An Introduction to Stephen King
By his editor, Phillipa Pride
There is a reason why Stephen King is one of the bestselling writers in the world ever.
He knows how to write stories that draw you in and are impossible to put down. The New York Times describes this as ‘a relentless tidal pull’ and the Express calls him ‘a fabulous teller of stories who can create an entire new world and make the reader live in it’.
Did you know he wrote the story of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, the film rated the greatest of all time on IMDB?
Or that he is the author of THE reference book on how to write fiction? ON WRITING is a terrific success with budding novelists and critics alike.
Are you familiar with his memorable character Annie Wilkes from the film Misery and would like to read the original, brilliant psychological thriller?
If you know of him but haven’t yet read a book, you have a wonderful treat in store. King has written such a rich selection of books and short stories from beautifully written poignant love stories to unputdownable apocalyptic thrillers that we are spoiled for choice. Stephen King can turn his observational eye, incomparable imagination, wonderful humour and magical storytelling from stories of children lost in the woods to the powerful effects of the Vietnam war.
So the two questions we are asked again and again are:
Which book should I read first?
If I like a particular book, which one should I read next?
To answer these questions, we have compiled this short introduction to the works of Stephen King. You could also click on the author’s website and visit ‘library’ for excellent synopses and fascinating information on the inspiration behind the books. And those of you who prefer listening to reading will be delighted to hear that many of these titles are available as downloads or on CD.
If Lost and Heroes have been your TV viewing over the last few years, why not try DUMA KEY? Set on a remote island off the Florida coast, it is endorsed by Damon Lindelof (co-creator and writer of Lost) as follows: ‘Simply put, this is one of the most haunted character pieces he’s ever written. Horrific. Tragic. And absolutely beautiful.’
If you are a reader who would like ‘a love story steeped in strength and tenderness, and cast with the most vivid, touching and believable character in recent literature’ (Nicholas Sparks) why not choose LISEY'S STORY? (At the time of publication Stephen King made it clear this was one of the books closest to his heart. He was inspired to write it when he returned from hospital to discover his wife had redecorated his study). You could also read BAG OF BONES, recommended by the Sunday Times as ‘as good a place to start [reading King’s novels] as any’. Both books give a wonderful insight into the world of a writer: LISEY'S STORY focuses on the writer’s wife while the dark, gorgeously gothic BAG OF BONES, about a widowed author in a haunted house (once described by the author as his ‘take on Rebecca’), gives us a compelling portrait of writer’s block.
All three of these books, highly acclaimed by the press, would make a fabulous choice for your Reading Groups, as would HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, five linked narratives, each deeply rooted in the sixties, and each haunted by the Vietnam War.
For BAG OF BONES, the Observer commented that ‘his work anatomises with folksy charm, the social fabric of small-town American life’. Many of King’s novels are set in small-towns in Maine, the place where he grew up and lives for most of the year. For a flavour of small-town life, we suggest you sample NEEDFUL THINGS set in Castle Rock, which is rich with the gossip of the good folks that live there. And ripe for a devilishly surreal turn when a stranger arrives and opens a new shop.
Two other books featuring writers are MISERY and THE DARK HALF. MISERY is one of the world’s classic psychological thrillers about an author who kills off the heroine of a string of bestsellers until his Number One Fan traps him into bringing her back to life. In ON WRITING, the author gives us a wonderful insight into how MISERY came about, inspired by a dream about ‘a popular writer who fell into the clutches of a psychotic fan living on a farm somewhere in the back of beyond’. And what’s more he began it on Rudyard Kipling’s desk in Brown’s Hotel in London! Even if you have seen the film, don’t miss the book as you’ll love it. THE DARK HALF, born from the question ‘where do you get your ideas?’, sees a writer’s monstrous alter-ego come to life and commit a series of terrifying crimes.
If you want to get to know about the life of Stephen King himself, don’t miss the aforementioned ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT. Part tips for the aspiring writer, is it also part autobiography. In that book, Stephen King explains how, many of his novels have started as’ situational’ novels, conceived from the question what if:
What if vampires invaded a small New England village? If the legendary count Dracula came back to a sleepy little country town? The book that followed was SALEM'S LOT, recently republished in its original form with a fascinating introduction by the author, will also appeal to the Stephenie Meyer generation.
