|Novels and other books by Stephen King
Here are the novels, except for the Bachman books and the Dark Tower books, which have their very own sections. You'll also find some non-fiction work and a comic book!
"...she had crossed a line, and now the fairy tale was green with corruption and evil"
The first published novel. Rather experimentally written - as a blend of news paper articles, courtroom statements, and "normal" narrative - yet a moving story about a girl with very little in life except a talent for telekinesis. A twisted Cinderella tale set in the often cruel world of high school. Also the first King novel to be filmed.
"The town new darkness"
Basically Dracula, set in 1970's New England, with remarkably believable results. This book has what you expect from a King novel, but also some chapters that are unlike most of what I've read by him; chapters that describe the small town - as an almost sentient being - and those living there, in a wonderfully poetic way, with both distance and affection.
Writer Ben Mears returns to his childhood town, where he finds both love and horror. He is not the only newcomer, it seems. The mysterious Mr Straker and Mr Barlow have set up shop in town and also acquired the dreaded Marsten House - setting for dark deeds in the past and quite probably haunted. When people mysteriously begin disappearing and dying, Mears and a handful of others try to make a stand against an ancient evil.
What should be either corny or at best tongue-in-cheek is somehow neither, but instead truly chilling.
The memorable Father Callahan is presented here - to lie dormant until the final three books of the Dark Tower series.
"In the Overlook all things had a sort of life."
The ultimate haunted house novel, right up there with the masterpieces by Shirley Jackson and Henry James, and as psychologically complex. As much a story about a haunted man as a building, it portrays the gradual going-insane of Jack Torrance - one King's most memorable characters -in a hotel that's not as empty as it supposed to be.
"It was a face guaranteed to make barrooms arguments over batting averages turn bloody."
This face belongs to Randall Flagg, one of King's most famous incarnations of evil and corruption. He makes his first appearance in The Stand. This 1200 page novel is the favourite of many fans, and although I would personally rank at least IT and Misery higher, it sure is powerful. A true epic, turning america into a post-apocalyptic battleground for a very biblical Good and Evil. Both mystical, almost Tolkienish, and ruggedly realistic, it is still unique in the way it blends different levels of reality so seamlessly (lousy metaphor, please suggest a better one).
NOTE: The first edition was a measly 800 pages, but it was restored to its intended length in 1990.
"What a talent God has given you, Johnny."
As with Firestarter, some might dismiss it as "another King story about ordinary people, blessed or cursed with unusual powers". As before, this is an entirely different story, with some recurrent motifs. Another of his pet subjects, religious mania that serves as an instrument of truth, is also present here, if discreetly. One of King's own favorites, from what I've read. The town of Castle Rock is introduced here.
"It was a pleasure to burn" (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)
Oh, another story about a young girl with awesome powers, some might smirk. Yes, but aside from the simplest of summaries, Firestarter is vastly different from Carrie. More mobile, more complex and more of a normal thriller. One of his most mainstream books, you might say. Whereas Carrie is perhaps distancing itself from the reader somewhat in its experimental form, Firestarter takes you along on an adventure, an involving story, vividly told, with a moral dilemma as a bonus. King the storyteller.
"Free will was not a factor."
Horror in the 'real world', whatever that may be. Here the monster is a rabid dog, a kind dog that didn't want to harm anyone but made the mistake of chasing a rabbit into a bat cave. Naturalistic, pessimistic and not entertaining in the ordinary sense of the word, it's a good example of one of the things that make King great; he doesn't write what the reader wants him to, but what the story demands.
"After all, there are beasts everywhere."
A wonderful book that takes a wise, loving look at horror and its neighbouring genres, mostly from the 50's to the 80's. King sits down and has a fascinating conversation with the reader, adding interesting facts about himself and his life along with his insight in horror fiction and film. Often very funny, often very enlightening. And, best of all, he makes you want to read and watch the books and films he's talking about - the good as well as the bad ones.
"I want my cake."
A loving tribute to E. C. Comics in the form of a comic book. Stephen King stories illustrated by Berni Wrightsson, where everyone gets their just or unjust deserts with a little help from the supernatural, from the north pole or from space.
"Death was a vague idea; the Pet Sematary was real."
