Is there any more prolific writer in the world today than Stephen King? He once said that he likes to churn out about 10 pages per day, which amounts to about 2,000 words daily. As a professional writer myself, I can tell you that writing 2,000 words per day consistently is extremely difficult.
However, Stephen King isn’t only known for the quantity of writing he produces or his tweets, he manages to churn out incredibly gripping and suspenseful stories time after time. Indeed, King has produced so many iconic novels that his name has basically become synonymous with the horror genre. In fact, he’s been dubbed the “King of Horror”.
Stephen King sold his first professional short story, “The Glass Floor,” to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967, meaning that King has been writing professionally for over 55 years. And he hasn’t slowed down much over the course of his career. In fact, he just released his most recent novel, Gwendy’s Final Task, on May 31, 2022.
Over the span of his writing career, Stephen King has published over 65 novels and 200 short stories. Most writers are lucky if they publish even one novel in their career. This alone is a testament to the sheer genius of Stephen King.
So, with so many options to choose from, it’s hard to narrow it down to the best novels of Stephen King’s career. So many of his works have become cultural pillars and have been adapted into some of the best films of all time. Nevertheless, here are 6 of the best Stephen King novels that you need to read if you’re a fan of horror or literature in general.
1. The Shining
It’s no surprise that the most well-known work in the Stephen King canon is the first to appear on this list. The Shining was published in 1977 and was influenced by many of King’s own personal experiences, including his visit to The Stanley Hotel (in Estes Park, Colorado) and his struggle with alcoholism.
The novel follows Jack Torrence, a slumping novelist and recovering alcoholic who gets a job as the winter caretaker of a hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His wife and son accompany him to the mysterious hotel, and after a massive snowstorm, Jack’s sanity starts to slip, putting his wife and son in danger.
As you probably know, The Shining was adapted into a film starring Jack Nicholson directed by Stanley Kubrick. It’s one of the most beloved horror films of all time. However, Stephen King himself has said that he wasn’t particularly fond of the film adaptation and that it was the only film adaptation of his works that he could “remember hating.”
2. The Institute
The Institute isn’t the most well-known work of Stephen King’s career. However, I would argue that is only because it’s a relatively newer work of his (having been released in 2019), and it hasn’t had the time to accumulate fame and renown as some of his older works have.
The novel follows a 12-year-old boy named Luke Ellis, who’s intellectually gifted and has mild telekinetic powers. After his parents are murdered, Luke is kidnapped and winds up in The Institute alongside several other kidnapped children with special abilities (sort of like the lab where Eleven was raised in Stranger Things).
The entire novel is wonderfully intense and mind-boggling. Plus, King cited connections between the actions of The Institute in the novel and the actions of President Donald Trump, stating in an interview with The New York Times that it was in regards to “children, seeking asylum at the border … being removed from their parents under the administration’s family separation policy.” Shout out to Stephen King for keeping it real.
3. The Green Mile
While Stephen King is certainly most often associated with the supernatural horror genre, one of the greatest works of his career is undoubtedly the 1996 serial novel The Green Mile, which deals far more with criminal justice than supernatural hauntings. The Green Mile takes place during The Great Depression and tells the story of John Coffey, a death row inmate who’s been sentenced to death for the awful crimes he allegedly committed against two girls.
However, as the story progresses, both the reader and death row supervisor Paul Edgecomb come to learn that John Coffey may not be the monster he’s been painted as. The Green Mile won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 1996 and was turned into a feature film starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan in 1999.
4. Pet Sematary
Unlike the last entry on this list, the 1983 novel Pet Sematary is right down the middle for what you’d expect from Stephen King. This novel is dark, supernatural, ominous, and scary as hell. The story follows a family that moves to Maine (Stephen King’s home state and the setting of many of his stories) and discovers two graveyards near their property. One of these graveyards is a Native American burial ground that seems to possess magical powers and the other is, well, a pet cemetery for deceased animals.
After a great tragedy befalls the family, the father of the family debates using the powers of the Native American burial ground to raise the dead. However, he learns the hard way that you shouldn’t mess with the natural order of things. Pet Sematary was adapted to film both in 1989 and 2019. The 1989 version was definitely superior, but both versions were definitely terrifying. In fact, rumors have circulated that Stephen King was so terrified by his own writing that he almost didn’t finish this book.
Probably one of the trendiest works of Stephen King at the moment due to the release of a film adaptation in 2017, the 1986 horror novel It is the book that introduced readers to Pennywise the Dancing Clown, the most common form of an evil entity that turns its victims’ innermost fears against them. It includes many of the themes that appear throughout many of Stephen King’s novels, including memory and how it can be corrupted, childhood trauma and its effect on adulthood, and the way that evil is dealt with in small-town America.
Perhaps more than any of his other novels, Stephen King’s attention to detail in It really allows scenes to come to life. This novel was adapted into a television miniseries in 1990 (which I found to be very entertaining) and then into a feature-length film in 2017. Plus, It Chapter Two hit the silver screen in 2019. The second film didn’t quite live up to the first, but It is certainly one of the best killer clown movies out there.
One of Stephen King’s most controversial works, the 1974 novel Carrie is one of many books that has been banned in schools across the United States for its horrific and gory scenes of violence between teenagers. The book centers on a girl named Carrie who’s a social outcast in high school. However, when Carrie discovers that she has telekinetic powers, she uses them to inflict pain on those who bullied her.
While many voiced negative opinions about the depictions of violence in Stephen King’s Carrie, the book was also massively popular among fans of the horror genre. And, of course, Carrie was adapted to film in 1976 with Sissy Spacek in the titular role, with the film later being revamped in 2013 with Chloë Grace Moretz as Carrie.