Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, October 09, 2015

Enjoying a bit of Misery with Stephen King this Frightfall

As my scary read for the Seasons of Reading Frightfall readathon this week, I went with one of Stephen King's more grounded terror tales, Misery, where a popular genre author is trapped in more ways than one.

Paul Sheldon's disdain for his literary heroine Misery Chastain, who has made him rich and famous but not considered a "serious" writer, leads him to kill her off in the latest book, a decision that he comes to regret as a car accident leaves him to the limited mercy of his "number one fan", former nurse Annie Wilkes.

Annie's cheerful nature and complete worship of Paul's talents are a thin veil for the vicious, angry and emotionally disturbed nature within her. Paul is suspicious enough when Annie has taken him home to heal from his various wounds(including two badly broken legs) and not bothered to inform anyone of his whereabouts but when Anne gets to the end of the new Misery novel and discovers that her beloved heroine is dead, some of her true fury is unleashed.

Once some of her anger has quelled, Annie then decides that her purpose is to help Paul right that particular wrong by forcing him to burn the manuscript of a non-Misery book that he has just finished, in order to bring back from the dead her favorite character in a story just for her.

Paul's pain at destroying the book he wanted to write is bearable compared to his growing fear of Annie and increasing addiction to the pain pills that she feeds him. As he struggles to stay on his captor's good side, his view of Annie goes from appeasement to anger to trembling terror, seeing her at times like a cruel goddess that demands to be obeyed, like a character out of an old school H. Rider Haggard novel:

The battle between Paul and Annie is full of pitfalls such as a clunky typewriter that throws it's keys at the worst times, Annie's mood swings and the risk of being discovered by outsiders before the book is finished, which could hasten both of their demises.

For Paul, a big part of the problem at the beginning is figuring out a way to revive Misery that Annie will accept. His first crack at it doesn't fly with her, as she may be a Constant Reader but not a gullible one. As demented as she is, Annie is right about the continuity errors that make a life saving blood transfusion for Misery totally unbelievable and under normal circumstances, most readers would want the same respect for their intelligence there:

King himself has said that much of Misery was inspired by his own battles with drug addiction and those parts of the book where Paul wrestles that particular beast do ring out true. However, the one addiction that ties both him and Annie together is the one for which there is no cure; writing and reading.

As much as Paul despises Annie(and for a truckload of good reasons there) for going back to creating the adventures of Misery and friends, he also comes to realize that maybe even a genre darling like her is worth living for. Misery, as ironically named as she is, does provide an escape for her readers and especially her writer, who finds that she is his best protection and greatest weapon against his number one fangirl:

Misery has been adapted into a successful film that earned Kathy Bates an Oscar for her performance as Annie and coming soon to Broadway is a stage version that will star Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf.

 When I read the book the first time, it wasn't hard for me to picture it as a play, given the limited setting and two main characters balancing for control there. The movie, as great as it is, does make you forget how violent the story actually is. Believe it or not, the infamous "hobbling" scene in the film is practically sedate when compared to the gruesome doings in the book(not to mention a couple of other gory moments later on down the road).

One of the big bonuses of the book is getting to read Misery's Return, the book that Paul is frantically working on, to the point of writing in longhand at times. It becomes a real gothic romance, aptly reflecting the torment of it's creator, that reminds me of those Victoria Holt novels from the 1970s and 80s, with their heated over the top blend of love and danger:

Misery is a story that resonates so strongly with people even today and most likely for generations to come due to it's all too real villianess. The strength of Stephen King's best characters is in just how human they are, making even someone with psychic powers like Carrie feel like the sad soul next door who you may relate to yet want to avoid at the same time.

In an odd way, Annie Wilkes has become something like her beloved Misery Chastain, a classic fictional figure whose name is instantly known to her fans and her quotes a part of pop culture lore. Granted, Annie never sought fame for herself, particularly due to her sinister impulses being the kind best kept in the dark, but she's right up there with the big boys of horror and fortunately, in no need of sequels to keep her legend going.

So, this Halloween, a truly frightening costume choice would be Annie Wilkes, either with her hobbling hammer or from- the- book bloody axe. To paraphrase Wednesday Addams,  a homicidal maniac looks like everyone else and that is one threat most folks never see coming, even if they declare their number one fan status loud and chillingly proud:


Michelle Miller said...

I love the Misery story. Just so great! And I always tell people...who have only seen the movie, "You think the hobbling scene is bad. You should read what happens in the book." I read the book first and, as good as the movie is, I still love the book more. Who knew? lol

I hope you've been enjoying the read-a-thon. I'm so behind on visiting blogs. Sigh. I'm thinking I may have to get a couple volunteer cheerleaders to help me next time. I'm just SO busy!

Michelle Miller said...

Thanks again for joining me for FrightFall! I hope you enjoyed your scary reading. Misery is such a good one.