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Stephen King's Forgotten Six: A Reading List

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Forgotten or overlooked novels, however you want to describe them, any author writing as long as King has been will have one or two. Maybe more. Over the years King has had plenty of iconic hits. His most well-known writing - The Shining, IT, Salem’s Lot, Carrie - has lodged in the forefront of our imagination all these years for a number of reasons. Perhaps because they were revolutionary for the horror genre at the time, or people saw the film and then read the book. Or vice versa. Or simply because the writing was so finely detailed and precisely written it has stood the test of time.

Even detractors of his writing have to admit King’s ability to spin a yarn is immeasurable. He found his niche very quickly by always integrating the human element - our base fears and insecurities - with the outside element; those monstrous horror staples; the creatures, the undead and the deranged. IT’s premise relied on the innocence and manipulation of children pitted against a being from another planet. Similarly, Carrie dealt with the struggles of womanhood, of adolescence and the fragility of the mind brought to a startling supernatural conclusion.

It is perhaps true to say that his lesser known books tend to lean further away from the straight horror genre he became renowned for and were more concerned with psychological realism with dashes of the supernatural. His ability and mastery is still there and the books are just as elaborate with just as great a depth of characterisation. The six books below don’t have killer clowns, homicidal automobiles or axe-wielding lunatics, and yet, they can be just as transfixing. So let’s resurrect some of his buried books.

Cujo

Cujo was the seventh book written by King under his real name, rather than his pseudonym Richard Bachman. In it we can already see some very familiar narrative tropes; the Maine setting, the good neighbours (Vic, Donna and Tad) contrasted against the domestic violence of the bad neighbours (Joe Cambers and his poor wife Charity), and the alcoholic (the Cambers’ neighbour Gary). The premise is simple; after wandering into the wood, Cujo, the Cambers’ St. Bernard dog, is infected with rabies and unleashes hell.

The structure of the novel is fascinating because it would seem that the lines are very firmly drawn between the good guys and the bad, and Cujo will mete out justice accordingly. But in a Stephen King novel, expect the unexpected. I read this book when I was 12 and I’ve never forgotten the intensity of car scene with Donna and Tad. 

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The Eyes of the Dragon

In 1987, King tried his hand at the fantasy epic for the second time after 1982’s The Dark Tower. This time around, it’s all about magic in a medieval setting far away from Maine, in the realm of Delain. It’s actually faintly reminiscent of Game of Thrones as the advisor to King Roland, the magician Flagg, plots against him and Queen Sasha. Flagg is the personification of pure evil and he covets control and power above all else. Nothing will stand in his way, not even the king’s two sons Thomas and Peter.

The Eyes of the Dragon is a much less intense and terrifying novel than what had come before. When it was published diehard fans balked at it, but there’s a lot to love and, written with his children in mind, King has kept European fairy tale traditions very much in mind here. It makes for a wonderful read alongside slightly older children.

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Gerald's Game

Sandwiched in between 1991’s brilliant Needful Things and 1992’s later release the wonderful Dolores Claiborne, was this little gem of suspense. Gerald has a game alright and it involves handcuffing his willing wife Jessie to the bed in their secluded lakeside holiday home. But when things go horribly wrong, with no one around to hear or help, Jessie and all those voices in her head must devise a plan of escape.

Gerald’s Game did not receive King’s best reviews but I’m unashamedly sticking up for it. Right off the bat the premise is immediately interesting. This is as taut as anything King has written and the building of suspense throughout in masterful. Again the diehards found fault with the lack of outright horror, but this is psychological horror and trauma at its best. The human element looms large here as Jessie struggles on many fronts; the physical, mental, spiritual. I would urge anyone to check this out, diehard fan or not.

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Bag of Bones

Bag of Bones centres around another common narrative trope of King’s, that of writer’s block (intrinsic in The Shining). Set as usual in Maine, four years after the death of his wife, writer Mike Noonan decides to vacation at his house on Dark Score Lake (the same destination that haunts Jessie in Gerald’s Game). There he forms two otherworldly bonds - that with the ghost of his wife whom he believes is helping him write, and a psychic connection with a local widow’s daughter Kyra. While he is determined to keep writing, the power of the lake and a possible curse over the town tighten their grip on Mike.

This is very unlike the majority of King’s books, but conversely it has ample elements that are peppered throughout his writing; ghosts, the supernatural, the male crisis, the devastation of love and loss and a murder mystery story. It is an enthralling read, one with many unexpected twists and turns.

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Lisey's Story

Reportedly, this is King’s favourite novel of his own and the idea for the novel was born from a near death experience when King was hit by a van. He used the accident to picture a setting in which he didn’t exist anymore. Though this is quite a gentle and thoughtful book, the core of the book deals with the fractured male, and with mental illness passed on through generations. Lisey Landon is the widow of the deceased writer Scott Landon. After two years of grieving, Lisey is finally facing some home truths about her husband and his family.

As the raw details of Scott’s family history rise to the surface gradually throughout the book, there are beautiful passages about the couple’s long marriage and snippets of the private language shared between Lisey and Scott. Has King perhaps written what could be described as a romantic novel? Well, not exactly. We didn’t even discuss bools and the world of Boo'ya Moon.

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Duma Key

Edgar Freemantle is certainly not the typical Stephen King protagonist. He is not part of a middle class family, he is not a successful writer nor is he a good looking man in the midst of an affair. In fact Freemantle is horribly disfigured after a construction site accident left him with only one arm, head injuries, memory, speech and sight problems. While recuperating in Duma Key, Florida, he finds he can channel psychic illusions through his art, and that the paintings he creates can talk to him. Along with another man, Freemantle discovers that their shared psychic abilities are the consequences of their head traumas. Duma Key feeds off these abilities and transforms his paintings into weapons of power beyond his imagination.

I loved this book for having such an imperfect central character. Freemantle is a not immediately very likeable, through no fault of his own, but he seems so far removed from the typical King male protagonists it was refreshing. The premise built around Freemantle veers right off into sheer madness. It uses the kind of wild imagination only someone like King could firstly conjure and secondly put down on paper in a manner that could be taken seriously at all. You may think you know where this novel is going, but you really don’t. It’s exhilarating stuff.

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Shane O’Reilly has lived in Dublin all his life; that’s 34 years of memories and adventures around the city centre. While he watched as his friends emigrated during the recession, he started ... Show More

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