To write a list of worst books from the master of horror himself, Stephen King, is not only a problematic but daunting task. There is a legion of fans out there who will argue that the master of horror has no lousy books.
They will say most lists that feature King’s work are subjective; they would be right to a point, but King himself has stated that he has better books than others.
That is how this list will take place, not through calculating grammar or summoning of dark things through some shimmering thinny, rather a subjective list of his lesser works to his more unfortunate. The list is King only, no collaborations, so works with Peter Straub or others won’t be considered. Things like tv scripts to book form will be. Warning spoilers ahead.
15 Worst Stephen King books (from bad to horrible)
We are completely aware that not all of you will agree with us on this list, but we have tried to make it as non-biased as possible. And we have to tell you, even though we love Mr. King, he wrote some bad books throughout his career. Most of the bad ones come from his time as an addict, and that is something he personally recognizes. So let’s take a look at the 15 worst Stephen King books.
15. The Dark Tower V: Wolves of Calla
The fifth entry of the Magnus opus series by Stephen King conjures classic themes from Kurosawa film Seven Samurai. A small group of brave samurai defends a village; the same principle then repeats in the Magnificent Seven though this time, instead of sword-wielding samurais, you get gunslinging cowboys.
The Dark Tower V: Wolves of Calla sees Roland, a gun-wielding knight errand and Ka-tet crew take on, lightsaber carrying, doctor doom green cloaked army of killer robots that launch killer spheres right out of a horror movie.
The book suffers from convolution too much happening at the same time and feeling too unwieldy at times. To its credit, it does manage to present us with a glimpse of how the gunslingers operated before the world moved on and offers needed character development for Roland and his crew, but like other entries in the Dark Tower series, this entry advances the plot somewhat, yet the author throws in multiple storylines to an already lore massive story; it just a lot to take on.
The tale of an apocalyptic level event that rocks the world emitted by a pulse to all cell phone users is, in itself, not the strongest of storylines. It feels like King was trying to fulfill a promise he made in one of his Dark Tower books, where he referenced one world that died and tried to fill in that gap with this novel.
It is not only that the premise of the book is weak, the storytelling itself feels rushed, with the group of survivors not only dealing with zombie-like creatures but with other survivors with psionic abilities or what is known as the touch in the worlds of Stephen King.
The ending also suffers from Stephen Kings inability to orchestrate a proper end to his world level threats. He has done so in another book like The Stand. This time the all too personal tale of a zombie apocalypse that figures out the cure is left unanswered. The story fails to deliver any type of satisfying ending. It feels like an unfished episode of The Walking Dead after the death of Rick.
13. The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass
The fourth entry in the Dark Tower series suffers from an abrupt slowdown in the meta tale called the epic quest for the Dark Tower. The group goes from battling the Tic Tok man to sitting around a campfire at night, which will last as long as it needs for Rolands’ tale to be told.
The premise tries to be a coming-of-age story of a young man finding out his parents aren’t perfect, in a complicated magical world, where belief gets easily manipulated into committing mistakes such as seeking out his test of manhood to early. The story introduces new characters, our hero falls in love, a powerful artifact is revealed, and they even fight a witch.
Despite its effect on the Dark Tower’s overall meta tale, the book delivers a blow to the tempo of the series. Readers definitely wanted to know more of our gunslinging protagonist beyond the fact that he was obsessed with the dark tower he would sacrifice children for it. It just could have been handled differently in maybe later in the series or better splayed out in 2 books.
One of the better book premises presented by Stephen King is that evil is evil for its own sake and, as such, can be dealt with accordingly. The tale presented here starts with bullies making fun and even harassing a special needs child.
They really instead to hurt him, for no other reason than he is just different. Thanks to 4 young friends, they save the boy from the bullies and become fast friends. The story continues in a reunion where they get together in a cabin for a hunting trip. They reminisce about their childhood and how by spending time with their unique needs friend, they acquired psychic power like telepathy and the ability to see human movement.
However, the story progresses as the reunion suddenly turns into a survival epic as the 4 friends confront an alien invasion. It is up to them to work out how to save themselves and even the world.
