The Lovecraftian stories of Stephen King

What makes a story Lovecraftian? Is it tentacles? Cthulhu? Yog-sothoth? On one level, perhaps. But personally, what I’m really interested in is cosmic horror. So when I list “the Lovecraftian stories of Stephen King,”, what I really mean is “stories by Stephen King with cosmic horror elements”.

So here’s the list! Did I miss any? If so, comment below.

Revival (novel) – This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written.

From a Buick 8 (novel) – Shortly after his father, a Pennsylvania state trooper, is killed in a senseless automobile accident, Ned Wilcox discovers that the members of Troop D have a secret concealed behind their headquarters. Curtis Wilcox’s friends and colleagues take turns relating the twenty-year history of the mysterious Buick Roadmaster locked in Shed B and how its discovery and unexplained behavior has captivated the tightly knit group of men for two decades. The Buick seems to be a conduit to another reality and every now and then it breathes, inhaling a little bit of this world, exhaling a little bit of whatever world it came from.

In the Tall Grass (novella, with Joe Hill) – In the Tall Grass begins with a sister and brother who pull off to the side of the road after hearing a young boy crying for help from beyond the tall grass. Within minutes they are disoriented, in deeper than seems possible, and they’ve lost one another. The boy’s cries are more and more desperate. What follows is a terrifying, entertaining, and masterfully told tale, as only Stephen and Joe can deliver.

“N.”, in Just After Sunset – N. is diagnosed by Dr. John Bonsaint as suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder and paranoid delusions related to “keeping balance”. N. has become convinced that a circle of stones in a field on the outskirts of a nearby town, Ackerman’s Field, contains a potential doorway to another reality, where a terrifying monster, repeatedly said to be a “helmet-headed” being named Cthun, is trying to break through.

“The Sun Dog”, in Four Past Midnight – A young boy receives a Polaroid camera for his birthday. There’s something wrong with his gift, though. Every picture features a menacing dog that approaches the foreground in each subsequent photograph.

“Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut”, in Skeleton Crew – David, friend of a caretaker named Homer, is an older man who is spending his later years hanging out at the local gas station in a small town. He narrates a tale about Mrs. Todd, who is obsessed with finding shortcuts. Homer admires her persistence but begins to have doubts, as there are only so many shortcuts someone can find. Mrs. Todd’s habit of resetting her odometer shows remarkable evidence that something weird is going on.

“The Mist”, in Skeleton Crew – David Drayton, his son Billy, and their neighbor Brent Norton head to the local grocery store to replenish supplies following a freak storm. Once there, they and other local citizens are trapped by a strange mist that has enveloped the town and in which strange creatures are lurking.

“I Am the Doorway”, in Night Shift – The story relates a crippled former astronaut’s account of the terrifying change he undergoes after being exposed to an extraterrestrial mutagen during a space mission to Venus.

“Jerusalem’s Lot”, in Night Shift – Jerusalem’s Lot is an epistolary short story set in the fictional town of Preacher’s Corners, Cumberland County, Maine, in 1850. It is told through a series of letters and diary entries, mainly those of its main character, aristocrat Charles Boone, although his manservant, Calvin McCann, also occasionally assumes the role of narrator.

“Crouch End”, in Nightmares and Dreamscapes – Police officers Farnham and Vetter are working the night shift and are discussing the case of Doris Freeman, a young woman who came in to report the disappearance of her husband. Nearly hysterical, Doris’s story involves monsters and other supernatural incidents. Farnham dismisses the story as rubbish, but Vetter, who has worked in Crouch End for years, is not so sure.

By the way, I think Night Shift contains one of the best forewords ever written.

There are more Stephen King stories that name-drop the Mythos — “Gramma” is an example — but I’ve focused on the stories that adhere to the themes of cosmic horror.

Plot synopses from StephenKing.com and Wikipedia.

18 responses to “The Lovecraftian stories of Stephen King

  1. Excellent post. I’m a little surprised at how many of these I haven’t read yet. Guess I need to get crackin’.

  2. Very nice read! Thanks. I never realized there were this many Lovecraftian stories by King. Now I must read them all. I’d like to reblog this on my blog. Hopefully you’re cool with that.

    Cheers!
    Mick

  3. Crouch End is one of my favorite horror stories, the atmosphere is very oppressive. Not much is explained, the horror is often only hinted at, but it’s terrifying nonetheless. I knew nothing about Lovecraft when I first read it…a few years later, when I learned that the elements that gave me nightmares for years were inspired by this «H.P.L.», I had to try and read some of his stories. I have not been not disappointed.

