Rediscovering the greatest horror novels from Stephen King

Stephen King
Stephen King

Stephen King was born on September 21st, 1947, in Portland, Maine, United States. He graduated from the University of Maine and later worked as a teacher while establishing himself as a writer. Having also published work under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, Stephen King’s first horror novel, ‘Carrie,’ was a tremendous success. Over the years, Stephen King has become known for titles that are both commercially successful and sometimes critically acclaimed. His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide and been adapted into numerous successful films.

Stephen King’s writing is witty, profound and, depending on what age you read his books, a master of suspense and bone-chillingly scary novels. In fact, millions of people have enjoyed the many books and works of Stephen King and learnt myriad lessons from their themes, twists, turns and events. Today, I have decided to revisit some of the most daring novels he has published.

‘The Shining’

‘The Shining’ is no doubt one of the best ghost stories ever written. I think the sequel (‘Dr Sleep’) presents the perfect opportunity to pick the original up once more and relive the horror by reading it again.

It is a very long time since I read this book but when I did, I enjoyed it because of its ability to tell an exceptionally spooky story whereby Stephen King took the often mundane and made it terrifying. Reading it today, of course, is different from the first time. This is mainly because my experience in life blurs my opinion. The worldview of the woman I am now, makes me look at things differently than I did when I was in my early twenties. So when I went back to re-read ‘The Shining’ I was a tad nervous about whether I would still find it sufficiently spooky to hold my interest.

Of course, I should not have worried; Stephen King is Stephen King, and though his prose has got a lot tighter in the three decades since he wrote ‘The Shining,’ his ability to create atmospheric terror has never been in doubt.

While reading the book, this time, I discovered that Stephen King was using the haunted house as a symbol of the personal demons that we battle. This is not something that I could figure out then but now stands out more than anything else. Stephen King had a drinking problem when he was writing this book and has admitted that Jack Torrance’s battle with alcoholism might have been a reflection of his personal life at the time. Jack Torrance also has issues with anger. He loses his temper and ends up losing his job as a teacher because of hurting a boy. He is fortunate enough to get a job as an overseer at Overlook Hotel in Colorado during winter. He knows that this is an opportunity to make things right in his life and struggles to do so. This job not only offers him a chance to work on his rough play but also try to make his marriage work.

However, the Overlook Hotel is not what it seems. Strange things happen. Thoughts from somewhere else can easily crawl into your mind. Jack Torrance is the target of these ideas, and his vulnerability is revealed. The key to the whole story is five-year-old Danny. His unusual talent of being able to read minds and see what is not visible to everybody else is the basis of the title of the book. Danny also has an invisible friend called Tony. It is important to state that the book is about the breakdown of a family as a result of alcoholism and anger. The question is how does a child survive in such a troubled family? Danny’s talent is a double-edged sword. It can be used to save the family but whether or not it does is also a battle. Although Jack Torrance is not yet the monster his father was, he is well on his way because his father was an abusive alcoholic. Wendy also carries issues from her past that affect her ability to be the mother that she wants to be. All in all, this is a horror book that has an underlying emotional content that makes it exceptional.

‘It’

‘It’ is, without a doubt, one of Stephen King’s masterpieces. Many people complain about the length of this story and what you need to do is have patience. If you have an issue with the characters then what you need to do is look at the people around you and search within yourself. If you do, you will understand them. Some complaint about it being vulgar, vile or even horrific. This is something that as a reader, you need to embrace as part of the story to be able to enjoy it.

During one summer, seven friends encounter something that terrifies them. This thing that they encounter feeds on children. It preys on them and devours them. The shape of the thing changes each time but its trademark is the face of a clown. The one thing that these seven friends have in common is the fact that they have all escaped this thing at some point. They thought that they had killed it during one summer, but it appears they did not.

It is twenty-years years later, and Adrian Mellon is thrown off a bridge by two boys as a result of his sexuality. The boys claim that they saw something below the waters. The thing that they saw was a clown and a cloud of balloons. The seven friends are called back to Derry because ‘It’ is back. They made a promise to each other and sealed it in blood to come back in case this thing had not died. This promise makes them come back to face the horror. They older and successful and the last thing that they want is It to come and destroy the life that they have created for themselves.

The story covers two stories. Their childhood story of the first time that they encountered the Pennywise The Clown. The story covers their childhood struggles like bullying. It also covers their encounter with It and the effect that it had on their lives. It also shows their battle and eventual defeat of ‘It.’ The second story covers their return to Derry. It also reveals the research that has been done on what It was, the memories that are forcing them to come back and the events that follow. Notably, these two timelines have been perfectly merged so that the alternate viewpoints fit perfectly within the story.

