What is the Scariest Stephen King Book?

by Josh Hanagarne on January 21, 2011

it stephen kingThis is a question without a definitive answer. I was an English major and I have to say, studying in a field where every problem was simply “persuade me” vs “solve me,” lead to a lot of colorful, silly arguments. There’s simply no accounting for taste. What makes me laugh might make you groan, and what scares me in a book might make you roll your eyes. I read Stephen King primarily because I am a horror fan and I think he tells great stories. My favorite book by him is The Stand, but it is not the scariest Stephen King book. For that one I have to go with “It.”

There are a few reasons for this. First is that when I read the book for the first time I was about 14 years old. I was the same age as the kids in the book. I was scared by all of the things that scare kids. The first scene with the clown in the drain is still one of the most potent scares I’ve ever experienced in a novel and it still holds up today now that I’m 33. It’s just a shocking, horrifyingly vivid image, with even worse results in the aftermath.

The other reasons are:

  • The array of monsters
  • Pennywise is a truly frightening character, even in the Stephen King remake of the film version
  • None of the adults will listen! The kids keep disappearing, but they have nobody to tell about what is happening!
  • I went into the book knowing that all their efforts as children would fail and they’d have to return to Derry to fight IT one more time. So every horrible thing in the first half of the book is going to go unavenged for a couple of decades.
  • It is memorable! I have evidence: I’m writing this post because I’m still thinking about IT every time scary books come up in conversation

If you have not read IT, I think, along with The Stand, that it is the best example of everything that Stephen King excels at. Here is the full review of IT that I wrote back in October when I had Halloween on the brain.

Josh

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl W May 1, 2011 at 8:58 pm

‘It’ is very scary. I’ve been afraid of clowns for a long time and this book just made me remember those fears. But for his scariest book i’ll have to say Pet Sematary takes the cake. The first 350 pages of the book are just so disturbing, the vivd description of Victor Pascow and burying the Cat. but the last 50 pages were just plain scary! This is after Gage is dead and in the ground, Louis Digs him up and takes him to the burying ground encountering numerous monster (A gibbering horned, skin rotted monster, a crazy laughing unseen man and a giant monster Identified as the wendigo.) The things are never truly seen or described in great detail (except the horned one) so your mind makes up the rest of the details. Then gage come back to life etc etc. wife dies etc etc and then comes Stephen Kings most disturbing final sentance…

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Lee Reynolds August 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Pet Sematary is the most disturbing thing I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a bit. Pet Sematary is a frightening story to be sure, but long after the scares wore off I was left with a lingering feeling of unquiet that never quite went away.

The true horror in Pet Sematary doesn’t come from an ancient malign force lurking out in the woods, but from the way that the ordinary people in the story are galvanized by it and driven to take an active participatory role in the destruction of everything they love and cherish.

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Josh Hanagarne August 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Lee, did you see the movie? I thought it was just so-so, but I and just about everyone I have spoken with agreed that Zelda in the movie was pretty freaking frightening.

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