10. Everything’s Eventual (Short Story)
Published in Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales, this quirky tale follows Dinky Earnshaw, our 19-year-old narrator who has the uncanny ability to draw pictures that kill people. A mysterious man from a mysterious corporation gives Dinky a house to live in, a car to drive, plenty of money, and pretty much anything he could ever ask for in return for Dinky drawing his pictures (Dinky, as our hero, has no idea the power his pictures wield). Even as the truth of what he’s doing starts to dawn on Dinky, he starts to realize that the mysterious corporation is not what it seems, and that the people he’s killing might not be the bad guys after all. Dinky makes an appearance in King’s opus The Dark Tower series, where the mysterious corporation is shown to be linked to the Crimson King.
9. Low Men in Yellow Coats (Novella)
This Novella appeared in the collection Hearts In Atlantis, and is another offshoot of The Dark Tower series. Ted Brautigan has escaped from his incarceration as a beam-breaker for the Crimson King. We don’t really fully understand this until the final book of The Dark Tower series, but we know by the end of “Low Men in Yellow Coats” that Ted is going to work for the bad guys in return for them leaving Bobby alone. Wait a minute; we may be a little ahead of ourselves. Ted moves into the same apartment building as Bobby Garfield, the child of a single mother who is sleeping with her boss. Which is scandalous, especially in 1960. Ted and Bobby form a friendship that makes his mother very suspicious. Ted lets Bobby know that he (Ted) is being chased by “low men in yellow coats” who put up lost pet signs and draw stars and moons on the sidewalk. Bobby meets Carol, a lovely young girl who also develops a strong affinity for Ted. Carol gets attacked, Ted tries to help her, Bobby’s mom walks in at an inopportune moment and we find out that she calls and turns Ted in to the “Can-Toi”, or the low men in yellow coats. Sound confusing? Give it a read. We guarantee you’ll enjoy it.
Annie Wilkes is Paul Sheldon’s “number one fan”. Paul writes Annie’s favorite stories about Misery Chastain, a tragic heroine who Paul has the nerve to kill off in what was supposed to be the final Misery novel. It just figures that Paul would just so happen to get into a car accident right near Annie’s house. She rescues him, takes him to her house, and at first it seems that Paul’s really lucked out. He has a “number one fan” to take care of him. It turns out that Annie is completely off her rocker, and that Paul isn’t so lucky after all. Made into a movie with James Caan and the incomparable Kathy Bates (who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Annie), the movie was not near as disturbing as the book. Trust us.
What can we say? King can really write crazy. Carrie was published in 1974 and has been a banned book in schools all over the U.S. It’s also been widely adapted: two feature films, a TV movie, and even a Broadway musical. Not too shabby for a manuscript that Stephen King threw away initially.
6. The Long Walk
Published under King’s nom de plume, Richard Bachman, The Long Walk takes place in an alternate universe where life in these United States is more like life in a police state, where teenage boys are forced to take the “long walk” and are killed by soldiers for their indiscretions. It is a well-crafted, fully horrifying piece of work.
Also published under the name Richard Bachman, this psychological thriller/teenage horror story is so powerful and has so many social implications that Stephen King has decided for it to stay out of print forever. Since the odds are pretty slim that you’ll get to read this one, we’ll give you a short plot synopsis. Charlie Decker is an angry young man. So angry, in fact, that he beats a teacher with a wrench, grabs his pistol out of his locker, sets his locker on fire, and then shoots two teachers. As if that wasn’t enough, he holds a classroom full of his fellow students hostage. Disturbing, but not an original story, right? The catch is that the story sounds familiar because of things that have happened since Rage was published. Added to the fact that the story is much more interesting than just a disturbed kid. The dialog between Charlie and his hostages is riveting, and the story is a testament to how horrible teen life can be and how angry life can make a child that is having a hard time becoming an adult. Unfortunately, copies of the book were found in the possession of real-life kids who were angry and messed-up enough to commit similar crimes. Hence, it is out of print.
4. Wizard and Glass (A Dark Tower Novel)
Let’s face it. This series is Stephen King’s opus, and so many of his works weave into it. Since we’re doing this list based on stand-alone works, we didn’t include the whole series. That’s OK, because some of the books are better than the others. This is one of them. This is the story that, most notably, talks about Roland of Gilead’s history, and what a history it is. This is one of the best-crafted, wondrous, disturbing quest stories of all time, not just in Stephen King’s world.
3. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
This story comes from the short story collection Different Seasons, which was also the book with “Apt Pupil” and “The Body”, both of which were made into feature films. So was “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”. As great as the film was, the story is better. It is rich and delightfully told, and you should read it. Today. You won’t be sorry.
2. The Gunslinger (A Dark Tower Novel)
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” If you’ve read this book, that line gives you chills. A poem by Robert Browning called “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” was the unlikely inspiration for this 12-year-in-development labor of love. Funny enough, Browning’s poem is said to have come to him in a dream, fully formed in iambic pentameter. The title of the poem comes from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Shakespeare got the idea for Edgar’s rant from a fairy tale called “Childe Rowland”, which incidentally takes its inspiration from a medieval ballad. One might say that the inspiration for The Gunslinger has inspired many other great works before it. King has often said that he was on a sort of “auto-pilot” during the creation of The Gunslinger and The Dark Tower novels. Guided by the spirit of creation, anyone?
1. The Stand
If Stephen King considers The Dark Tower novels to be his “magnum opus”, The Stand is perhaps his greatest masterpiece. A sprawling and magnificent novel, The Stand takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where most of the human population is dead by the hand of a man-made biological virus/weapon. An oracle’s dreams draws a group of survivors together to rebuild society, but Randall Flagg has other plans. And that synopsis barely scratches the surface of this amazing piece of literature. A bonus for true fans, The Stand is totally linked into The Dark Tower series – Randall Flagg is the villain, there is a superflu, everything is a wasteland but as a stand-alone novel it really holds its salt.