October is here, and with Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better way to commemorate the spooky season than to curl up in a cozy nook with some pumpkin spice latte and a horror novel at hand. Speaking of horror novels, the first person to spring to mind is Stephen King. In an almost fifty-year career, he has published 65 novels and over 200 short stories, most with a horror or supernatural theme; hence, he is deservedly known as the King of Horror.
Best Stephen King Horror Books!
He is unparalleled in his world-building, and his masterful writing makes the plot more tangible to the readers. To evoke horror in the readers’ minds only through the mode of writing without any visual or audio component is an exceptional talent that King has in abundance, as evidenced by his novels and their popularity. Here are a few of his books that succeed in spooking even the most stoic readers, so proceed with caution!
1. Carrie (1974)
This novel is King’s first published work, setting the tone for his eventual literary success. The protagonist, Carrie White, is a high schooler raised by a religious zealot single mother. She is bullied viciously by her classmates at school, and her home life is no better as her mother abuses her due to her despotic religious beliefs. She discovers that she has telekinetic abilities and finds solace in experimenting.
The bullying worsens and is ramped up on Prom when she is finally pushed to the ends of her rope. She unleashes hell using her telekinetic abilities and goes on a trail, leaving destruction in her path. The plot leads like a revenge fantasy wherein the wronged protagonist/ the victim decides to turn the tables and become evil by taking matters into their own hands, a scarier concept than any imaginary supernatural entity can aim to be! You can get the book here! 📖
2. ‘Salem’s Lot (1975)
It is generally known that an author’s second novel following their famous debut will either make or break them. ‘Salem’s Lot helped cement the name of Stephen King as one of the greatest horror writers ever. The setting is a sleepy little town in Maine (a commonality in most of his books) called Jersulam’s Lot. The protagonist, Ben Mears, is a new arrival to the town, and he unfortunately finds himself in the middle of a vampire epidemic.
The town’s resident bloodsucker has decided to indulge in his bloodlust and create a vampire army. Our protagonist is tasked with saving himself and the ones he loves or faces a fate worse than death. This vampire story is a worthy successor to the inimitable Dracula. You can get the book here! 📖
This novel is a prototype for common elements that will be found in King’s succeeding books:
- Small-town social commentary.
- Ordinary people turned heroes.
- Horror intensifies with every subsequent page.
3. The Shining (1977)
Imagine staying in an enormous hotel cut off from civilization during the winter with only your family for company; sounds like the stuff nightmares are made of, right? Jack Torrance and his family, consisting of his wife Wendy and son Danny, are the only people staying at The Overlook Hotel as he works as a winter caretaker. Jack is a recovering alcoholic who is immediately affected by the malevolent energy prevalent in the hotel, as is his son Danny, who has a gift of clairvoyance he calls The Shining.
The family is trapped in the hotel as creepy incidents start happening there, coupled with the fact that Jack begins to act increasingly weird. This novel has supernatural elements, but most horror moments are purely psychological and more fearsome. The novel is a slow burn, and it starts wholesome but slowly takes a malicious turn towards the latter parts, making this a nerve-wracking read, albeit in the best possible way! You can get the book here! 📖
4. The Stand (1978)
In the late 1970s, when the world was blissfully unaware of a future CoronaVirus pandemic that would wreak havoc on it, this post-apocalyptic novel created waves. The plot is based on a deadly pandemic that started as a biological war weapon gone wrong. A deadly virus leaks out and kills most of the population except for 0.6%, who are immune to it. The remaining survivors split up and divided themselves into two factions – good and evil.
The factions separately attempt to rebuild humanity while adhering to the new rules to form a safe world without the perils and faults of the previous world. This novel is freakier than a typical monster-in-the-closet horror novel as it is reminiscent of our recent past. Reading it in the post-pandemic era makes the fear more tangible based on our lived experiences of the dark times we’ve lived through. You can get the book here! 📖
5. Cujo (1981)
This book is not one for the fainthearted and dog lovers. The horror is slow-building and shows the deterioration of a good-natured, friendly Saint Bernard, Cujo, who becomes extremely violent and murderous after being bitten by a rabies-infected bat. A mother and her young son are stuck in their broken-down car for days near a garage during a hot summer when Cujo, the garage owner’s dog, attacks them. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the mother and son struggle to save themselves as they get dehydrated and overheated due to the hot summer sun.
