Stephen King and Dean Koontz's Views of Humanity


Different Viewpoints on Humanity and God

I just finished Stephen King's latest novel, Under the Dome. Unlike many of his previous novels, Under the Dome may be described as a suspense horror novel, not unlike the works of popular author Dean Koontz. Although I first read King, Koontz has rapidly become my favorite author in this genre, and I wondered why. After finishing Under the Dome, the answer to my question was clear: their worldviews are radically different. King's view of humanity is pessimistic, viewing most humans as depraved animals capable of great cruelty and little redemption. Dean Koontz, on the other hand, flips this around, viewing humanity as capable of great cruelty but also great kindness, and very much capable of redemption. King's novels have an undertone of atheism, while Koontz's novels have a pervasive spirit of Christianity. While neither man has expressed strong religious viewpoints in his works, perhaps their beliefs are revealed through the tone of their works.


Atheism, Depravity, and Redemption

Spoiler alert: both this section and the section on Koontz's book for comparison, below, contain plot points that may spoil the book for you. Be warned!

Stephen King's latest novel, Under the Dome, examines what happens to a small town in Maine when a mysterious energy field called "the dome" suddenly appears. Although at first the residents believe it's the fault of the U.S. Government, they quickly come to realize that the government is also clueless. Neither bullets nor missiles can break through the mysterious dome, and the protagonists - Barbie, a retired U.S. Army officer turned short order cook at the local diner, Julia the newspaper editor, Rusty the physician's assistant and his family, and the usual King cast-of-thousands - quickly realize they're in great danger. The danger is within in the form of Big Jim, a local politician who has been running a meth lab behind the evangelical church.

As the characters attempt to survive in the closed universe of the dome, we meet the local Methodist minister, Reverend Libby. Although Piper Libby isn't a major character, she is major in that she is only one of two religious figures in the entire book. The other minister dies midway through the book and has been a major force in running the meth lab behind his church.

Piper prays to the 'great nobody'. She's lost her faith. Although she's on her knees praying in the church when things start getting really bad, at the end of the novel she has completely lost her faith. The alien children who have caused the dome to descent are really God, the character concludes in despair; there is no God, just a random universe of cruelty.

None of the other characters pray. They swear, they rape, they murder with impunity. Although ghosts play a role (the ghost of a murder victim guides the newspaper owner's Corgi to find papers she left behind that will incriminate the crooked politician), God's kindness is nowhere to be found. Religion is portrayed as at best an empty sham in Reverend Libby's case and at worst, a front for evil, as in the church that's the front for the drug lab.

Evil is portrayed not as choice but as victimhood. A murderer murders not because he is evil or has chosen to embrace evil, but because he has a brain tumor skewing his sense of right and wrong.

At the end of the novel, only a handful of characters survive. The evilest character in the book dies of a heart attack in what was perhaps one of the biggest let downs of justice in recent popular literature; if there was any guy in modern fiction who deserved a comeuppance, it was Big Jim.

In King's universe, if there is a God at all, he's the old-fashioned Clockmaker of the Universe, winding up the clock and letting the pendulum tick tock away. People fear no divine retribution because no one, not even the local minister, really and truly believes in God. Jesus is nothing more than a comical icon on a bathroom wall in one scene. The love of God? No love here. Atheism prevails. When faced with crisis, the people in the book revert to their animal natures and cower in fear or turn into raging maniacs. Only a handful of people maintain their sanity and humanity and survive.

Good Triumphs Over Evil

Contrasting King's novel with Dean Koontz's novel From the Corner of His Eye may be a bit unfair. Both novels are suspense-horror-sci fi, with elements of each and plots that keep the reader turning the pages. Koontz's cast is smaller and cozier, and we get to know and care about his characters a bit more than King simply because there are fewer to get to know. Out of the Corner of His Eye is not a grand, end of the world thriller but the story of Junior Cain, a very modern man who just happens to murder people, and Barty Lampion, his nemesis. It's the story of how good triumphs over evil, and a story of how very real people, making very hard decisions, do good in a tired and disillusioned world.

The story follows several sets of characters, but the primary characters are Agnes Lampion and her son Barty. Agnes, widowed on the day Barty is born, also must deal with her son's childhood eye cancer that leaves him without sight but with miraculous gifts. Agnes and Barty suffer greatly but never lose faith in love; their love for one another and for their community stands out.

