Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Top Ten Favourite Books - Number 6

Number 6 All-Time Favourite Novel
 I'm not sure which of Stephen King's stories was the first one that I read, maybe The Dead Zone or Cujo or Carrie, but through the '80's I had a real love affair with his stories. Stephen King had a knack for making the ordinary terrifying. Every story was unique in its own right and each had something different to offer. I will discuss a few others of his stories in this Blog, but the main purpose is to highlight Number 6 in my Top Ten all-time favourite books. 

The Stand was originally published in 1978 and was a change for King as, while it still had a horror motif, it also fit into the SciFi genre. This particular edition was published in 1990 by Doubleday and contained new materiel from King.

The story, for those unfamiliar with the work, is set in a post-apocalyptic United States. A super flu is released in the US by a soldier and his family, who escape from a military base. It spreads quickly across the US and the world, killing 99.4% of the world's population.

The story revolves around various individuals who are immune to the virus and leave their homes to escape the turmoil. There are various groups but they are experiencing the same thing; they dream about a woman Abigail Freemantle, who guides them to a new society in the Western US. At the same time, the story follows a number of 'troubled' individuals who dream of 'The Dark Man', Randall Flagg, who leads them to Las Vegas, a Hell on Earth.

The first group form a community, try to build a new society, but of course, there is conflict with Flagg's people. This is the conflict within the novel and King portrays it so very well. Ultimately there will be a final confrontation, but not wanting to spoil the story, I won't go into anymore details.

Suffice it to say, this is a story I've read many times and each time I've found it fascinating. King develops his characters so very well and the plot grows and evolves in leaps and bounds. I also like his use of intertextuality (how's that for a word, eh?); that being the use of people like Flagg, who also shows up in other King stories.

The Stand (1994)
 The Stand was also developed for TV as a mini-series in 1994. It starred Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald and Rob Lowe, amongst others. The role of Flagg was played by Jamie Sheridan (probably a miscasting in my mind), although Matt Frewer as Trash-Can Man was excellent.

Overall, I thought it was pretty well-done. I think to capture everything that Stephen King was trying to present in his novel, the movie had to be done as a mini-series.

The tension of the novel was there, the character development as well. I think that even if you hadn't read the novel, you would have enjoyed the mini-series.

However, having said that, to really appreciate the scope and breadth of the story, you really need to read the novel. I think you'll find that you won't be able to put it down and you might even read it one or two more times. :0)

Other Stephen King favourites

I will only highlight a few of my favourite King novels. As I mentioned at the beginning, I went through almost all of his books at one time. I did find that his later novels; The Dark Half, Dolores Clairborne, Gerald's Game and Needful Things, to name a few, didn't grab me as much as his earlier writing. While still good stories, they didn't have the same impact.

The Dead Zone was published in 1979 and is a story about Johnny Smith, a man who wakes from a coma after five years. He discovers that he now is able to see future crimes happening.

He helps the police but because he is treated as  a freak due to this talent, he isolates himself. It is an excellent story, not typical of the horror stories that made King more well-known. Not to say that it isn't a scary story, but the story deals more with the psychological issues that  Johnny must deal with.

The Dead Zone is also an excellent movie by Canadian horror maestro, David Cronenberg, starring Christopher Walken. So many of Stephen King's books have been turned into movies or TV mini-series and they are hit or miss. The Dead Zone was one of the very best interpretations of a Stephen King novel. The mood and tension was excellent and Christopher Walken portrayed Johnny perfectly.

Another of his earlier works that I'd like to reference is Christine, the horror story about a haunted car. Published in 1983, it deals with nerd, Arnie, who buys a dilapidated 1958 Plymouth Fury. As he works on the car, his confidence grows, but he also becomes more withdrawn. The car seems to change but nobody actually sees Arnie repairing Christine. The car is a jealous creature and people who get in the way of Arnie and Christine suffer mysterious fates.

This was a neat, scary story. There is tension throughout. I also liked how King used rock music as an ongoing theme during the story; at the beginning of each chapter to express the mood of the story. Considering it was about a haunted car, King outdid himself in setting an appropriate mood and giving me the creeps.

There was a movie about this story as well which came out the same year. I enjoyed the movie but I don't think it was one of the best interpretations of a King story. Still worth a watch though.

For just a fun, pure horror story, you might want to read Pet Sematary. Written in 1983, it tells the story of Louis Creed and his family who move into a house beside a busy highway in a town called Ludlow. When the family cat is killed, their neighbour buries the cat in an old Indian burial ground (don't read if you don't want to know what happens next), which brings the cat back to life (sort of).

