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"The End of the Whole Mess" is a short science fiction story by American writer Stephen King, first published in Omni Magazine in 1986. It was collected in King's Nightmares & Dreamscapes in 1993 and in Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse in 2008. The story is written in the form of a personal journal, and tells the story of the narrator Howard Fornoy's genius younger brother's attempt to cure humanity's aggressive tendencies.

"The End of the Whole Mess"
AuthorStephen King
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inOmni Magazine (1st release),
Nightmares & Dreamscapes
Publication typePeriodical
Media typePrint (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)
Publication date1986

A TV adaptation of the story was produced by TNT as part of Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King and received positive reviews.


Plot summaryEdit

The story, narrated by Howard Fornoy in the form of a personal journal, recounts the life of his genius younger brother, Robert. Bobby, a child prodigy whose adult interests led him to study a variety of scientific disciplines, discovered a chemical that reduces the aggressive tendencies of humans and other organisms. While doing sociological research in Texas, Bobby used crime statistics to create a sort of topographic map which displayed a geographical pattern of violent crime. Examining the map, Robert noted diminishing levels of crime centered on the town of La Plata. When he arrives to investigate, he finds that this town has never had any violent crime. Bobby is ultimately able to determine that the cause of the non-aggression is the presence of a chemical unique to the town's water supply, a phenomenon that is mentioned in (but had nothing to do with the causations of) King's earlier novel It. Even minimal exposure to the chemical will calm down an angry person or animal, and Bobby has been able to isolate the chemical and reduce it to concentrated form.

At a time of international chaos suggestive of an approaching total nuclear war, Bobby and Howard, using the aid of a volcano in Borneo that is set to erupt and blow millions of tons of ash into the atmosphere, disperse a large quantity of this substance throughout the world, in the hope of preventing a catastrophe. Indeed, the effects are quick and expected: a massive decrease in hostilities around the globe.

Several months later it is discovered that, to the Fornoys' horror, there was another constant about La Plata that was not studied until after the substance was released. It does eliminate aggression, and increases calm, but it does the job too well. Over time the chemical compound builds up in a subject's system, ultimately giving them symptoms resembling dementia or Alzheimer's disease and eventually resulting in death. Howard's journal entries after this point begin to include increasing amounts of grammar, spelling, and other mistakes, eventually devolving into incoherence as Howard succumbs to the effects of the chemical. It is implied the human race will also eventually die out as adults start to forget how to care for newborn children.

The style of Howard's entries near the end are reminiscent of those of the character Charlie in Daniel Keyes' book Flowers for Algernon.[1]


"The End of the Whole Mess" was included as the fourth installment of TNT's Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King, starring Ron Livingston as Howard and Henry Thomas as Bobby. It originally aired on July 19, 2006. In this version, Howard is an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker instead of a writer, and he tells his story in front of a video camera. In addition, the events of 9/11 are incorporated into the story and are used as a catalyst for Bobby's inspiration. At the end, Bobby and his brother commit suicide by injecting themselves with a concentrate of the aggression decreasing substance.

Bryan Pope of DVD Verdict rates the television episode an A- and praises the acting.[2] Christopher Noseck of DVD Talk said it is the best episode of the series, both believable and straightforward.[3] Jon Condit of Dread Central rated the episode 4.5/5 stars and wrote, "This is a really touching, character driven, and emotional story."[4]

The audiobook version of this story was narrated by actor Matthew Broderick.[5]


  1. ^ Beahm, George (1998). Stephen King from A to Z: An Encyclopedia of His Life and Work. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 9780836269147.
  2. ^ Pope, Bryan (2006-11-14). "Nightmares And Dreamscapes". DVD Verdict. Archived from the original on 2013-12-02. Retrieved 2013-11-27.
  3. ^ Noseck, Christopher (2006-10-24). "Nightmares & Dreamscapes - From the Stories of Stephen King". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2013-11-27.
  4. ^ Condit, Jon (2006-07-20). "Nightmares & Dreamscapes: The End of the Whole Mess (TV)". Dread Central. Retrieved 2013-11-27.
  5. ^ King, Stephen. "Nightmares & Dreamscapes". Official page. Stephen King. Retrieved 2011-03-25.

See alsoEdit