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A Guide to the Best Stephen King Audiobooks

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The Stephen King Multiverse has, deep into the author’s fifth decade of publishing, seized more cultural real estate than it’s ever possessed before. “People love big shared universes,” his author son Joe Hill said this fall, “and have tapped into the idea that Dad’s universe is as big as the Marvel universe, but it’s like for grown-ups.”

King’s 60-plus novels and ten long collections of short fiction reflect and refract, connect to, and illuminate each other. The innumerable film and series adaptations, optioned and remade at an astonishing pace, are always conversing with themselves: Young Ben from the 1990 It cameos in the 2019 movie, the Pet Sematary remake flip-flops its child-deaths, Sissy Spacek stars in Castle Rock, and so forth.

The audiobook branch of the Kingverse is as vastly populated and cozily intermingled as the rest of his output, with hardly any entries left unrecorded — and plenty of his books are narrated by actors of note. As you might expect, a lot of the actors are veterans of King’s work; you’ve got options like Sissy Spacek reading Carrie, a Thinner actor doing Thinner, and the 1993 superstar-fest Nightmares & Dreamscapes, 23 stories told by a starry lineup that includes a half dozen King alums.

For the Constant Reader programmed to find and embrace all strands of the S.K. Multiverse, it’s a fascinating ball of yarn to unravel. As such, here’s our guide to some of the best actors to narrate Stephen King audiobooks.

Tim Curry

King résumé: Achieved horror-legend status as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in 1990’s It miniseries on ABC.

Narrated: “Crouch End” and “The Doctor’s Case” from Nightmares & Dreamscapes (’93).

How’s his reading? It doesn’t get much more impressive than confidently verbalizing H.P. Lovecraft names like Yogsoggoth, R’Yeleh, and Nrtesn Nyarlahotep. King has next to no stories set outside the U.S., and Curry tackling these two English tales makes them even more of precious artifacts. He revs up S.K.’s already solid approximation of Britishness, particularly in “The Doctor’s Case,” lending authenticity to a Sherlock story told by Watson. Curry has controlled rhythm and distinct characterizations but doesn’t over-perform (his distressed American woman is perfect) — unsurprising, given his extensive voice-over history, from The Wild Thornberrys to the CGI Star Wars shows.

Kathy Bates

King résumé: Won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1990’s Misery and led ’95’s Dolores Claiborne.

Narrated: An abridged Desperation (’96) and “Chattery Teeth” from Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

How’s her reading? It takes a special person to successfully tell a story about murderous toy teeth; Bates is that narrator. It’s a novelty to hear Bates doing S.K. material in her own Tennessee-inflected voice, not the idiosyncratic intonations of Annie Wilkes or Mrs. Claiborne. The widely available Desperation is unabridged and read by the author; Bates’s take is abbreviated and elusive, but Publisher’s Weekly said she “takes the reins and holds listeners rapt from start to finish” and “has the inherent ability to make anything, no matter how over the top, sound realistic and immediate.”

Sissy Spacek

King résumé: Best Actress Oscar nomination for the debut King-based film, 1976’s Carrie. Also had a key role — and wonderful episode centered on her — on Castle Rock.

Narrated: Carrie in 2005, with an intro read by King.

How’s her reading? Very up to the challenge of an epistolary novel that shifts narrative gears throughout. Her gentle Texas accent slightly reframes the characters and sense of place in a refreshing way; the scenes between Carrietta and her mother are in the best and most qualified hands; the prom is to die for.

Gary Sinise

King résumé: Starred in the CBS Stand miniseries as Stu Redman in 1993, and then reunited with Forrest Gump castmate Tom Hanks in The Green Mile.

Narrated: “The Fifth Quarter” from Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

How’s his reading? He barrels through in a dry, neutral-enough fashion that the Sinise-ness fades into the dullness. He has the right idea for a bleak story, though the delivery isn’t all the way there.

Steven Weber

King résumé: Jack Torrance in 1997’s King-written/produced Shining miniseries.

Narrated: It, a 2010 recording of the 1,138-pager from ’86.

How’s his reading? There’s debate about It’s place atop the King canon, but Weber’s audiobook might be peerless. From his first bonkers lines as Pennywise (whom he manifests delightfully) to the very last, Weber’s animation and invention never flag. By the time the Losers are facing It, past the 40-hour mark, it’s staggering to hear Weber continue bringing this powerful of a dramatization, giving every last psychotic decibel he’s got to the Ritual of Chüd. He does so much for the material, you want to give his Shining bonus points by association.

Whoopi Goldberg

King résumé: Starring in CBS All Access’s 2020 The Stand miniseries as the psychic centenarian savior Mother Abagail.

Narrated: “Suffer the Little Children” in Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

How’s her reading? A commanding grip on the spellbinding emotional crescendo of a strict teacher driven to lethal insanity by a classroom of students who appear to be actual monsters. She does Miss Sidley’s brief hysterical moments with a grounded restraint that keeps the story feeling queasily real.

Jeffrey DeMunn

King résumé: All Frank Darabont’s King adaptations — The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Green Mile (’99), and The Mist (’07).

Narrated: Dreamcatcher (2001) and The Colorado Kid (’05).

How’s his reading? Breezy going on chipper, even lovable. His Mainers are dead-on, going beyond accents (yes, myriad shades) to all-around uncanny Yankee representation, which is critical considering how much these novels call for such performances. “How could she learn anything when she could only understand one word in every seven?” a Vacationland transplant wonders early in Colorado Kid. DeMunn never creates that problem.

David Morse

King résumé: The Langoliers miniseries (1995), The Green Mile (’99), Hearts in Atlantis (’01).

