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**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
Thanks for tuning into this episode though, and I hope by listening, I can bring a little misery into your day 😉
Misery by Stephen King (1987)
Misery directed by Rob Reiner (1990)
Happy birthday to Stephen King! I read this book at the start of the month, not realizing King’s birthday was just a few weeks away. When I was looking into him after finishing the book, I saw his birthday was soon and knew I had to release this on the same day!
I was going to get more into Stephen King as a person, and writer. However, I had a lot to say about this book and movie and so there just wasn’t time. I will however be posting Youtube videos that are author spotlights! King will probably be the first I talk about so stay tuned for that video! I won’t be releasing it as a podcast, just as a youtube video, so make sure and subscribe to my channel so you can see when that gets uploaded!
I had never read this book before, but I had watched the movie. I saw it when I was around 11 years old. My dad had a coworker who referred to the “Mr. Man” part of the movie. I guess I should mention, my maiden name is Mann. The coworker referenced this to my dad, but he had never heard of the movie. We later rented it and watched it as a family. Watching movies was often a family event, but it is kind of funny that we gathered around to watch a movie such as this!
Even though it’s been almost 20 years since I have seen this, I still remembered the more memorable scenes. For some reason, despite having liked the movie, I hadn’t watched it a second time until recently.
One of the reasons I chose this book was because I read that King said that Annie is a representation of addiction, which King overcame in the 80’s. I thought this gave the story a whole new look and reading it with that in mind was an interesting perspective. I’ll be focusing on that aspect quite a bit, which I find interesting. If that side of things doesn’t intrigue you as much, it’s still worth a listen because I of course also talk about all the other aspects of the book and movie! There are also quite several differences between the two!
Thoughts on the Book
I have read a handful of King books (though I haven’t read any of his scarier/horror stuff) and this has been my far my favorite! I was really surprised how much I loved it! It just went into what was going on in Paul’s head in such vivid detail. It also feels so vulnerable and open. The emotions and thoughts that Paul goes through as he is tormented by this woman who degrades him in so many ways. Mentally, emotionally and of course physically. This book also focused on the writing process more than I expected. I can’t say I had expected that aspect at all. It talks about the process, but also just the magic of it and what it can mean to a writer.
The first quarter, I was worried I was going to lose interest. But that never happened. About halfway things get even more out of hand and there starts to be a scariness to it. Almost scarier than a book about monsters or creatures, because Annie is a representation in some ways of the real serial killers out there! There are two, actually three, especially disturbing scenes. One of which is burned in my mind and I fear I will never be able to forget it! We will get into those details later though.
The ending of this book was also just so perfect and I cried twice! I highly recommend this book. Especially if you are a writer. Or are someone who has struggled with addiction. But be warned, it is intense, and is more gruesome than the movie. The more violent scenes though are more of an after thought when I think back on it, because what stands out the most is Paul and how he is able to save himself in more ways than one. Overall, it’s really such an inspirational novel about believing in yourself and overcoming and escaping whatever is holding you back.
To start, I want to mention the script writer for this movie, William Goldman. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s written the scripts for some huge hits! Such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Princess Bride, Papillion, Chaplin, Dreamcatcher and The Stepford Wives which was the topic of my first ever podcast!
The director is Rob Reiner, which caught me by surprise. I associated him more with comedy, but when I looked into him, he’s actually done a far amount of dramas. He directed Stand by Me, which is an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story The Body. King loved Reiner’s adaption so much, he signed over the rights to Misery with the caveat that Reiner must be the one to direct. When King has been asked what his favorite adaptations of his have been, he lists both Misery and Stand by Me! Quite the praise for Reiner! People questioned Reiner’s desire to direct a film such as this, to which he is quotes, “It’s important for me to find my way into the film… and as you will see, the movie’s really about a man who is trapped by his own success and is desperately trying to break out and establish himself in a different way. I felt very much those feelings when I finished All in the Family.”
Kathy Bates plays Annie, and at this point, can you really imagine anyone else in this role?? She had been in Hollywood for twenty years, before getting the role of Annie Wilkes which won her an Oscar and Golden Globe! She is now a household name and has been in so many amazing movies and has been in so many shows.
James Caan was cast as Paul, after the role was turned down by countless actors. Apparently, most actors didn’t want the role because they felt like the character of Paul was overshadowed by Annie. Warren Beatty was attached to it at one point, but he said the hobbling scene made Paul look like a loser for the rest of the movie. This is so annoying! Dumb macho male actors, who want the spotlight to themselves. And I can’t help but wonder if the fact that a woman is in the bigger role was something they didn’t like. Beatty thinking Paul looks like a loser after getting hobbled?? That just makes his escape all the more impressive. Seeing a character be humiliated and literally tortured, only to overcome against all odds certainly does not make the character look like a loser. I’m so glad Beatty turned down the role because I find him and his acting too pretentious.