The problem here is that it just does not feel like a King book. The story is more horrifying than scary, feeling it’s more like an H.P Lovecraft book; it is filled with body horror with people getting infected by parasites at some point; there is a shit weasel involved. Though loyal to his own rules since, in this case, the good guys do have a chance at winning, unlike a Lovecraft where everything is doomed. Yet victory comes at a stiff price.
11. The Regulators
Printed under the name Richard Bachman one of Stephen King’s nom de plume, this misbegotten story of an ancient evil named Tak, that possesses a powerfully psionic boy. Who is so power full he can conjure almost anything he can imagine but is limited to what his mind can mostly focus on, and that cartoons and westerns.
The evil Tak uses this to his advantage to sow chaos in the neighborhood, killing people by summoning henchmen in red vans driving around shooting. They are called The Regulators like western show the boy enjoys so much. Eventually, the whole area is turned into a western town with no means of escape. It’s a battle for the soul of an innocent boy waged by an ancient evil vs. a people caught in extraordinary events.
Here the problem is the flimsy premise. King released an alternate universe tale with the same characters, albeit in different circumstances and slightly different takes on a much better book. The Regulators feel more like a half concocted tv episode of Black Mirror that just didn’t make it to the second production rounds.
10. The Storm of the Century
Based on the T.V. script, this story is one of the weaker approaches to the worlds of Stephen King. The premise is promising as an ancient evil returns to a town where he made a pact.
He insists he is only there for what is rightfully his and that the storm will dissipate and disappear once acquired what he needs. He needs are the town’s children; obviously, the local sheriff and the townspeople raise up in arms protesting the old wizard price.
Sheriff Mike Anderson takes on the old mage Andre Linoge for the souls of the children, as he investigates how deeply connected the ancient demon is to the town, and in doing so, reveals secrets of the people who live there.
Sounds like a terrific premise, one King would eventually master with the book Under the Dome. The characters are too generic for something of this magnitude, and sometimes it’s very predictable; the reader knows the town is sinful, they understand people will get exposed. Its saving grace is its ending. The mage seems inappropriately named. He should be known as Randall Flagg, not Andre Linoge. Though they could be the same man.
9. The Tommyknockers
A wild west fiction writer stumbles upon a crashed space ship; upon gaining access to the interior, a strange gas is released. This gas changes people and allows them to become like the aliens who once inhabited it.
Upon being exposed to the gas, most become genius like level inventors; though most willfully ignore some of their creations’ ethical side. Our protagonist is mostly immune, thanks to a metal plate in his head. He faces the townspeople as they change and start to lose their sanity.
He knows he could leave but decides to stay to try to help a friend from becoming one of those creatures. He battles his way onto the ship and eventually activates it with limited telepathy causing it to launch into space and kill most people who were becoming aliens. The U.S government then cleans up the rest.
Like Dream Catcher, this is a Lovecraft inspired story; that is not a bad thing in this case. What makes this story stand out is the flimsy rationale of the protagonist. King usually writes a more honest depiction of his characters. Look to The Mist as such an example of character motivation and characterization. Here it feels forced that our protagonist has to endure such hardships.
This fantasy horror mix is one of the most King universe related stories. It links to The Dark Tower, Geralds Game, and many others. The story itself is about Ralph Roberts and how, in the later stages of his life starts to suffer from insomnia and, as a side effect, gains a form of the second site that allows him to see things that are not there, like auras, a benevolent figure called the Green Man and little bald sprites he calls Bald Doctors among other disturbing imagery.
The gift allows him to stand against evils being manipulated by the Bald Doctors that act like influencers for sin. Taking a person’s passion and weaponizing it. Ralph does his best to oppose the particular sprite that seems to work for chaos but is later revealed to be working for the Crimson King. A figure appears to feed on confusion in the multiverse and is also the main antagonist in The Dark Tower.
The story is too complicated to fully enjoy it. One has to be well versed in the Dark Tower multiverse. This seems like a difficult prerequisite since the reader would have to have read at least the first 4 books in the Dark Tower series. The story also becomes complex as the stakes seem to climb ever higher for one retired old man to save the universe.
