Stephen King has been instrumental in taking hold of millions of readers' imaginations and making them fans for life. This prolific writer has a way of showing us how people band together to fight adversity and evil, time and again, and that hope is not lost, even in the darkest hour. Let’s take a look at 19 of the best Stephen King books that you must read.
The Dark Tower is Stephen King’s magnum opus.
Started in 1982 and concluded in 2004, the series spans worlds and acts as a central point that connects many of the Stephen King universe's characters and events.
The incredible journey of hope, loss, and courage in the face of darkness and evil draws inspiration from this poem by Robert Browning:
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came
This epic introduction to the Dark Tower saga makes The Gunslinger one of the best Stephen King books to read.
We start our journey with a dramatic, mysterious line:
“The man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”
Poised at the precipice of a vast, epic adventure, we are introduced to the last Gunslinger in Mid-World, a world not unlike ours set in a dusty, Wild-West landscape. The difference is that technology, magic, and robots are not alien here. They are old relics of a dying world. This is a world that has ‘moved on.’ Shielding the world from destruction is the Gunslinger, Roland, also referred to as a ‘Knight of Eld,’ bringing to memory the Arthurian legend of the knights of Camelot. Roland has lost much as he trudges through the endless desert after the Man in the Black, a mysterious, evil figure that currently holds the key to Roland’s quest. On his journey, he befriends Jake Chambers, a young boy from the ’70s, and an embodiment of the Gunslinger's spirit.
Roland has just finished a long palaver (informal meeting) with Walter, the Man in Black. Disoriented, he wakes up on a beach, in an outnumbered fight with terrible, crablike creatures called lobstrosities. Fortunately, he escapes through a door labeled ‘The Prisoner.’ He reaches out to Eddie Dean, currently on a plane to New York in the 1980s, and saves him from a potentially dangerous situation by whisking him off to the beach with the lobstrosities. He and Eddie fight them off before jumping into1964 and meet the third member of their ka-tet (a group summoned by the supreme will of Gan, the creator), Odetta Holmes. Traumatized by personal tragedy, she harbors a secret dark, seething personality, Detta Walker, that lurks under a calm and pleasant exterior.
The book examines the purpose of the tower and the history of the various beams (paths). At this point, Roland, Eddie, and Susannah (Odetta’s third personality) have found the Path of the Beam. Jake is trapped in another world and waiting to join his ka-tet. This happens soon, but not before they reach Lud, a society gone mad. Oy, a billy-bumbler (a raccoon-like canine creature), joins them and attaches himself to Jake. Finally, Roland and his completed ka-tet find themselves captive on a sentient, but appropriately insane train, Blaine “the Pain” the Mono, in a deadly riddling contest.
As the riddling contest on Blaine the Mono continues, we are given an insight into Roland’s childhood and youth, his old ka-tet, his lost love, and the events that turned him into the Gunslinger that he is, and what put him on the journey to the Dark Tower. It is his first clash with the Man and Black.
This book is a bridge between Dark Tower IV and Dark Tower V, a cozy tale that Roland shares with his companions as they take refuge from a fierce storm. This tale gives more of an insight into Roland’s character and more background into the world he lived in and his relationship with his mother.
This book picks up where the Wizard and Glass left off. As Roland and his ka-tet proceed on their way to the Dark Tower, they are drawn to Calla Bryn Sturgis, where the beleaguered townspeople plead with the gunslingers to help rid them of the problem of the wolves, who periodically kidnap a twin from each family, and ruin them. Father Callahan, an exiled priest from Salem’s lot in the original world, appears. He encounters the Walking Dude (Roland’s Man in Black). Susannah, her body, now shared with Mia (a creature of the nothingness between worlds that serves the Crimson King), is heavily pregnant (after being possessed by a demon).
This book breaks the fourth wall a little because our heroes find a copy of ‘Salem’s Lot,’ where they discover that Stephen King, the author, maybe the key to their quest.
Divided into two groups, our ka-tet proceeds towards the Tower at a feverish pace.
Susannah, possessed by Mia, has escaped into New York, 1999 to have her baby in The Dixie Pig, teeming with monsters. Jake, Oy, and Father Callahan follow after her.
Roland and Eddie land up in Maine in 1977. They sign the deed to the vacant plot containing a special rose, a symbol of goodness. They proceed to meet Stephen King.
Susannah has now given birth to Mordred, son of the Crimson King, who promptly eats Mia and escapes Susannah. The ka-tet reunited and stopped Breakers, destroying the beams that lead to the Tower. They move to the Dark Tower's final stretch, picking up psychic artist Patrick Danville on the way. There is a lot of death and loss in this story, but there is also hope and the promise of happiness. As a satisfying ending to this massive saga, the Dark Tower is one of the best Stephen King books he’s written.
Duma Key starts with Edgar Freemantle, trying to deal with the physical and mental devastation caused by losing an arm in an accident and the acrimonious divorce that follows a tumultuous period of recuperation. Moving to Florida to heal, he buys a house on the beach and takes up painting as a therapy to bury his pain and rage. Unbeknownst to him, this seemingly innocent activity will grow to threaten both him and everyone close to him, as it brings forth an ancient, sinister entity that will threaten the lives of everyone he knows.
This novel ties into the Dark Tower: The first story features the low men and the Crimson King's servants.
It is a collection of short stories, where at least one character from each story has a connection with the other stories.