Perhaps the darkest story King has ever told. It is not entertainment, nor uplifting. The "problem" with King is that his characters are so real and likeable that when they get into trouble, it really hurts to read it, and here you have Trouble. If you're looking for a pleasant roller-coster ride type of fear, this is not it.
"His single-ended purpose. His unending fury."
Definitely not bad (i think King is literarily incapable of writing bad fiction), but perhaps one of King's least challenging books. The story of another high school loser, Arnie Cunningham, and a car that's his ticket out of loserdom and into something worse.
"West," Speedy said. "From this ocean to the other."
Peter Straub, another excellent writer of sometimes horror, is a longtime friend of Stephen King. In The Talisman, they collaborated on a horror-fantasy epic, sometimes writing together, writing other parts alone, imitating each other's styles and creating a book that feels as if one person had created it. Not only that, it's a captivating, strange and often beautiful story. Many have tried to guess who wrote which parts, but Straub has made it clear in his postings to alt.books.peter-straub that, with perhaps one example, they're wrong. And that's how it should be, for after all: It is the tale, not he who tells it.
King's second collaboration with Berni Wrightson. Originallt intended as an almanac, with short texts by King and drawings by Wrightson, it grew into a short novel. No masterpiece but interesting as an experiment and nice to look at. Was poorly filmed as Silver Bullet.
"Come on back and we'll see if you can remember the simplest thing of all: how it is to be children, secure in belief and thus afraid of the dark."
Probably the greatest horror novel to be written in the 20th century. A rich book in every regard. Stories within stories withing stories, and then some, but without a trace of pretentiousness. Sometimes provocative, always fascinating, absolutely wonderful.
A much needed renaissance for the alien from space as a creature of evil and corruption, rather than a cuddly saviour from the stars. Though not a fav among critics it has one of my favourite King characters, Jim Gardner. Reminiscient of The Bodysnatchers but the subtext is about nuclear power here, rather than communism.
"It was the doll's house about which Flagg had had vague misgivings so long ago which was now Peter's only real hope of escape."
Written for King's daughter Naomi - who did not like his horror stories - this is a cozy but unmistakably Kingesque fairy-tale about the sons of a mediocre king and an evil magician with the familiar name of Flagg in a kingdom called Delain. Being a kids' book of sorts it may not be King at his most ambiguous or exciting, but it is a good story well told.
"...if I write this novel for you, will you let me go when it's done." [...]
"You speak as though I were holding you prisoner, Paul."
One of King's very best. As always with King there are several things going on at once, but mainly a story about enthusiasm turned into obsession and about the process of writing. Not cutely metaesque, but a deadly serious book about books.
"And you know what happens to people who lose their happy thoughts, don't you?"
"Part two" in what could be considered a trilogy of tales about books and writing, beginning with Misery and ending with Secret Window, Secret Garden. Drawing on his own experiences with Richard Bachman, King tells the story about a writer whose pseudonym refuses to be put to death. A many-levelled taut thriller, which was filmed by George A. Romero.
"Not all the things which happen in small towns are known to the residents, no matter how sharp their eyes are or how energetically their tongues wag."
The farewell to Castle Rock, an epic tale of corruption visiting the small town in the shape of shopkeeper Leland Gaunt. Seldom has villainy been so passive, yet efficient. Gaunt himself does very little - he only turns the people against each other in an intricate plan designed to create total chaos. Very entertaining.
"An accident" she says, in a clear voice almost like a schoolteacher's, "is sometimes an unhappy woman's best friend."
Written in first person perspective in dialect, it's one of the most experimental books that King has written. More drama than horror, it revolves around events taking place during the same solar eclipse that is at the heart of Gerald's Game.
"...she didn't know if she was crying because of the possibility - finally articulated - that she actually could die here or because for the first time in at least four years she had come close to thinking about that other summer place..."
The second of the "feminist solar eclipse" novels. A bit like Misery in that the central story is confined to a very small space, while most of the "action" is taking place in the mind of the main character. Bold, often unpleasant but, of course, a good book.
"There are worse things than insomnia."
Some inspired person in the alt.books.stephen-king newsgroup said that Insomnia does for old age what IT does for childhood. I couldn't phrase it better. Except for the theme of trying to cope with old age, this long novel revolves around a pro-choice, pro-life debate gone insane and around Ralph, who is losing sleep and gaining something else. It starts off rather undramatically and smoothly and gradually works its way ever further from what we call reality, with links to The Dark Tower universe. His then pet subject - men beating women - also finds its way into Insomnia, like a preparation for Rose Madder.
