time.
Thriller fans will rejoice in the familiar horror tropes in this one. The Shining is your classic ‘haunted house’ horror tale that follows the Torrance family and their tragic stay at the isolated Overlook Hotel. What was supposed to be a fresh start for the family, or at least for the alcoholic father and aspiring writer Jack Torrance, was immediately thwarted by the hotel’s malevolent spirits. Attracted to his psychic son’s gift (the shining), the spirits use Jack and his poor mental state to hurt his son and wife.
Sure, you have probably read tons of haunted house stories already. But The Shining is more than that just your average horror story. Through the dynamic and characterization of Jack and his son Danny, readers can look forward to the psychological and family drama alongside The Shining’s rather disturbing narrative.
If It Bleeds
For those with a wide range of tastes in horror and thrillers, it’s worth taking a look at If It Bleeds as your entry to Stephen King’s back catalog. In this anthology, King turns to a favorite format: the novella. The title piece follows the detective Holly Gibney as she investigates the strange reporter who was first to arrive on the scene of the middle school bombing.
If It Bleeds possesses King’s signature blend of horror and detective drama, so those who have not read the prequel The Outsider will still enjoy the story as a standalone book. It proves just how much King gets creative with horror by combining it with other genres. For example, the story of Mr. Harrigan’s Phone ventures into techno-horror while the melodramatic The Life of Chuck is a quiet, bittersweet tale hinged on existential dread. The last one, the Rat, has King’s typical protagonist—an aspiring writer who descends into madness while isolated in the woods.
The first ever Stephen King writer protagonist is Ben Mears from Salem’s Lot—his modern take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But unlike The Shining and If It Bleeds, the writer’s protagonist doesn’t turn mad in this one. Instead, he comes back to his hometown only to find its townsfolk turning into vampires. Salem’s Lot is a modern vampire story without the complex themes in King’s later works—which only makes the thriller a simple pleasure to read. Even though the plot is all-too-familiar, the creepy bloodsucking predators and King’s suspenseful writing make up for it.
What happens when there are no more rules? Stephen King imagines the answer to this with his post-apocalyptic work, The Stand—his longest with 1,000 pages. The story begins after a super virus called Captain Trips kills 99.4% of the people on Earth, resulting in the collapse of society. With no rules to hold people accountable, the remaining population is left to their own, divided between good and evil. The post-apocalyptic premise of The Stand may appease more fantasy and action fans. But this odyssey of a book may just as well be horror with its disturbing notion of how easily human life and civilization can crumble.
No book by Stephen King is ever the same. With the breadth of horror genre texts, he has put out there, picking up one will surely be only the beginning.