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Top Five Protagonists from Stephen King Novels

Updated on July 27, 2013

Best Heroes from the Works of Stephen King

Though Stephen King's name is synonymous with horror, his novels aren't just about scaring the pants off of his readers. Most of them also have strong, complex characters whose personalities and relationships bring the story above a mere genre novel and give it heart.

Among fans of Stephen King's works, his heroes (and protagonists, when the word "hero" can't justly be used) are just as memorable as his villains.

Read on for the top five protagonists in the novels of Stephen King.

"The Gunslinger" Audiobook

Roland Deschain

Stephen King considers the Dark Tower series, which begins with "The Gunslinger," his magnum opus, and it took him decades to write (in fact, another book in the series just hit bookshelves a few months ago). The protagonist and driving force of the series is Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger in a dying world. His ultimate goal is to find the Dark Tower, and he begins his journey by ceaselessly tracking the mysterious "man in black"--and what he finds at the end of his journey shocked not only Roland, but the readers themselves.

What makes Roland such a great hero? He speaks to one of America's favorite archetypes, the strong and noble cowboy, though he's so much more than that. He's deep, scarred, traumatized, driven, still pining for a lost love after who knows how many years, and deeply loyal to those of his ka-tet. He's also impatient, sometimes cruel, and hard to understand. It's his complexity that makes him such a great protagonist.

"The Stand" Film Trailer

Stuart Redman

Though a wide host of characters populate "The Stand," the book's heart is arguably Stu Redman, a survivor of the plague that wipes out most of America and pushes the survivors to polar opposite camps: the good guys, in Boulder with Mother Abigail, and the bad guys, in Las Vegas with Randall Flagg.

After Stu escapes from a government lab where he is being studied for his immunity to the disease, he travels across New England, slowly meeting other survivors and forming a small band. Once they reach what they call the "Free Zone" within Boulder, Stu becomes the leader of the survivors there, though ultimately he must travel west to confront Flagg.

What makes Stu a great hero? It's because he's a good man, through and through (though not so good as to be perfect and unbelievable). He's wise, calm, loyal, and willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. Hope for something better is an excellent trait in any leader, and Stu possesses that in spades.

"It" Film Trailer

Bill Denbrough

It's hard to pick a hero from "It"--after all, there are seven--but Bill Denbrough is at the heart of the Loser's Club, as the children name themselves. When Bill's little brother Georgie is savagely murdered by a creature called Pennywise the Clown, Bill feels an immense amount of guilt--and when more child murders rock the town, the Loser's Club sets out to defeat the evil. They come back together thirty years later when the monster returns, rediscovering their childhood bond and strength.

What makes Bill a great hero? Bill is determined, brave, loyal, and self-sacrificing; he's also creative and loving. Without Bill's leadership, there would have been no Loser's Club that served as a saving grace for seven lonely misfit children one summer, and the evil in Derry wouldn't have been ultimately vanquished.

"Bag of Bones" Miniseries Trailer

Mike Noonon

Stephen King's "Bag of Bones" is both a love story--the love story of Mike for his deceased wife, and the growing relationship between Mattie and Mike--and a good old-fashioned ghost story (with a ghost who manages to be both terrifying and sympathetic). Mike, trying to defeat his writer's block, moves to the vacation house he shared with Jo, who died in a tragic accident. Near the house, he pulls a three-year-old girl, Kyra, from the road, and begins to bond with her and her mother--it turns out he and Kyra share some sort of psychic connection, and his house is also haunted by the ghost of a long-dead singer. Through in an evil grandfather trying to get custody of Kyra, and you have menace from all sides.

What makes Mike an excellent hero? He's a normal guy, suffering from great grief, who manages to rise to great bravery and devotion. When Kyra and Mattie need his protection, he's willing to face not only evil in human form, but the supernatural--and he manages to honor his love for his wife while embarking on a tentative romance with Mattie. He's just an all-around good guy, which is exactly the sort of person you want in your corner when evil's around.

Who is your favorite Stephen King hero?

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Rose Daniels

Though Stephen King's books often have well-done female characters, the leads are almost always men, with a few exceptions. In "Rose Madder" Stephen King gives us Rose Daniels, who has suffered years of domestic abuse at the hands of her husband, Norman. She flees, knowing he will follow, but determined to try anyway. At a pawn shop, she trades her engagement ring for a painting that she's inexplicably drawn to--and eventually literally into. Her experiences therein allow her to confront Norman's evil and realize her own strength.

What makes Rose a great heroine? Her fearlessness and bravery. Though beaten down and traumatized for fourteen years, she decides to take control of her life and seeks help at a battered woman's shelter, trying to regain herself and happiness in the process. When she finally faces the very human demon who ruled her life, she is able to defeat him and move on--to a normal life.

Stephen King's Heroes: A Conclusion

Stephen King has given American literature (and cinema) images, plots, and characters that have become cultural touchstones--villains, heroes, haunted houses, and creatures of the darkness that remain in your memory long after you read the final page. His heroes, though, show King as an eternal optimist--if there's evil around, there will be an equally strong force of good to combat and defeat it.

Who is your favorite Stephen King hero?


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