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The Many Moods of Stephen King

Collage featuring different Stephen King book covers and the text The Many Moods of Stephen King

by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)

October seems like the perfect time to celebrate Stephen King. I've been in a very King-ish mood lately and thought it might be fun to consider the (perhaps unexpected?) variety you can find in his catalog.

I'm in the mood for Epic Fantasy King . . .

A lot of people don't realize that King loves fantasy as much as he loves horror. The Gunslinger ( | is the first book in his series The Dark Tower (, whose expansive world has tendrils in other books, like Tears of the Dragon ( and Hearts in Atlantis ( | and even The Stand ( | The seven novels in The Dark Tower series celebrate found family and the power of wonder; move back in time for some medieval-style fantasy; and offer up some meta-narrative that is just brilliant. Roland, the gunslinger of book one, hearkens back to the best traditions of Westerns, and his lone lifestyle doesn't last long as he builds strong friendships with a fascinating group of very different characters. (There are graphic novel adaptations (, though I haven't read them and can't speak to their quality.)

Should you watch the movie? Nope. Sadly, I have to say that I recommend skipping this one. But the adaptation of Hearts in Atlantis is worth your time.

I'm in the mood for Non-Horror King . . .

I'd start with the novella collection Different Seasons ( | This has four outstanding novellas: "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," "Apt Pupil," "The Body," and "The Breathing Method." While I don't remember much about the fourth one, the first three are all outstanding and have been adapted into strong films (The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, and Stand by Me). The Shawshank Redemption is my favorite of those, directed by Frank Darabont, who directed an outstanding adaptation of another non-horror work of King's, The Green Mile ( |, which was first published serially. If you haven't read this side of King before, you're in for a treat!

I'm in the mood for Adaptable King . . .

Last year, we read Tiffany D. Jackson's The Weight of Blood ( | as our October Book Club and Buddy read pick (you can check out the episode here). The book is a retelling of Carrie, re-centering the cause of the main character's bullying as resulting from racism.

Reading that book made me yearn to re-read Carrie ( | , King's first published novel, which I don't think I'd read since high school. It doesn't all hold up completely, but it's still a remarkably vital, relevant book, and it was easy to see just why Jackson was inspired by this source material.

I'm in the mood for Cringe-Inducing King . . .

While there's a LOT that can make you cringe in Stephen King's books, there's a moment in Misery ( | that . . . well, if you know, you know. If you don't, hearken thee to Misery, first the book, then the movie. You'll thank me (maybe?).

I'm in the mood for Reflective King . . .

Here I'm going to sing the praises of King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft ( | I've been teaching this book since its year of publication, and I re-read it with every new class. It never gets old. King is a man who truly loves what he does. He loves his wife, he loves his family, and he really, really loves his job. This book is his tribute to writing and his attempt to share what he has learned over his career with other authors. The book has three main sections: "C.V," which is his attempt to examine the events in his life that formed his writing self; a section with direct writing advice for the reader; and "On Living," in which he reflects on the effects of an accident that almost killed him. For anyone who doubts King's writing chops, this is a great place to start. (You'll also get some great origin stories for several of the books I've mentioned here.)

I'll throw in here Billy Summers ( |, which to me feels like another tribute to writing and the writing life, though it edges into some of these other categories, too.

I'm in the mood for Straight-Up Horror King . . .

You've got plenty to choose from here. The first book that popped in my head was The Shining ( | because it's one whose spookiness and creepiness go beyond anything logical. (King doesn't like the 1980 Kubrick adaptation, but I have to say that I'm a big fan.)

I also love his Bill Hodges series, beginning with Mr. Mercedes ( |, which also resulted in the amazing Holly Gibney, who has appeared in stand-alone books The Outsider ( |—this series adaptation is excellent!, If It Bleeds ( |, and the recent Holly ( | She is a phenomenally complex character, and I can see what King is having her stick around.

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