E: Eddie Dean
A single story told across eight books published over a span of 30 years, King’s The Dark Tower is nominally the tale of Roland Deschain, the last in a line of knight-like gunslingers from a land called Gilead. Roland journeys through a variety of worlds — including our own — to reach the Dark Tower, the lynchpin of all universes. In book two, 1987’s The Drawing of the Three, King gives Roland some friends — or, in the mystical parlance of The Dark Tower, a “ka-tet.” They’re named Eddie, Susannah, and Jake, and there’s a lot to each of the characters. But Eddie is the everyman, the modern New Yorker who can only process this journey through time, space and genres by constantly cracking jokes. If Roland isn’t King’s personal Dark Tower stand-in, Eddie is. (His first subplot: kicking a vicious drug addiction.) (Side note: The Tower saga has connections and echoes in more than 15 other King works. For more, see the next letter.)
F: Flagg, Randall
When we first see Flagg in The Stand, he’s just a guy in “sharp-toed cowboy boots clocking on the pavement; a tall man of no age in faded, pegged jeans and a denim jacket.” Also called as the Walkin’ Dude, Flagg wears a yellow smiley-face button and turns out to be one of the most sinister villains in King’s work. Not just because he rallies and leads every dark-hearted superflu survivor in The Stand, either — Flagg is also the No. 1 or 2 baddie in The Dark Tower (depends who you ask), and he has cameos in a bunch of other stories. The thing about Flagg is you don’t always know if it is Flagg — he changes his look and his name like a pair of those old jeans. Keep your eye on Marten Broadcloak, Richard Fannin, and Walter O’Dim, more famously known as the Man in Black.
G: Gerald’s Game
The year he turned 45, King released a pair of deeply feminist novels, each one a narrative experiment that stands alone in his oeuvre. The first was Gerald’s Game, which found Jessie Burlingame handcuffed and alone in a remote cabin after her husband had a heart attack during some kinky foreplay. Nearly the whole novel took place with Jessie locked to her bed, a person-trapped-in-a-room book that managed to never feel like a Misery do-over. Six months later, Dolores Claiborne was a single unbroken monologue told by another incredible Maine woman. The two books sync up in a mind-bending moment involving a solar eclipse.
H: Hearts in Atlantis
Similar to the singular narratives of Gerald’s Game and Dolores Claiborne, there’s no King book quite like Hearts in Atlantis. For 250 pages, it looks like King’s writing a semi-autobiographical, Dark Tower–affiliated novel set in 1960. Then it jumps to the University of Maine in ’66 for 150 pages — a completely new story that’s also semi-autobiographical. The novel then concludes with two meaty short stories and one tiny vignette. The whole “collection” — for lack of a better word — swivels around peace, love, and Vietnam, some of the subjects closest to King’s own heart.
Until King published his revised, uncut version of The Stand in 1990, It was his longest book. Tomes like The Dark Tower VII, Under the Dome, and 11/22/63 came close to the top, but this tale of kids fighting an evil clown named Pennywise still stands as the second-thickest. “I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t you write a final exam on horror, and put in all the monsters that everyone was afraid of as a kid?'” King reflected to Time in 2009. “‘Put in Frankenstein, the werewolf, the vampire, the mummy, the giant creatures that ate up New York in the old B movies. Put ’em all in there.'” King accomplished that through a monstrosity that was actually just one manifestation of a timeless, morphing being that even King himself struggled to fully explain. While It has one of King’s more controversial endings, the book as a whole is unimpeachable.