Authors of “genre” fiction—horror, true crime, young adult, and more—sometimes find themselves pigeon-holed by readers’ insistence for categorization. Lofty literary types wouldn’t dare be caught reading Stephen King. (A horror writer! What would people think?) And sadly, the opposite is also true. Fans of a genre writer may be miffed when said writer tries to branch out into other arenas, accusing him or her of “selling out.”But you know what? You can’t please everyone.
In honor of upcoming movie release of Dark Tower we’ve gathered six genre-bending books by Stephen King we feel deserve a little less conversation, a little more action, if you know what we mean—more reading, of course.
This collection of essays, published in 1981, is an investigation into horror writing and an exploration of King’s own influences in the genre. It is one of King’s few works of non-fiction, and he explains in its introduction that the idea of writing a survey of horror culture both intrigued and frightened him at the same time. The book investigations King’s own fascination with the idea of suspense (through events in his own life) and through recurrent themes in folklore and literature. Written in a casual, talkative tone (“to avoid the academic bullshit” King said) Danse Macabre is a fascinating critical work about a genre that often times gets a bad rap.
In case you forgot, or, didn’t know, Stephen King wrote “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” the story upon which the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption is based. You know, that Academy-Award winning movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman? Yeah, Stephen King “the horror writer” wrote that for Different Seasons, a collection of short fiction. The book also includes another fantastic story, “Apt Pupil“, about an aging Nazi and his young protege that was also adapted into a film starring Brad Renfro and the indomitable Ian McKellan. And as if those two weren’t enough, Different Seasons contains “The Body,” the story on which the great 1986 film Stand By Me is based. You may have heard of it.
When Stephen King’s 1998 novel Bag of Bones was published, horror fans were a bit confused. The novel tells the story of Mike Noonan, a novelist who goes to live in an isolated cabin after his wife’s sudden death. Suffering from writer’s block, perhaps as a result of grief, Mike believes that his house may be haunted, whether it’s by his deceased wife or some other spirit he’s not sure. Many critics have pointed out the novel’s similarity in theme to that of Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier. If anything, Bag of Bones is a ghost story. And it’s certainly a love story.
King had just begun a book on the craft of writing when he was struck by a van while out for an evening stroll. He was terribly injured and the doctors, at one point, didn’t even think he would survive. After months of recuperation, King was still unsure that he would ever write again. 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 he did return to the manuscript for what would become On Writing, a delightful memoir of King’s own reading and writing habits, and his recommendations for aspiring writers. In the book, he also reveals his longtime struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Since its publication in 2000, On Writing has become one of the most acclaimed writing manuals by writers and educators everywhere.
The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower is Stephen King’s magnum opus, a saga spanning more than seven books that took over four decades for King to complete. Part epic fantasy, part Western, part science fiction, part horror, and part autobiography, King’s tale of a gunslinger on a quest for a mythical dark tower ties together all of his fiction into one imaginative, engrossing universe. An adaptation of the story is coming to theaters this summer, so there’s no better time to get to know King’s masterpiece.
Published in 2011, 11/22/63 tells the story of a time-traveler who goes back in time to change the course of history and see if he can stop the assassination of President Kennedy. As much of the book takes place in the 50s and early 60s, King spoke in interviews about the intense amount of research he had to do for the book, 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. One thing it does have in common with other King novels: It’s basically impossible to put down.
Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures