There will probably never be another author like Stephen King. I’m not sure there can ever be.
Since the publication of his first novel Carrie, just under fifty years ago, King dominated the horror landscape. He arrived during a resurgence of interest in all things scary – after the success of Ira Levin Rosemary’s baby (1967) and William Peter Blatty The Exorcist (1971) – and quickly set about reshaping the genre in his image. King regularly published two or three books a year, an ever-flowing stream of words from the West to Hollywood. Almost everything he wrote was edited or adapted for the screen, in some cases multiple times.
Such prolificacy has often led to sniffing reviews from those who consider him “merely” a horror writer (as if horror were something “simple”). But for millions of readers and writers, he is our pole star, our southern cross. We sail by it. I’ve interviewed hundreds of horror writers from across the spectrum of the genre, and when asked about their inspirations and gateways to spooky fiction, many immediately jump to King. Nat Cassidy, this year’s author Mary: Awakening from Terror, to put it best, describing King as his “mother tongue.” He is not just a writer; it’s an industry, an aesthetic, a kind of one.
Of course, in such a long and varied career, there are exhilarating highs, some puzzling lows, and many unexpected distractions. The following list is an attempt to classify King’s published works in all their darkness, weather-worn beauty, and startling strangeness. The man has written over seventy books, so a nod to brevity is in order. Any published stories compiled into a larger collection will not be individually ranked. There are still more than sixty novels and more than a dozen collections of tales. Together they form a dark constellation of stories that generations have forged in wonder, fear and hope.
Below, I’ve ranked King’s books from worst to best. Let’s start.