Are you scared of clowns? Do you find them sinister, if not evil, or at least creepy? If your answer is yes, it may be “thanks to” legendary horror-author Stephen King. With so many bestsellers to leaf through, there are far too many options to include on the list of the best Stephen King books. One contender, “It,” introduced the world to the evil killer-clown “Pennywise” – and installed a deep fear of those supposedly silly creatures in the subconscious of millions of readers. Stephen King made the scary clown a horror staple that continues to fuel our nightmares.
One reason for King’s bestselling success – along with his superb writing skills, of course – is that many of us actually enjoy being scared; as long as it’s the right amount: A Danish study shows that humans have a “Goldilocks zone” in which fear turns into a pleasant experience. “We find that there seems to be a ‘sweet spot’ where enjoyment is maximized. […] [There is] empirical evidence on the relationship between fear, enjoyment, and physical arousal in recreational forms of fear,” says study author Marc Malmdorf Andersen.
There are even benefits beyond entertainment to scary fiction. “Scary stories present ample learning opportunities. Fiction allows the audience to explore an imagined version of the world at very little cost. Through fiction, people can learn how to escape dangerous predators, navigate novel social situations, and practice their mind-reading and emotion regulation skills,” explain researchers in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
“One reason that horror use may correlate with less psychological distress is that horror fiction allows its audience to practice grappling with negative emotions in a safe setting,” the study authors continue. “Experiencing negative emotions in a safe setting, such as during a horror film, might help individuals hone strategies for dealing with fear and more calmly deal with fear-eliciting situations in real life.”
Due to their immense popularity, quite a few of Stephen King’s novels have been adapted into successful movies, such as “Carrie”, “Misery”, “The Green Mile”, and “Stand by Me”. That begs the question: which are the best Stephen King books of all time that prove to be the most legendary and chill-inducing reads? StudyFinds visited expert book review websites to find out. And because Stephen King fans enjoy a suspenseful read, we listed them in reverse order, saving the best for last. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know in the comments!
The List: Best Stephen King Books, According to Experts
5. “The Stand” (1978)
“The Stand” is a postapocalyptic story about a virus – “Captain Trips” – that kills almost all life on earth. The few survivors split into two groups facing each other in a final fight of good against evil. Due to its complexity, this novel was originally published in an abridged version. “It’s a crazily ambitious book, but King executed it flawlessly,” writes The Rolling Stone.
Esquire even calls this title“horror’s War and Peace: a huge, continent-spanning chronicle of death and rebirth” and an “American epic,” which ensures the novel a place on this list.
Finally, Vanity Fair states that “The Stand is an odyssey that remains unmatched, and ever-more relevant […] decades later.”
4. “It” (1986)
King’s truly terrifying story about a group of young outcasts facing a shapeshifting evil, mostly in the form of the clown “Pennywise,” traumatized generations of readers and made scary clowns a horror staple.
In addition to its impact on pop culture, “It” is one of King’s best novels as it allows readers to “explore deep themes that extend far beyond the traditional horror genre,” adds Business Insider.
The novel further stands out because it is “King’s treatise on everything he’s learned about his dark craft by this point in his career,” according to Esquire. This book is rightfully “lauded as one of the best horror novels of all time,” says IGN.
3. “The Dark Tower” series (1982 – 2012)
At least one book from this eight-novel series made it to nine out of the ten consulted lists. “Gunslinger” – “a sprawling fantasy epic,” per Books and Bao – and “Wizard and Glass” – “as close to a standalone story as you can get in The Dark Tower,” according to Esquire, – seem to be the experts’ favorites.
“The Dark Tower” series follows its hero, Roland Deschain, a gunslinger, on his journey through a postapocalyptic world to said dark tower. “King makes the fascinating elements of each book work together beautifully, creating a world we can’t help but get lost in […] The series is a true testament to King’s storytelling abilities and keen attention to detail,” writes Reader’s Digest.