The second set of characters that play a major role in the novel involve a young teenage girl who is raped by her physical therapist, the one and only Junior Cane. The girl dies in childbirth after hiding her pregnancy from her family. Her elder sister, although determined to give the infant up for adoption, ends up raising the young girl herself.

Through many plot twists and turns, the two very different families come together to stop Junior Cain from his spree of murders and rapes.

Koontz spares no wit skewering modern morals. Cain loves modern art and all things modern. The main characters show amazingly old-fashioned values. They wait to have sex before marriage. They marry for life. They choose life instead of abortion. Their choices are terribly difficult, but made because they believe in the ultimate truth. Theirs is not a relativist moralism but a moralism based on the notion that there is a supreme Right, One Truth. And because they believe there is a Right, there is also Wrong, as exemplified by Junior Cain.

Koontz isn't overtly religious, and you won't find direct mention of Christianity in his books. But his symbolism is superb. Look at one character's name: Agnes Lampion. Saint Agnes in the Catholic Church was a Roman martyr who refused to marry a pagan; she is always portrayed holding a lamb. Have you ever heard the words "the lamb of God?" In Latin, the early language of the Christian church, this is translated as agnus dei - and look again at how closely the words "Agnes" and "agnus" are linked. Agnes' last name is "Lampion" - a pun on lamp, perhaps, a guiding light for those around her. Agnes Lampion's kindness and faith lead to her family's eventual triumph over the evil exemplified by Junior Cain, whose very last name signifies the wickedness of the first murderer, Adam and Even's son Cain who murdered his own brother, Abel.

Differing Views, Different Reading Experiences

Both King and Koontz are compelling writers whose words make us turn pages - and buy books! Yet King's world view is highly pessimistic and bleak. His characters suffer without reason and die without redemption. There's no sense of justice in his book, just the random whirling of the universe that kills some and spares others.

Koontz, on the other hand, takes pains to show us that while evil exists, good also exists - and that good triumphs over evil. In Koontz's world, suffering is all too real.  Teenagers are raped and die. Innocent wives are murdered. Children contract cancer and lose their eyesight. Yet Koontz weaves together the plot strands to demonstrate that some force of Good, whom perhaps we can call God, oversees us all, and when we do the right things, Right prevails.

Joyce Meyer, an evangelical preacher, once described what we can see as threads on the back of an Oriental carpet. She had a square of carpet in her hand and showed the mess on the back; colored threads zig-zagging this way and that with no rhyme or reason.  She said, "This is what we see." Then she flipped the carpet over to reveal the beautiful design now recognizable on the right face of the carpet. "This is what God sees. The big picture." In Dean Koontz's world, there is a God or at least Good that sees the big picture and makes all right. In King's world, life remains the messy, random carpet. 

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Comments 12 comments

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Excellent comparison! Although Koontz occasionally gets on my nerves when the bad guys all seem to like organic foods, and when the dogs start typing, I love the kindness of so many of his characters. King's bleakness can be depressing at times.

Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Haven't read any Koontz but I've read a lot of King. Interesting comparison, I never felt as much of the pessimism in the books I read, but I haven't read any of Kings works in over a decade.

I enjoyed your in depth analysis.


Marcus  6 years ago

I find Stephen King very much not bleak and pessimistic but very hopeful. The soldier and the child near the end is one of the most touching parts of Under the Dome and clearly shows their humanity. And don't all the bad guys die and good guys survive, which they do with appealing to the human side? That sounds like good triumphing over evil to me.

elucidator profile image

elucidator 5 years ago from SoCal

Hi Jeanne. Very good hub. Dean is the fiction writer that has truly inspired me. I have completed three novels (yet to be published, but working on it) and Koontz has inspired my work ethic (biographical tidbits reveal his incredible work ethic - in his early days) as well as been an influence with his character development, connecting winding paths and his spiritual foundation and Christian worldview which tether his great stories together. I see research, humor, understanding of human nature, deep philosophical insights and the battle of good and evil in his novels. Yeah, I'm a fan!