What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their car by a rabid dog? Curious? Then read CUJO. You might also enjoy the short, illustrated novella CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF where terror begins at the light of the full moon. And if you are feeling very, very brave. and want to know what lies in an ancient Indian burial ground, try PET SEMATARY…
What if a policeman in a remote Nevada desert town went beserk and started killing everyone in sight? If you are curious to know what happens, pick up DESPERATION and the complementary novel set in the suburbs, THE REGULATORS, written by Richard Bachman (Stephen King’s pseudonymn). In both books, a creature from another dimension takes up residence in a human body and the confrontation between the forces of good and ancient evil are terrifying. If you are blown away by THE REGULATORS check out the other books written under King’s penname: THE BACHMAN BOOKS, THINNER and BLAZE.
What if a cleaning woman got away with murdering her husband (a crime she did commit) and was suspected for murdering her employer (which she did not commit)? DOLORES CLAIBORNE is one woman’s confessional described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘a work not just of imagination but of genuine pathos…the tension is unrelenting and the narrator/heroine with her vivid colloquialisms and her sharp, homespun wit, is a tour de force’.
Stephen King is brilliant at creating strong female characters and if you like women-in-jeopardy edge-of-the-seat suspense with a supernatural twist, don’t miss ROSE MADDER about a woman who flees from her husband after 14 years of abusive marriage and the aforementioned LISEY'S STORY. Even if you haven’t yet read it, you will have heard of CARRIE, Stephen King’s first published novel famously pulled out of the dustbin by his wife. This powerful novel about the girl with telekinetic powers, her ultra-religious mother and the night she goes to the prom was to change the traditional face of ‘horror’ novels for evermore. It is now available with a fascinating introduction by the author. And if you enjoy CARRIE, don’t miss FIRESTARTER.
Another unmissable classic is THE SHINING, described by Peter Straub as ‘a masterpiece. Probably the best supernatural novel in a hundred years’. Set in the Overlook Hotel, high in the Rocky Mountains, the story of five-year-old Danny Torrence, his psychic talent and his father’s wrestling with alcohol is also a compelling psychological drama.
Stephen King has a rare gift for understanding the human experience from a child’s point of view – which is one of the reasons why readers of all ages love his writing. And if you have seen the film of ‘Stand By Me’ about four friends, don’t miss the original story ‘The Body’ available in the collection DIFFERENT SEASONS.
Many people tell us the first Stephen King book they read was IT. They tell us that even though they were terrified, they just couldn’t put it down and ended up sleeping with the lights on for nights to come. It is the story of seven teenagers who battle a monstrous creature in the sewers of Derry, Maine, and make a pact to return as adults should IT ever reappear. It is one of the biggest, most ambitious books in King’s career – a towering epic of horror and an illumination into the passage between childhood innocence and maturity.
King’s novels are both frighteningly real and can be interpreted as incredible metaphors for the fears which lurk deep within each of us.
DESPERATION, IT and DREAMCATCHER are among several of his novels which will appeal to the massive audience of the new ‘Doctor Who’. DREAMCATCHER also sees four childhood friends re-united. Pitted against an alien invasion in the woods of Maine, their only chance of survival is locked in their shared past. It is also in dark woods, this time near the town of Haven, Maine, where a spaceship lands in THE TOMMYKNOCKERS, a novel which will appeal to all those who enjoy a touch of science fiction.
If you want to be uplifted by the triumph of a girl’s indomitable spirit as she gets more and more lost in the woods with only her walkman for company, we highly recommend THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON which is at once a powerful fairytale, an astounding allegory and a brilliant portrait of a girl and her sports hero. ‘A compelling battle for survival that you dare not put down’ Daily Mirror.
