Ranking the Stories in Stephen King’s ‘Nightmares and Dreamscapes’

%27Nightmares+and+Dreamscapes%27+is+the+true+definition+of+a+mixed+bag%2C+and+today+we+rank+all+of+the+stories+contained.+Art+by+Suntup+Editions%2C+graphic+by+Oliver+Barnfield.

Photo By Suntup Editions

‘Nightmares and Dreamscapes’ is the true definition of a mixed bag, and today we rank all of the stories contained. Art by Suntup Editions, graphic by Oliver Barnfield.

After the phenomenal success of Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, and Different Seasons, Stephen King was ready to make another short story anthology. Much of the collection would end up being odds and ends, with the majority serving as homages to other writers. King sprinkled in a few poems and nonfiction stories and called it a day, and with that, 1993’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes would be his longest short story series up to that point. Generally, it’s nowhere near as well-regarded as the first three volumes, but it still has charm and a handful of good stories. So without much further ado, let’s get into ranking the 24 stories of Nightmares and Dreamscapes. 

 

24. The Beggar and the Diamond 

This story is a Hindu parable that King randomly decided to stick in at the end of his collection. I honestly don’t remember anything about it. He didn’t even write the story in the first place, and for that reason, it belongs at the bottom.

23. Head Down

This uncharacteristic story is a long nonfiction piece about his son’s Little League baseball team. It’s cute, and King is fine as a nonfiction author, but it doesn’t hold much interest if you’re not interested in baseball.

22. Brooklyn August 

King continues with a baseball theme in this slight poem. King’s poems were never all that good, and this is no exception. 100% skippable.

21. Dedication

Words cannot describe the utter disgust felt upon reading this. In fact, we strongly advise against it. Skip this one, dear reader, because failing to do so would be an incredible mistake. We cannot even summarize this one, because of its repulsive central premise.

20. It Grows On You

If you judge King’s work by the amount of revolting content, It Grows on You is a masterpiece. It focuses on a house somewhere, and the people that have lived in its walls. Each mini anecdote is completely unrelated, with one straight up being once again, impossible to describe here. You could totally read this one if you wanted to, but be prepared for some crazy stuff. Half of the story makes no sense, and when it does, you almost wish it didn’t.

19. Sneakers

King continues his puerile streak with this queasy tale of bathroom ghosts and gay record producers. Scatalogical humor is not King’s forte, and the concept is disappointingly executed.

18. My Pretty Pony

Besides sharing a name with a My Little Pony rip-off, this one doesn’t have much going for it. It’s essentially one long conversation, and while it’s kind of pleasant, it doesn’t stick with you at all. Only dedicated Bronies need apply, and even then, they might find themselves extremely disappointed.

17. The House on Maple Street

King wrote this story after seeing a Harris Burdick illustration. Burdick was a mysterious figure who left a series of illustrations at a publishing house with only captions to accompany them, while never supplying the full stories. This is what Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg claimed in the introduction to the published Burdick portfolio. Whether or not the story is apocryphal didn’t seem to matter to King and other authors like Louis Sachar, who wrote accompanying stories for Burdick illustrations in a separately published book, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. King and others weren’t alone in their Burdick fascination, as this article’s authors also had to write stories inspired by the mysterious illustrations. Honestly, my fourth grade tale was better than this limp Richard Matheson pastiche.

16. You Know They Got a Hell of a Band

Only die-hard fans of ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n’ roll will enjoy this one, and even then, they may be offended by the concept of Zombie Elvis. The concept is hokey and reads like a parody of a usual King tale, with decayed and ghostly versions of classic rock icons killing a young couple. 

15. Dolan’s Cadillac

Dolan’s Cadillac is a rather formulaic revenge tale that begins Nightmares and Dreamscapes on a sour note. The story drones on like that of a forgettable episode of The Sopranos and is overall quite skippable. 

14. Sorry, Right Number

For some reason, Stephen King wrote this story in a teleplay format, with descriptions of camera moves. It kind of makes sense considering this feels like a Twilight Zone episode, complete with an obvious twist at the end. It’s a fine story at its core, but the odd formatting makes it difficult to read. 

13. Crouch End

In a nod to Lovecraftian horror, King spins a tale of otherworldly origin, set in North London amid a series of mysterious disappearances. Threading the fine line between hallucinations caused by mental illness and real life abominations creeping in the shadows, this piece is truly a spectacle to behold.

