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Literary Birthday: Stephen King

Sep 21, 2018 | Books

Stephen King is as prolific as he is talented: frighteningly so (I’m sorry–I promise that will be my only “scary” pun): he has written 58 novels, 6 nonfiction books, and somewhere north of 200 short stories. Not bad for a man who was so unhappy with his first draft of his first novel, Carrie, that he threw it in the garbage!

I discovered King browsing shelves at the library and took home Salem’s Lot at, in retrospect, a wholly inappropriate age; I was mortified to see four-letter word in the book and actually covered them with my hand every time I saw them which, if you’ve read King novels, you know is an awful lot of page-covering. Scandalous-for-a-fifth-grader language aside, the stories were chilling and compelling, and when I finished Salem’s Lot, I promptly tore through any of his books I could find, even though (or maybe especially because?) they left me up at night with my mind racing about vampires, telekinesis, and–oh, right: evil clowns. 

In honor of Stephen King’s birthday, I’ve complied a list of my favorite King books, as well as their film adaptations; consider it a primer for getting a jump start on the Halloween season!

Carrie–sure, there is telekinesis, religious fanaticism, horror, and mass casualties, but the core of Carrie is the story of a loner who is tormented by her classmates and King does a surprisingly good job at getting into the mind of an outcast teen girl.
Watch It–there have been several adaptations of Carrie that are varying degrees of successful, but the original 1976 film, starring Sissy Spacek and directed by Brian DePalma, is outstanding.

Different Seasons–a collection of four novellas, all of which are masterful. What can you say about a collection that includes both The Body, which is the basis for the beloved film Stand By Me, and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption? I mean, besides, “Wow, that’s incredible”? The anthology also includes Apt Pupil, the story of a teen who learns his neighbor is a Nazi war criminal, and The Breathing Method, a lesser known tale about a woman who masters a breathing technique to help her through childbirth. It’s as horrifying as the collection of stories is fantastic.
Watch Them: Stand By Me, a classic 80s coming-of-age film; The Shawshank Redemption, widely acclaimed as one of the best films of all time; Apt Pupil, starring Ian McKellen.

It-Pennywise the Clown. I don’t need to elaborate, do I? Because, honestly, I’ll get scared just writing about it…
Watch It: Starring Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise, the 2017 film adaptation is chilling–and has a sequel set to begin filming.

Misery–while many of King’s stories frighten because of their supernatural elements, Misery is horrifying because it’s so realistic: some people are just crazy.
Watch It: Kathy Bates won an Oscar for her turn as Annie Wilkes in Rob Reiner’s adaptation.

The Shining-all work and no play make Jack go crazy, in this compelling look at a man slowly being driven insane during a snowstorm at an isolated hotel in Colorado.
Watch It: Stephen King famously hated Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining and argued that the story is about a man slowly being driven mad, while Jack Nicholson clearly looks insane from the beginning. And while that is patently true, Kubrick created an iconic movie with some of the most memorable visuals in all of horror.