How many of us have used handcuffs for fun? As Jessie lies tied to the bed in her remote holiday cabin, she too is left alone in her holiday cabin with nothing but the voices in her head... unless there is someone in the corner of the room watching her. If this captures your imagination, don’t miss GERALD'S GAME.
If you are a fan of ‘Top Gear’, try CHRISTINE or FROM A BUICK 8. ‘Christine is the story of a lover’s triangle. I suppose you’d say – Arnie Cunningham, Leigh Cabot, and, of course, Christine. But Christine [a ’58 Plymouth Fury] was there first. She was Arnie’s first love...so I call what happened a tragedy’ (From the Author’s prologue). Both cars possess different powers: Christine’s is malevolent, possessive, corrosive, while the Buick 8 is a conduit to another world.
Some readers prefer stories in bite-size chunks, perfect for the journeys to and from work, Stephen King is a rare master of the short story form – which he describes as a ‘kiss in the dark from a stranger’. Many of his short stories and novellas have been turned into classic films – from The Shawshank Redemption through Dolores Claiborne and 1408 to Stand By Me. His collections include STEPHEN KING GOES TO THE MOVIES with his personal commentary on the productions, DIFFERENT SEASONS, NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES, NIGHT SHIFT, SKELETON CREW, EVERYTHING'S EVENTUAL, FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT and, recently, JUST AFTER SUNSET, which was described as ‘his most accomplished work: 13 beautifully turned tales, no two of which are alike’ (Sun). Why not start here if you want a little taster before you embark on a novel?
For all of you who enjoy adventure and fantasy, don’t miss Stephen King’s wonderful Dark Tower series. Follow Roland’s quest to find the Dark Tower over seven mesmerising volumes. It’s a delightful discovery for everyone who enjoyed Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy,
If you enjoy the Harry Potter novels, try THE TALISMAN (Stephen King and Peter Straub) and join young Jack Sawyer in his trip across America as he searches for the Talisman, the only thing which can save his dying mother. And if you fancy reading a fantasy/fairytale about a young prince caught up in the masterful plot of an evil sorcerer, pick up THE EYES OF THE DRAGON which King wrote with his thirteen-year-old daughter in mind.
There is a reason why Stephen King’s works are acclaimed as both topical and timeless. He observes the here and now in the details of society, culture and politics and he understands the human condition and what makes us tick. His books are classics in his own lifetime.
When Stephen King asked himself the questions: ‘Can a political assassin ever be right? And if he is, could you make him the protagonist of a novel?’ He answered them with THE DEAD ZONE in which Johnny Smith, cursed with visions of people’s pasts and futures, sees what will happen if he doesn’t take action against a corrupt politician...
After his wife dies, Raph Roberts also starts having visions in INSOMNIA. Witnessing two strange men creeping around Derry under cover of darkness he begins to suspect these visions are more than hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation. And soon he will be caught up in cosmic forces as the New England city faces the forces of a terrifying evil...
If you are a fan of massive apocalyptic dramas such as DESPERATION and INSOMNIA then you will be thrilled by THE STAND, which is regarded by many as Stephen King’s greatest book. King’s vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil is available in its original form. And for fans who are interested, there is a section on how it came about in Stephen King’s non-fiction book DANSE MACABRE. From plague to a modern-day mobile phone virus, CELL will ring bells for the blue-tooth generation and thrill fans of Shaun of the Dead.
And no-one should miss Stephen King’s mesmerising new masterpiece published in November 2009. In UNDER THE DOME, his biggest, most riveting novel since THE STAND, a Maine town and its inhabitants are isolated from the world by an invisible, impenetrable dome. This tour de force, features more than 100 characters – some heroic, some diabolical – and a supernatural element as baffling and chilling as any he’s ever conjured.
There is a reason why Stephen King is one of the bestselling writers in the world ever. Why not discover it for yourself? Just like his shop Needful Things, there’s something here for everyone. Something you really have to have...
Bag of Bones
Hearts in Atlantis
The Dark Half
Carrie - King's first novel
The Gunslinger - Book One of King's Dark Tower series
ON WRITING - part guidebook, part autobiography
Only a selection of our paperback editions of the great novels by Stephen King