Stephen King is the undisputed master of horror fiction. Since the tender age of 12, I have eagerly devoured everything the man has written. It’s frightening how effective of a storyteller he is. Through short stories, novellas, and of course full length novels, he has shown mastery of not only horror, but drama, suspense, romance, sci-fi, and fantasy. He really has established himself as one of the true greats in popular fiction.
For this list, I decided to focus only on ranking his full length novels. This was an extremely daunting task. The man is just so prolific with fifty novels total under his belt. Even today, he averages two books per year (many question the quality of his most recent work which I will address in this article). I know this list is going to be contentious amongst fellow fans, and I welcome comments and criticism with open arms. Here are my picks for the top 7 Stephen King Novels.
From A Buick 8
I know many of you are going to seriously question From a Buick 8’s inclusion on this list. I know I am going to get reamed in the comments for including this and not It or any of the Dark Tower books, and I accept that. However, allow me to justify why it’s here, and hopefully I can convince you why this book is just so damn good.
Summing it up briefly, this novel takes place in and around a police station. Ned, whose father was a well-loved cop, died recently and so Ned finds himself spending time at the state police barracks where he worked getting to know more about his father through his former co-workers. With time, the troopers reveal to him that there is a mysterious car, an other worldly thing, the Buick 8 of the title, in a storage shed near the barracks. Odd occurrences and disappearances surround it. In fact, this vehicle may not be a car at all, but a portal to some other place.
The reason I like this book so much outside of its intriguing premise is the themes it plays around with. Essentially, From a Buick 8 is about uncertainty. The human experience is fraught with so many mysteries and strange occurrences. There are numerous things we will encounter that will perplex us, and try as we might, we may never find a satisfactory answer to them. This includes the greatest enigma of all, life itself. Needless to say, this really resonated with me.
In addition to this, it has very satisfying ties to King’s ongoing mythology.
The Long Walk
This is one of the storied Richard Bachman books. I will explain for those that don’t know what that means. After his work began to take off, Stephen King wrote under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, These books were less supernatural horror and more suspense thrillers. The best of this crop was The Long Walk.
It takes place in a future where there is an annual contest called The Long Walk. Participants must maintain a speed of four miles per hour. Fall below that speed, and you are given a warning. Receive three warnings, and you are shot dead. The winner is the last man, or child in this case since the hundred participants are all teenaged boys, standing.
This is one of King’s best stories. It is an extremely suspenseful and psychologically taut tale. It absolutely blows my mind that it has not been adapted into a film. With its reality TV facade, it would be ripe for an adaptation laden with biting social commentary.
Now, we get to what Mr. King is known for best, balls to the wall pants shittingly terrifying supernatural horror.
A family moves to a house in a secluded area. Secluded that is save for the highway that runs nearby. After the family cat dies, the man’s neighbor reveals to him that, if he were to bury it beyond the pet cemetery, the animal would come back to life. When the cat comes back, it is not the same. It becomes an evil, demonic thing.
Then, tragedy strikes. His son, Gage, is run over. Despite being vehemently warned about the consequences of this, the father buries him in the area beyond the pet cemetery. True horror ensues.
Not only is this one of his scariest books. It deftly explores the theme of family, and the horrifying lengths one would go to for the people they hold so dear.
I actually reread this one recently in preparation for its sequel, Doctor Sleep, and it definitely holds up. Based on sheer scares alone, this is King’s most terrifying work.
There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been written about this book and its superb film adaption. Jack Torrance’s descent into madness is so compelling. As a metaphor for a man torn between familial responsibility and the darkness brewing inside, it is astoundingly successful. This one will most definitely make you sleep with the lights on.
Salem’s Lot is forever imprinted on my mind since it is the first book of King’s that I ever read. My bias aside, I maintain that it is objectively one of the greatest things he’s ever written.
This story of vampires slowly but surely taking over a small town portrays one of King’s best traits at work, his excellent ability to world build. This novel is filled with characters that you grow to care deeply about and others you fucking loathe with equal measure. Within the pages of this book is a fully fleshed out and realized small town. So, when the shit hits the fan, you feel very invested in the outcome. On top of this, this book brings the scares, and the mysterious vampire, Barlow, is one of King’s best antagonists to date.
This is the most recent work that I am including on this list. Many say that, after the accident that almost took Stephen’s life back in 1999, his writing quality has taken a permanent dip. To anybody that says this, I just simply point to this novel and promptly tell them to shut the fuck up.
Stephen King takes the premise of time travel and weaves one of his best and most affecting tales out of it.
Jacob Epping is a high school teacher whose friend reveals to him a portal that leads back to 1958. After much cajoling, the elderly man convinces Jacob to go back in time and stop the Kennedy assassination.
After a stopover in Derry, Maine for a wholly satisfying subplot for longtime King fans, he settles into a small town in Texas in order to bide his time and devise a plan to prevent the events of 11/22/63 from occurring. It is there that he reluctantly falls in love with a fellow teacher. As the day draws near and their love blossoms, the story reaches a fever pitch of suspense and intrigue.
Simply put, this is the best love story I’ve ever read. Stephen King has been known to play with his readers heartstrings but never to such great effect as he does here. 11/22/63 has an ending so touching that I wept openly as I read the last page. To be honest thinking about it now two years after I put it down, I’m getting a little misty eyed.
No surprises here. This is regarded by most to be his greatest novel, and I happen to agree.
As a disease decimates the population, only a handful of survivors are left. The forces of good embodied by Mother Abigail and evil in the person of Randall Flagg start vying for souls. This all culminates in an epic showdown in the Nevada desert.
Its grandiose scope. Its treatment of the eternal theme of good versus evil. Its rich and compelling cast of characters. This novel is one for the ages.
I am paraphrasing here, but King himself said that it’s more than a little depressing that many say his best work was written over thirty years ago. This may be true, but the man isn’t done astounding his faithful readers with every new release. I still wait for the next King novel with bated breath and unparalleled anticipation.