My Top 10 Scariest Stephen King Stories 

My Top 10 Scariest Stephen King Stories 

Inspired by my buddy Edward Lorn, I’ve decided to talk about my top ten scariest Stephen King stories. I say ‘stories’ instead of novels — careful distinction there! What I find scary might not have affected you at all; Constant Readers are nothing if not varying in their opinions. Much of Kong’s output has scared me in some way, so it was a bit challenging narrowing it down! Slight spoilers abound. 

10. “Children of the Corn,” Night Shift 


You’ve all seen the infamous 1984 movie . . . and hopefully not all the ridiculous sequels. This one has a simple premise: couple gets lost in a small Nebraska town, and things get crazy from there. The movie ranks among my least favorite King adaptations, but I love this story. It is the stuff of nightmares. 

9. The Tommyknockers
 


I have a fascination with (and deep fear of) aliens, and I live deep in the woods. Naturally this story calls to me, making it one of my favorites. When King writes about the vastness of the Maine woods, it typically makes for some excellent horror. This one is unsettling, for me, from start to finish. 

8. Duma Key 


The scares in this novel are certainly low key — I did not pick up on them until I reread it sometime in 2014. What makes this novel, for me, is the setting: a Haunted beach house on a desolate Florida Key? SIGN ME UP. 

7. ‘The Raft,’ Skeleton Crew
 


Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, King was the master of isolation horror: getting his characters off by themselves and killing them one by one, in circumstances beyond their control. This is one such story. The ending of this tale is one that has always stuck with me: the main character singing a refrain from a Beach Boys song, and the call of a loon . . .

6. ‘A Good Marriage,’ Full Dark No Stars 


I’m going to be honest: I don’t remember a whole lot of this story. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I do remember being deeply unsettled by it. The sheer horror of finding out one’s spouse is a serial killer makes for one of Kong’s finest novella plots, and he gets all he can out of it. Though I do not remember but the foggiest details about this one, I remember it did scare me. 

5. Pet Sematary
 


Jesus. Do I really have to explain it? This novel is nightmare fuel. That is all. 

4. Revival 


Okay, yeah, only the last couple of chapters are ‘horror,’ but what makes those chapters so scary is the exquisite character development leading up to them. I have never closed a King novel feeling so sick, so uneasy. Even Pet Sematary told the reader ‘Sometimes dead is better.’ In Revival, King reveals death is not better at all. 

3. ‘Salem’s Lot 


For a long time, this was at the top of my scariest King stories list . . . now it isn’t, but that is more of a comment on how scarring numbers one and two are. This one is filled from top to bottom with iconic scenes (the boy scratching at the window made me lose sleep for two nights) — and it oozes with a seventies vibe I just love. 

2. The Shining
 


Haunted hotels fascinate me. In the last couple of years I’ve really become obsessed with them, making me love this 1977 novel even more. Like ‘The Raft,’ this is King doing isolation horror, and doing it well. Jack’s descent into madness is not so much scary as it is sad . . . the hotel itself, the Overlook, is what makes this one such a gripping and jarring read. And I agree with my friend Edward: the topiary animals are freaky AF. 

1. Gerald’s Game 


GAH. Reading this novel is like having all my nerves cut up with blades set on fire . . . or something. I don’t know. The Moonlight Man is King’s scariest creation. The whole premise is almost too much for me, really — the thought of being handcuffed to a bed for days and no one hearing me scream turns my stomach. Just thinking of this book really almost makes me sick.

That’s my list! Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments! 

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My Top 10 Stephen King Characters 

My Top 10 Stephen King Characters 

The thing that keeps me coming back to Stephen King again and again is not the stories he writes (though they are a bonus!), but the characters he brings to life. King is a character-driven writer, not a plot-driven writer. Empathetic, memorable characters are a King hallmark, so it was only a matter of time before this Constant Reader created a top ten list of his favorite people (or inanimate objects, as the case may be) from my favorite author’s vast body of work. 

Narrowing this list down was hard. Y’all don’t even know, okay? There are characters in every King novel, novella, and short story whom I think about often; characters I resonate with on a deep, almost spiritual, level. The ones I’ve chosen for this list are the cream of the crop, in my view — but every Constant Reader’s list of top characters is different. 
So let’s get down to business, shall we? Minor spoilers abound.

10. George Stark 


As far as King villains go, I feel ole George Stark has maybe been lost to the passage of time. ‘Tis a shame, for this razor-wielding, countrified SOB is one of King’s most ruthless and imaginative creations. “When you’re fucking with me, you’re fucking with the best.” Chills. 

9. Christine 


Christine
is a novel I love to poke fun at; it’s a goofy, greasy mess. Structurally it’s very much a failure, and I care not one iota for most of the main characters . . . its leading lady being the exception, of course. Like George Stark, Christine is a plain fun baddie. One of King’s biggest strengths is making the uncanny and wacky believable, and that is on full display when he describes Christine: her jealousy, vengeance, and merciless, calculating nature come together to make for one of this author’s most iconic antagonists. 

8. Roland Deschain 

Of course I had to include the hero (or anti-hero, depending on who you ask) of King’s magnum opus, the Dark Tower series. Who doesn’t love Roland? Someone I don’t care to ever associate with, that’s for sure. 

7. Jim Gardener 

Old Gard is a tough character to read about. He has no ‘traditional’ likable characteristics: he’s a drunk and a has-been poet and is basically toxic to everyone around him not named Roberta Anderson. Dude even shot his wife. But man, I just love this guy. Maybe because, whether I like it or not, I could see myself becoming this person. I don’t like that fact, but I can acknowledge it. It’s through this character King speaks openly and eloquently about the nature of addiction and isolation, inadequacy and failed romance. Gard’s a dude who goes on drunken rants about nuclear energy at high-society parties and doesn’t find it too unusual to wake up on strange beaches with a hangover. Characters like Gardener aren’t pleasant, but they’re necessary. And real. 

6. Dolores Claiborne 

It hurts to not have this character higher on the list, but that should be a testament to how much I love the top five. Readers of King have a unique vantage point on Dolores: the novel in which she stars is one long confession, told in the first person. She is explored thoroughly and without hesitation. 

5. Sadie Dunhill 

It’s possible King will never top 11/22/63, and that’s okay. 11/22/63 is the sort of novel most authors could never dream of pulling off. In it is a host of lovable characters, Sadie Dunhill Chief among them. She’s tall and awkward and dorky and loves books, what’s not to love? She’s a sweetheart who has overcome tragedy and is all the stronger for it. I regret not putting her at number one, but . . . 

4. Annie Wilkes 

As far as the well-known King villains go, Annie Wilkes is far and away my favorite. Maybe she speaks to my inner fanboy. Equally sadistic and sympathetic, frightening and understandable, Annie is a fever dream of an antagonist. 

3. Donna Trenton 

I feel like this might be a controversial pick. Maybe? Donna isn’t well-liked in the King community, and that breaks my heart. To my mind, she’s one of the first fully realized female characters in King’s works: she’s an imperfect, real housewife looking for more in life. As a guy who’s been stuck in a rut for a while now, I really relate to Donna and her struggle to get out . . . wherever ‘out’ is. And not to mention, like Dolores Claiborne, she’s a tough-as-nails mother who would do anything for her child. Gotta respect that. 

2. Harold Lauder 

If Donna Trenton wasn’t a controversial pick, this one probably is. Harold Lauder was the first King character I really identified with, the first one to make me almost scream “Yes! Is this guy inside my head and writing about what he sees?” Maybe I shouldn’t admit that; Harold isn’t a very likable guy. Is he tragic, though! King occasionally veers into modernistic Shakespeare territory; with Harold Lauder he built a home there. 
Before we get to number one, here are a few characters who almost made the list:
Jessie Burlingame

‘Big Jim’ Rennie

Johnny Smith 

Lester Pratt 

Beverly Marsh 

Carol Gerber 

And my favorite Stephen King character is… 

1. Ben Hanscom 

Anyone who knows me at all should have expected this. I love Ben, I am fascinated by Ben, I am Ben. Ben is my all-time favorite fictional character, full stop. Not only is he written and developed so well, I just relate to him on such a deep, emotional level. I was an overweight shy kid who always had his nose in books and didn’t have much in the way of friends. My first-ever crush was on a girl with red hair (one could possibly describe it as ‘winter fire’). Etc. His thoughts, his actions, his hopes . . . it’s me, all me. And I hope to one day be half the man adult Ben Hanscom is. Sincerely. 

Okay, now that my Annie Wilkes-ing is over, what about you? Who are your favorite Stephen King characters? Let me know. 

My Top 10 Stephen King Novels

My Top 10 Stephen King Novels

This was originally going to be a topic for Top 6 Thursday, but I find it’s so hard to contain my favorite Stephen King novels to such a small number — so ten it is. I am currently up to Insomnia in my massive King reread project, so my tastes could easily change by the time I’m done with that. It happens. My opinions on King’s work changes as often as the wind blows. I will probably post a revised version of this list when I’m finished with said reread project, whenever that is.

