“I am in trouble here. This woman is not right.”
Stephen King’s Misery, which was published in 1987 was originally planned to be released under Kings’ pseudonym of Richard Bachman, but the identity of the author behind the Richard Bachan books was revealed to the public shortly before it was published.
Stephen King wrote Misery following the publication of ‘The Eyes of the Dragon’ which, being a departure by King, from the horror genre into the world of fantasy writing, it was not well received by King’s regular fans. Misery then, was a novel borne out Stephen Kings frustration at the time as being labelled only an author of horror, a label which he felt chained to. Stephen King also places some of his inspiration for Misery with his own struggle with addictions at the time. He has been quoted as saying that the psychotic nurse in Misery is a metaphor for his addictions, a dangerous friend who just wouldn't let him go.
Stephen King's Misery is the story of Paul Sheldon, a successful novelist who writes romantic novels set in the Victorian period about featuring the main character of Misery Chastain. Following a horrific car crash in the mountains, Sheldon is rescued by a local former nurse, Annie Wilkes, who is also Paul Sheldon’s number one fan. Instead of taking Sheldon to hospital, Annie decides to keep him at her home and treat his injuries herself. It soon becomes clear that Annie is a sandwich short of picnic as her caring nature begins to give way to a more sinister one, but Sheldon is helpless to do anything or to escape because of the injuries that he sustained in the car crash.
Things go from bad to worse when Annie reads a copy of Paul Sheldon’s latest book only to discover that the heroine that she loves so much is killed off in the story. Distraught about the death of her favourite fictional character, Annie keeps Paul Sheldon a prisoner and forces him to write a new novel which will bring Misery back from the dead.
You can easily see Stephen King’s frustrations coming out in Misery. Just like King, Paul Sheldon is trapped by a manic fan demanding more of the same formulaic stuff over and over again whereas he wanted to explore new territories. While Kings’ fans did not imprison him and cut off his foot to make him write another Salem’s Lot, you can understand the author’s frustration.
The film adaptation of Misery, starring James Caan and Kathy Bates and directed by Rob Reiner was released in 1990. Kathy Bates received much critical acclaim for her portrayal of the fan from hell, Annie Wilkes and she won the 1990 Academy Award for Best Actress for the role. In the film, the books goriest moments are toned down and, in particular, the foot lopping scene is changed to one of mere ankle breaking, but it still makes a great psychological thriller, concentrating less on the gore and more on the mind games between the two main characters.
Misery is quite probably a novel by Stephen King about himself; his battle with his own addictions and his own entrapment into a genre by his fans. Shorter than many of his novels, Stephen Kings’ Misery is a dark and scary look into the world of the psychopathic fan and Stephen King at his, rather dysfunctional, best.