Misery is an American psychological horror thriller novel written by Stephen King and first published by Viking Press on June 8, 1987. The novel's narrative is based on the relationship of its two main characters – the popular writer Paul Sheldon and his psychotic fan Annie Wilkes. When Paul is seriously injured following a car accident, former nurse Annie brings him to her home, where Paul receives treatment and doses of pain medication. Gradually, Paul realizes that he is a prisoner and is forced to indulge his captor's whims.
First edition cover
|Genre||Psychological horror, thriller|
|June 8, 1987|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
The novel's title carries separate meanings; it is the name carried by the central heroine of Paul's book series, and King described such a state of emotion during the novel's writing. King has outlined the creation of Misery in his memoirs, and mentioned that the image of Annie Wilkes came to him in a dream. King planned the book to be released under the pseudonym Richard Bachman but his identity was discovered before the book's release.
Misery won the first Bram Stoker Award for Novel in 1987 and was nominated for the 1988 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Critical reception of Misery was positive. Reviewers praised King for avoiding the fantasy elements of his past works, and noted the novel's parallels with King's personal life and the successful study of the relationship between celebrities and their fans. The novel, which took fourth place in the 1987 bestseller list, was adapted into a film directed by Rob Reiner in 1990, and into a theatrical production starring Laurie Metcalf and Bruce Willis in 2015.
Paul Sheldon, the author of the best-selling series of Victorian-era romance novels featuring the character Misery Chastain, has finished the series' final installment, Misery's Child, in which Misery is killed off. After completing the manuscript for his new crime novel, Fast Cars, which he hopes will receive serious literary acclaim and kickstart his post-Misery career, Paul acts on an alcohol-induced impulse to drive to Los Angeles instead of flying back home to New York City. He is caught in a snowstorm in a remote section of Colorado and crashes his car. He awakens to find that he has been rescued by Annie Wilkes, a local former nurse who is a devoted fan of the Misery series. She keeps Paul in her guest bedroom and refuses to take him to the hospital despite his severely broken legs, and nurses him herself using her illicit stash of codeine-based painkillers, to which Paul quickly becomes addicted; Annie withholds pills in order to threaten and manipulate Paul. She begins reading Misery's Child and coerces permission to read the manuscript of Fast Cars, but disapproves of the darker subject matter and profanity. Paul soon assesses that Annie is mentally unstable; she is prone to trailing off into catatonic episodes and has bouts of unreasonable rage. When she learns of Misery's death, she leaves Paul alone in her house for over two days, depriving him of food, water, and painkillers.
Upon Annie's return, she forces a weakened Paul to burn the manuscript for Fast Cars in exchange for his painkillers. Annie sets up an office for Paul – consisting of an antique Royal typewriter with a non-functional N-key, writing paper and a wheelchair – for the purpose of writing a new Misery novel that will bring the character back from the dead. Biding his time and likening himself to Sheherezade, Paul begins a new book, Misery's Return, and allows Annie to read the work in progress and fill in the missing Ns. The text includes excerpts of the new book as Paul writes.
Paul manages to escape his room using his wheelchair on several occasions, searching for more painkillers and exploring the house. He discovers a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings that reveal Annie to be a serial killer; her victims included a neighboring family, her own father, her college roommate, a hitchhiker with whom she had a brief fling, and, while she worked as a nurse, many elderly or critically injured patients and eleven infants, the last resulting in her standing trial but being acquitted in Denver. Annie reveals that she knows Paul has been leaving his room, then punishes him by cutting off his foot with an axe and cauterizing his ankle with a blowtorch, "hobbling" him. Months pass; after Paul complains that more typewriter keys have broken and refuses to tell Annie how the novel ends before he has written it, she cuts off his thumb with an electric knife.
A state trooper arrives at Annie's house in search of Paul. When Paul attempts to alert him, Annie murders the officer by running him over with her riding lawnmower. The disappearance of the state trooper results in attention on Annie from law enforcement and the media. Annie relocates Paul to the basement and it becomes clear that she does not intend to let him live. After Misery's Return is finished, Paul lights a decoy copy of the manuscript on fire, which Annie attempts to save. He engages her in a violent struggle which renders her unconscious. Paul is able to alert the police when they return in search of the dead officer. Annie is found dead from her injuries in the barn, apparently on her way to murder Paul with a chainsaw.
