Welcome to a comprehensive look into the world of Stephen King’s protagonists. In the extensive back catalog of King’s books, the central characters play a crucial role, driving the narratives with their distinct personalities and stories.
Ranging from resilient individuals to haunted souls, these protagonists serve as the focal points around which King writes his gripping tales.
In this article, we present the top 20 Stephen King protagonists, shedding light on their diverse traits, challenges and the impact they have made within the context of King’s celebrated works.
By understanding these characters and their roles in the stories, we gain a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of King’s storytelling and the enduring influence of his unforgettable protagonists.
Here is our curated list of the best Stephen King protagonists in no particular order:
Let’s start with with a look at one of Stephen King’s most beloved and celebrated characters
1. Roland Deschain (The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower series)
Roland Deschain, the enigmatic gunslinger from Gilead, embarks on an epic quest across a post apocalyptic landscape in pursuit of the Dark Tower; a mythical edifice that holds the key to his world’s salvation.
Haunted by a tragic past and driven by an unyielding sense of duty, Roland’s character is a classic example of resilience, sacrifice and the relentless pursuit of truth, making him a cornerstone of Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower series.
2. Paul Sheldon (Misery)
Paul Sheldon, a bestselling novelist, finds himself trapped in a twisted nightmare when a car accident leaves him at the mercy of his self proclaimed “number one fan,” Annie Wilkes.
Crippled and isolated in her remote home, Paul must draw on his wits and resilience to survive the horrors inflicted by Annie’s obsession. Paul Sheldon’s character represents the struggle for freedom and sanity in a harrowing battle against a deranged captor in Stephen King’s intense thriller, Misery.
3. Jack Torrance (The Shining)
Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic, accepts a winter caretaker job at the isolated Overlook Hotel. As the malevolent forces within the hotel awaken, so does the darkness within Jack.
His descent into madness, fueled by the hotel’s evil influence, forms a chilling portrayal of a man torn between his family’s safety and the malevolent allure of the supernatural. Jack Torrance stands as a haunting example of psychological unraveling in Stephen King’s classic, The Shining.
4. Bill Denbrough (It)
Bill Denbrough, a stalwart leader of “The Losers’ Club,” confronts the horrors lurking in the town of Derry. Haunted by the loss of his younger brother Georgie, Bill spearheads the battle against the shape shifting, malevolent entity known as It.
Driven by grief and determination, Bill’s resilience and sense of justice serve as a beacon of hope for his friends and a formidable adversary for the ancient evil. Bill Denbrough embodies courage and camaraderie in Stephen King’s horror opus, It.
5. Jake Epping (11/22/63)
Jake Epping, a high school teacher, discovers a time portal leading to 1958. Tasked with preventing the assassination of President Kennedy, Jake grapples with the complexities of altering history. Immersed in the past, he experiences love and faces moral dilemmas.
Jake’s journey is a testament to sacrifice, love and the unforeseen consequences of tampering with fate, making him a central and compelling figure in Stephen King’s time-traveling narrative, 11/22/63.
6. Danny Torrance (The Shining sequel – Doctor Sleep)
Danny Torrance, once a traumatized child, evolves into a troubled adult battling alcoholism and the haunting specters of the Overlook Hotel. Endowed with “the shining,” a psychic gift, he finds purpose in aiding a young girl with similar abilities.
Striving for redemption and to protect the innocent, Danny’s journey through addiction and redemption unfolds in Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, showcasing the resilience of the human spirit and the fight against inner demons.
7. Frannie Goldsmith (The Stand)
Frannie Goldsmith, a young pregnant woman, grapples with the aftermath of a devastating superflu that wipes out most of humanity. Amidst loss and chaos, she forms new connections, including a burgeoning romance with Stu Redman.
Frannie’s resilience, adaptability and maternal instincts drive her to seek a safe haven, embodying hope amidst a ravaged world in Stephen King’s post apocalyptic epic, The Stand.
8. Ben Mears (‘Salem’s Lot)
Ben Mears, an author returning to his hometown, grapples with personal demons and a vampire infestation that threatens the town. Mears’ haunting past and determination to protect the community fuel his battle against the malevolent force.
A complex character with profound strengths and weaknesses, Ben Mears engages with a struggle for redemption and the fight against darkness in Stephen King’s chilling tale, ‘Salem’s Lot.
9. Sue Snell (Carrie)
Sue Snell, a popular high school girl, undergoes a transformative realization after participating in the cruel bullying of Carrie White. Tormented by guilt and seeking atonement, she extends kindness to Carrie by encouraging her boyfriend to take Carrie to prom.
Sue’s evolution from a mean spirited teen to a compassionate young woman illuminates themes of redemption and remorse in Stephen King’s iconic novel, Carrie.