There are many nostalgic associations with this novel, such as life in the ’60s, anti-war protests, the loss of innocence, college shenanigans, and the impact of the Vietnam War.
With a warm, satisfying feeling through the book, Hearts in Atlantis is one of the best Stephen King books he’s written.
The Stand was published in the early ’80s and is a post-apocalyptic novel. Most of the world's population has been decimated by the Super-Flu, a deadly virus, also known as Captain Tripps. This story starts with the remaining survivors: roughly 1% of the world’s population dividing themselves into two camps: one in Boulder, Colorado, headed by the God-fearing Mother Abigail, and the other in Las Vegas, let by the sinister Randal Flagg (the embodiment of evil who has appeared at various stages in the Dark Tower universe).
A war between good and evil begins.
This book takes place in the Kingdom of Delain in Midworld, home to good King Roland, Queen, and their two sons, Peter and Thomas.
This family is broken up when the King is assassinated, and Peter is falsely accused of the crime. The engineer of all this discord, Flagg (a recurring villain in the Dark Tower), is assured of victory and rules the kingdom through Thomas.
What remains to be seen is how Peter will escape his imprisonment and save his kingdom from the clutches of the wicked sorcerer. As a great twist on the traditional fairytale, this is one of the best Stephen King books written.
The Shining is one of the more well-known adaptations from book to television. Jack Torrance is a struggling writer, recovering alcoholic with anger issues. He takes charge as caretaker of the Overlook hotel for the off-season, thinking it will help his writing. Wendy, his wife, sees it as a crutch to support their crumbling marriage; Jack can hardly stand her and often get angry with her and Danny. With nothing else to do with his time, Danny befriends the hotel chef, Halloran, and proceeds to explore the hotel. It soon turns out that he has the gift of ‘the shining,’ wherein he can see the real evil lurks in the hotel. What follows is how these forces converge upon the Torrance family and the deadly battle that takes place.
Doctor Sleep takes place after the events of The Shining. Dan (Danny no more) Torrance is now grown up. After trying unsuccessfully to shake off his father’s ghosts of alcohol, violent and self-destructive anger, he finally checks into AA and starts working in a hospice in New England. Much as he had tried to drown his gift, ‘the shining’ out all these years, it starts up again as he helps elderly patients pass on. Oh, and there’s a cat that helps him in his work.
Meanwhile, Abra has been born who has a gift much stronger than Danny’s ever was. Unbeknownst to her or her family, this makes her a target for an evil force that seeks to steal psychic energy and kills or subsumes anyone who possesses it. As the gift brings Abra and Danny together, they join forces to stop the insatiable evil that seeks to extinguish Abra’s light.
Contrary to what most books and movie reviews may lead you to think, IT isn’t merely about a creepy clown in a sewer. It is about enduring friendship and how the strong ties bind us in childhood may sometimes be our ultimate sanctuary in adulthood. True, a creature that looks like a clown lives in a sewer and emerges every 27 years to eat people. Its deadly powers of illusion, mind trickery, and paralyzing people with fear, much like a giant spider, seem to render its victims helpless and most certainly dead. This time, it has messed with the wrong set of kids, the Losers Club.
The Talisman is a tale of epic proportions that leaves you wanting more when the last word is read. In a hotel in New Hampshire, Jack and Lily Sawyer are the only guests. It seems that Lily has come here to die, and a troubled Jack wanders through the beach around the hotel to soothe his troubled mind. On these walks, he meets Speedy Parker, who lets him know of an ancient relic, a Talisman in another world, will save his mother from certain death. The path is fraught with danger, but he must succeed.
Revival is a dark tale that explores the limits of religion, spirituality, and devotion against the backdrop of an America left behind in the ’60s. The story starts with a preacher, Charles Jacobs, moving to a new town with his family, where he meets Jamie's protagonist. Following a tragedy due to which Jacobs has to leave town, Jamie’s own life crumbles as he follows his dream of being a musician, leaving behind home's comfort. Years later, he meets Jacobs again at a carnival. Read on to discover whether their meeting is divine providence or a sinister force of nature.
Like The Shining, the Green Mile is a well-known adaptation of Stephen King’s books from book to screen. It is a compassionate account of the possibly wrongful incarceration of a gentle giant, John Coffey, from the point of view of Paul Edgecombe, a correctional officer that grows to understand and appreciate him. The novel is set in the ’30s. John Coffey is a soft-spoken, gentle but enormous black man, who is regarded with contempt and suspicion by those who don’t bother to look beyond his skin color. All hope is not lost, as he does have friends in prison, including a little mouse, Mr.Jingles. It’s a tear-jerker and one of the best Stephen King books that he’s written.
Not everyone has great memories of high school. To say this is Carrie White’s case would be a huge understatement. From the moment she is born, her spirit is crushed by a fanatically religious mother, who dominates her and derides her at every opportunity. This trend continues through school and high school, where the teachers and students scold, shun, and humiliate her endlessly. Humiliated, friendless, and with no recourse or respite for her pain and sorrow, Carrie’s internalized desolation and pain soon turned into rage. This story is a cautionary tale about the consequences of incessant bullying and cruelty and how they impact the lives of everyone involved.
If you have enjoyed this list of some of the best Stephen King books, you might like to try some of his other works as well.
Reading a Stephen King book is an experience. It’s falling into another world and losing yourself in it. His stories talk about humanity and its strength in adversity.
In the great King’s own words:
“Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
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