This book reads like your worst nightmare come to life, as it has an underlying feeling of claustrophobia and helplessness. King famously said that he does not remember writing this book as he was in his worst phase of alcohol addiction at that time. It is such a shame because this is such a great example of a genre where the plot is simple, uncomplicated, and yet unequivocally horrifying at the same time. You can get the book here! 📖
6. Pet Sematary (1983)
The intriguing spelling of cemetery in the title aside, this novel has the honor of being the only one of all his published works that has scared King the most. King usually derives inspiration from actual incidents for his stories, and this book follows a similar vein. King lived in a house very close to a highway with speeding vehicles that contributed to the deaths of the local animals. For that reason, there was a pet cemetery near his house, similarly misspelled as the titular Pet Sematary, giving him a plot idea for his next book.
Louis Creed, the protagonist, and his family move into a house near the highway with a cemetery for pets and an ancient burial ground with a sinister atmosphere nearby. Their lovely life gets upended when the family’s cat is killed by a vehicle on the highway. Creed decides to do something that proves the book’s tagline, ‘Sometimes dead is better,’ right. This book is heartbreakingly sad, perfectly intermingled with spine-chilling terror, as it shows to what extent people can go to save the ones they love. You can get the book here! 📖
7. It (1986)
This novel gave a generation of kids coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns. Pennywise, the dancing clown, the main antagonist and a manifestation of an ancient evil spirit known as It, is the perfect nightmare-inducing paranormal villain. The town of Derry in Maine is troubled by a string of child murders, all of whom have come in contact with It’s various manifestations. Six kids who have all come in contact with Pennywise, the clown, form a club called the Loser’s Club to get to the bottom of the mystery.
The novel is narrated through alternative timelines between the children’s childhood and adulthood. In both timelines, they attempt to defeat the supernatural entity while battling their phobias triggered by It. The hair-raising adventures of the young protagonist and their older selves are not meant for the fainthearted. Despite containing numerous controversial scenes, like one particularly infamous sewer scene, this book shows King at his best, spooking his readers! You can get the book here! 📖
8. Misery (1987)
Fandom is both a creator’s boon and bane, as excess can become unhealthy and obsessive. King decides to show the dark side of fandom and the thin line between devotion and hatred when an author’s number one fan turns into their deadliest enemy. The book’s protagonist, Paul Sheldon, an author of a bestselling series, decides to kill off the series’ main character, thereby ending it. This does not sit well with his fans, especially his biggest fan, Annie Wilkes.
The deranged Annie hunts down her once favored author and gives him a choice: either bring her favorite character back to life or lose his. Faced with a lose-lose situation, unable to escape from the fearsome woman holding him hostage, he succumbs to her demands, but how long can he hold back the woman who is out to destroy him? This book has many blood-curdling scenes, proving that King does not require a ghost to give us the spooks! You can get the book here! 📖
9. Gerald’s Game (1992)
Games are fun, except when set in a Stephen King world, where anything can turn eerie in the blink of an eye. Jessie and her husband Gerald go to a lake house for a romantic getaway, where they undergo a bit of a genre change when romance devolves into horror as Gerald dies, and Jessie finds herself cuffed to the bed without a way to free herself. The situation does not improve as she hallucinates and hears voices in her head, bringing long-buried childhood traumas to the forefront.
There’s also the appearance of a deadly apparition intending to harm Jessie. She needs to find a way to free herself or face deadly peril at the hands of the apparition, which may or may not be a figment of her imagination. The fight-or-flight instinct is strong in this novel as panic seeps into every abscess of the mind, making it the only thing left. You can get the book here! 📖
10. Cell (2006)
This is another apocalyptic horror novel in a similar vein to that of The Stand, but more technologically inclined. Clayton Riddell, the protagonist, is on a mission to reunite with his son when a mysterious signal called The Pulse is received on cell phones, turning their users into zombies. Everyone who has a phone has been transformed into these zombies, termed Phoners, and their agenda is to kill the people without phones, the Non-Phoners.
It is a battle for survival between the Phoners and the Non-Phoners, and the question is whether humanity will survive this battle. The novel was published in the mid-2000s when cell phones were not as widespread among the population as it is now, and it still managed to incite a sense of unease. Imagine if, in this age, with the ubiquitousness of cell phones, such a situation would arise. The idea itself is so petrifying as to veer towards the unthinkable! You can get the book here! 📖
Stephen King is a master of multiple genres, but his horror novels are the most popular and widely acclaimed. He is talented at using generic and mundane things to spook his readers instead of using ghouls, ghosts, and monsters, as is the genre’s norm. You can also check out Stephen King’s underrated novels. Halloween season will be amiss without the addition of King’s novels, and each of these novels is perfect for the spooky season as they have something for every type of horror fan.
An architect who loves to write. Her favorite past-time fluctuates between reading books and writing about what she reads. Her favorite habitats are libraries, bookstores, and old buildings, in that order. She dreams of becoming an author one day, provided she gets over a pesky affliction called procrastination.