12. The Fifth Quarter

The Fifth Quarter is another crime-themed story, although this one is criminally underrealized. After losing his friend to accomplices-turned-traitors, one man tries to take back what’s rightfully his, earning pieces of the treasure map from each traitor he takes down. Overall, this is definitely the most average of the crime stories in King’s collection, but nonetheless worth a try.

11. The Doctor’s Case

In a complete departure from seemingly every other story King has ever written, this piece is straight-up Sherlock Holmes fanfiction, under the likes of which the world has never seen. Unlike most fanfiction tales, this one has one key defining trait; it’s actually pretty good! It isn’t anything to write home about, and the mystery is painfully average to a fault, but it’s intriguing to see King go on a path never taken.

10. Rainy Season

Frogs falling from the sky must have been all the rage in the ’90s, with the two best examples being this and 1999’s Magnolia. Because this is Stephen King, the frogs here are bloodthirsty, and while the absurd premise could have worked, the story is far too self-serious about its foolish concept.

9. The End of the Whole Mess

This apocalypse story centers mostly on the relationship between the narrator and his brother rather than the end times itself. The idea of the world-ending virus being something more akin to Alzheimer’s than the flu is a truly terrifying concept, but the story never really runs with it. One wishes that King had developed this one more fully.

8. Umney’s Last Case

Many of the stories in this collection are pastiches of other writers, and Umney’s Last Case is no different. It’s a Raymond Chandler homage, and while I haven’t read any of Chandler’s hard-boiled crime tales, King’s imitation seems to be spot-on. King adds an all-important meta element here, where the creation meets the creator: a concept that King seems to have an obsession with. It’s a multi-layered and interesting story, and while not scary per se, it is intellectually stimulating.

7. Home Delivery

In a book known for its shift from King’s usual paranormal offerings, this zombie story is truly one of a kind. After a terrible boating accident kills her husband, one young woman in Maine (of course) finds herself in the middle of a sudden zombie apocalypse. This novella, if a little subpar compared to other typical zombie pieces, is still thrilling through and through, and worth the read. 

6. The Night Flier

Being the first of two vampire-themed tales, The Night Flier is the more serious one, following a vampire-pilot-turned-serial killer, who is pursued by a reporter (a character also featured in The Dead Zone) looking for evidence for his next tabloid tale. It is a nice tie-in to the extended King universe to say the least. 

5. Popsy

The most successful stories in this collection are simple, humorous, and filled with memorable monsters. They’re also short and fun. This is that kind of tale, telling a deliciously simple story of vampiric revenge. It’s almost a spiritual sequel to The Night Flier, only better. 

4. Suffer the Little Children

One of the more memorable pieces of this collection, Suffer the Little Children displays King’s unparalleled skill at viewing the inner mind of a character as they slowly descend into madness. Focusing on a typical kindergarten teacher who finds herself in a not-so typical situation, the reader witnesses her watch as her students turn into disfigured demons. The short story sticks around in your head for a good while after finishing. You will constantly wonder whether she was hallucinating these strange creatures or not, especially with the excellent ending. 

3. Chattery Teeth

A story in a similar vein to Popsy or The Moving Finger, this nasty and often funny tale of roadside revenge centers around the titular object. King’s laziest storytelling crutch has always been turning random objects evil (Christine, The Monkey story from Skeleton Crew, and Battleground from Night Shift) but Chattery Teeth works surprisingly well, precisely because it leans heavily into the ridiculousness of the central premise. 

2. The Ten O’Clock People

The Ten O’Clock People is a well-written urban tale that is similar to John Carpenter’s They Live. That isn’t a bad thing, of course, and the story is great fun to read. King takes an oddball premise and makes it into something eerie and uncanny, and it works surprisingly well. 

1. The Moving Finger

Sometimes, all you need is one incredibly weird idea. For this unexpected masterpiece of storytelling, King did exactly that, and ran with it. Featuring an unexplained, infinitely long finger that extends from the drain in an ordinary bathroom sink, absolute havoc is wreaked upon our main character. It is utter perfection to read. The idea of a disgustingly long finger reaching from a sink drain is so simple and yet so terrifying, and King manages to keep it funny, too. King isn’t known for his comedy but this is an absolutely hilarious tale, a slapstick (or rather splatstick) story filled with twists and turns. As you read on, both horrified and extremely entertained, the battle rages on; man versus finger. Who will win? You have to read to find out! 

Overall, Nightmares and Dreamscapes is nothing compared to the masterpieces of Night Shift or Different Seasons, or even the solid storytelling of Skeleton Crew. But it’s still fun to read since the stories are so short that if you get bored with one story, you can just pass on over to the next one in no time.

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