After finishing Mr Mercedes I have finally decided that I have read enough Stephen King to put together a top 8 list. Admittedly I didn’t read all his short story collections or the screenplay for Storm Of The Century, but did manage what I believe to be all his novels and novellas. To make the list a bit more manageable, and I didn’t end up with a mostly Dark Tower filled list, I decided to put books from the same series as one entry. A task made harder by Stephen Kings propensity to share his characters throughout his different books. I feel as though I managed pretty well. With that being said…. Enjoy the Stephen King Great Eight!
The Talisman and Black house are unique in this last as they are co-wrote with another author, Peter Straub. While both books are very good, it is The Talisman which earned the series a spot in this great eight. It tell’s the story of 12 year old Jack Sawyer and his quest to get from New Hampshire to California to find the Talisman and save his mother. Jack has the magical ability to flip between our world and its twin, which he calls The Territories. Throughout his trip he runs into many dangers and is pursued by the evil Morgan of Orris, who stands to take control of The Territories should Jack fail his quest.
Black House picks up years later in small Wisconsin town with a series of child murders. After taking an early retirement from the LAPD Jack Sawyer finds himself helping the local law to get to the bottom of the case, in which things are much different than they first appear. As well as continuing the Jack Sawyer story, Black House has strong tie ins with the Dark Tower series.
Jake Epping is a divorced highschool english teacher. He is basically recruited by his friend Al to travel back in time through a strange loophole that will take him back to 1958 to attempt to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Once Jake takes the “job” he spends the next 5 years living in the past and trying to determine if Lee Harvey Oswald is the real killer. Jake also realizes that the past does not like to be changed. While attempting to alter history the world itself seemingly conspires to stop the changes from happening. Jake needs to be convinced that Oswald is the true killer so he attempts to watch him in the time leading up to the assassination in addition to trying to make a life for himself during the five years leading up to the event. This book is part thriller, part historical fiction, and part love story. Fans of the book IT should keep their eyes peeled for some familiar friends.
The Shining tells the story of the Torrance family. Jack, Wendy, and their son Danny. when Jack looses his teaching job due to a drinking problem, the family moves into the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado rockies to caretake for the off season. While the normal staff is clearing out , the hotels chef Dick Hallorann discovers that Danny has a psychic power to communicate telepathically which he calls the Shining. Hallorann is familiar with the hotels past and warns Danny how to get in touch with him. The hotel is haunted and while the family is snowed in for the season Jack begins to be taken over by the hotel and driven to murder his family.
Doctor Sleep, my favorite of the two books, picks up the story with Danny Torrance as an adult. He has become the same drunk that he hated his father for being. while fighting his own demons he will encounter a young girl with the same Shining that he possessed, but has since dimmed with drugs and alcohol. King also introduces a clan of psychic vampires who are granted eternal life by killing and feeding from children with the Shining. Danny will need to save himself as well as the young girl in this excellent sequel.
The Green Mile was originally released as a six part serial novel in 1996 and tells the story of Paul Edgecombe, a death row supervising guard in a Louisiana State Penitentiary during the 1930’s. His job is to make things as easy as possible for the few months that his prisoners have left while awaiting their turn on the electric chair. Making his job much harder than it needs to be is fellow guard Percy Wetmore who has family ties to the governor. While Paul is forced to manage the hateful Percy the story takes us through a period of a few months and four death row inmates. The one is a huge black man with very limited intelligence named John Coffey who was found holding the dead bodies of two young white girls. As the story goes on Paul will discover John Coffey’s magical power and begin to believe in his innocence. This book is an example of Stephen King’s story telling abilities at his best.
The Stand tells the story of an America that is hit by a super flu, killing over 99% of the population. In the aftermath two large groups form. Basically this is a book in three parts. The flu, the quest to get to a fabled safe place, and a battle between good and evil. The book follows a group of survivors as they trek towards the safety of Boulder Colorado, and later are forced to confront the group of evil survivors in Las Vegas. This is King’s first epic, and still thought by some to be his best work. After reading so many of King’s books I found a common theme where in I loved his story telling, but did not always care for his endings. This is one of those books, while I didn’t love the ending, it was still well worth it for the journey.