  4. That’s a great list, Mike. I don’t know how I missed ‘In the Tall Grass’ but I can’t wait to rectify that oversight.

    It’s odd, but I hadn’t thought of his terribly underrated ‘From a Buick 8’ as Lovecraftian but now I can’t NOT think of it in that way. I love that novel and its wonderful, likeable characters; and as to ‘Crouch End’, that really crawled under my skin for some reason.

    ‘N’ is another very disturbing tale but I’ve always thought of that as more like Arthur Machen — although without rereading it I can’t remember why. As to ‘Revival’ I just looked forward to it so much that it probably couldn’t have lived up to my expectations:

    http://www.charleybrady.com/cbsays/?p=1509

  5. Thanks for the heads up on Revival. I think I must have missed its release.

    I think I may have shared this here before, but Jerusalem’s Lot was the first “Lovecraft” story I ever read. I was drawn to it after reading Salem’s Lot. Year’s later I stumbled on to The Rats in the Walls and immediately saw that Jerusalem’s Lot was an homage to HPLs various epistolary works.

    From A Buick 8 was really engaging, I could hardly put it down.

    • I was actually surprised when I read Jerusalem’s Lot. The Prose is better quality I think than what I had read by King to that point. It was like he had been a better writer then. I love him, don’t get me wrong, but I wouldn’t call his prose poetic or memorable in its wordsmithing like it is in Jerusalem’s Lot. Interesting.

  6. Brian & Mick, ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ was the first Lovecraftian story from King I read and like you I was knocked out by it. It just seemed to be SO different to his usual stuff (and I love that too!).
    I believe that King is a GREAT writer but what may stop him being read in a hundred years from now (unlike HPL) is that his references will be long forgotten, like his allusions to shows like ‘Sons of Anarchy’ and so on. Too pop culture, maybe –which of course makes them work. I hope I’m wrong.
    And yes, I agree that you may not always remember his prose (good God, his output is so staggering) but individual sentences come back to haunt you time and again. He knows how to write about alcoholism, that’s for sure.
    As someone who stopped drinking spirits seven years ago when I hit the bottle a day phase, lines from ‘The Shining ‘ where Torrance wants just one drink — or about a thousand of them — ring true and accurate.
    Or anything from Dr. Sleep, really. People talk about ‘Under the Volcano’ being the ultimate book on alcoholism but to me ‘Dr. Sleep’ has it beaten hands down.
    Then again, I would say that.
    I forgot to mention ‘The Mist’ earlier. That is a stone cold classic, Mike. And it even turned out to be a more than decent film adaption into the bargain.

    • Well said. I agree that this may be King’s downfall if he is even concerned with longevity. His fiction is more often than not not timeless. The pop culture references are irritating to me because they take me out of the story. Joe Hill seems to have raised this bar in his fiction. King is good. There are better prose stylists writing today in these genres. They may not ever reach the output. But, given a choice, I will spend my hours with their horrors before King’s. Cheers.

  7. Nice post, Mike. Have read all the short stories from Skeleton Crew and Night Shift. The latter also had Jerusalem’s Lot which I thought was Lovecraftian from an earlier phase. Coincidentally I just started reading Revival and I’m glad to have your good opinion of it.

  8. Whaaa? No love for “1408,” one of his scariest stories ever? Not to mention one of the best-ever evocations of the experience of stumbling into one of those places where the walls between Our World and Very Much NOT Our World are scuffed a little too thin (yes, I also love “Crouch End” to death). Ignore the catastrophic failure of the movie version, where some people are haunted to madness and death, while some get helpful life lessons about dealing with grief. *gag*

  9. It’s a zombie story, but I’d include Home Delivery from Nightmares and Dreamscapes. The implied impetus for the zombieocalypse is a giant roiling ball of worms in outer space. Add in the fairly bleak ending and the overall sense of the impotence of humanity and I’d call it Lovecraftian.

  10. Fantastic post… But What about IT?!!! One of King’s greatest works is total cosmic horror. IT came from the stars and lands in a time long ago and creates the town of Derry for its own personal feeding ground in between years of hibernation. It is a shape shifting being that feeds on fear and other Sweet meats. ; ). Totally lovecraftian.

  11. I’d actually have to argue with In the Tall Grass. It’s a bit like Lovecraft but I can’t see Lovecraft going that disgusting, honestly. The unending grass made me think of Canavan’s Backyard

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