After Paul has returned to New York, Misery's Return is set to be published and becomes an international bestseller due to the interest in the circumstances it was written under. Paul resists the suggestion to write a nonfiction account of his own experiences. He is able to walk with a prothesis but suffers nightmares about Annie and continues to have withdrawal from painkillers, copes with alcoholism, and struggles with writer's block. When Paul gains random inspiration to write a new story, he weeps both for his shattered life and in the joy that he is finally able to write again.
One of Stephen King's inspirations for Misery was the reaction his fans had to his 1984 novel The Eyes of the Dragon. Many fans rejected The Eyes of the Dragon because it was an epic fantasy book, with virtually none of the horror that initially made his reputation. Paul Sheldon feeling chained to the Misery books by his fans was a metaphor for King's feeling chained to horror fiction. Another source was King's addiction to drugs and alcohol, and his struggle to give them up. He stated: "Take the psychotic nurse in Misery, which I wrote when I was having such a tough time with dope. I knew what I was writing about. There was never any question. Annie was my drug problem, and she was my number-one fan. God, she never wanted to leave." When further addressing the idea of whether the character of Paul Sheldon was based on himself, King stated that in certain ways, he was, but in the ways where every character is a part of the author in some way: "It would be fair enough to ask, I suppose, if Paul Sheldon in Misery is me. Certain parts of him are ... but I think you will find that, if you continue to write fiction, every character you create is partly you."
King has also attributed a dream he had while on a trans-Atlantic flight to London with the situation and characters that became fleshed out in Misery. He noted that he wrote the idea on an American Airlines cocktail napkin when he woke up so he could make sure to remember it, writing: "She speaks earnestly but never quite makes eye contact. A big woman and solid all through; she is an absence of hiatus. 'I wasn't trying to be funny in a mean way when I named my pig Misery, no sir. Please don't think that. No, I named her in the spirit of fan love, which is the purest love there is. You should be flattered.'"
King and his wife, Tabitha King, stayed in London's Brown's Hotel, and wrote "sixteen pages of a steno notebook", on a desk the concierge offered him that was the same desk Rudyard Kipling owned, and died of a stroke at while writing. The working title of the book, which King thought would only be around thirty thousand words (it ended up being almost four times that at 370 pages), was The Annie Wilkes Edition. While discussing the pros and cons (mostly cons) of pre-plotting novels, King mentioned that he had originally planned for Annie to force her prisoner to write a book, that she would then bind in Paul's skin. When commenting on why he chose not to go that route, King said:
... it would have made a pretty good story (not such a good novel, however; no one likes to root for a guy over the course of three hundred pages only to discover that between chapters sixteen and seventeen the pig ate him), but that wasn't the way things eventually went. Paul Sheldon turned out to be a good deal more resourceful than I initially thought, and his efforts to play Sheherezade and save his life gave me a chance to say some things about the redemptive power of writing that I had long felt but never articulated. Annie also turned out to be more complex than I'd first imagined her, and she was great fun to write about ..."
The novel was adapted into a film in 1990. James Caan and Kathy Bates star as Paul and Annie, with Lauren Bacall, Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen as the only major supporting actors. Kathy Bates won the 1990 Best Actress Oscar for her performance.
The novel was also adapted into a play by Simon Moore. The play premiered in London at the Criterion Theater in December 1992, starring Sharon Gless and Bill Paterson and directed by Moore. The play, directed by Alan Cohen, was revived in 2005 at the Kings Head Theatre in London, starring Michael Praed and Susan Penhaligon.
In 2014, Dutch composer and theater producer Florus van Rooijen adapted the novel into a "feel bad" musical.
A different play written by William Goldman (who also wrote the film's screenplay) and directed by Will Frears opened on Broadway in 2015 for a limited engagement. The play starred Bruce Willis as writer Paul Sheldon and Laurie Metcalf as Annie Wilkes. It opened in October 2015 and ended on February 16, 2016. For her performance as Annie, Metcalf was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. The play was originally premiered in 2012 at Bucks County Playhouse before moving to Broadway. This new version is not connected to the earlier adaptation by Simon Moore.
In October 2019, a Finnish play adaptation of Misery called Piina was performed at the Tampere Theatre in Tampere, Finland. The play was directed by Antti Mikkola and starring Esa Latva-Äijö as Paul Sheldon and Mari Turunen as Annie Wilkes. Also in September of the same year, Kuopio City Theatre in Kuopio, Finland presented another interpretation under the name Piina, directed by Olli-Matti Oinonen and starring Seppo Pääkkönen as Paul Sheldon and Henna Haverinen as Annie Wilkes. Both adaptations (based on the Goldman screenplay) are well-received by the audience and critics.
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