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Stephen King’s Castle Rock Books: How Scary Are They?

by | July 26

For some readers, Stephen King books can be an emotional roller coaster.

On the one hand, there are many of us (especially me!) who would prefer not to have nightmares about rabid dogs and murdering sociopaths. The solution? Avoid nightmare-inducing novels.

BUT, then there’s Stephen King—a super popular author who just keeps writing amazing stuff that people just keep recommending. So, what does one do? One gives in.

With the release of Hulu’s Castle Rock—a show that pulls from the many different Stephen King novels and stories set in this one particular, terrible little town—I thought it might be helpful to write (my) definitive list of books set in Castle Rock, from least scary to most. This one is for all my fellow scaredy- cats out there.

Gwendy's Button Box

Gwendy's Button Box

by Stephen King

A chilling coming-of-age novella that follows twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson after an enigmatic man dressed in black gives her a very special device that could make—or break—dreams. Heavy on the suspense, but there’s more mystery than fright in this quick read. Maggie Siff (of Sons of Anarchy and Billions fame) reads the audiobook, which also features a conversation between Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, the two collaborators on the story.

The Body

The Body

by Stephen King

1960, Castle Rock: Twelve-year-old Gordie Lachance and his three friends set out on a quest for notoriety to find the body of a missing boy along the local railroad tracks. During the course of their journey, the group comes to terms with death and the harsh truths of growing up. This coming-of-age story isn’t as horrifying as some other King stories—but it’s weighted with darkness and despair. Read the novella, and then check out Rob Reiner’s 1986 adaptation Stand by Me, starring baby-face versions of Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell, and Kiefer Sutherland.

Bag of Bones

Bag of Bones

by Stephen King

Bag of Bones follows forty-year-old bestselling novelist Mike Noonan, who suffers from severe writer’s block caused by his inability to move past the death of his wife four years earlier. In an attempt to confront his fears and go forward, Mike returns to the family vacation home he’s been avoiding—and faces the ghostly mysteries that come with a trip to Castle Rock. Definitely suspenseful and dark, though not as gruesome as it could be.

Lisey's Story

Lisey's Story

by Stephen King

We meet Lisey Landon two years after the death of her novelist husband, Scott. The story cuts back and forth between the present and her husband’s life—which reveals a history of mental illness in his family, which ultimately consumed all its members. Oh, and there’s a creepy stalker thrown into the mix. Lisey’s Story is a lot closer to Stephen King’s particular brand of fright, and was a little too scary for me as a result. You’ve been warned!

Needful Things

Needful Things

by Stephen King

The mysterious Leland Gaunt arrives in the town of Castle Rock and opens an odd little curio shop called Needful Things. He seems to have just the right item for each person who visits—which Leland sells for a surprisingly small amount of money and the promise from customers to play a “harmless” prank on neighbors. The problem? A lot of these friendly neighbors have a beef with one another, and the pranks quickly get out of control. Needful Things is packed with tons of suspense and violence!

BONUS: You can watch Westworld’s Ed Harris in the 1993 adaptation.

EXTRA BONUS: Stephen King reads the audiobook himself.

The Dark Half

The Dark Half

by Stephen King

Fun Fact: Stephen King was inspired to write this book during the 1980s after he was “outed” as the pseudonymous author Richard Bachman—his darker, more cynical alter-ego.

Thad Beaumont is a critically acclaimed but obscure writer who has found international bestselling stardom penning crime novels under the name George Stark. When it becomes public that Thad actually is George Stark, Thad stages a mock burial of the pseudonym. But, because this is a Stephen King novel, Stark seemingly comes back to life and goes on a killing spree—leaving Thad to figure out what the hell is actually going on. This is classic Stephen King horror with a decent amount of gore and ickiness. Check out Timothy Hutton playing both Thad Beaumont and George Stark in the 1993 adaptation.

The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone

by Stephen King

Johnny Smith survived a devastating auto injury, and wakes up from a five-year coma to discover that he can see people’s futures and pasts when he touches them. To many, this feels like a gift that can be put to good use—but to Johnny, it’s a curse. We follow Johnny over the years at different moments as he embraces and rejects his ability. Along the way, we see—as he does—inside the mind of a serial killer, a crooked politician, and much more.

The Dead Zone is less Stephen King horror and more of a paranormal tale—but an excellent one, and is considered one of Stephen King’s best books ever. This one has book club written all over it—read the book, listen to James Franco read it to you, then watch the two adaptations (the 1983 film starring none other than Christopher Walken and the 2002 TV series starring Anthony Michael Hall), and discuss to your heart’s content.

Cujo

Cujo

by Stephen King

Cujo is the friendly neighborhood dog—a two-hundred-pound Saint Bernard and the best friend Brett Camber has ever had. One day Cujo chases a rabbit into a cave, where he’s bitten by a rabid bat. What emerges is a monster. Cujo soon goes on a killing spree all over Castle Rock before eventually trapping Donna Trenton and her young son, Tad, in their car, leading to a horrific tale of surviving from moment to moment.

This one is a really terrifying story that will make your skin crawl and will probably stick with you long after you finish the novel. Which is why it’s the scariest book on this list!  We're guessing that Stephen King's dog Molly (aka the Thing of Evil) isn't as hardcore as Cujo.

Top off this read with a screening of the 1983 film and brace yourself.

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Shefali works on the Corporate Digital Marketing team at Simon & Schuster. Because her whole life is #reading, it’s hard for her to pick a favorite genre—anything with strong voice is amazing. She sometimes has unpopular opinions, loves Jane Austen, and finds snark, sassiness, and Oxford commas to be necessary parts of life. Follow her on Twitter at @ShefaliLohia or Instagram at @shefallsgracefully.