"Get out of here, that deep part of her mind said suddenly. Get out of here right now."
Rose gets out, without a plan or thought, leaving a marriage turned into hell and hoping to start again. This is something of a finale to King's "feminist" theme, a story which is just as moving as it is scary. Almost "realistic", but with King the supernatural is never far away, nor is it completely absent in Rose Madder.
"Your name is John Coffey."
"Yes, sir, boss, like the drink, only not spelled the same way."
Another of Kings experiments, which of course doesn't mean that the story takes second place. Published in six parts, a month between, these books revive the time-honoured art of the serial story. The tale, taking place mostly on death row some decades ago, contains equal amounts of wonder and horror - all accentuated by the extreme setting of the tale. Now available in one volume.
"You're in my house now, the house of the wolf and the scorpion and you better not forget it."
Published along with The Regulators, Desperation tells one version of the basic story that these novels share. It's rather confusing, but in a fascinating way, and the books (imho) actually strengthen each other rather than cancel each other out. Desperation is prime King; epic, cruel and moving all at once, utterly absorbing, though there are times when you might want to look away from the horrors taking place in the Nevada Desert. The main theme is faith, and though this is often an important element of King's novels its rarely been so frankly and seriously explored. We're talking God, here, no vague concept or Star Wars Force, a biblical God who doesn't always do what you want but who makes high demands. This may put some readers off but then again, King does not just write to please you.
» The Regulators
A haunted love story, the cover calls it, and it's as good a description as any. I wouldn't know how to summarize it, other than with superlatives and hype-words, because this is - hype, hype - in my mind, one of King's finest. Not only one the scariest, it's also one of the most moving, funny, poetic and complex novels King has written. Written in first person, which in itself is unusual for King, it reminds me of Peter Straub's books, being sort of a puzzle, where you only see the whole picture as you finish it and take a step back. While you read it, it's hard to have enough distance to analyse and discover the clues, the story being - to me, at least - hypnotically involving. Only afterwards, you see the signs for what they are. Other things that make me think of Straub are the theme of dark secrets in the past and some neat details, like mentions of "blue roses" and "Underwood". No disrespect to Straub, though, but his novels seldom glow with life like, say, Bag of Bones.
Personal trivia: my cousin had the good sense to be in England at the same time as King, so now I own an actual signed copy of Bag of Bones. That's nice :)
"I can't stay out here all night, she thought. No one can expect me to stay out here all night."
A remarkably short novel for King, just above 200 pages. No links to the Dark Tower universe or his other work. Just a story about a young girl lost in the woods. This is Blair Witch horror, where half of the terror comes from the very real fact of being lost and ever more hungry and desperate and slowly going insane; the other half coming from a conviction that there's something out there. Something hostile, and terrifyingly playful. Trisha McFarland's one link to the real, civilized world is her Walkman, on which she listens to baseball games, rooting for her hero; pitcher Tom Gordon, hence the title of the book. Read it late at night.
"When someone dies you think about the past."
Five stories, of very varied length but with recurring characters and a common theme; the Vietnam war. Very few pages of story take place in the actual war, however. This book is about how it affected people, not only those who fought, but those who protested against it or applauded it in the states, and how, somehow, a entire nation was seemingly changed by it, though not a second of actual battle was fought there. Atlantis is, obviously, King's metaphor for an America that sunk into oblivion and now seems like a myth or legend, the America of the 60's. He doesn't romanticise it, but seems to feel a genuine grief over the loss of that mentality. This would be a good book to offer one of those few lingering people who still insist that King is 'just a horror writer'.
"Write a lot and read a lot."
A non-fiction book on writing fiction. Begun before the road accident in 1999 and finished afterwards, this book is a should-read for not only every King fan but people who are serious about writing and want some initiated advice. The book consists of three parts, equally interesting. First out is a brief memoir of events that shaped King as a writer and a person, from childhood memories to the beginning of his success. King, always an honest writer, tells his own story as plainly and clearly as anything else, including the less flattering parts. A collection of tips and thoughts on writing follows, and its not a bunch of vague, philosophical nonsense, either. Some very practical advice can be found here, often conveyed in a very humorous way, and best of all, it makes you want to write. King manages to infect the reader with his obvious love for the craft of telling stories. Finally (well, almost), King summarizes the events around and after the accident in 1999 that nearly killed him. A perfect ending for a book like this, as it ends with the difficult road for King back to writing. Perhaps the main point of the book is that writing is hard work (emphasizing work), but can be very rewarding.
