Throwback: Stephen King’s ‘Misery’ exhibits the horror of people

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Stephen King is known today as the King of Horror when it comes to storytelling, with iconic movies and books depicting evil sewer clowns, foaming killer dogs and children rising from the dead wielding scalpels.

However, while many of King’s stories depict supernatural or unexplainable scares, some of the most haunting ones that stick with you are those telling of average people, such as in “Misery”. 

“Misery” is undeniably one of King’s most iconic works. It tells the story of famous author Paul Sheldon being rescued and later held hostage by his “Number 1 Fan” Annie Wilkes, who has more than a few screws loose. After all, Paul just killed her favorite book character, and now she won’t let him go until he writes her back to life.

What’s so fascinating and truly terrifying about this story is how fathomable it is. Annie Wilkes may seem like she’s from Hell but she’s only human, and that makes her scary enough. Whoever said that humans are their own worst enemies are speaking the truth. What makes Annie Wilkes an iconic, terrifying character is the fact that she’s so unpredictable. One minute she’s fixing Paul an ice cream sundae, the next she’s cutting off his foot so he can’t get away.

The torture, pain and stress she makes Paul go through are so awful that at times it was even difficult to read because of how realistic it was. The man has two broken legs and can’t move at all without her help, which is horrifying. Annie is Paul’s tormentor and captor, and yet, he has no choice but to rely on her or he’ll die, and Annie knows it and uses it against him.

It’s strange to be afraid of Annie, because as readers discover, she’s actually childish. She hates curse words and instead uses child-like slang like “dirty-birdy” or “cock-a-doodie.” The overall situation with her holding Paul captive until he writes her beloved character back to life is almost like a giant temper-tantrum, but a deadly one.

The way King writes human emotion is so true and tangible in its rawness. There’s an instance in the story when Annie refuses to give Paul his pain medication until he burns the new book he’s been working on because she didn’t like it. The last thing Paul wants to do is burn his new manuscript, something he’s proud of, but he’s in so much pain without the meds that he almost wants to die. He ultimately ends up complying to burn the book, feeling so much shame and regret in his surrender, but also unable to bear the pain he’s in. 

It’s in spots like this that we see King capturing the nature of humans and how easy it can be to bend us. Pain weakens us and it makes us feel shameful and guilty to have that weakness. 

King also commentates on humanity by narrating a great portion of Paul Sheldon’s mind. Throughout most of the novel, it’s just Annie and Paul, and there are long portions of time when Paul is by himself and has to deal with his predicament without being able to do much about it given the state of his legs. By having the novel focus primarily on Annie and Paul, the reader experiences the atmosphere of isolation the characters are living through.

We see how Paul tries to maintain hope and sanity by playing certain scenarios through his head, much like how many people do these days to prepare or occupy themselves in some way. By the end, when readers see Paul’s slip of insanity, it’s quite understandable to imagine and we see how human this man is in his ability to survive, and yet, how hard a toll such an experience had on him.

There’s a reason why “Misery” is one of King’s most famous works. Not just in the horrifying character of Annie Wilkes herself, but also in how scary King makes you realize human beings can be.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)
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