The 15 Most Terrifying Stephen King Books, Ranked

Stephen King, dubbed the “king of horror” by fans and critics alike, has been scaring and delighting readers ever since his first novel was released in 1974. King’s work includes more than 60 novels, five nonfiction books, 19 screenplays, and 11 collections of short fiction. His stories are the basis for a frighteningly large amount of film and television adaptations, and a number of King’s fictional terrors — Pennywise, Annie Wilkes, Jack Torrance — have become ubiquitous pop culture fixtures. “Prolific” hardly seems a sufficient descriptor.

King’s books are notable, of course, for their sharp deployment of classic horror conventions: the monsters that stick in readers’ minds long after the back cover of the book has been closed, the nightmarish scenarios that translate into iconic imagery for many film adaptations of King’s work. But King has also elevated the horror genre with a focus on characterization — his books delve into the layers of experience and idiosyncrasy that coalesce into people’s fears.

Every entry in King’s canon speaks to the author’s unique ability to terrify, but some novels stand above the rest. If you’re looking for some Halloween-appropriate reading material, take a look at my ranking of King’s 15 best books.

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