Film adaptations of Stephen King’s work are some of the most loved horror and thriller titles to ever grace our screens. However, what surprises me is how many people claim Carrie, It or Pet Sematary as amongst their favourite horror films but have never read a Stephen King novel. If you really want to get the feel for a scary story, your imagination will always dominant over any cinematic experience; King’s words are far more haunting than any Hollywood score or special effects.
These are five of my personal favourite; I had extreme difficulty choosing this handful from what I feel is an outstanding body of work. I chose each of these not because they are necessarily his best work or my absolute favourites but because each of them left me haunted long after reading them – some still give me chills.
1. The Shining
It would be hard to write up any sort of list of Stephen King novels and not include The Shining. Perhaps made more famous by Jack Nicholson than by the book itself, it really does deserve a place on any horror lover’s shelf. The Torrance family moves to The Overlook for the winter to try and hold their family together following a series of alcohol induced rages by father Jack Torrance. His wife Wendy is desperate for things to return to normal but for their son Danny, The Overlook has other ideas. The Shining truly is a classic movie of horror, ghosts and ghouls. But in true Stephen King style, the novel completely engrosses you just as the hotel does. What makes it even more chilling is that Danny is just a little boy facing demons that most would not encounter in their whole lives. Most of the things to fear in the novel cannot be seen, makes the horrors you can see even more terrifying.
2. Lisey’s Story
One of King’s more recent titles and one of my favourites of his entire work. Lisa, or Lisey, attempts to rebuild her life following the death of her husband Scott, a famous author whose life has been haunted by the horrific events of his childhood. When Lisey is terrorized and abused by one of Scott’s obsessed fans over the course of a few days, she discovers more about her husband than she ever dared to ask. The novel follows two stories, one of Lisey’s life in the present without Scott and her memories of their life together. What makes the novel strange for King, besides the inclusion of a female protagonist, is at its most fundamental it is a love story. Despite all the truly horrific moments with tales of madness, The Long Boy and Blood Boons, what resonates the most is the deep love Lisey and Scott share even after his death. But it is indeed terrifying, and one of King’s best works to date.
Misery is not only an exceptional novel but served as my gateway into horror fiction. Perhaps my fond attachment has something to do with it being the first of King’s works I read and the fact that it is now one of my favourite novels. Paul Sheldon is a very successful author but despises the books that made him famous, the Misery Chastain series. In his most recent, and final, Misery story, the heroine dies leaving him to pursue the serious writing he has always wanted. But when he is badly injured in a car wreck only to be ‘saved’ by his biggest fan, she might not stay as dead as he had hoped. I was taken aback by how intense the novel is and how you constantly feel as on edge as Paul does throughout his ordeal. It also takes place over the course of weeks and months rather than days but the suspense doesn’t let up as the story progresses. The inserts of Paul’s writing help the reader to see the passage of time and how Paul’s hallucinations contribute to the words he writes. Of course the character of Annie Wilkes is a fearsome villain and the magnitude of Paul’s situation really does leave you as haunted as it does him.
4. Bag of Bones
One of the things a person fears most in the world is the loss of their child. Having lost a young family member myself I have seen firsthand the immense pain and loss that never seems to fade. Bag of Bones deals with this head on, not only with the loss of children but lovers and soul mates. This may give the impression that this isn’t a horror at all but a sad tale of woe and loss, and you’d be half right. But the gruesome tale of Bag of Bones is indeed a horror and one that resonates with you long after its been read. Mike Noonan has faced writer’s block since the sudden death of his pregnant wife Joe four years before the start of the novel. He returns to Sara Laughs to the house he once shared with his wife in the hope to find some closure to his grief. Instead he finds Kyra and Mattie who desperately need his help. The only thing is, the ghosts of Sara Laughs aren’t going to let Mike help anyone, not without a fight.
5. Under the Dome
Another one of Stephen King’s more recent novels, Under the Dome is less about monsters and ghosts and more about the very real horrors that mankind inflicts upon itself. In the small town of Chester’s Mill, seemingly out of nowhere, an invisible force field encloses the residents completely alienating them from the rest of civilisation. Any contact with the barrier, discovered to be a dome encompassing the town, causes grave injury and death. With the inhabitants left to govern themselves it is not the dome they should be concerned about as the ones to fear are also trapped inside. The novel features an extensive cast, so large that King includes a list of those inside the dome at the start of the novel to help the reader keep track. The list itself makes the novel even more alarming when people slowly but surely die as a result of the dome as it clearly shows how many lives are hurt by it. Although there are still hints to the paranormal as the closing off of the town is under extraordinary circumstances, Under the Dome focuses on the monsters inside our human nature rather the ones from our nightmares and it is of these that we should be truly afraid.