The Foundation Era

When I tell people that I am re-reading Stephen King’s bibliography in chronological order the question I get asked most is have you noticed any changes in his writing over the course of his publishing life.  The answer is yes and as I have just published my review of The Dead Zone, the last book of King’s to be published in the 1970s, I would like to write about a trend I have noticed in his work.  I’m not referring to how the man’s writing style has changed (it has) or the topics that filter in and out of his works, what I’m referring to is on a broader scale.  I’m talking about eras.

What I mean by that is that there exist periods in King’s bibliography that link up, that come together and trend under a certain theme or style. If you’re a fan of his work and have tasked yourself with reading all his books, it’s probably something you noticed yourself.  There are a number of King’s books that simply go together, something that stands out, even more, when you read them in publication order.

The Dead Zone

My intention is to showcase these periods, or as I refer to them as eras, and why I feel they exist. So, without further ado let’s talk about what I considered to be The Foundation Era, a section of King’s work that comprises his first novel Carrie, published in 1974, and ends with The Dead Zone published in 1979.  Now I will say that while I considered this particular era of King’s work to encompass everything published in the 70s, not every era that I have noticed takes place over a decade.  But we’ll get to that eventually.  

What I want to talk about are the books he published from 1974 to 1979 and why I believe they can be considered connected under one banner.  My reasoning is this and it’s something I’ve mentioned in a previous review of King’s work, all the publications during this time period can be summed up by a single sentence.  This is not enough to label them in any way except for the reason why they can be summed up like this.  It’s because each book released during this time period features King playing with archetypes, and not just any archetypes but horror archetypes.  Carrie is a novel about a pariah. Salem’s Lot is a novel about vampires. The Shining is about a haunted house.  The Stand is a plague novel.  It’s only The Dead Zone (another pariah-focused novel) that stands out as being something more than just a book about an archetype of horror.  Why include it you may ask? Well, I’ll get to that point later but for now, think of how all the books I’ve just mentioned deal with what can be considered classic situations, settings or characters within the horror genre.


It is often remarked, especially when considering his later books, that King doesn’t write the horror books that he used to.  It is an accurate observation, he doesn’t.   To look at these particular books for example there can be no denying (except for The Dead Zone) that these books are horror novels.  By that I mean there is no genre mixing of any kind, they can be placed comfortably beside the other works deemed classic horror within the genre.  As such it is my opinion (feel free to disagree) that these stories published during this time make up the foundation blocks for Stephen King to be considered The King of Horror going forward and thus they make up The Foundation Era within his work.  

That brings us to The Dead Zone, which I’ve already remarked is the exception.  It doesn’t begin that way, the premise of the story being about a character who gains supernatural powers is remarkably similar to his first published book, Carrie. Yet those that have read The Dead Zone will know that the story contains much more than an individual, in this case, Johnny Smith, having a special ability. Yes, there are plenty of examples in the book of Johnny using his powers like Carrie does in her novel, but this book’s story expands beyond that.  Where Carrie is a book about a girl using her powers for revenge The Dead Zone is a book about morality, obligation, love gained and love lost, family, grief and much more.

So why have I included it in what I have evaluated as being an era of King connected by him using the horror archetypes as building blocks to showcase what he can do in the genre? Because another thing I’ve discovered alongside noticing that certain King titles connect under a specific banner, a specific era if you will, is that there is always a book that comes along that changes how he writes and what he writes about going forward.  After The Dead Zone King would rarely publish a book that could sit comfortably within what is deemed the classic horror genre.  In speaking about genre King, he states he doesn’t consider himself a horror writer but a suspense writer.  He states (and I’m paraphrasing) that being considered a horror writer is like being placed inside a box but being a suspense writer is like being inside a house where there are all these rooms you can visit. I feel this perfectly sums up what would be the driving force behind his works going forward, the idea to explore not just stories that scare but stories that do that and more. And The Dead Zone was the catalyst for that shift in his writing going forward.  

What do you think? How do you classify Stephen King’s fiction?

Jamie Stewart

Jamie Stewart


Jamie Stewart started writing stories at the age of nine inspired by R.L Stein's Goosebumps series and the Resident Evil franchise that he was far too young to play in hindsight. He is the author of I Hear the Clattering of the Keys and Other Fever Dreams, a collection of horror stories, and Mr. Jones, a coming-age-novel.  He is also the co-editor of Welcome to the Funhouse, a horror anthology for Blood Rites Horror.  He has also self-published four horror novelette’s that have all peaked at Number 1 on Amazon's Best Seller's List and have been reviewed by the Night Worms team.  He has published short stories in SPINE magazine as well as had audio versions made for various podcast such as Into the Gloom and Horror Oasis. 

He can be found on Instagram @jamie.stewart.33 where he reviews and promotes books.

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