Revisiting both Derry, the haunted town of IT, and the bodysnatcheresque Sci-fi tone of The Tommyknockers, Dreamcatcher is a rather extreme and often stomach-turning yarn about the events following the crash of a hostile alien spacecraft in New England. Most of the story is concentrated to one or two eventful days, but there are also a number of flashbacks to the main characters' past, as a small gang of boys in Derry become friends with a strange boy called Duddits. Dreamcatcher swings wildly between black comedy, horror and moving drama, all these emotions skillfully juggled by a King writing in long-hand, since sitting by a computer was too physically painful after his accident in 1999.
There are a number of memorable characters here, such as general Kurtz, the alien Mr Gray and, above all, Duddits. Many of my favourite scenes involve an alien using the body of Jonesy, one of the main characters, as a vehicle, trying to get used to both this strange planet and unpractical human flaws like emotions and hunger, as Jonesy meanwhile, trapped in a "room" inside his own brain struggles to thwart the alien and his evil schemes. I have a theory that the "memory palace" of Dr. Lecter in Thomas Harris's Hannibal inspired some of these strange and fascinating scenes.
The fact that King's second collaboration with Peter Straub is a sequel to their fantasy epic The Talisman is not immediately obvious. Nore does it have to be; Black House is a hypnotic and often gruelling read but with numerous moments of sheer magic even before we realize that Jack Sawyer, the main character in The Talisman lives in the same small town as the murderous "Fisherman".
As the story moves ever further from "realism", the links to the Dark Tower become apparent, but Black House works as a stand-alone story as well. The narrative style in the beginning of the book is almost unique, and deeply effective.
"People ignore it, mostly," she said, "the way they always ignore things they don't understand... as long as they can, anyway."
In a shed belonging to a Pennsylvania police precinct, an old Buick has been standing for some time. It's not anything as simple as haunted - like Christine, for instance. In fact, the main theme of the book may well be the frustration of not being able to solve a mystery. Curt Wilcox, and then his son Ned, try their best though - and on the way a portrait of a small police station is painted.
Sort of an anti-book in some ways and may leave some readers dissatisfied. Can't honestly say that it's one my personal favorites, although I appreciate what King is trying to do here (at least, what I think he's trying to do).
"Island living has a way of creeping into your blood, and once it gets there it's like malaria. It doesn't leave easily."
This tale, published in the Hard Case series and sporting a suitably pulp-fictiony cover which has little to do with the subject matter, might be called the kid brother of "From a Buick 8". One might also say, without stooping to spoilery, that if you liked the latter you'll likely to like this one - and vice versa, of course.
The nature of mystery is once more what King sets out to explore, for reasons he puts very well in the afterword. Two aged reporters on a Maine island tell their young, female apprentice-of-sorts about one "story" (insisting all the way that is in fact not an actual story) where the loose ends never really got tied up. A dead man found near a garbage can, a pack of cigarettes, cause of death seemingly not a crime.
Being a King tale, it's not surprising that it also works as a written commercial on the beauty of New England and the quirky charm of the people there. An easy-to-read trifle that manages to be both frustrating and strangely fufilling.
Cell is dedicated to, and echoes the works of, filmmaker George A. Romero and writer Richard Matheson, but it is also very much a "typical" King book - more so, some might argue, than his most recent other publications. Cellphones bring about an apocalypse perhaps more reminiscent of King's short story "The End of the Whole Mess" than "The Stand". What seems at first to be mere bloodthirsty madness in the afflicted turns out to be of a more "ambitious" nature. Illustrator Clay tries to find his son in a world gone mad and finds new friends along the way - enabling King to expound on themes like communication and the parallels between the human brain and a computer.
This is an extraordinarily bleak tale, swinging between stubborn hopelessness and a more alarming sort of terror, but not entirely without it's brighter moments. They pale, however, beside all the carnage that - presented with King's usual, inflinching eye - becomes just as tragic as it is gory.
As for similarities between "Cell" and his or others' tales: as long as King makes all his characters alive and real, the story will always be a new one. Simple as that.