For now, though, here is my top 10…

darkhalf1992

10. The Dark Half 

I didn’t like this novel for a long, long time. It took three rereads for me to finally appreciate what King was going for here. Before, I could never quite wrap my head around what George Stark is; now, I realize it’s up to interpretation and have my own. Not only is this one of King’s scariest and goriest works, it’s also his most fun read. 

HeartsInAtlantis

9. Hearts in Atlantis 

I love it when King goes literary; he did that a lot when he first signed on with Scribner. Technically, this isn’t a novel . . . but it kind of is? It’s a collection of five interconnected stories that, in the end, come together to create something very close to a novel. I’m a student of the Vietnam era; the politics of the age endlessly fascinates me. Hearts in Atlantis deals with those years in a real and memorable way. King’s prose in this 1999 release is especially powerful and poignant. By the time I finish “Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling,” I’m always in tears.

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8. Duma Key 

King’s commentary on the creative process is always fascinating, and no where is it more captivating than in this 2008 novel. Perhaps what is most remarkable about this particular story is the setting: it takes place in Florida, not Maine. The descriptions King gives of the Keys are vivid and colorful; every reread makes me want to buy a house in Key Largo (oh, I wish!). Duma Key sees the marriage of Literary King and Horror King, and the results are awe-inspiring.

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7. Cujo 

I almost didn’t include Cujo on the list, simply because it’s such a nasty, brutal story. But honestly, I couldn’t count it out. It’s such a marvel from a writing standpoint: King grabs the reader from page one and doesn’t let go until the epilogue. I always finish this one in a day, two days tops. The scenes in the Pinto are among the tense and spirit-breaking in all of horror fiction, and King’s exploration of the social classes and infidelity are subtle and, yet, rather riveting. Those scenes are perhaps his most Dickensian. But, in the end, this is Cujo: a scary-as-hell story told by a ruthless author.

Revival
6. Revival 

The most recent release on this list, Revival was very much a return to form for King. Though I’m still not completely sure how I feel about the ending, the fact that I still think about it almost three years after is certainly a point in the book’s favor. This 2014 novel is, in my opinion, King’s bleakest; it is also one of his finest character studies yet. I’ve only read Revival once and cannot wait to give it another go.

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5. Dolores Claiborne 

One continuous chapter, told in Maine dialect over the span of 300 pages. This could and should have been a disaster, but it’s not; quite the opposite, in fact. Dolores Claiborne is King’s finest female character. Tough and real and stubborn, she isn’t afraid to fight for her children, and she is an absolute joy to read about. Like Cujo, this is a book that cannot be put down once begun.

11-22-63
4. 11/22/63 

This was the first King novel that released after I became a bonafide Constant Reader, so it’s special to me in that regard. As I said when discussing Hearts in Atlantis, I am fascinated by the ’60s and ’70s, and tend to agree with King in his estimation that the JFK assassination is the dividing line in modern American history. If Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated, would action in Vietnam have progressed? Would Nixon had been elected in 1968, thus causing major distrust in the American government to bloom after Watergate? King explores these questions and many, many more in this epic novel. I love time travel, so naturally this 2011 novel had to make it into my top 5! This book also features one of my favorite King romances; I just love Jake and Sadie.

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3. The Shining 

A King classic by every standard, this is a claustrophobic, frightening novel that retains all its power after multiple reads. I should know; I’ve reread this 1977 horror classic more times than any other book in my collection. Jack’s plight is a tragedy in the truest sense. And one cannot ever forget the Overlook Hotel: King’s scariest and most memorable setting.

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2. Needful Things

For a long, long time, this this was my favorite King novel . . . it’s basically tied with the number one spot, okay? This is certainly SK’s most complex work: the way the characters interact is truly fascinating. This is, in my opinion, King’s most successful small town novel. On full display is the dark comedy: long stretches of this story are devilishly funny while stills exploring the darkest parts of the human psyche.

DeadZone
1. The Dead Zone 

A quiet wonder. A gentle, haunting, and tragic journey through the life of the character who is, arguably, King’s most likable and relatable creation: Johnny Smith, everyman. And it is the novel in which King introduces his readers to Castle Rock! From end to end, this 1979 novel is simply sublime; from the prologue set at the skating rink to the heartbreaking final chapter, this is King at his very best, his most melancholy. Despite being very much a long look at the 1970s as a whole, this novel does not become dated. In the era of Trump, it has only gained relevance and powerful. Johnny and Sarah’s doomed relationship is King at his most Shakespearean. And through Johnny’s psychic powers, King brings the story of Cassandra into the modern day; it is with that engine SK drives, full speed, filled up with confidence and grace.

That’s my top ten! What are your favorite Stephen King books?