Narrated: Revival (2014) and “Uncle Otto’s Truck” from ’85’s Skeleton Crew, rerecorded in 2016.

How’s his reading? Does great as rough, partly broken men with an astonishingly accurate muted-by-modernity Maine accents.
Subtly ominous enough to sustain the slow build to the big fireworks. Revival’s one of those classic King tomes where it really all hangs on a few pages of pure madness at the end; Morse nails it.

Rob Lowe

King résumé: Two-time TV miniseries guy, with The Stand in ’94 and Salem’s Lot a decade later.

Narrated: “Dolan’s Cadillac” from Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

How’s his reading? Kinda campy and over-slick, which suits the tone but doesn’t improve an already protracted story.

Yeardley Smith

King résumé: 1986’s King-helmed Maximum Overdrive, Smith’s third feature and King’s only time in the director’s chair.

Narrated: “Rainy Season” from Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

How’s her reading? A surreal joy, considering it’s the voice of Lisa Simpson reading about frogs with needle-teeth pouring like hail onto two sacrificial out-of-towners. Especially fun are the icky, frantic climax and her voice for Henry Eden, one of a thousand drawling, porch-loving Mainers of the Kingverse.

Stephen Lang

King résumé: The 2014 film A Good Marriage, written by King and based on his 2010 novella.

Narrated: “Throttle” (’09) and “In the Tall Grass” (’12), stories King co-authored with Joe Hill (NOS4A2, Locke & Key).

How’s his reading? Crisp and gruff, but never missing a chance to give someone a quirky, carefully crafted voice. Lang approaches the grim stuff with a serious menace that gives the scariest parts the best possible chance of actually scaring you.

Mare Winningham

King résumé: HBO’s The Outsider, a 2020 miniseries based on the 2018 supernatural crime novel, as Laurie Anderson, wife to detective protagonist Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn). Also a couple episodes of Under the Dome.

Narrated: Lisey’s Story (’06), “The Gingerbread Girl” from Just After Sunset (’08), and “Morality” from The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (’15).

How’s her reading? Winningham proficiently translates these three women-led narratives without over-performing, even giving the more shocking moments a relative smoothness.

Joe Mantegna

King résumé: Mobster Richie “the Hammer” Ginelli in 1996’s Thinner, based on the lethally problematic ’84 Richard Bachman book.

Narrated: Thinner and “Popsy” from Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

How’s his reading? Soft-spoken and flecked with a New York accent, like Richie with a love for reading. Unfortunately, he has to compete with way too much grating music in Thinner.

Kathleen Chalfant

King résumé: Starred in Storm of the Century, ABC’s ’99 miniseries penned by King, as Joanna Stanhope of Little Tall Island, home of Dolores Claiborne.

Narrated: “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” from The Bazaar of Bad Dreams alongside Brooke Bloom (Homecoming).

How’s her reading? She and Bloom equally yet very differently bring to life the story’s hopeful start and its devastating conclusion — a sadder child-endangerment story in some ways than Pet Sematary, Cujo, and It. The enthusiasm of the narrators is complete, brining the lead characters to life immediately. Chalfant gets to read a nice poem (“The rising mist turns to gold dust / The clouds boil apart in ragged tresses”) as well as an all-time final line: “What the fuck does it look like?” she says.

Hope Davis

King résumé: Liz Garfield in Hearts in Atlantis (2001), mother to the late Anton Yelchin’s Bobby.

Narrated: “The Little Green God of Agony” from The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

How’s her reading? Right down the middle. Even the vintage supernatural-clusterfuck ending doesn’t take Davis too far out of her zone of moderation and straightforwardness.

Frances Sternhagen

King résumé: Misery, the King-penned miniseries Golden Years, and The Mist.

Narrated: Dolores Claiborne and “Gramma” from Skeleton Crew.

How’s her reading? Dolores is a nine-hour monologue with zero chapter breaks, and Sternhagen’s accent and engagement are on point, but a little brittle for the formidable Dolores. Great fit for “Gramma,” though.

James Woods

King résumé: Cat’s Eye, the ’85 anthology film penned by King, directed by Cujo’s Lewis Teague, and featuring Drew Barrymore a year after Firestarter.

Narrated: “Secret Window, Secret Garden” from Four Past Midnight (’90).

How’s his reading? Strong, with a distinct and successful voice for John Shooter, the Mississippi-bred Tyler Durden to Mort Rainey’s perplexed Ed Norton. Notably more robust coming from the pipes of a 43-year-old Woods rather than the aged alt-right fusspot we’ve been saddled with for a long time.

Holter Graham

King résumé: Made his debut as a 13-year-old who gets steamrolled in Maximum Overdrive.

Narrated: Christine and Ur,” the Kindle-exclusive novella later collected in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

How’s his reading? A total pro with a résumé creeping up on 200 books, Graham has the gift of sounding like he wrote the material and loves it only as its author could.

Stephen King

King résumé: No. 1 author of Stephen King books and No. 1 cameo actor in King-based movies, as recently as It Chapter Two this year and Mr. Mercedes in 2017.

Narrated: On Writing, Needful Things, Desperation, Bag of Bones, four Dark Tower books, Elevation, parts of Hearts in Atlantis, numerous stories across nearly all his collections, assorted intros and afterwords.

How’s his reading? In one sense, his recordings are the purest listenable interpretations you’ll find. But it can feel like you’re watching him do a live reading for his fans rather than experiencing it primarily as a story — neither Stephen King the man nor his semi-scratchy voice and mild Maine accent can always blend into his own writing. Every now and then you’ll come across a workmanlike section, but for the most part, King provides the overall warm experience you might expect from the author himself.

A Guide to the Best Stephen King Audiobooks