7. From a Buick 8
This mix of action horror sees Ned, son of a recently deceased police officer, visit his fathers’ work friends in what seems to be an attempt to better understand both the passing of his parent and his lifestyle.
The story revolves around the police troop telling Ned various encounters to artifacts and creatures produced by the Buick. It is revealed that the car is not really an automobile; with no working engine and an immovable steering wheel, it remains a mystery as who dove it up and abandoned it at the counter. The main about Ned, as he listens to the information and determines that the Buick is definitely part of his father’s death.
Determined to blow it up, the troop proceeds to intervene, knowing that the car cannot be destroyed since any damage is magically repaired. The police troop suspects it is really a portal between dimensions that funnels reality like a pressure valve. Once the cops save Ned from being sucked into a doorway, he decides to become a police officer himself so he can keep an eye on the Buick and whatever it spews out.
The book is definitely some form of an allegory of man’s obsession with dangerous contraptions and its determination to try to control it. Unfortunately, the storytelling mechanic seems silly—one of the weaker multi-narrative books presented by the King of horror.
6.The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
A family goes hiking in the woods to get away from their more mundane problems. Our young protagonist Trisha a 9-year-old girl falls and becomes hopelessly lost in the ever-expanding wilderness. The young girl takes inventory of her supplies and finds little food and water, plus her game boy and Walkman; she also finds nourishment from some vegetation in the area that she recognizes as safe to eat.
Trisha walks in the woods, hoping to find her way before running out of supplies; eventually falling from weakness brought about hunger and dehydration. This is where she starts to hallucinate. Part of her journey becomes that of a magical-realism trip facing some pretty horrifying obstacles that end with her facing what she believes is the God of the Lost.
The child in peril story is not a new one for our author. He has placed children in harm’s way, from the characters in I.T. to the protagonist in Heart in Atlantis. This one stands out as she is alone in what feels like an allegorical tale of earning the right to grow up and surviving. It almost feels like a Niel Gaiman story, where the protagonist is caught between two realms, both equally real. That’s the problem. It deviates too much from King’s style. Then there is the fact it is poorly aged. The title, especially the pitcher Tom Gordon’s name, isn’t very well known unless you’re a big fan of baseball.
5. Duma Key
Edgar Freemantle loses his arm in an industrial accident. The rehab is painful and causes him to have violent mood swings. These are usually directed towards his wife, who then files for a divorcee. Edgar decides to move down to Florida, specifically Duma Key; here, he takes up sketching and painting once again as a form of therapy.
While painting in his new dwelling, he discovers he can affect the outside world’s reality through his canvas. What starts out as a blessing with Edgar using his skills to heal and even avenge events; will eventually find that the paintings are cursed with anyone who possesses them are in danger of being driven insane and committing horrible violence. The tale takes on a robust supernatural turn as Edgar and company face down ghosts and curses, which eventually leads to Edgars’ final piece on canvas, the destruction of Duma Key itself.
The story lack originality coming from Stephen King. The problem here is that he has done this story and presented these types of abilities before. Patric Danville, from two other King novels, can also influence reality, much like Edgar. The ghost curse and ghost story are also trope heavily leaned on by the author in previous work. The saving grace is that it is, in fact, a scary story at some points.
4. Geralds Game
A sex game gone wrong; Geralds Game sees Jessie Burlingame and her husband Gerald travel to a secluded cabin in the woods for an impromptu sex-capade. Gerald handcuffs his wife to the bedpost, but this time Jessie is not feeling right with the sex game. She pleads with him to stop, suddenly realizing her rejections seem only to excite him more. To her horror-filled realization, he will try to rape her.
She kicks Gerald in the chest, causing him to have a heart attack. Here the story takes on a psychological horror narrative as Jessie realizes no one will miss her or her husband for some time. She has to find a way to free herself from the bedpost all the while. She faces repressed memories, hallucinations of herself, and even an apparition with a wicker basket full of gold and bones, a threatening figure who might be the ghost of her father that raped her as a child.
Once set free, she flees the cabin to realize too late that the wicker basket apparition is real and wants to capture her. She succeeds in avoiding the threat and escapes but crashes her car. While recuperating, she then confronts her past issues and realizes the wicker basket man was actually a serial killer that has been caught. She can finally sleep by the end of the tale.