The characters are used though clichés are very engaging. Bill is the leader with a stuttering problem, Richie Tozier is known for his smart mouth and ego, Eddie comes out as weak but within him is an act of courage that helps his friends. Uris brings understanding to the group while, Ben is resourceful and loving but known for being overweight.

Beverly is a harsh but sweet girl whose problems give her the strength that she needs to be able to stand with the group. Mike, who is a target for the bullies because of the colour of his skin, brings to the group emotional strength and leads them through the most emotional parts of the story. Their unity, circumstances and who they are as a person is what allows them to face It. Every part of this story is crucial in developing the big picture which is a well-written story worth reading.

‘Salem’s Lot’

When you talk about vampires today, what people think of are brooding creatures that are essentially harmless. This was not so in the past. They were scary, and those were the good times. The reason why vampire stories have been here for long is that they give people a good scare. A creature of the night feeding on your blood is pretty scary.

Nevertheless, there is another layer to this story, and that is the genius of Stephen King. Apart from giving a vivid description of the monsters that prey at night, he also reveals the darkness that inhabits in our soul. Salem’s Lot refers to a small town in Maine. It is a town that is familiar with secrets. All you have to do is look beyond the surface to reveal what lies underneath. The discoveries reveal the darkness of the human soul that will scare you.

Salem’s Lot has the obvious problems that other towns have too. Prejudice, bullying, corruption and lies also thrive in this city. However, what makes Stephen King’s work unique in its setting is his portrayal of everyday secrets. The secrets have a life of their own, and they create the essence of the whole book or novel. These secrets have made Salem’s Lot a ghost town with few survivors whose lives this book is centred on.

The book reveals the events that made this town what it is. You go back in time to see what welcomed the monsters that lurk in the night and float past you. The story builds up very quickly to the climax and end. The characters are well developed for you to understand the real people and their battle to be able to survive the horror that the town presents to them and the people they love.

Ben, Matt, Susan and Mark have to live with this horror and they are the good guys. Their characters are well built so that we are always gunning for them to win against the evil in this small town. Of course, there is Father Callahan whose character is also crucial. The obvious irony of his character being evil cannot be missed.

The plot is built extremely well so that the story never lags. The suspense keeps and anticipation that something bad is going to happen keeps readers on their toes. The situations are well planned so that you are not distracted from the vampire story that is unfolding in the background. The story presents the issues and characters in a small town and how they deal with the horror that lives around them.

However, there are no moral lessons to be drawn from this book. Of course, you will be a little careful when inviting strangers into your home. It is a well-written book that tells a good story. The scary ride is something that most horror book fans will love. You will not easily put it down. This book easily scores five stars for its ability to tell a good horror story.

‘The Stand’

There is a need for me to provide a little perspective before I get to my review. Stephen King has many fans but am not one of them. Before this book, I had never read a King book. This is not a review written by a loyal admirer trying to defend his favourite author. However, I am a big fan of horror, but I do not think that I can classify this book as such. The apocalyptic fiction genre of books is one of my favourite genres, and I believe that this book falls into that category. I can say without bias that ‘The Stand’ is one of the best books I have read so far.

The story is based on the events that follow when the super flu is accidentally released. It wipes out almost all of humanity on the earth. The survivors (1%) have to fight for their survival, and the battle is between good and evil. The future of the whole planet depends on the outcome of this struggle that they face. This novel is lengthy as you might expect because of its ambitious plot that produces numerous themes.

Like any other apocalyptic fiction, the characters remain in one place, and the story begins after the disaster. Stephen King gives a comprehensive description of the super flu from the beginning to the end. He also goes into detail on the effects of the outbreak on civilisation and the survivors immediately and after the epidemic. Finally, he gives a prediction of the future specifically how nature will affect the United States without a man. The United States in the absence of humanity is the battleground for good and evil.

The right side is headed by Mother Abigail, who survivors see in their dreams. Her function is to marshal troops to battle against Randall Flagg, who is the face of evil. The choice of which side to serve is left to the characters who are travelling across the emptied country to decide. The relationship of the characters in the plot and theme are well interwoven, and this is what makes Stephen King’s work in this book exceptional. The presence of the metaphysics is just icing on the cake.

The characters in this book are well developed surprisingly. A book dealing with a complex theme in most cases does not build characters well. However, the characters here are well developed, and a reader can relate to their struggles and flaws because they are human.

