The Halloween season is in full effect and we’ve been sucked into the frivolities! Amusement parks have been taken over by demonic forces and transformed into a macabre tangle of haunted mazes. Spooky stores have popped up everywhere to feed our Halloween cravings, and horror movies are playing all month long. We live for this phantasmal time of year when ghouls and creepies are free to walk freely under the autumn sky. So what better time to get lost in a good scary book? Stephen King has us covered.
Stephen King is a Halloween must!
Stephen King is the modern-day master of the macabre. His books have bewitched readers for generations and will certainly go on to outlive us all, proving the timelessness of his immortal visions of the grotesque and the dreaded.
Stephen King masters the ability to turn the ordinary into the – grimmest kind of – extraordinary. His writings are captivating and easy to get lost inside. First-time readers may find his library of works a little intimidating and not know where to start. So here’s a list of my personal favorite Stephen King books to read during this spooky time of year.
One of the secrets to the literary success Stephen King enjoys is his ability to make everyday life truly terrifying. Many people who read his works are shocked by how relatable his stories can be. In fact, they may be a little too close to home for comfort.
That’s because Stephen King uses his own experiences in his stories. The more hair-raising they are the better. At the time before writing Pet Sematary, Stephen King moved his family into a little house that stood just a little too close to the road. After a particularly close call with one of his kids (involving that road), King’s imagination kicked into overdrive. ‘What would have happened if…?’ and with that chilling riddle thundering around in his mind he sat down at his typewriter and hammered out what would become one of his most ghoulish classics. The answer to his morbid curiosity took form as the deadly secrets behind the mysterious Pet Sematary began to reveal themselves to the writer, and later would go on to haunt readers everywhere.
Stephen King said that his mother taught him to imagine the worst to get the opposite. So he intentionally puts the families of his stories through the worst kind of traumas as a way to – just maybe – keep his own family safe and sound. This story is possibly a shining example of that kind of strange magic at work.
Pet Sematary is alive with eerie undertones and malicious atmosphere. On one hand, you could reason that the terrible series of events that have befallen the Creed family can be chalked up to nothing more than horrible coincidences. Then again, there is a dark rumor echoing from beyond the lonely cemetery the local kids have built. Something is restless out there and maybe, just possibly, has orchestrated disaster upon the family to achieve its own unholy demands.
This was the first Stephen King book I ever read. Yup, this was the one that hooked me for a lifetime. I was seventeen, living in St. Petersburg, Russia, and ecstatic because I just found the only English bookstore we had in the city. I saved up – because import tax was a nightmare – and bought this book, rushed home, and could not put it down!
This past year I returned to it out of curiosity and once more was pulled into its darkly wonderful world. Before I knew it the first five chapters were behind me and I couldn’t put it down. History repeated itself and I was reminded why I originally loved this story. It’s dark, it’s menacing, there is a real sense of dread to closes in on the town, and you genuinely feel for each character. Everyone is written so well that you believe they’re real.
As far as Halloween goes, this is a story you’ll want to make a priority.
Anyone familiar with the plot will know it’s about vampires. No real secret there. Stephen King got the idea one day while wondering what would happen if Count Dracula moved into town. So, per his usual, he set out to exorcize this demonic curiosity via his typewriter. ‘Salem’s Lot was thus born.
It’s an underrated vampire classic. It really dives into the heart of vampire lore. But I was a little shocked upon this past re-reading; perhaps I was a dense teenager back when I first cracked this book open, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized the vampires are not the actual core of the story. The core of this story lies behind the boarded-up windows of an old house sitting atop a hill. The house can be seen from any point of ‘Salem’s Lot, and the locals both hate and fear that abode of shadows and secrets.
This is a clever (and quite unexpected) Haunted House story. That old house is the rotting heart of the town and serves as a malignant beacon summoning all the Devil’s children home to its darkened halls of pain. And evil does answer it’s call.
If you’re needing a modernized gothic horror tale, this is a must.
Of all the many books he’s written, this one is by far my favorite. The story flows from cover to cover with a genuine sense of encroaching dread.
Deeply hidden beneath the mundane surface of Derry, Maine, sleeps an ageless evil. It is a malignant force that befouls the entire town by its mere presence. Indeed, there’s something to be very afraid of in Derry.
Everyone knows this is a killer clown story, but Stephen King – the sadist we all love him for – isn’t just content to leave it at that. Oh no, Pennywise isn’t just an ordinary killer clown. He
is the very embodiment of pure terror. He is a cosmic evil and is far older than our world. He is what’s known as a Deadlight, a horrifying reality of nightmares and hysteria.
The Clown is Fear incarnate. He not only has the power to read your deepest fears but can bring them to life. He will scare you beyond your limits. He will unhinge your mind by using your worst fear against you. Why? Because scared people taste better of course.
Stephen King admitted he wanted to write a story where he could somehow use all the classic monsters – Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman etc. – he grew up loving. Pennywise offered King that opportunity, and that’s what makes this such a great Halloween read. IT offers readers a nice selection of monsters and nightmares through the central character of Pennywise, who may be King’s grandest creation.
Cycle of the Werewolf
In case IT seems like too much of an undertaking as your first dive into Stephen King literature, I recommend a work that is far less in bulk but lacks nothing in story. This is one that gets overlooked and it’s time to let the full moon shine brightly upon this wonderful creature-spectacular.
The cult-classic Silver Bullet was based on this hair-raising chiller, however, if you’ve seen the movie and think you know the story you’ll find yourself very surprised to find the half hasn’t even been told you.
This is a quick read and who doesn’t love a little lycanthropy for Halloween?
Again, if you’re looking for a quick read – and this is a busy time of year, I get it – then look no further. Night Shift is a collection of some of Stephen King’s best short stories.
Quick Halloween recommendations from this collection:
Children of the Corn – A creepy little story about killer kids who worship a demonic presence out in the corn fields. Kids are creepy little bastards on their own, but Stephen King has to give them a demon to worship and offer sacrifice to – because of course, he does!
Graveyard Shift – If you’re looking for a down and dirty little eerie delight, this is the one you’ll want to start with. Tons of rats burrow in and out of the bowels of an old cotton mill, but there is something much nastier than these greasy legions to worry about down there. And guess what? We have to go down there and discover this breathing abomination to nature.
Jerusalem’s Lot – This one serves as a tie-in to the aforementioned ‘Salem’s Lot. It’s King’s closest attempt at the Mythos lore of Lovecraft, while also adding more depth and background to the accursed town from his own dark imagination.
Sometimes They Come Back – This is a good, old fashion ghost story from King’s unique perspective. In it, we learn that sometimes the past refuses to stay buried, and will find a way to come back.
Sure, nearly each of these has had a film adaptation (or adaptations), but even if we’ve all grown up watching the movies, the books are always superior and offer a lot more to the tales we already know we love. So let’s make reading sexy and creep ourselves out with some chilling tales by a horror master. Happy Halloween, my Nasties.