James Caan is amazing in this. It is one of more notable roles I would say, and when asked about people recognizing him, he said, “Look, you only pray when you start in this business that you get to the point where people recognize you or quote you. I mean, I’ve got a lot of people who are like, “Hey, your ankle OK?” from Misery. I get that a lot. It’s harmless… That’s great! First of all, it means that they remember the picture. There’s nothing not to like about it . . . No, I hope they never stop.”
Richard Farnsworth is cast as Buster, the sheriff, a role that didn’t exist in the book. The book is entirely from Paul’s perspective, but in the movie, we see what is going on with the local sheriff as well.
I recognized this actor from The Anne of Green Gables movies, and when I looked into him after watching this movie there was a lot of interesting things to learn! For starters, he was a stuntman for 30 years before getting into acting! He has also been nominated for two Oscars. In 1979 for best supporting actor in Comes a Horseman which happened to star James Caan! Then again in 1999 for the leading role in The Straight Story which was directed by David Lynch. Farnsworth had been diagnosed with terminal cancer at this time, and the following year he shot himself.
Before he died, Richard Ebert asked him what his proudest movie achievement was and he said it was that he had been in over 60 movies, and never said a single cuss word.
I’ll get into the details now, and I suppose I will start with Annie Wilkes herself.
In the movie when Annie brings Paul home, she leads him to believe that she will take him to the hospital once the roads are cleared and will use her phone to call his agent and family once the phone lines are back up. Then, as things go along, we find out she is lying and realize she is more than just his number one fan-she’s psycho!
In the book, Paul realizes Annie is crazy like literally right away. This surprised me, because I was expecting more of a buildup. King gets right to it though, showing that Paul doesn’t trust her and sees rightaway how unstable she is.
In the movie Paul is there for about 4 weeks, but in the book, he is there for like 5 months or so! He endures much more in the book than he did in the movie, partly because he was there so much longer.
In both, Paul comes across her photo album which contains newspaper clippings and such, which is how we learn about her past. The movie shows that she had killed her dad, a roommate, and then moved on to hospital patients at first elderly then moves on to babies. In the book, she also set fire to an apartment building they were living in which led to the deaths of a family that was in the apartment below them. She also picked up a hitchhiker shortly before Paul whom she also killed.
The book has a scene where she comes into his room during the night holding a rat in a rat trap. The rat isn’t yet dead, and she takes it out and kills it. She calls it, “poor poor thing”, killing it to put it out of its misery. In the book, he reads she killed patients who were on their death beds, seeing them as “poor poor things”. The book reads, “And then she had begun killing the healthy along with the damaged. He supposed that , in her deepening psychotic spiral, she had begun to see all of them as poor poor things.” There’s another line that says she saw people in three groups, brats, poor poor things and Annie. She kills people either because they are brats or disappoint her in some way, or because she views them as poor things, like a rat in a trap.
Despite all that Annie puts Paul through, she is constantly guilt tripping him about how he should be grateful because she saved his life. “You owe me your life, Paul. I hope you’ll remember that. I hope you’ll keep that in mind.”
She has major mood swings, and at times is seemingly kind. In one of these moments, it reads, “Paul thought that the occasional moments like this were the most ghastly of all, because in them he saw the woman she might have been if her upbringing had been right or the drugs squirted out by all the funny little glands inside her had been less wrong.”
Kathy Bates added her own backstory to Annie, as a way to understand the character. In her mind, Annie was sexually abused by her father, which is why she killed him and why she went crazy. Though if Annie is a psychopath, that is something people are born with, regardless of what did or didn’t happen in their life. Annie though, isn’t a representation of any one particular mental illness. As we will get into next, she is a representation of addiction which when you think of her in that sense, her actions make sense.
In the book Annie will often do self-harm, like scratching herself so deep she bleeds, but this isn’t in the movie. The book and movie show when she gets depressed when it’s raining. What the movie doesn’t show, is she binges various foods, but mainly sweets. She leaves because she says she shouldn’t be around him when she’s in this mood. While she is gone, Paul leaves the room and sees what a mess the house is. With dirty dishes stacked up everywhere and food all over the place.
The book also talks about the blankness in her eyes, and I think Bates did a great job capturing that look. By the way, Bates had read the book before being cast and loved it. James Caan though has never read the book!
As I read this book, I highlighted so many sections which show the similarities between Annie and addiction. When you have an addiction, or have someone you love who struggles with addiction, it is helpful to think of it as this separate person. People will write letters to their addiction, telling it why it can’t be in their life anymore and things like that. This book almost feels like it was Stephen King’s way of overpowering and killing his addiction. From what I’ve read, this isn’t what he intended when starting this book, but the story began going a different route than planed, and the book ended up being something quite different, and in my opinion, more powerful than originally planned.