This is truly a creepy story. The one event builds into others when further tragedies occur in the family. I won't get into them in detail, but there are incidents in the cemetery that give you the chills and follow-on activities that make you shudder.

This is Stephen King at his creepiest and it's a good spine-tingler. However, unfortunately, the movie based on the book, which came out in 1989 was downright awful. Rather than focus on the creepiness, it was just crude and gruesome. I couldn't even watch the whole movie. One of the misses when it comes to a Stephen King movie.

Another favourite of mine is It, which came out in 1986. Another well - written horror story it tells the tale of seven children, the Loser's Club, who are terrorized by an inter dimensional life-form, "Pennywise the Clown".  The seven children, when they grow up, must return to their home town to confront this evil if they are to be able to move on with their lives.

The story takes place over two time periods, when the Loser's are children, describing how they encounter Pennywise. The second time period is when they have grown up and must deal with their nightmares and come together once again to deal with Pennywise.

I enjoyed both the story and also the excellent TV mini-series starring Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Harry Anderson and the excellent Tim Curry as Pennywise. While this may not have had quite the horror of the book, I still found it an enjoyable, interesting televised version of the book.

In 1996, King came out with two novels, one written as Richard Bachman, a name he'd written other stories under when he was just starting out.

I got both of these as Xmas presents from my daughters. King often reflected characters or scenes from other books. In Gerald's Game, there is a telepathic connection between Jessie and Dolores Clairborne, who of course is the main character in Dolores Clairborne. Flagg, of The Stand, also appears in The Dark Tower series and also the children's fantasy The Eyes of the Dragon. As you can see from the covers of The Regulators and Desperation above, even the covers of these books are related. It did take me awhile to realize this, I'm afraid. :0).. The same characters appear in each story, dealing with different situations in each. Different results occur in each story to different characters. The main antagonist, Tak, appears in each book. I think King had a great deal of fun with these two stories. A quite reasonable TV movie of Desperation came out in 2006, with a great cast, including Tom Skerrit, Steven Weber and Annabeth Gish. It was quite as eerie as the book.


If you want to read excellent horror novels, you can't go wrong starting with Stephen King. Besides those mentioned above, other excellent stories include Salem's Lot, Cujo, Carrie, The Green Mile and King's many books of short stories. King is able to find a simple idea that makes people nervous and build on that to send chills up your spine. Many great movies have been made based on King novels and short stories. Others that come to mind are The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me and of course, The Green Mile. Basically, with Stephen King you can generally count on an interesting evening's viewing or a week's great reading.


  1. I have never read anything by Stephen King, Just saw Carrie and some other films. I think they are too scary for me. Like "It".. I was haunted by that film for a looong time! But for people who love horror - excellent!

    BTW What do you think about Ken Follets novels? He is a favourite of mine!

  2. I haven't read any of Ken Follet's novels, Siri. I did see Eye of the Needle as a movie and enjoyed very much. It was quite suspenseful. We also just finished watching the tv series based on The Pillars of the Earth and enjoyed it very much. That book I might be interested in reading.

  3. I've always been too scared to try any Stephen King. I remember having nightmares of "It" when I was younger. I do, however, have The Stand on my tbr list. I'm glad to see how much you like it, & maybe I'll have to suck it up & give it a try.

    I'm just over half-way through reading Pillars of the Earth, & it's incredible! I just found out they even have a mini series & am really excited to check it out once I finish the book!

  4. We watched the Pillars of the Earth over a weekend and really enjoyed it. Now I'll have to read the book.. :0). I think you'd enjoy the Stand, maybe try the mini series first.

  5. The Stand is an awesome book by King and he's my favorite author. I love them all so much I'm a member of the SK library. Bag of Bones scared me silly don't know why..... and I laughed so hard in the Dream Catcher that I hurt for days.
    He writes horror as well as sci-fi. I think sometimes it should go hand in hand.

    If I had to narrow it down to my favorite book-gosh I don't know if I can!!! It would have to be The Stand I've read the unabridged version twice. It has everything: good vs evil, a little laughter M-O-O-N that spells laughter, romance, thrills, etc. It touches the heart in ways you can't imagine and sets an example to you on how life sometimes really is.

  6. I agree with you about The Stand, Susan; it's a great book with a little bit of everything. I tend to like King's earlier works better than the later books I read. I haven't read any of his most recent stories, but a couple look interesting enough to get me reading him again.


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