Joseph Maddrey has definitely kept himself busy throughout the last few years. Having written the EXCELLENT “Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film” a decade ago, Maddrey didn’t stop to rest before co-writing the Lance Henriksen bio “Not Bad For A Human“, as well as “A Strange Idea of Entertainment: Conversations with Tom McLoughlin“.

In celebration of his most recent book, “Beyond Fear: Reflections on Stephen King, Wes Craven and George Romero’s Living Dead“, Maddrey wrote a bit about his Top Ten Stephen King Books, as well as partnering up with Icons of Fright to give one lucky reader a copy of “Beyond Fear” (after the list). So by all means, check out Maddrey’s list and enter the contest, as the book looks to be quite the read!



sk1#10 – DUMA KEY (2008)

This is the book that drew me back to King’s work after a long hiatus, and set the stage for the author’s recent renaissance (see UNDER THE DOME, 11/22/63 and DOCTOR SLEEP).   It’s a fairly traditional ghost story, but what really elevates the novel are the author’s insights on creative process.  Here’s one of my favorite passages: “The extraneous dropped away almost entirely, and when that happens, you begin to hear yourself clearly.  And clear communication between selves – the surface self and the deep self is what I mean – is the enemy of self-doubt.  It slays confusion.”  This book is the culmination of years of writing about writing (see MISERY, THE DARK HALF, “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” ON WRITING, the later DARK TOWER books and LISEY’S STORY).  It shows that King is still listening to his muse, and she still has plenty to say.


I like the first Dark Tower book for the same reason that I like Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.”  It has a dreamlike quality that defies explanation.  I like the second Dark Tower book because it is a rip-roaring adventure with boundless imagination.  My favorite book in the series, however, is #3.  By that point I was completely invested in the characters, and the author was completely invested in creating an elaborate mythology that could encompass everything he had written before.  By the time Roland and his ka-tet got taken hostage by Blaine the Mono, I knew I was along for the ride, regardless of where it took me.

#8 – THE STAND (1978)

Most King fans name this apocalyptic vision as their all-time favorite, and it’s not difficult to understand why.  This is King’s classic tale of good vs. evil.  The author himself has referred to it as his LORD OF THE RINGS.  I won’t argue with any of that, but I do believe that King’s worldview has evolved and become more interesting over the course of the three and a half decades since he first published this novel.  That said, I regard THE STAND as King’s first great epic but not his ultimate epic. It is his first serious attempt to work out his worldview, but “the end” is just the beginning…


All of King’s stories are in some way rooted in the culture of America in the late 1960s, because King’s mind took shape during that particular time and place.  For a long time he was reluctant to try and write a novel about the Sixties because he was afraid of falling into the bottomless pit of well-worn cliches about The Age of Aquarius.   When he finally did go for it, he produced his most heartfelt and personal story since “The Body” (and until JOYLAND).  “Low Men in Yellow Coats” is sentimental, sure, but I dare any reader not to get swept away by the scene where Bobby Garfield receives his first kiss at the top of a ferris wheel.  Moments like that are sheer magic, and they illustrate why King is one of the most successful writers alive today.  The rest of the book (a pseudo-novel comprised of five stories) may not be as cohesive as one would like, but the whole still manages to amplify the most successful moments.

#6 – THE GREEN MILE (1996)

This experimental serial novel came at the end of a rough patch for King’s work, following INSOMNIA, ROSE MADDER, DESPERATION and THE REGULATORS.  Those books were commercial (if not creative) failures, prompting the author to decide that he needed to do something bold to regain his creative stride.  So he adopted Charles Dickens’ mode of writing without a safety net.  King produced THE GREEN MILE in six installments, with no chance for revisions once the story was finished.  In others words, this novel is pure instinct — “Stephen King, naked and unafraid.”  Reading the first two installments, I get the sense that he was groping in the dark for a story.  Then the narrative takes a surprising turn, and casually transforms into author’s most spiritual novel to date.  If any novel can be said to reveal the mature soul of King, it’s this one.