The main themes of the book are also a point to note. The dualistic nature of good and evil, redemption and hope form the main topics of this book. Stephen King shows that the presence of evil allows people to appreciate the good that is found within a society. He also indicates that no one is entirely lost. This is where hope lies and that most of our good intentions are mislaid when fear and ignorance creep in. At the end of the book one thing is clear, that although evil is not destroyed completely, it can never reign.

‘Misery’

This is a book that I have read more than once yet each time I do my nerves are left tingling with anticipation because of the action that is on each page. The story will keep you turning the pages to find out what comes next. I believe that the story is better than the film. When you read, you have the ability to create unique images that are personal and memorable. In a film, the images are somebody’s personal visual interpretation of the book that might not apply to you. My advice is that you read the book rather than watch the film.

The book was as a result of an incident that he was involved with a fan. The fan took his wife hostage because he believed that the author had stolen his manuscript. The book is about Paul Sheldon, who is an author and is a victim of a car crash and his wife Annie Wilkes, who plays nurse to him. Paul Sheldon feels like he owes her the world because she saved him.

Nonetheless, Annie Wilkes is a deranged lunatic. She is completely dangerous, and Paul Sheldon is in trouble. Annie is obsessed with a character in Paul’s book called ‘Misery Chastain.’ She thinks that the character should exist in real life. When she realises that Paul wants to kill the character in the book she insists that he resurrect the character for her. Her demands include the fact that Paul should write another book that has more profanity and the word ‘S.’

Annie is not only the nurse but appoints herself as Paul’s editor. Her editorial red pen makes many changes to Paul’s manuscript that go way and beyond your average editor. The book is genius mainly because the plot is focused on two characters yet this is all that Stephen King needs to create suspense that does not allow you to put down the book. The story despite the few characters is dense, deep and does not at any time become boring because of the few characters in the book.

‘Misery’ has everything that a reader wants in a good book. It has thrills and spins that leave you in anticipation of what will happen next. Surprisingly, it has a bit of romance and laughter. Amidst all the crazy things that are going on in the book, you will find a reason or two to laugh. This is what makes the story a beautiful read.

The story is inspired by a true story and deals with the perils of fame. One cannot help but compare the story to the real life incident. It raises a lot of questions in your mind on what could have happened. Stephen King includes the story that Paul writes for Annie. I do not think it was necessary to include it within the book because it draws unnecessary parallels that a reader needs to analyse and compare within the story. Still, everything else falls into place in this book. The book is evidence that Stephen King stands out among his peers as a master storyteller.

‘Pet Sematary’

The target audience for this book is mature. This is because the book contains vulgar language, violence and explicit sex scenes that might not be suitable for the juvenile readers. However, it is virtually impossible to resist the pull of everything that is evil that forms the book that is ‘Pet Sematary.’

The most important aspect of this story is the location. The core of the story relies on the fact that the story is based on a place that is next to a burial ground that is haunted. It is about a family that relocates to Maine because Louis, the father gets a job in a university as a doctor. The family consists of him, his wife and kids. The wife is afraid of death as a result of her past and shields her children from it. Living around a cemetery means being surrounded by death and it makes her uneasy.

Ellie, the daughter and has a cat named Church. Louis is attached to Gage their son who is just old enough to start developing his speech and is quite playful. The drama unfolds when Church, Ellie’s cat dies and their neighbour Jud takes Louis to bury it in a burial ground that can resurrect the dead. Church comes back to life but as an empty shell. As a result of this Louis gets the power that the burial ground has and when Gage dies he buries him in the absence of his wife to bring him back to life.

The book is very descriptive when it comes to the characters and the alternating patterns of their behaviour because of the weird things that are occurring. This is what makes the book a good read. When Gage comes back to life, he is evil and goes on a rampage to kill the people around him including the mother. Louis by now is going insane as a result of these events. Although he kills Gage eventually, he still buries his wife who comes back as evil as Gage was.

Luis obsession with the power that he gets from the burial ground is a major influence on the events that unfold. This is why it is unlikely to talk about the book without referring to the location. Another genius aspect that Stephen King used in this book is one line statements that abstract or are expounded within the story. This emphasises the theme in the book and helps in creating them and making them clearer.

This is a book that I would recommend to anybody that loves a terrifying book that will make you sit at the edge of your seat. It is on record that Stephen King did not want this book released because of all the darkness that was in the book. He released the book grudgingly as a result of a contract he had to honour, but it is to date one of his best works. Parts of it are inspired by incidents that occurred in his life.

Outside of writing, Stephen King is a music fan. He even sometimes plays guitar and sings in a band called Rock Bottom Remainders with fellow literary stars like Dave Barry, Barbara Kingsolver and Amy Tan. The group has performed some times over the years to raise money for charity.

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