Authors of “genre” fiction—horror, sci-fi, romance, and more—sometimes find themselves pigeon-holed by readers’ insistence for categorization. Fans might be miffed when a writer tries to branch out into other arenas, accusing him or her of “selling out.” But you know what? You can’t please everyone.
If there's an author who isn't afraid to experiment with different genres, it's Stephen King. Whether he's trying his hand at horror, sci-fi, or alternative history (or something else entirely), he always delivers an unforgettable read that we can't put town. In honor of the release of Castle Rock, we’ve gathered six genre-bending books by Stephen King that prove you can never put the master of horror in the corner.
This collection of essays, published in 1981, is an investigation of horror genre and King’s own influences. It's one of the author's few works of nonfiction—a project that King himself approached with a little trepidation. In it, he explores his own fascination with the idea of suspense, through events in his own life and recurrent themes in folklore and literature. Written in a casual, conversational tone (“to avoid the academic bullshit,” King writes in one chapter), Danse Macabre is a fascinating critical work about a genre that often times gets a bad rap.
In case you forgot, Stephen King wrote the story upon which The Shawshank Redemption is based. You know, that Academy Award-winning movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman? The tale first appeared in Different Seasons, a memorable and eclectic collection of short fiction. The book also includes "Apt Pupil," which follows an aging Nazi and his young protegé (it, too, was adapted into a film—one starring Brad Renfro and the indomitable Ian McKellan). And as if those two stories weren’t enough, Different Seasons contains "The Body," which inspired the 1986 film Stand By Me. You may have heard of it.
Bag of Bones
When Stephen King's Bag of Bones was published in 1998, horror fans were a bit confused. The novel tells the story of Mike Noonan, a novelist who absconds to an isolated cabin after his wife’s sudden death. Suffering from writer’s block—perhaps a byproduct of his grief—Mike begins to believe his house is haunted. But is he sensing his wife's presence, or an unknown spirit's? Many critics have noted the book’s similarity to Daphne du Maurier's beloved Rebecca, as it tells a ghost story and a love story.
Shortly after King started a book on the craft of writing, he was struck by a van. After months of strenuous recuperation, King was still unsure that he would ever write again (the doctors were actually skeptical he'd even survive). He told the local Bangor, Maine newspaper: “After the accident, I was totally incapable of writing. At first it was as if I’d never done this in my life…It was like starting over again from square one.”
Thankfully King did return to the manuscript, which became On Writing—a delightful memoir about King’s own reading and writing habits, plus his advice for aspiring writers. He also gives more insight into his longtime struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Since its publication in 2000, On Writing has become a must-have for authors and creators everywhere.
The Dark Tower is Stephen King’s magnum opus, a saga that spans seven books and which King wrote over several decades. A mix of epic fantasy, westerns, sci-fi, horror, and autobiography, King’s tale of a gunslinger on a quest for a mythical dark tower unites all the elements of his fiction into one vivid, engrossing universe.
Published in 2011, 11/22/63 tells the story of a time-traveler who tries to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. As much of the book takes place in the 1950s and early 1960s, King completed an intense amount of research, telling the Wall Street Journal: “I’ve never tried to write anything like this before. It was really strange at first, like breaking in a new pair of shoes.”
Like the material in Different Seasons, 11/22/63 is deeply cinematic—so it’s no surprise Hulu jumped at the chance to adapt the novel into a series starring James Franco, Chris Cooper, and Cherry Jones. Though the novel contains elements of horror, it truly defies categorization. However, it certainly shares something in common with King's other work: It's impossible to put down.