It tells the story of a group of 7 people as they battle an ancient evil in Derry Maine. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the way the story is told. It takes place in the present 1984, 85 while simultaneously taking place 27 years in the past. In the present the group has gotten together to stop an ancient evil they promised to come back for should it return; however, all the characters who moved away (all but one) have experienced some sort of amnesia as to what happens in the past. While the characters are working towards the final confrontation with the shapeshifter known as IT they begin to remember and recall their experiences as a group of unlikely outcast children who group together to stop IT while all the adults seem to be ignoring what is happening around them. This is another book, where I loved the story, but didn’t care for the ending. Had the last few pages been a little more to my taste this would be my favorite Stephen King novel, as it stand it is still number 3 and an excellent read.
Is a group of 4 novellas, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, The Body, and The Breathing Method. King’s first publication of more dramatic non-horror books, hence the name Different Seasons. The Breathing Method, subtitled A Winter’s Tale, is just an ok King Story, but relatively short and still interesting.
Apt Pupil, sub titled Summer of Corruption, tells the story of a teenage boy named Todd Bowden who discovers his neighbor is really a Nazi war criminal named Kurt Dussander. Instead of turning him to the police Todd blackmails Dussander into telling him of the atrocities he committed during the war. As the story and years go one, Todd becomes obsessed with Dussander and begins to give into more violent and sociopathic tendencies which comes to a head in a murderous ending. This is and average King story and would not have made the list by itself.
The Body, subtitled Fall From Innocence, as probably better know by the movie adaption Stand By Me. It tells the story of four 12 year old boys, Gordy, Chris, Teddy, and Vern; who when they overheard Vern’s older brother saying a missing boy was killed by a train a day or two’s walk down the tracks, they decide to find the body to become famous. The story takes place as the boys take their adventure to find the body, but is really a coming of age tale about friendship set during the 1960s. This is a really good Stephen King story and would have probably finished a spot or three from the list on its own merits.
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, subtitled Hope Springs Eternal, is King at his finest. It tells the story of Andy Dufresne, wrongfully convicted of killing his adulterous wife, and his time in the Shawkshank State Penitentiary. For those who have not read this, or seen the excellent movie, I don’t want to ruin a thing about the plot. This is by far Stephen King’s best work and were it not for the large amount of great material at the number one position, this short novella sized story alone would have vaulted Different Seasons to the top spot.
The Dark Tower series is Stephen Kings opus, and is currently at 8 books written over a span of 30 years. The series includes The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Wasted Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower, and The Wind Through The Keyhole; although, several of his other books have strong ties to either the world of the Dark Tower, or the characters in the books themselves, such as Hearts in Atlantis, Insomnia, The Stand, Eyes of the Dragon, The Talisman, Black House, and Salem’s Lot… in addition to several others.
The Dark Tower series as a whole tells the story of Roland Deschain as he leaves the old world on a quest to stop the Crimson King from destroying the beams that hold time itself together. Throughout the quest Roland will make several friends, mainly Jake Eddie, and Susannah who will help him get through worlds and time along the beam to stop the king. The story as a whole takes place in different worlds, or dimensions of the same world, and plays out as a mash up of science fiction, fantasy, some horror, and a western. The tail includes three excellent flashbacks to Roland’s youth (which are my favorite parts of the story) as well as our current world, past and present, and many other worlds inbetween… including post apocalyptic cities, wasted desert lands, and lush forests overgrowing dead machines. At point the characters even run into Stephen King himself.
Thus concludes my almost year long Stephen King project. A few of the books that almost made the list were The Dead Zone, Salem’s Lot, Dolores Claiborne, Joyland, Mr Mercedes, UR, and Four Past Midnight. I hope you enjoyed the list and would love to hear what some of your favorites are in the comments section. And remember, if you want to help fund the site, just click on any of the books listed above and it will take you to Amazon where a portion of all sales through those links goes back to us.