Stephen King, although many people may think it is a strange thing to say, is one of the most innovative, prolific, and influential writers of the twentieth century. Many people think of him as simply a book writer, a guy who writes scary stories with lots of blood and cursing. But to me, a person who read his first Stephen King book (Christine) at the tender age of twelve and spent the next several years feeling weirded out everytime a car radio made that unexpected radio-tuning-itself noise, he's been a writer's writer, a man who has explored to the best of his ability the absolute limits of his craft, and was always willing to keep going, demanding the whole time that all his millions of "Constant Readers" join him as well.
Every book of his that I've been exposed to has delighted me in some new and satisfying way. Carrie was the ultimate justifiable-revenge story, with the heroine character that everyone could sympathize with but who would still avoid at all costs. In other words, an outcast character so powerful that she outshines all of our current offerings in these outcast-laden times. Cujo broke storytelling lore wide open, the good guys didn't really win, the book is almost senseless, and therefore so real you can barely force your eyes to close when you go to bed you're so scared. I later discovered his earlier work, namely, The Bachman Books, which he wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bach before he was the titan known as Stephen King, and even in these early works I felt his gritty realism and powerful storytelling were undeniable. IT amazed me with it's complexity. Two parallel storylines with multiple characters build to simultaneous climaxes, including breakaway chapters told from inside the mind of the antagonist. It was a delicious, incredible read. The kind of book you can't wait to finish so you can start it all over again. The Tommyknockers and The Stand are two of my all time favorites, as well. Like IT, because they are both massive, obsessively detailed, and highly inventive stories, but also because the ideas are so basic to what some might call "trash" novels (An alien-invasion book and an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it book, respectively) but told in such a fresh and interesting way as to almost re-invent the genres. Dreamcatcher did this again later to a similar degree.
Besides the incredible success of his books, and honestly, who else is there to compare him to? What other writer has had so much success, for so long, in so many different areas of writing? There are also his short stories (some of them landmark to the genre, The Body for example), his novellas, his screenplays, his collaborations, his television scripts, his deliciously creepy children's stories...the list goes on and on. When IT was first published everyone hailed it as King's "Magnum Opus," obviously thinking it would be the most grandiose book he would ever write. But now, twenty years later, after Insomnia, and the Green Mile (a re-invention of the serial story), Misery, Needful Things, Rose Madder, Desperation and The Regulators, two acclaimed books on writing, he tops even himself by completing a seven book cycle creating a completely new world that also interweaves and adds to all his previous work. I'm talking, of course, about The Dark Tower series, concerning the travels of one Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger in a world that has "moved on," the crowning achievement in a lifetime of outstanding writing. This incredibly ambitious series based on a poem (Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came) was something that King often said he didn't know if he would be able to finish, and was also coy about exactly how the series would end, claiming that he didn't know himself. I hope he enjoyed finding out how it all ended as much as I did, because I waited and waited, very impatiently, for each one of those books to be published, and was never once disappointed in them once they were safe in my hands.
Stephen King once said that writing a book and having it end exactly the way you imagined it at the beginning is a little like firing an ICBM to the other side of the world and having it drop through a basketball hoop. Speaking as a lifelong fan who will continue to avidly watch for each new book of his that comes out, if anybody could make THAT shot, it's definitely Stephen King.