The Top 5 Stephen King Novels to Read While Under Quarantine
Oh, Stephen, how I idolize you.
Stephen King will go down as one of, if not the best, horror authors of all time. His novels span decades and he has frightened the living daylights out of millions of adoring fans. From the Shining to Salem’s Lot; from Cujo to Christine; the King of Horror has a bibliography so extensive and so acclaimed that many authors can only dream of. While his writing speed has slowed down considerably following a near-fatal car accident in 1999, his books released in recent years have still been subjected to the same levels of acclaim that his previous works achieved and no author has ever come close to knocking him off his perch as my favourite author of all time.
So, given that so many of us will be forced into self-isolation over the coming weeks (either due to developing symptoms or the crushing desire to avoid the virus at all costs), what better time to catch up on the works of the author with the blood and gore lore galore that’ll horrify a reader to the core? (Sorry, ERB; please don’t sue me!) Without further ado, here are the top 5 Stephen King novels to read under quarantine!
Just so we’re clear; this is not the best five novels King has ever written; but rather the five that I consider the most appropriate to read if you’re in isolation. With that being said, there has to be room on your list for the devilishly disturbing meta-novel Misery, released in 1987. A metaphor for King’s feelings about being chained to writing horror fiction (after fan backlash to the fantasy novel Eyes of the Dragon released three years prior), the novel centers around author Paul Sheldon widely known for his romance novels set in Victorian times featuring the character Misery Chastain. Fed up with writing the same style over and over again, Sheldon publishes one final installment of the Misery series, in which she is killed off. Feeling free of the Misery anchor that has weighed him down for so long, he subsequently completes the manuscript for a brand new crime novel before a severe car accident during a snowstorm leaves him immobile.
He is rescued from the wreck of his car by Annie Wilkes, his “number one fan” who refuses to take him to the hospital and instead nurses him from home. He quickly discovers her mental state is not as healthy as first suspected, and he soon realizes he is being kept prisoner by an obsessed fan furious at him for killing off her favourite character. Isolated and quarantined readers will surely take solace in his predicament as his unease and fear of being forced to remain indoors with no escape makes their isolation seem easy in comparison.
Once you’ve read the novel, consider watching the 1990 film adaptation starring James Caan as Sheldon and Kathy Bates as Wilkes. The film achieved high critical praise (including from King himself), and Bates’ performance as Annie Wilkes received near-universal acclaim. Her performance is still considered one of the best portrayals of a Stephen King villain to this day, and she picked up the coveted Best Actress Oscar gong for the role the following year.
2. Under the Dome
The most recent entry appearing on this list, 2009’s Under the Dome is certainly thematically appropriate to the context of self-isolation and quarantine. King himself reports that the novel was an idea that had been growing in his mind for months when he was much younger; however, it became too big for him to finish at the time. To give you an idea as to exactly how large the idea became, the 2009 manuscript famously weighed over eight kilograms and was originally more than 1,500 pages in length. Set in Chester’s Mill (a small mythical city located in Maine), residents wake up one day to discover a large barrier has separated them from the outside world. Only small amounts of air and water may pass through, and the dome is indestructible. What follows is a desperate bid to survive as panic and claustrophobia set in and the townspeople become paranoid and locked in a power struggle with each other as resources become scarce.
The novel expertly examines just how quickly human nature forces trapped individuals to give in to their survival instincts and disregard their fellow prisoners through a multi-character point-of-view narration style. For the politically minded readers out there, you may well be able to draw parallels between Under the Dome’s antagonist Jim Rennie and real-life Vice President Dick Cheney, who served under George W. Bush from 2001-2009. King himself, oft-critical of Republican policies and ideology, has admitted that the Bush-Cheney dynamic was a model for the leadership struggle of Chester’s Mill. Definitely a fantastic novel to read whilst self-isolating; after all, your isolation circumstances won’t be nearly as bad as the desperate folk trapped under the dome…
3. The Green Mile
I said from the beginning that this list would not consist of purely the top five novels in King’s entire bibliography but I am going to move away slightly from novels that fit the theme of isolation and/or quarantine and talk about The Green Mile. This book is not a book that you should read because you are under quarantine. To put it quite simply, this book is a book that you should read because it is one of the best books that Stephen King has ever written.
That is, of course, highly subjective and comes down to personal opinion, but for me, The Green Mile remains firmly entrenched in the top 3 novels of King’s glittering bibliography. Unique in that the novel was originally published in a series of six volumes from March-August in 1996 before being republished as a single volume in 1997, The Green Mile takes a step away from the traditional horror genre that King is known for and instead dabbles in magical realism and fantasy. The story centres on Paul Edgecomb, an elderly resident of a nursing home, as he recounts his time as the supervisor of Death Row at Cold Mountain penitentiary during the Great Depression. Working alongside a team of loyal prison guards (save for the sadist antagonist in Percy Wetmore), Edgecomb is witness to the imprisonment of developmentally delayed John Coffey, a powerfully-built man who possesses supernatural empathetic and healing abilities and who will change Edgecomb’s life forever; both for better and for worse.
Taking place primarily in 1932, Death Row is at the time home to Eduard Delacroix; a cajun prisoner often found petting and training the block’s pet mouse Mr Jingles, William Wharton; the psychopathic murderer hellbent on making life hell for the entire prison, and Coffey himself; who quickly proves himself to be unlike anything Paul Edgecomb has ever seen. Whether you find yourself in quarantine, or you just need something to pass the time; this book should be at the top of everybody’s reading list. It really is that good.
Of course, I would simply be remiss when talking about The Green Mile not to bring up the fantastic film adaptation released in 1999. Starring Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecomb, it is widely regarded as one of the best adaptation of King’s works of all time; often mentioned alongside Misery and The Shawshank Redemption. Roger Ebert notably awarded the film three and a quarter stars out of four, and King himself described it as the most faithful adaptation of any of his works, ever. While the entire cast is exceptional, no performance is as good as that of Michael Clarke Duncan, who steps into the giant prison chains of John Coffey. Duncan would be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for this role, and many consider him to be unlucky not to have won. A novel and film combination for the ages; The Green Mile will be acclaimed for years to come as some of Stephen King’s best work.
Remember how I said that The Green Mile was in the top 3 novels of King’s bibliography? Well, standing firmly alongside Paul Edgecomb’s memoirs in that top 3 is IT, arguably the most famous Stephen King novel of all time. Published in 1986, IT immediately took the world by storm (drain) for one reason; the iconic villain in Pennywise the Dancing Clown, for which the novel has primarily become known. Rarely has there ever been such a successful attempt at permeating the pop culture zeitgeist through one character; there is an argument to be made that the names Pennywise and Stephen King have almost become inextricably linked.
That being said, IT is far more than just the villain the novel has become famous for.
I should provide a warning here; IT is definitely the hardest book to read on this list. Whilst the enormous length (1,138 pages, to be exact) may not be too daunting to most readers, the narrative format and the context behind the story will definitely be a challenge for many readers to grasp. For one, King uses nonlinear narrative; meaning the novel jumps between the characters as children in the 1950s and as adults three decades later, often without warning or clear transition. While effective at illustrating the devastating impact It has on the Losers lives, it can become quite complex and confusing to the casual reader.