2. “Misery” (1987)
A very close second on this list, “Misery” tells the story of novelist Tom Sheldon, who finds himself first rescued, then imprisoned by his “number one fan” nurse Annie Wilkes, “a multi-dimensional villain [in] an intense and graphic tale of the struggle between prisoner and captor,” according to Business Insider.
“A horror both psychological and gruesome in turn, Misery features one of King’s very best villains,” Books and Bao agrees.
Just in case you aren’t convinced yet, The Manual keeps its review short and sweet: “A No. 1 national bestseller, Misery is amazing, and just go read it now.”
1. “The Shining” (1977)
A recovering (?) alcoholic, his young wife, and their psychic toddler are left alone in the middle of nowhere to take care of a haunted hotel during the off-season. What could possibly go wrong?
Say “boo” if the image of an axe-swinging Jack Torrence didn’t immediately enter your mind. Despite its Razzie award nominations, “Stanley Kubrick’s legendary film adaptation featuring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall only helped push the novel’s fame and notoriety,” knows ScreenRant.
In addition to being a “modern horror classic,” this legendary title also represents a special landmark for its author. According to Business Insider, “Stephen King’s most popular book is also his first-ever bestseller.” The novel “cemented King as a master of horror writing. His ability to vividly bring paranormal and personal terror to life truly shines (no pun intended) in this page-turner,” adds Reader’s Digest.
You might also be interested in:
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- The Rolling Stone
- Reader’s Digest
- Vanity Fair
- Books and Bao
- Business Insider
- Men’s Health
- The Manual
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.
The one book of his that scared the Dickenson out of me is Pet Cemetery. I would not read it at night. After I read it I saw a stray white cat in my driveway and it totally freaked me out. I have cats but not a white one
My personal favorite is The Long Walk. (think Squid Games but King did it first and better.
Agreed, woke up screaming the night I finished it and I’ve read and seen countless horror books/movies.
It’s hard to pick a favorite out of so many great stories but I think I read and reread The Dark Half the most. George Stark was terrifyingly unstoppable.
The Talisman with the protagonist Jack Sawyer on his epic journey to save his mom. I couldn’t put the book down. A movie with the right young actor would be a mesmerizing movie. Also, I have to mention The Institute and The Long Walk. The latter being an earlier work was an adventure I never expected. Thank you, Mr. King.
What about Desperation?? I freaking love that book.
I completely agree. Tak.
11/22/1963 surpasses all prior mentioned
Good list but I would leave the Dark Tower off. It never grabbed me. Probably just me. Some of the books mentioned above here in the comments would also be strong contenders, especially Pet Sematary, The Dark Half and 11.22.1963. I also have a soft spot for Salem’s Lot, though it’s probably not quite top 5. As for movies, I would say The Shining and 11/22/1963 would be my favorites, just ahead of It, Pet Sematary, and Misery tied for second. But really SO many really good books and films beyond that. I had the good fortune to spend a half-year as a graduate school research assistant for a professor who was actually writing a book of serious literary criticism on King’s works. At a time when horror was simply NOT considered a literary genre at all. I was responsible for identifying and explaining all of the references to drugs, rock and roll, and other pop culture items King uses to give really strong sense of time and place (verisimilitude), as well as adding depth of character. This was in the mid-80s, so it was only the first fifteen books or so (though I have read most of the rest since), but it was kind of a guilty pleasure compared to my coursework and teaching obligations. Even having read tons of classics I have to say King is one of my favorite authors all time. He really has been a huge source of enjoyment to me for decades.
Misery? Be serious. Not in the same league as It, The Stand, or a dozen others. And the Dark Tower books are boring and literally unreadable. They’re the only thing he’s written that I couldn’t Wade through. What about The Green Mile?
My favorite book by Steven King
Is The eyes of the dragon that was my very first hard copy book I ever received and had it with me for many years and when I went back home to visit I had left it there and somehow it was sold at her yard sale and I’ve been looking for another ever since
Pet Semetery is my #1. Scared the piss out of me.
Pet Semetary should have been #1, it’s his scariest book that leaves a big impact on readers. The movie doesn’t do it justice.
I agree with all these but imho The Stand should be No. 1. That’s is my favorite