#5 – THE SHINING (1977)

In a recent re-introduction to his breakout novel, King says that this was the turning point in his writing career, when his art and his life became almost inseparable.  THE SHINING was a subconscious confession of very personal self-doubts and failures, and a desperately determined resolution to be a better father and a better person in the future.  This is modern gothic literature at its most moving, and it deserves its reputation as a seminal American novel.  I’m deeply curious to see what the author does with the sequel, which examines the gothic cycle of violence in the original novel from the son’s perspective.  (The book is already sitting on my bookshelf, taunting me… but I’m almost scared to open it.)

sk7#4 – CUJO (1981) 

King got his constant readers in an uproar with the ending of CUJO.  To me, it fits perfectly between the guarded hope of THE SHINING and the post-traumatic madness of PET SEMATARY.  Together, these three novels brilliantly articulate the young father’s greatest fears.  Where the THE SHINING pulls back and PET SEMATARY goes over the edge (and becomes slightly comical as a result), CUJO ends by posing this all-important question to the reader: When life confronts you with the worst thing you can imagine, what will you become? What will you believe?  King has said that he can’t remember writing this book because he was intoxicated the whole time.  No wonder.  This must have been a very difficult book to write with complete honesty.  In my opinion, it is King’s ultimate novel about the challenge that fear poses to our essential humanity.

#3 – THE LONG WALK (1979)

The thing that really boggles my mind about THE LONG WALK is that it was King’s first novel.  He was a freshman in college when he wrote it.  Admittedly it sometimes reads like the work of a writer who doesn’t have nearly as much life experience as he wants or needs, but mostly it reads like the narrative of an old soul in a young body.  Ray Garraty is a character who feels as if his life is over before he’s had a chance to live it, and that makes him compellingly desperate.  Facing impossible odds and an entire world lined up against him, he demonstrates the inestimable determination of youth and humanity at its best.  He sees the ugliness of the world, and fights back with everything he’s got.  As a young writer, King did the same thing.  The fact that this top ten list even exists is proof that he beat the odds.


#2 – IT (1986)

This is King’s longest novel, and for a while the author regarded it as his “final exam.”  After this, he thought, he would have nothing left to say.  Of course, that turned out to be far from the truth… but IT remains the central repository of the themes that King is best known for.   The author himself and many of his fans have turned their attention to the Dark Tower series as his greatest achievement, but I must confess that for me the most compelling moment in the later Dark Tower books was the brief return of Dandelo (a.k.a. Pennywise the Dancing Clown).  As a concept, “It” is bigger than any other threat in any other Stephen King novel…. IT takes the vampires of ‘SALEM’S LOT and turns them into a cosmic threat of Lovecraftian proportions.  IT is so overwhelming, in fact, that King had to start dreaming up the Dark Tower mythology in order to eradicate the monster at the end of the novel.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need to go back and re-read the novel.)  Within the context of the author’s work as a whole, this is still — in my opinion — his magnum opus.

sk10#1 – THE DEAD ZONE (1979)

I’ve spent the last few years re-reading all of King’s novels, and the one that has impressed me the most (so much that I read it twice back-to-back!) is THE DEAD ZONE.  This is King’s most literary novel, by which I mean it works on every level: plot, characterization, and theme.  It expresses a mature worldview — encompassing modern-day politics, religion and spirituality, science and the supernatural, love and hate.  It’s all here.  This novel is so good that King’s followup novel, FIRESTARTER, was able to eke out its entire existence from the creative leftovers.  Even more amazing, King was able to re-imagine this basic story thirty years later to produce 11/22/63 (which I love, by the way — the only reason it’s not on this list is because I can’t help regarding it as a hybrid of THE DEAD ZONE and HEARTS IN ATLANTIS instead of something completely new).    To me, THE DEAD ZONE is a perfect novel.  Period. 

Maddrey definitely knows his stuff, and what better way to prove that, than to let his most recent book, “Beyond FearReflections on Stephen King, Wes Craven and George Romero’s Living Dead” show you fright fanatics how much detail and passion Maddrey has put into it? Joseph’s giving one lucky Icons of Fright reader a copy of his book, and all that you have to do is send us an e-mail here with the subject of “BEYOND FEAR GIVEAWAY“, along with your name and address.  We’ll notify the winner THIS SATURDAY (August 16th), to celebrate Maddrey’s book signing at Burbank’s Dark Delicacies (click the link for info) on the same day. Good luck!

For more info on Joseph Maddrey’s “Beyond Fear: Reflections of Stephen King, Wes Craven and George Romero’s Living Dead“, feel free to visit here.