The Collected Stories of Stephen King: A Speculative Table of Contents

It is a sad truism that while many mainstream literary short story writers eventually publish a Collected or Best Of anthology, very few popular genre writers do the same. In this way, we end up with The Collected Stories of Flanery O’Connor and The Complete Stories of Jorge Luis Borges–both excellent–but sadly no such compilation from a writer like Stephen King.

Indeed, many popular genre writers don’t write short stories, or write very few. Michael Crichton wrote only one that I’m aware of. John Sandford hardly more than that. Dennis Lehane has written just enough to collect in a slender volume: Coronado. Ditto John Grisham. But popular writers are not generally known for their short work.

King, however, is another beast altogether. Michael Chabon has called King the Last Master of the Plotted Short Story, a title that may explain why even King’s short story collections sell well, when so many other writers’ do not. To date, King has released seven collections of short stories and three collections of novellas:

  • Night Shift
  • Skeleton Crew
  • Nightmares & Dreamscapes
  • Everything’s Eventual
  • Just After Sunset
  • Stephen King Goes to the Movies
  • The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
  • Different Seasons
  • Four Past Midnight
  • Full Dark, No Stars

Note: many people list Hearts in Atlantis  as a collection. I don’t. The tales in that book are of a piece, and they work together and build on each other in a way that is utterly different from a normal collection. To me, Hearts  is a single work (much in the way that say Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses  or Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio are single works) and should be read that way.

Stephen-King-Night-ShiftConsider for a moment that Ernest Hemingway, often considered one of the great short story masters of the 20th century, wrote only three collections of short stories over the course of his life. Quantity and quality are not synonymous, but it bears noting: in the realm of the short story, King has been incredibly productive.

Furthermore, King’s short story output has been diverse and sustained. His first collection, Night Shift, came out in the 1970s; his latest, just this previous year. He has written tales of horror, for sure, but also mystery (Umney’s Last Case), science fiction (Trucks), comic satire (Herman Wouk is Still Alive), mainstream fiction (All That You Love Will Be Carried Away), apocalyptic nightmare (Graduation Afternoon), revenge (Dolan’s Cadillac) and numerous hybrid tales that don’t fit into any easy category (It Grows on You).

When my stories are collected, I always feel like a street vendor, one who sells only at midnight. I spread my assortment out, inviting the reader–that’s you–to come and take your pick. But I always add the proper caveat: be careful, my dear, because some of these items are dangerous. They are the ones with bad dreams hidden inside, the ones you can’t stop thinking about when sleep is slow to come and you wonder why the closet door is open, when you know perfectly well that you shut it.

King has edited The Best American Short Stories,  been included in The Best American Mystery Stories–in addition to dozens upon dozens of horror anthologies–and won an O. Henry Award for The Man in the Black Suit. Perhaps more than any other writer, his short work has been endlessly translated to the silver screen, spawning such god-awful duds as The Lawnmower Man and Children of the Corn,  but also delivering masterpieces like The Shawshank Redemption and Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

stephen king goesWhat follows below is my own proposed selection of King’s “collected stories,” what amounts to more or less my favorites of his short work. I have purposely left out the novellas, not because of their quality, but because I couldn’t envision a single book that could hold all the great stories and the great novellas.

A few notes:

It is my feeling that King is at his best when writing stories that would have filmed well as episodes of The Twilight Zone. He is a master at combining the everyday and the bizarre. This works particularly well when that crack in reality opens and a cold darkness pours through. Children of the Corn, The Monkey, and The Road Virus Heads North  all fit this bill.

But while these are the kinds of stories King is well-known for, he is also a deft hand at the straight mainstream story, and this is an area where he is often overlooked. Especially in recent years, King has strove to prove he is more than adept in this part of the field. Batman and Robin Have an Altercation, Herman Wouk is Still Alive, and Mute  are excellent examples.

Finally, two of the selections below are not found in King’s collections. The Crate was anthologized in The Year’s Best Fantasy, edited by Terry Carr, and In The Tall Grass, written with Joe Hill, was published in Esquire  magazine in two installments.

Please feel free to list your own favorites below in the comments section. I’m always eager to hear what other readers found compelling.

stephen king 2

The Collected Stories of Stephen King

  1. Night Surf
  2. Trucks
  3. Sometimes They Come Back
  4. Quitters Inc.
  5. Children of the Corn
  6. The Monkey
  7. Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut
  8. The Raft
  9. Word Processor of the Gods
  10. The Reach
  11. The End of the Whole Mess
  12. Suffer the Little Children
  13. It Grows on You
  14. You Know They’ve Got a Hell of a Band
  15. The House on Maple Street
  16. The Crate
  17. The Man in the Black Suit
  18. All That You Love Will Be Carried Away
  19. The Little Sisters of Eluria
  20. The Road Virus Heads North
  21. Harvey’s Dream
  22. Rest Stop
  23. UR
  24. Morality
  25. Under the Weather
  26. Obits
  27. That Bus is Another World
  28. In the Tall Grass

11 responses to “The Collected Stories of Stephen King: A Speculative Table of Contents”

  1. You’re quite right that King is best when at Twilight Zone type of terse stories. In fact, with most of his novels excessively long, it seems the shorter he is the better. Sorry to say this, but … This feels supported by the fact that, well, the movies based on his shorter stories are the best. Shawshank, The Body. 1482, etc. I find myself loving his short tales, but never had the patience for his novels. (I did IT years ago and that was that)

    1. You know, I’m a die hard King fan, but I know where you’re coming from. King has a windy quality to his work, although it’s spotty. There are books where it really takes over (The Tommyknockers is one, Dreamcatcher is another). There are books where it comes and goes (like IT or The Stand), making certain part of those books difficult to get through, but not otherwise marring the whole experience.

      And yes, King really excels at the novella length, as evidenced by The Body, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, etc.

      But if you haven’t read any of King’s latest works, I’d urge you to give them a shot. Many people argue that King’s best novels are his early works, and while books like The Shining and The Dead Zone are absolutely classic, I would attest that King has become a steadily better writer. His finest writing has come in the last ten to fifteen years. And his more recent novels, like Doctor Sleep, 11/22/63, and Under the Dome–in spite of the length of those last two–are truly pared down when it comes to the writing.

      1. I consider myself a 90s King reader. So I enjoyed most of his earlier works, was hmmmm with his new works of that period, and was aghast at his windy ones. I’ll give his current works a try to see how it goes though. Truth is, I do miss reading him quite a bit. In terms of imagination, he is unrivalled.

  2. Would you add Secret Window in stories or novellas? I liked that one.

    1. Yeah, I left out all the novellas, which is a bit of a bummer, because King really excels at that length. If I was making a list of his best novellas: The Body, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, The Langoliers, Secret Garden, Secret Window, and The Mist.

      1. I couldn’t remember if it was a novella or short story. Did he really name one of his novellas Secret Garden? That name was taken ages ago, sir!

      2. So the movie based on the novella is called Secret Window. But the novella found in Four Past Midnight is called “Secret Window, Secret Garden.” Like a dork, I reversed those in my last reply. It’s definitely a novella, and they made (at least to my thinking) one of the better movies out of that one.

      3. Oh!! Yes, I remember that! Ha, it’s okay. It’s Monday or getting late or some other cliche. I enjoyed the movie, too, but my favorite is definitely Pet Semetary, because, you know, “Sometimes, dead is bettuh.”

  3. I’m more of an early King novel fan, but I did enjoy reading Duma Key a few years back. Great article!

  4. Some of my early favourites are; Battleground, The Last Rung on the Ladder, Gramma and The Breathing Method.

  5. […] The Collected Stories of Stephen King: A Speculative Table of Contents […]

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