Stephen King is the most famous horror author in the history of American literature. He needs no introduction; he is a regular part of the American conversation, indelibly etched into our culture. Who from King’s era has not referred to a savage dog as “Cujo,” called a car apparently possessed of its own mind “Christine,” or playfully typed on a manual typewriter “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” in homage to Stanley Kubrick’s controversial adaptation of The Shining. Yes, King’s influence on American culture is a blend of his stories as well as the transformations of his stories; to my mind, interpretations of his work have rarely matched the quality of the source material. That said, his influence on writers and fans the world over is profound, and in my case, at risk of hyperbole, life-saving.
King is the author of more than 70 novels and more short stories, novellas, screenplays, etc. than I can count. He is a novelist at heart, but got his start as a short story writer with tales published in the late 1960s and early 1970s in fiction and men’s magazines, primarily Cavalier. His early novels are legendary works of dark fiction: Carrie (1974), ‘Salem’s Lot (1975), The Shining (1977), and The Stand (1978), but he went on to cover a lot of territory outside the horror genre. Fortunately, we have a lot of information about King from the man himself, between his autobiographical book On Writing, and myriad interviews. Seldom have I been moved by a speech for a book award, but when I read his acceptance speech for the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2003, I thought “this guy is for real” and felt the power of his early struggles as a touchstone for the rest of his life. Yep, there’s real stuff in that speech and many other interviews, and that’s one of the endearing things to me about Stephen King; despite his millions and fame, he still seems like the kind of guy you’d make small talk with at the Superette, or see down at the little league ballgame on Saturday, getting some hot dogs at the concession stand for the kids. Overall, King’s history and lauded career is well documented, so aside from the cover scans, I’m not sure this article adds more to the King conversation, so I’ll go straight to the blog part, share my personal experience (which you can skip and not tell me, that’s fine), then call it a day.
I first read Stephen King in 1986. Up until that point my forays into horror fiction had been limited to classics, notably Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, and the works of H.G. Wells, including The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man, which I consider solid works of horror. At 15 years old I was dealing with lots of crazy shit, and not dealing with it well. I took a dive into darker interests. I had also been writing stories for as long as I could remember, more as a form of personal entertainment than anything else. When I read Christine, I was enrapt. I had never read a novel that long quite so fast. When I came out the other side, I had a crystal clear moment of self-realization and purpose, or so I thought at the time. My interests in horror movies, hard rock, heavy metal, creepy comics, horror fiction, and the fact that I had written out of pure enjoyment for so many years congealed into a much-needed, if improvident, direction. I felt certain I was meant to be a horror writer. The importance of this realization can’t be emphasized enough. I may not have accomplished all of my goals in this regard, but it is irrelevant to the fact this became my driving force in life, carried me through a lot of hard times, and helped me make the kinds of decisions that pull you out of tailspins. Suffice to say, thanks to Stephen King, I found a guiding light. I had a goal in mind, and I would not be deterred. After years of writing war and fantasy stories, I wrote my first short horror story, imaginatively titled “The Pit,” in 1987. I was struck by the inspiration for this story walking home from a Friday night showing of Creepshow 2.
My interest in horror fiction quickly expanded to H.P. Lovecraft, the wider pulp pantheon, then into Splatterpunk and 1980s pulp horror. These authors were as important to me as rock stars. But my fascination with horror fiction all started with Stephen King. So here we are, at Realms of Night, and here I am, letting you know he’s the reason we’re here together.
Over the years I had to trim my Stephen King collection. I’d like to say it is now a “core” collection — and mostly it is — but there are a few books kicking around here I will likely trade in at some point. I have included them in the gallery nonetheless. You’ll see that much of what I consider my core King collection are his early works, and yes that’s true, but I have enjoyed some of his later books just as much. My favorites from recent years include Duma Key, 11/22/63, and Joyland, which is one of my all-time King favorites.
A few notes about the collection of scanned books below: I obtained the first UK edition Bachman paperbacks several years ago from a vendor at the Dallas Comic Con for $1 each. These were, clearly, the most important finds of my book hunting years. To give credit where credit is due, my wife found them first and came running (literally running) to find me. These and a handful of other paperbacks were in a cardboard box next to a table of comic books and toys. I sorted through them, and they were all quite rare — although none as rare or valuable as those Bachman books. “How much did you say you want for these?” I asked. Surely I hadn’t heard him right. “One dollar each. I don’t care what’s in there, I just need to get rid of them.” Well, I did a service for him that day. I left with a stack of about 20 books. My copy of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is my only signed Stephen King book, because it was the only one I could afford. I purchased it for $40 during a fundraiser for The Haven Foundation, King’s charitable foundation for freelance artists, writers, and other arts professionals in need. My copies of Silver Bullet and Cycle of the Werewolf are signed by Berni Wrightson, one of my favorite artists, who passed away in March 2017. You’ll notice my hardcover copy of Riding the Bullet is in Korean; I purchased it the year we adopted our youngest son from South Korea. I may never be able to read it, but it will always be a treasure.
Looking over all of these covers, I realize I could tell a personal story about my experience with each one, including where I was, what I was doing, how I felt, and why it mattered — all the high times, hard times, or good times of which they were a part. Ultimately, it’s prudent to keep some things to myself. Suffice to say these are some of my favorite books in the world, and reading Stephen King always feels like coming home. With many thanks to Mr. King, and with much gratitude to those of you on this site, I offer this gallery at a strangely apropos time in my own life. Yes, I’m being cryptic, but so it goes. Enjoy.
These cover scans are from the library of Christopher Fulbright. Please note that Realms of Night has an eBay page with monthly horror auctions. Please follow our page and save us as a favorite seller for updates.
To browse the list of Stephen King titles currently available on Amazon, click here.