King’s main characters all seem to have one thing in common. They all love talking to themselves out loud. True, the interaction allows for the narrative to flow, but it must be a world filled with people walking down the street, speaking loudly to themselves. The internal journey was taken by Jessie also seems like a forced therapy session that if these types of stressful situations actually worked, would be part of regular psychological sessions. Fortunately, it is still a good enough read.
Printed under Richard Bachman, Blaze is one of the shorter King stories. The main protagonist, Clatyon Blaisdell Jr. Aka Blaze, is a man who suffers from a mental handicap but gifted with prodigious physical strength. A calamity-prone con artist who comes up with a plan to kidnap a baby from a wealthy family to ransom it. We find out along the way that Blaze either hallucinates or can see the ghost of his former partner in crime George Thomas, the man who originally came up with the idea, and who still finds ways to help Clayton. The story evolves into Clayton, eventually loving the child and confronted with the idea of giving it back.
The story is a significantly evolved story for the pseudonym Richard Bachman, and it is impossible not to compare this story to Johns Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Our 300-pound protagonist is hard to identify with but does draw the audience’s sympathy as a man with a mental problem trying to find his place in the world.
Joyland is a coming-of-age story combined with a fated ghost story that eventually misses its mark. The protagonist Devin takes up a summer job at a carnival. There the local fortune teller divines Devins’s future, where he learns he will meet two children that will have a significant impact on his life.
One a boy with a dog and a girl with a red hat. One of whom will have The Site. Once Devin secures his lodgings, he and his girlfriend agree they will sleep together for the first time soon. This does not happen, and she leaves him, eventually breaking his heart with a particularly harsh letter.
He is struck by depression and stops eating and spends his time listening to music. He finds comfort wearing the carnivals mascot suit and making the children happy. One day he saves a young girl from chocking and a hot dog and becomes a local hero. It is during this time we learn the Haunted House is actually haunted by a murder victim.
Devin becomes particularly interested and starts investigating the case. He becomes close to Annie and her son, who is sick but has The Site. Devin organizes a private visit to the carnival for the ailing child. Here the boy’s ability allows the ghost in the haunted house to leave. Devin eventually has sex, faces a murderer, and ends his time at the carnival.
This is a short story that isn’t good or bad. There is nothing memorable about it. The characters are bland, the adventure is limited in scope, and the protagonist’s motivations are beneath the hero. It honestly suffers from not being a book worth remembering.
1. Rose Madder
This final entry to the list seems a straight up departure for King as he draws inspiration from Greek mythology. Particularly the maze and the minotaur. The story begins with Rose Daniels, a victim of domestic abuse from her violent husband, who also happens to be a policeman. In her most recent beating, Rose lost her 4-month baby and is considering leaving her husband, but his position is reluctant to do so. She decides to stay put, hoping her husband’s fits of rage will subside.
She chooses this knowing that she is in danger since Noman is being investigated for assaulting and raping a black woman; the investigation has only made him more violent. It takes 14 years, and a nose bleed to get Rose to flee. Once she does, she arrives in a new city where she makes new friends. They help her settle and once she has a job decides to pawn her wedding ring. She exchanges said ring for a portrait and a date with the pawnshop owner.
The painting is magical in nature and allows her to travel within, here she meets two women Dorcas and Rose Madder. Rose asks her to rescue her baby from the half-blind bull in the labyrinth, which Rose Daniels does. In return, Rose Madder offers her protection. After hunting for his wife, Norman arrives in the city, finds her friends, and eventually finds his wife with another man. The showdown has Rose leading her husband into the painting where Rose Madder kills him. Rose then settles down and has to plant a tree to feed her anger towards.
This is the farthest departure for King. The book itself is mostly memorable because of it. Drawing inspiration from the Greek myths and feeling like another magical-realism story. Trouble is King’s work is not half way. If you see a walking dead raised by a cursed cemetery plot, that’s what it is. Even the more esoteric monsters like the spider-like creature from the thinny are precisely that. A painting that is both a doorway and a portal to Olympus is definitely a detour.