One of the most prolific writers of our time, Stephen King has sold over 350 million copies of his books since Carrie was published in 1973. In this article, I list five of my favorite early King books, all of which should be considered groundbreaking horror novels.
Salem’s Lot (1975)
With all due respect to Bram Stoker, Salem’s Lot is the greatest vampire tale ever told. Set in the mythical New England burg of Salem’s Lot, this story is part-ghost story and part-monster-in-the-closet story.
King’s greatest asset has always been his ability to create believable characters and settings. Once immersed in the fictional world, you are at King’s mercy.
Damn scary and memorable, Salem’s Lot is true horror classic.
The Shining (1977)
Don’t tell me you know the story of The Shining if you’ve only seen the Stanley Kubrick movie. While Kubrick’s version is terrifying, King’s original is a brilliant character study of Jack Torrance, a father battling personal demons.
A ghost story that plunges deep into psychological horror, The Shining will haunt you forever.
Clowns are creepy. But how about clowns that live in the sewer and lure children to violent deaths?
King’s It is one bizarre supernatural tale. Once again, King paints rich characters and locations which make us feel as though we are there. Which is why we worry so much about the characters. The story spends most of its time in flashback mode, focussing on the characters’ childhoods and reminding me of his coming of age classic, The Body (Stand By Me).
A very strange ending upset many readers, but I really enjoyed the finale.
Different Seasons (1982)
I cheated a little bit here. Different Seasons isn’t actually a novel but a collection of four novellas, all engrossing in their own way.
The Body (Stand By Me) is the best-known of the collection, having been made into a terrific coming of age movie. Apt Pupil, a story about a boy who stalks and befriends a Nazi war veteran, is one of the most disturbing tales you’ll read. Throw in Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption plus The Breathing Method, and you have nearly 700 pages of wickedly engrossing King storytelling.
Only Stephen King can make you believe that a Plymouth Fury stalks the streets, avenging her owner.
Christine follows Arnie, a teenage boy with an overbearing mother, who falls in love with a car. His friend, Dennis, mistrusts the situation from the beginning. And well he should.
Whenever I read Christine, I find myself pulled back into the 1950s – Eddie Cochran on the radio and kids cruising in muscle cars. Though the idea of a murderous car is one of King’s most bizarre storylines, he sells Christine by telling a story that will bring back all of your feelings of teen angst.
So that’s a good list to start with for anyone interested in discovering or re-reading early King. Of course, The Stand and Pet Sematary belong on this list, too, so don’t shoot me for not including them. If I included every great King novel, I’d have a list of over fifty.