"I'll holler you home"
Almost halfway through, Lisey's Story is still "just" a book about two married people parted by death. Lisey Landon is tending to her mentally ill sister and going through her late writer husband's things when she gets an unwelcome visit from a "fan". No, it's not Misery revisited. Intimate and daringly slow-moving it seems to be what some critics surely have rushed to dub "King's serious book". It is, to be sure, one of King's many serious novels, but not as realistic as one might be lulled into thinking, if that is to be regarded as an intrinsic part of gravity.
The descent into bloody madness comes late but suddenly, merely hinted at throughout the first half of the book. King pulls no punches here, as he describes a family haunted by the seemingly inevitable fate of insanity (which comes in two flavours, different but equally frightening), nor does he remain in the world of established fact (who would have guessed?).
It's also to a certain extent about the secret language of relationships and the penchant of writers for collecting words and phrases that ring true or perhaps just interesting to them - summed up in a phrase which King himself might well have caught in i similar fashion: "Catches from the word pool".
As challenging as "Gerald's Game" but more sympathetic, could be one description. Echoes of "Rose Madder" can also be heard. It also begs the question: has King ever written about a happy writer?
I must confess that I found one particular part of this moving story tough to stomach. No, I won't say which one - it may be your absolute favourite section and there's no use in spoiling that for you. Now that I've got that off my chest, I can safely express my admiration for the rest of it.
Lisey's Story, which incidentally revisits his fictional town of Castle Rock, is pure King. If anyone should have the poor sense to hail this as a step in an entirely new direction and a higher echelon of seriousness, just ignore them, they've obviously just been skimming through his previous books. But perhaps this is even more personal and sad than usual. Some scenes make for truly gruelling reading, but the tenderness in the story - sometimes present even in the midst of violence and madness - makes it a deeply rewarding read.
"I can do this"
Edgar Freemantle finds the artist within him after losing an arm in an accident and moving to Florida as a means of trying to get his life back together. Or at least to make it bearable. Memory problems, rage, divorce, he doesn't have much going for him until that sunset across the gulf - and what might be a ship - captures him. And he captures it, among other things, on the canvasses he fills with dark and wonderful paintings.
New friends, the memorable Wireman and the old, rich and demented woman he takes care of, add to the joys of his new life. What must be hauntings, and the growing feeling that his art is growing a life of its own, add to the horrors.
Yup, it's another King story that gradually spirals into ever more frightening and supernatural territory and topped off with an unabashedly dramatic climax with imagery seemingly far removed from the down-to-earth tone of the beginning, but not before we've been forced to care deeply for the characters. And not before we are treated to, among numerous other great scenes, a depiction of nervousness that is an absolute gem, as Freemantle gets ready to address a crowd of art lovers. The mood is exquisite, with an almost audible soundtrack of waves across the seashells beneath the house. The recurring "How to Draw a Picture" chapters, which initially seem independent but gradually intertwine with the main story, are one of many other causes for kudos.
In tone not unlike "Bag of Bones", near the end reminiscent of "Black House" and containing themes from the last Dark Tower novels, "Duma Key" is still very much its own story. Partly because the setting. Partly because... well, with King each story is its own, isn't it? That's why we remain Constant Readers.
"We all support the team"
One day an invisible barrier appears around the small town of Chester's Mill. It's not a "dome" precisely, to be nitpicky about it, but the effect is rougly that of a huge glass bowl - or rather, town-shaped tube - descended from out of nowhere. Those caught on the inside may soon be the talk of the world, but they are also completely isolated from it. With dizzying speed, things spin out of control as the second selectman and de facto ruler of the town eagerly grasps for this chance of total control. Some people oppose him.
It's tempting – irresistably so, almost – to read Under the Dome as an allegory of our times, right down to specific environmental issues and how certain characters seem to echo the traits of certain politicans of (probably lasting) ill repute. Even more importantly, however, I think it is about random, wanton cruelty. It's deeply pessimistic, a downward spiral that at times seems intent on burrowing straight down into utter despair. It's also entertaining, if that is the word, in its multitude of memorable characters, hectic pace and abundance of dramatic situations. Whether it's a masterpiece, I have yet to decide for myself, but it's King at his peak – demanding your attention and alternately punishing and rewarding you for getting on this journey.