10. Eddie Dean (The Dark Tower series)
Eddie Dean, a reformed drug addict from New York, emerges as a vital gunslinger and member of Roland Deschain’s ka tet. Eddie’s growth from a troubled past into a courageous warrior is central to the quest for the Dark Tower.
His wit, resilience and loyalty make him a cherished character in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, adding depth and humanity to the overall tale of the quest.
11. Beverly Marsh (It)
Beverly Marsh, a resilient member of “The Losers’ Club,” battles both the malevolent force of It and the abuse she endures at home.
Her courage and compassion bind the group together and her determination to face her fears becomes a driving force in their battle against the ancient evil. Beverly’s strength and fortitude depict a portrait of survival and unity in Stephen King’s harrowing tale, It.
12. Ralph Roberts (Insomnia)
Ralph Roberts, an elderly widower, grapples with a sudden ability to see auras and glimpse into a surreal, parallel reality. As his newfound powers unfold, Ralph becomes a reluctant hero, combating malevolent forces threatening the world.
His transformation from a mild mannered retiree to a key figure in a cosmic struggle showcases resilience and the enduring capacity for heroism in the face of the unknown in Stephen King’s Insomnia.
13. Louis Creed (Pet Sematary)
Louis Creed, a dedicated doctor and family man, grapples with the devastating loss of a child. His desperation and grief drive him to make an unthinkable choice; using an ancient burial ground with sinister powers to bring the dead back to life.
Louis’ descent into darkness explores the depths of anguish, illustrating the horrific consequences of tampering with death in Stephen King’s unnerving masterpiece, Pet Sematary.
14. Mike Hanlon (It)
Mike Hanlon, a steadfast member of “The Losers’ Club,” bears the deep scars of racism and childhood trauma. As the group reunites to face the returning horror of It, Mike’s role as historian and guardian of Derry is pivotal.
His courage, resilience and unwavering sense of duty in the face of evil encapsulate the spirit of unity and bravery within Stephen King’s terrifying narrative, It.
15. Jessie Burlingame (Gerald’s Game)
Jessie Burlingame, reeling from a traumatic past, finds herself bound to a bed in a remote cabin after a game gone awry.
Trapped and isolated, she confronts her deepest fears and trauma. Jessie’s journey of survival, self discovery and empowerment when facing a nightmare set of circumstances reveals her resilience in Stephen King’s psychological thriller, Gerald’s Game.
16. Trisha McFarland (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon)
Trisha McFarland, a young girl lost in the woods, embarks on a harrowing journey to find her way home. Faced with the perils of nature and her own fears, she draws strength from her love for baseball player Tom Gordon.
Trisha’s tenacity, resourcefulness and unwavering determination offer a poignant exploration of childhood resilience and imagination against the backdrop of terror in Stephen King’s suspenseful narrative, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.
17. Holly Gibney (The Outsider and other books)
Holly Gibney, a brilliant investigator with unique abilities, confronts the supernatural and unexplainable. Initially introduced in the Bill Hodges trilogy, Holly’s character evolves as she encounters increasingly dark and enigmatic forces.
Her resilience, intellect, and courage to confront the unknown form a central narrative thread, making Holly Gibney an essential and intriguing character in Stephen King’s works, notably in The Outsider and related stories.
18. Lisey Landon (Lisey’s Story)
Lisey Landon, the widow of a celebrated novelist, navigates a complex world intertwined with her late husband’s imagination. Torn between reality and her husband’s dark secrets, Lisey must confront malevolent forces.
Her journey through grief, memories and the supernatural unfolds as a literary tribute to resilience, love and the strength to face the extraordinary, capturing the essence of Stephen King’s exploration of the human psyche in Lisey’s Story.
19. Nick Andros (The Stand)
Nick Andros, a hearing impaired and non verbal drifter with remarkable intuition, becomes a central figure in a post apocalyptic world ravaged by a deadly superflu. His indomitable spirit and innate ability to lead form the foundation of a new society.
Nick’s journey embodies resilience, leadership, and hope in the face of adversity, depicting a world rebuilding from the ashes in Stephen King’s epic tale of survival and rebirth, The Stand.
20. Ben Richards (The Running Man)
Ben Richards, a desperate man in a dystopian society, turns rebel to provide for his family. Forced into a lethal reality TV show, he becomes the “Running Man” hunted by the nation.
Richards’ struggle for justice and survival unveils a chilling reflection of media manipulation and societal oppression, making him a poignant symbol of resilience and rebellion in Stephen King’s intense thriller, The Running Man.
Stephen King’s top 20 protagonists – what have we learnt?
By reading through the above list, it is clear to see that Stephen King uses his characters as prism’s through which readers can both see themselves and wider aspects of human nature.
Whether a character represents a certain emotion or encompasses an ideal or moral value, King’s writing always strives to scratch beneath the surface and have as much depth as possible.
By doing so, King creates layers to his work that ensures readers are both engaged and entertained meaning that his books are not one time only reads, but can be revisited and treasured over time.