I’ve been thinking much as of late about making other top-ten lists, and what better place to start than with my top ten Stephen King books by the man I consider to be “King” not only in name, but also the king of his genre.
In an earlier post, I told of Night Shift, my first ever Stephen King read. And though I do hold it to my heart in a nostalgic way, it being my introduction to this great author, it doesn’t make the list. Not because it wasn’t good but because it was King at his earliest; he had yet to develop the depth he would later go on to to craft stupendous tales. This books contained short stories he wrote, trying to survive with a new family, most written for those rag men’s magazine that once graced magazine racks. At that, once he became a known entity, at least a couple of these stories were made into movies. Of all of them, though, what I consider to be the best of the lot was on called Springhill Jack. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a horror story but a murder mystery about a serial killer which had an eerie O’Henry-like ending.
As for putting my list in order of preference, there ain’t no way. In one way or another, I could call all of them my #1 favorite.
1) The Dark Tower Series
An eight-volume journey he began in 1970, first volume published in 1982 completing it in 2004. He originally got the idea for it while in college after seeing one of Sergio Leone “Spaghetti Westerns”, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It also contains elements of The Lord of the Rings and Arthurian Legend. The main character, Roland Deschain, known as the “gunslinger”, was inspired by Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name”, whom he portrayed in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Originally a seven-volume series, an eighth work was written which is considered to be volume four and a half in the chronology of the story. In essence, this is truly King’s magnum opus. And if you ever so choose to wade through these tomes, the final sentence in Volume 7 will absolutely blow your mind.
2) The Stand
An apocalyptic novel about a super-flu epidemic that killed 99% of the Earth’s population, focusing on the survivors in America who come together in two groups, one good, one evil, and the paths they traveled to a final confrontation. This one was made into a 1994 mini-series which was pretty good, but in no way could it capture the entire story. A new film version is now in the works and most likely will be a continuing series so as to deliver the whole scope of the tale. Originally published in 1978, a complete and uncut version was released in 1990, restoring some 400 pages which had been cut for brevity and financial purposes, making it an even more powerful story.
A truly powerful horror story about seven kids who face an evil being who had been haunting their city since its colonial beginnings, rising up roughly every quarter of a century to kill children in a serial way. King’s description of this group, who considered themselves a “Losers Club”, goes to the heart of what it’s like to be one of those considered to be a nerd or of lower class and deal with bullies, and parents who don’t understand, or have forgotten, what it’s like to be a kid.
4) Different Seasons
A compilation of four novellas, three of which were later made into movies, the two best movies being The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me.
5) The Green Mile
Originally published as a serial, it was later put together in book form. An astounding story about an innocent black man on death row who had a powerful gift of healing, later made into a movie starring Tom Hanks and the late Michael Clarke Duncan in his break-out role.
6) The Dead Zone
A man awakes after being in a coma for five years to discover he has a strange psychic power that allows him to touch someone or something and see visions of the past or the future. Another book that isn’t based on horror but on metaphysical aspects. This turned into another movie based on a King book, with great performances by Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen.
About a young college couple who are involved in a government experiment and given a drug that gives them unusual powers. They later marry and have a child, passing on the genetic effects of what happened to them to their daughter, but her power is pyrokinesis, the ability to just think and start fires. Another great movie came from this work, starring David Keith, Drew Barrymore, George C. Scott and Martin Sheen. Another non-horror story, jumping into the realm of science fiction.
8) Hearts in Atlantis
Made up of two novellas and three short stories, occurring in chronological order, telling stories of members of the baby boom generation in the ’60’s and their failure to do great deeds, with many references to Vietnam. Another interesting movie came from this book, starring Anthony Hopkins, though it didn’t capture the essence of the book.
9) Salem’s Lot
Pure horror and vampires galore, later made into a TV movie/mini-series with David Soul and James Mason.
An infamous date most older American’s will recognize, the day President Kennedy was assassinated. In this powerful novel, a King character, prodded by a dying friend who has found a way into the past, goes back to the late 50’s with the mission to prevent Oswald from committing his deadly act, reminding me of Dr. Sam Beckett in the Quantum Leap series where he leaped through time, trying to make right what once went wrong. In this instance, though, it’s a matter of be careful what you wish for, it might come true.
The great thing about King is that he has such a way of weaving a tale, giving you characters you come to love as if they are real and you actually know them. In reading any number of his books, you’ll find characters and references to other stories permeating his entire collection of work, showing up in different times and places and novels. Another interesting thing is the fictional town of Derry, Maine, which is constantly showing up, a place that is not of the ordinary when it comes to being a place you’d like to live.
And there are many other King books I have a great love of but these are at the top of my list. He’s also published many fantastic collections of short stories, many which have been used as basis for movies. I know that many people aren’t into reading horror, but not all his books are of that genre. Hopefully I’ve perked the interest of some to look into reading some of these, without having been a spoiler. As for those of you who are familiar with King and his work and have a love of it, I’d be interested in hearing your comments and about your favorite King novel. As for me, I’ve almost finished reading It for about the tenth time. Yeah, I’m a glutton, but when you love something, it never gets old. Happy reading, y’all!