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Top 10 Underrated Stephen King Stories

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Stephen King has a library of original horror stories that just keep on giving. For this list, we’ll be looking at great Stephen King stories, that are either critically underrated or under-appreciated by the masses. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Underrated Stephen King Stories.
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Script written by Nathan Sharp

Top 10 Underrated Stephen King Stories


The master of horror has a library of original work that just keeps on giving. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top ten underrated Stephen King stories.

For this list, we’ll be looking at great Stephen King stories, whether novels, novellas, or short stories, that are either critically underrated or under-appreciated by the masses.

#10: “The Langoliers” (1990)

“The Langoliers” was one of four novellas published in the collection “Four past Midnight.” It tells the original story of a group of people who wake up to find their airplane and the subsequent airport deserted. It’s a breathlessly plotted tale populated by some truly memorable characters, like the irritable and psychotic Craig Toomy. The climax, featuring the monstrous titular Langoliers, contains the unique blend of horror and action that King writes so well. Most people know this story from the rather bland and mediocre miniseries it received, but it truly doesn’t do the novella justice. It’s easily one of King’s most unique and exhilarating creations.

#9: “The Eyes of the Dragon” (1984)

While Stephen King has deviated from the genre in recent years, his earlier works were strictly horror-thrillers. Perhaps that’s why “The Eyes of the Dragon,” a magical epic fantasy in the vein of Tolkien, failed to connect with his readership. While professional book critics enjoyed the story, King’s dedicated fanbase abhorred it. Some called it a children’s book, while others simply couldn’t get past the abrupt change of genre. The response was so toxic that King was inspired to write “Misery,” which served as a metaphor for his creative imprisonment. “The Eyes of the Dragon” has enjoyed friendlier treatment in years since, but it is still a largely ignored entry in the King canon.


#8: “The Long Walk” (1979)

“The Long Walk” was originally published under King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, which led to it being largely overlooked in its time. It tells the simple, yet intriguing story of a walking contest controlled by the totalitarian United States. One hundred teenage boys must continuously walk and maintain a minimum pace of four miles per hour. After three dips below the required speed, they are killed. The last boy standing wins. “The Long Walk” was actually the first novel King ever wrote, so it’s a little rough around the edges and may drag on a little too long, but it’s still a harrowing and truly disturbing piece of dystopian literature.

#7: “The Talisman” (1984)

When it comes to pure adventure, there is no beating “The Talisman.” Co-written with Peter Straub, this novel tells the story of twelve-year-old Jack Sawyer who sets out on a cross-country and parallel universe trip to save his dying mother. Anticipation was extremely high for this novel, with many people literally expecting the best horror story ever written. And while it certainly wasn’t that, it was a relative success, spending 12 weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list. That said, it is not often remembered or included in the pantheon of King’s greats. Regardless, it’s easily one of his most epic stories, and it deserves more love.

#6: “Insomnia” (1994)

“Insomnia” is a true monster of a book. With the hardcover edition sitting at almost 800 pages, it’s a beast that requires a lot of time and patience from the reader; it’s definitely not for everyone. Its daunting length, snail’s pace, and overall weirdness put a lot of readers off, and as such, it is often considered one of King’s weaker efforts. Even King has voiced his displeasure, calling it a “stiff” novel in his memoir “On Writing.” That said, those serious and patient enough to give it a shot are rewarded with a complex, emotional, and dream-like story that could be considered one of King’s most unique.

#5: “The Man in the Black Suit” (1994)

King has written some incredible short stories, but “The Man in the Black Suit,” originally published in an issue of The New Yorker, may be his best. It tells the story of a young boy meeting the devil by a river, and it’s a mesmerizing blend of disturbing horror story and mature contemplation on mortality. It won many industry accolades, including the prestigious O. Henry Award, an award recognizing exceptional short stories. While it may be a critical darling, it is often ignored in fan discussions, and many prospective King readers may not even know of its existence. Well, here you go. Now go read it.

#4: “Gerald’s Game” (1992)

“Gerald’s Game” is a brilliant psychological horror novel about a woman who is stuck chained to a bed after her husband dies of a heart attack. The novel really didn’t garner any significant attention until it was adapted into a Netflix movie, which was released in 2017. The movie received a positive reception, and it helped bring some more attention to this criminally-overlooked yet unbelievably tense and personal novel. Another underappreciated King story called “1922” has also received the Netflix treatment, so here’s hoping that many more such adaptations come our way. (xref) There’s certainly no shortage of good stuff to be mined from the King canon.

#3: “Bag of Bones” (1998)

In 1997, Stephen King left his long-time publisher, Viking Press, and signed with the more prestigious Simon & Schuster. What resulted was a novel much more literary than his previous works. “Bag of Bones” is a story about a grieving writer who moves to a vacation home to confront his inner demons and bonds with a young widowed mother. It’s a tragic and haunting story about ghosts (both metaphorical and real), grief, and recovery. It won both the British Fantasy and Bram Stoker awards, yet it still does not enjoy the public reputation it so badly deserves. In this book, a mature and morose King really showcases his surprising penchant for literary writing.

#2: “Doctor Sleep” (2013)

No one was really asking for a sequel to “The Shining,” but King gave it to us anyway. And you know what? It’s actually really good. The story follows “The Shining”’s Danny Torrance as he battles post-traumatic stress and alcoholism. Meanwhile, a group of marauders known as the True Knot travel in search of the magical steam that shiners produce upon a painful death. “Doctor Sleep” avoids fan service and somehow serves as both a worthy sequel to King’s most acclaimed novel and an exciting, scary story that can be enjoyed on its own terms. Many people may have written off King’s more recent work, but “Doctor Sleep” is worthy of a recommendation.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
“Cell” (2006)

“The Gunslinger” (1982)

“The Road Virus Heads North” (1999)

#1: “Lisey’s Story” (2006)

Stephen King revealed during a Reddit AMA that “Lisey’s Story” was his favorite novel. A deeply personal story, you can understand why. The novel follows the newly-widowed Lisey Landon as she cleans out her dead writer husband’s study and recollects on his dark past. It’s not just horrifying, but a sometimes difficult, often moving introspection on trauma, mental illness, and marriage. It’s also a deeply personal story for King, as he was influenced to write it after coming home from the hospital and seeing his empty office, which his wife was in the middle of re-designing. “Lisey’s Story” is not only a great King book, but also a great piece of literature.

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