First edition cover
Author(s) Stephen King Country United States Language English Genre(s) Horror novel Publisher Viking Publication date June 8, 1987 Media type Print (Hardcover) Pages 320 ISBN 978-0670813643 Preceded by The Eyes of the Dragon Followed by The Tommyknockers
Misery (1987) is a psychological horror novel by Stephen King. The novel was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1988, and was later made into a Hollywood film and an off-Broadway play of the same name.
Paul Sheldon, the author of a best-selling series of Victorian-era romance novels surrounding the heroine character Misery Chastain, has just finished the manuscript of his new crime novel, Fast Cars, while staying at the Silver Creek Lodge in western Colorado; since 1974, he has completed the first draft of every one of his novels in the same hotel room. With his latest project finished, he has an alcohol-induced impulse to drive to Los Angeles rather than back home to New York City. However, a snowstorm hits while he is driving through the mountains. Sheldon drives off a cliff and crashes upside down into a snowbank.
Paul is rescued from the car wreck by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse who lives in nearby Sidewinder. She takes him to her own home rather than a hospital, putting him in the guest bedroom. Using her nursing skills and stockpiled food and medical supplies (including an illicit stash of a fictional codeine-based painkiller, Novril), Annie slowly nurses Paul back to health. She proclaims herself as Paul's "number one fan", being an avid reader of the Misery series. When she reads the Fast Cars manuscript, she argues with Paul on its violent content and coarse language, causing her to spill his soup. Saying that the accident was "his" fault, she punishes him by withholding his medication, then forcing him to wash it down with soap water. Paul has done extensive research into mental disorders, and has suspected from the beginning that Annie is dangerously disturbed.
It is around this time that the latest Misery book, Misery's Child, hits the shelves. Annie – whose life revolves around the character – buys her reserved copy. She doesn't know, however, that this is the last book in the series and that Paul killed her off at the end. Paul has long wanted to reestablish himself as a mainstream writer, and hoped Fast Cars would be that outlet. Upon reading the book, and learning of the main character's demise, she flies into a rage and yells at Paul, saying she thought he was good, but he was just a lying old "dirty birdie". She leaves Paul alone in the house for over two days, stating that she may do something "unwise" if she stays. During this time, Paul suffers from hunger, thirst, extreme pain and withdrawal from the painkillers. By the time Annie returns, he is close to death. Upon Annie's return, she forces him to burn the Fast Cars manuscript - the only one in existence. She also presents him with an antique Royal typewriter, which she announces that he will use to create a new Misery novel, one that will bring Misery back from the dead.
Paul bides his time and writes the book as Annie wants, believing her fully capable of killing him. He manages to escape his room while Annie is on an errand, touring the house in search of more painkillers. He is almost caught by Annie, but he manages to return to his room before she enters the house. Another time he gets out of the room when a rainstorm hits, sending Annie into a great depression. She goes to her "laughing place" - a cabin located not far from her house - where she stays until she feels better. Meanwhile, Paul escapes his room again. Intent this time on killing her, he grabs a knife out of the kitchen. On the way back to his room, he notices a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings from Annie's life. They suggest that Annie is a serial killer who murdered her own father, her college roommate, and numerous patients in several states--39 people in all. She was arrested and charged with killing several babies at a Boulder, Colorado hospital, but was acquitted. He also finds a magazine clipping about his status as a missing person. However, Annie has known all along that he's been out of his room, and punishes him by cutting off his foot with an axe, and cauterizing the wound with a blowtorch. Later, when he complains about a missing letter on the typewriter, she punishes him by slicing off his thumb with an electric knife.
A Colorado state trooper eventually arrives at Annie’s house, searching for Paul. Realizing a chance for escape, Paul alerts the officer by throwing an ashtray through the window. However, Annie surprises the trooper, stabs him repeatedly with a sharpened wooden cross and rides over him with her lawnmower. She temporarily hides Paul in the basement while she departs, meaning to dispose of the trooper's body and his police cruiser.
Paul finally finishes the new Misery book. As a celebration, he asks Annie for a cigarette and a match, as per his normal practice after finishing a book. He uses the match to seemingly light his manuscript on fire, but actually sets fire to a stack of notes with the Misery title page on top. While Annie frantically tries to put out the flames, Paul throws the typewriter at her. Paul fights with Annie, and stuffs her mouth full of the burning pages. She gets him down and runs to find a weapon, but trips on the typewriter, causing her to crack her skull on the mantelpiece. Mortally wounded, she exits the house through a window and goes to the barn to get a chainsaw to kill Paul, but she finally succumbs to her head injury and dies in the barn. Two police officers find Paul and take him to a hospital.
Returning home to New York, Paul submits the new Misery novel to his publisher, who tells him that it will become his greatest bestseller. However, the ordeal is far from over for Paul: he suffers nightmares about Annie, and continues to have withdrawals from painkillers. He has also become an alcoholic with writer's block. Eventually, after a random encounter with a child in the street, he has the same spark that inspired him to write Fast Cars. He begins typing about this boy and the skunk he had with him in a shopping cart.
In the introduction to The Bachman Books, King relates how Misery was supposed to be another novel published under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. King was revealed to be Bachman before the book was published. King theorized that the book would have been a breakout hit for Bachman and might have made him a household name.
James Caan and Kathy Bates star as Paul and Annie, with Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen as the only major supporting actors. The film was a critical and commercial success, making US$61,276,872 domestically on a $20,000,000 budget. Kathy Bates won the 1990 Best Actress Oscar for her performance.
In his 2000 book, Which Lie Did I Tell?, screenwriter Goldman admitted he struggled to resolve the amputation scene in his script. Reiner eventually had the script worked on by a studio writer, who had Annie break Paul's ankles, rather than remove a foot. This led to Goldman quitting the project as he felt the amputation scene was central to the story, but the decision eventually met with the writer's approval when Goldman saw the finished movie.
Additionally, Epik High, a South Korean band, featured a music video based on Misery called, "Fan". The video consisted of a star who is kidnapped by a psychotic fan who chains him to a bed in a room while she builds a rocket to send him to the stars.
The novel was also adapted into a moderately successful Off Broadway play. The play was revived to critical acclaim in 2005 at the Kings Head Theatre in London, starring Michael Praed and Susan Penhaligon. The play also opened in Athens in 2007, starring Nikos Psarras in an after-midnight theatre production. It was a huge success and ran for two years.
- ^ "1988 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. http://www.worldswithoutend.com/books_year_index.asp?year=1988. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
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