Raius 4 years ago

It would seem you have never read The Stand, Salem's Lot or the Dark Tower series. Central to King's mythology is the idea of the White. His "God" is a more mysterious force, encouraging the characters to fight evil themselves. Evil is shown to endure mostly through the moral failures of human agents, and "pure evil" is often shown to be a weak, parasitic force in the end. Yes, many of his characters lose their faith, just as many real people would in the face of the trials King thrusts on them. But the ultimate goodness behind the universe is always present, often guiding seeming coincidences and revealing itself through meaningful confluences. But the books aren't ever about that force. They're about people and their choices in the face of extraordinary evil.

Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 4 years ago from Virginia Author

Raius, thank you for your comments. I've read all the books you mentioned and stand by my comments, especially as they pertain to these books. Subsequent reading of articles about the respective authors further convinces me of my points. Thanks for leaving your thoughtful comments!

pharmacist profile image

pharmacist 4 years ago from Whitinsville, MA


Well articulated insights into two fine authors writing from different world-views. Having just finished The Dome several months ago, I appreciated your comments and found them helpful.

I wonder what your thoughts are on Stephen King's older works vs. his newer titles. I find he has drifted, like much contemporary suspense, into more and more perverse themes and characters. Personally I haven't liked many of his later novels.

Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 4 years ago from Virginia Author

That's an interesting point.I've actually started reading more of King and Koontz's earlier works, and see a definite trend. In Koontz, his earlier work is gritty and shows less concern for what might be deemed Christian morality and insights - his later work matures and shows more concern for such topics. With King, it's about the same, although I agree with your point about perverse themes. Have you read King's book "Duma Key?" It is one of my favorites and a more recent one. It's less about perverse characters than the paranormal, which is probably why I liked it!

Carl 4 years ago

King's work does have bleakness, take the relentless killing in novels like Desperation, Under the Dome or Pet Sematary. But, ultimately, good wins in the end of his books, the same with Koontz's books. In the end of King's '11/22/63' (SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT)Sadie dies, the world gets screwed, Harry Dunning ends up being crippled despite Jake's efforts, and there is foreshadowing that perhaps that he reset button on the time portal he uses to go back in time doesn't completely reset, and may destroy the world even more. But it does reset, and the world is saved, Sadie too, and the ending is very happy. But then there are books like 'Pet Sematary,' Where everybody either dies or goes insane. And of course in Dean Koontz's endings are usually happy (at least from what I've read.) In the end of The Husband, the killer gets it, in the end of The Taken many people are saved. But that's not to say that his novels aren't all cherries and sunshine, I'm in the middle of his book 'Lighting' right now,(SPOILERS)Her mom, dad, bestfriend and husband have died. But of course, I'm sure, that in the end of that book everything will be resolved (keep in mind I'm not finished). But both authors are good, I do like Stephen King more, simply because his writing style and his imagination suit me more. Though his books are bleak in some spots, in the end they usually are happy.

Michael Stewart 4 years ago

Your comments are not all incorrect, however, I agree with others who have stated that you do seem to be ignoring the fact that King outright states in most of his books that there is a good force in reality, a kind of "God" or presence. In Lisey's Story, the character of Scott Landon states that there is a "good side of the equation", and that it has helped and looked out for him. Good does ultimately triumph in the works of King that I have read, and the fact that the bad guys in the books do more horrible things than Koontz doesn't change that. Because that IS life. Sometimes people just get killed, it's not always poetic or about redemption or justice. But his bad guys don't fair well, things end badly for the bad, and that's good enough, we don't need fairy tales. Also, Koontz imagery is- please pardon me- ham-fisted. He IS overtly Christian and overtly conservative. From what I've seen, a great many of his characters are just too obviously embodying his ideals. But, we all like what we like, I don't fault anyone for enjoying characters that embody ideals. And I hope this post doesn't sound too aggressive- I disagree with you, but I enjoyed your post!

Jeanne Grunert profile image

Jeanne Grunert 4 years ago from Virginia Author

I agree with you on some points. My comments about King should be taken in light of "Under the Dome" rather than encompassing all his works. Having reread "The Stand" recently - with its themes of good versus evil and plenty of symbolism and imagery - I see the points folks are making about King's work. But I still believe Koontz has a more Christian-centered viewpoint.

tim 2 years ago

I have just started reading Dean Koonts works this last month. Really enjoying them.

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