Today marks the 65th birthday of one of the giants of horror fiction, Mr Stephen King. We here at This is Horror couldn’t let this momentous day pass by without sending a little love in the direction of the man George Beahm calls “America’s Best Loved Bogeyman”. So here follows for your delectation five pieces that we feel are essential king.
Must Read Novel
Many of King’s ‘Constant Readers’ may well choose The Stand as their pick of his novels but with over thirty significant characters it’s at times difficult to become emotionally involved in the story. In IT, however, the focus is held on a core group of characters that you come to care about quickly. So much so, that many a Constant Reader undoubtedly smiled when King enabled them the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with two of IT’s children in his latest novel 11/22/63. Pennywise the clown is one of King’s greatest creations with a turn of phrase to chill the bones of even the most jaded reader of horror, “They float, Georgie, and when you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too-”
Must Read Novella
The Mist (1980)
Stephen King is a master storyteller and it’s at novella length where he often excels in focussing on pure story. The restrictions of the word count often prevent the need for secondary plotlines that can, in his novels, lead to lengthy digressions that give certain books a bloated feel. What edges The Mist ahead of other stand-out novellas such as Rita Hayworth, The Shawshank Redemption and The Body is the combination of real world setting and brilliantly realised characters that enable the other-worldly elements to feel all the more believable. It was also adapted into a successful movie which changed the ending to a more downbeat resolution than the hopeful one of the book.
Must Read Short Story
Word Processor of the Gods (Skeleton Crew – 1985)
With such a wealth of short stories to choose from picking just one is a challenge that could produce entirely different results on any given day dependent on recollection and mood. What’s great about this simple tale is that it both encapsulates themes that Stephen King would go on to explore further in novel length works, such as the dangers of technology and the power of human desire, and plays on genre expectations to wrong-foot the reader and provide a twist ending. What on the face of it is a Monkey’s Paw style ‘be careful what you wish for’ tale is actually a splendid piece of punch the air wish fulfilment.
Must Read Non-Fiction
Danse Macabre (1981)
Danse Macabre takes this spot ahead of On Writing by the narrowest of margins due to its broader appeal. King’s love of the genre from the 1950s films of his youth to the books that shaped his interest in literature shines through and the book opens up a whole world of comic, books and movies to be sought out and enjoyed. One could spend a lifetime simply working their way through the movie and film titles King lists in the appendices!
Must Read Audio Book
Bag of Bones (Read by Stephen King)
Stephen King absolutely abhors abridgements of novels and so all his books only appear in unabridged editions. This standpoint is to be applauded but it does mean choosing to listen to one of his novels on CD or MP3 requires an equal time investment as reading the novel yourself. That being said, they are a joy on long car journeys, particularly when he chooses to do the reading himself. Bag of Bones is especially suited to King’s voice as it is a first-person narrative which gives a feeling of a one-on-one reading with the author. The twenty-two hours run time is complemented by wonderful production where sound effects are utilised and music is woven into the story to represent the singing of the character of Sara Tidwell.
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