Misery Journal #5: Conclusion

What a ride!  Misery was a huge surprise to me.  I did not expect to like it.  How, I wondered, could King carry the story of a trapped writer for so many pages?  Of course, my opinion was based solely on the movie.  Having read the book, I now fully understand what Bev Vincent meant  when he wrote, "Misery will get under your skin."

Misery Origins:

In The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, Bev Vincent says that Misery was  inspired  in part by John Fowles's The Collector and the Evelyn Waugh short story "The Man Who  Loved  Dickens."  Vincent writes:
After reading the latter, King wondered what would happen if Dickens himself were held captive.  He reflected in an interview, "Halfway  through. . . I realized I was trying to express some of my own deepest fear-feelings: the sense of being trapped, the sense of having come from someplace like Africa and knowing I would never be  able  to get home, and trying to figure out what  it was I was doing, why I was  doing it, and why people were  responding to it."  (p.96) 
Vincent further explains that the novel was the result of a dream King had while flying to England.  "He dreamed about a woman who held a writer prisoner and killed him, skinned him, fed  the remains to her pig, and bound his novel  in human skin."

The Stephen King Universe notes that due to its realistic themes and dark ending, King originally intended Misery to be published  as a Richard Bachman novel.

Number One Fan:

Autograph hunter Mark Chapman gets a signature from John Lennon
outside his elegant Dakota apartment building in New York
where hours later he gunned down the former Beatle
(photo credit HERE)
King fans can be obsessive.  One guy broke into King's house claiming to have a bomb.  He is mobbed for autographs, and sometimes the fans turn out to be flat out scary! The Stephen King Universe says, "Misery was clearly inspired by events in King's own life."  It relates this frightening account:
In 1980,  he reportedly signed one of his books for a stranger  who literally did call himself King's 'number one fan.'  That lost soul was Mark Chapman, who would later earn his palce in history by shooting and killing John Lennon shortly thereafter." (SK Universe, p.335)
The encounter with Mark Chapman is elaborated on for a full page in the original edition of The Stephen King Companion (p.248) which is quoting form King's September 22, 1986 Virginia Beach lecture.

The book is dedicated to "Stephanie and Jim Leonard, who know why.  Boy, do they."  George Beahm offers this insight in the original Stephen King Companion, "Stephanie Leonard, for many years King's secretary and the editor/publisher of Castle Rock, knows firsthand what it's like to deal  with the fans -- the good, the bad and the ugly."

Here are my final notes for the present Misery Journal:

1. Suspense: As Paul finishes the novel, King builds intensity.  What is going to happen when he finishes writing?  The pages left to write become something like a clock running down, like in Running Man.

The novel employs Hitchcock levels of suspense at the end as the reader (and Paul) wnder if Annie is really dead.  She is discovered, not laying dead with wads of paper coming from her mouth -- but outside Misery's pig stall, with one hand wrapped around the handle of a chainsaw.  

2. There are rats here!  King has a way of sending rats racing through a story at moments I do not expect them.  Who would have expected to find rats in Misery?  I didn't!  But rats there are!  They are down in Annie's cellar.  Of course, Paul can't move, so the horror builds all the more as he  contends with rats staring at him.

3. ESCAPE: As with any novel where an escape is required, the reader is left thinking how they might execute an escape in a similar situation.  What the reader is likely to forget is just how weak and dependent on Annie Paul really is.

4. King takes us inside the writers mind as he works through problems.  Misery is really about the art of writing.

The Stephen King Companion, by George Beahm, notes that the August 1987 edition of The Castle Rock included an article by Tabitha King in which she reminded readers that Stephen King was not Paul Sheldon.  More importantly, she made the point that Annie Wilkes is a "metaphor for the creative drive itself." Beahm writes (quoting Tabitha King):
Beyond merely a tale of torture and murder, "Misery is far more concerned with the way in which a creative person can be tortured by his own powers, addicted to the act  of creation, damaged by it.  At the end, Paul Sheldon has not freed himself from Annie Wilkes; she holds him captive still, emotionally and creatively." (The Stephen King Companion, Revised Edition, 269)

I like the insight that a novel never turns out quite the way an author first imagines it.

He felt as he always did when he finished a book— queerly empty, let down, aware that for each little success he had paid a toll of absurdity. -- Misery, p. 287
Not  only is it about writing, but it is about writing being an act of creation (as discussed above by Tabitha King),

Still, it was good to be done— always good to be done. Good to have produced, to have caused a thing to be. In a numb sort of way he understood and appreciated the bravery of the act, of making little lives that weren’t, creating the appearance of motion and the illusion of warmth." -- Misery,  p.288

5. Disgusting!  Stephen King almost made me gag.  I don't normally have any physical reaction to books.  I don't cry, I don't get grossed out, I don't get scared.  Sometimes I talk back to a book -- but I'm actually pretty passive.   But I was driving to work listening to Misery as King described the final fight with Annie.  Paul shoved the novel down her throat -- while it was on fire!  The description was so powerful, I stopped the CD because I was gagging. 

King brilliantly drags that part out, letting you suffer with Annie as more  and more pages are jammed down her throat.  Even though she is getting what she deserves, the reader hurts with her.  That is a sign of good writing!

6. Irony: The novel employs a lot of irony.  For instance, Annie supplies Paul with the instruments that will be used  to bring about her own demise.  Both the typewriter and the pages of Paul's novel are weapons he will use in the final struggle.  

King himself points all  this out, writing,
So in a way she had been killed by the very typewriter Paul had hated so much. -- Misery, p.307


  1. Annie Wilkes is an interesting villainess in King's rogues gallery. She's the center of several contradictory yet interconnected ideas.

    We've heard Tabby King describe her as "The Creative Drive". Now here's King from On Writing: King: Annie was coke, Annie was booze, and I decided I was tired of being Annie's pet writer.

    Now here's something King wrote in the intro to Secret Window, Secret Garden: Misery...tried...to illustrate the powerful hold fiction can have on the reader. The Dark Half...tried to explore the converse: the powerful hold fiction can achieve over the writer.

    There seem to be layers upon layers to the thinking behind Annie. One of the things that i find interesting is how the idea between author and fan can become parasitic yet still remain vital and in some ways necessary. It's like that quote be Collingwood taken to horrifying extremes.

    By the way is that really Chapman with Lennon? Gosh, that's creepy.


  2. Yep, that's chapman with lennon. . . well, I'm trusting the internet here, but so far as the mighty internet is to be truested, that be them. Creepy indeed.