King got the idea for this book while on the Concord, where he was hit with the idea of a solid mass of a woman, who names her pet pig after her favorite character from a novel. He then planned for the author to be held hostage by said woman, who forces him to write her a book. The original title was going to be The Annie Wilkes Edition, and in the end, she was going to kill the writer. However, while writing, King said Paul ended up being far more resilient than he had thought he would be. The book also evolved into being a metaphor for addiction. “After refusing to speak about his motivations for writing “Misery” for two decades, Stephen King finally came out and stated that it is indeed about his battle with substance abuse. Kathy Bates’ character is a representation of his dependency on drugs, and what it did to his body, making him feel alone and separated from everything, while hobbling any attempts he made at escape. In his statement, he said he did not come out with it at the time, because he was not ready, and because he was afraid it would detract from the story.”
Before getting to the addiction parallels, I want to say that I don’t mean to come across as demonizing alcohol per se. I know there are people that can take it or leave it, and it isn’t a big deal for them. Some people just have something in their genetics that make them predispostioned to be addicts. Then there’s others that form a dependency on drugs or alcohol for one reason or another. The perspective I, and King, give is as someone who is familiar to what addiction can do to a person. If you also have a background in it, in one way or another, I’m sure you will be able to relate. If you don’t have any experience with addiction, then you can listen to this and gain some perspective and understanding of it.
I’m going to start with the title, Misery. What this brought to mind is a phrase that is used for describing the addiction experience, “magic, medicine, misery”. King was addicted to drugs as well, he specifically mentions cocaine, but for the sake of this podcast, I am going to use alcohol as the example. When a person starts drinking, it feels like magic. Everything is brighter, they have more fun, it’s more exciting. Then it gets to a point where they must drink. If an alcoholic tries to quit cold turkey, they can have a seizure, so it is literally medicine. Then it gets to the point where it is just pure misery. They keep drinking because they are trapped in the addiction, even though it is no longer magic. They are miserable, but stuck and have a hard time escaping it.
Another line that I thought seemed symbolic of a substance, is when Annie rescues him and is giving him mouth to mouth. He talks about what a terrible taste and smell it was, “It brought back the memory of her sour breath…blowing down his throat like a dirty wind from hell.” Seems pretty similar to drinking alcohol, he’s literally talking about it going down his throat.
There is also a lot of talk about Annie nearly killing him, whether on purpose or accident. One section says,”… It might have just been one of those things which happened, but he later came to suspect she had nearly killed him with an accidental overdose. She didn’t know as much about what she was doing as she believed she did. That was only one of the things about Annie that scared him.” Drugs and alcohol are unpredictable and aren’t easily controlled, so you can therefore die very easily from it.
It also talks about how she doesn’t have a good grasp in time, and forgets to turn the calendar, doesn’t know what day it is-which in turn causes Paul to not know what day it is or how much time has passed. (Until the last month or so, he starts keeping track). He also talks about things in Annie’s head just dropping out, quickly forgetting things. As well as about how he never knows what to expect from her, two different lines read, “When you lived in the funhouse, the laff riot just never stopped…. Just another day lost in the funhouse with Annie.” When you are dealing with addiction, you never know what to expect, and it gets to the point where almost nothing is a surprise.
Then there are the problems that addiction causes, and the mess it makes. She will break something, or spill something, or kill someone, and manipulates Paul by telling him, “But remember that you made that mess. Not me. It’s nobody’s fault but your own.” Paul does feel really guilt about getting the attention of a cop, which causes Annie to then kill the man. Even though he isn’t truly to blame, because Annie is the one that did the killing.
Then there is the fact that he depends on Annie and does need her in a way. She cares for him, brings him his pills, feeds him, dresses his wounds (which she is the cause of later, which is also similar to addiction). One line I like in particular is, “She was crazy but he needed her.” Then later he tells her, “’I sort of depend on you, you know.’…‘Yes,’ she said. ‘You do. You do, don’t you, Paul?’” An addict “needs” the substance, just as he “needs” Annie, as a way to get relief from the pain, and also because it does get to a point where the alcohol is medicine.
Like I said, I highlighted so many sections that are a perfect example of addiction, I think I’ll just list a few.
-“Neither is she stupid, as I think we have both agreed. I think that she is filled with herself—she does not just have a large ego but one which is positively grandiose…might have alternating periods of deep depression and almost aggressive cheerfulness and hilarity, the puffed and infected ego underlay all, positive that all eyes were upon her, positive that she was starring in a great drama; the outcome was a thing for which untold millions waited with held breath.”
Addiction can be very prideful. Reminds me of Jonathon in Another Night in Suck City, these delusions of grandeur he had. Also showing the major mood swings addiction causes.
-“ Fact is, you’re getting worse, Annie, aren’t you? A little worse every day.”
People often refer to addiction as a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse and worse. If you keep with it, it doesn’t just plateau or something. The disease and the consequences from it get worse and worse.
– “And suddenly, for just a moment, he thought of saying: All right, Annie—go ahead. Let’s just call it off. [meaning kill both of them] Then his need and will to live—and there was still quite a lot of each in him—rose up and clamored the momentary weakness away.”
Addiction can often lead to suicide. So many people might get close, but then their desire to live will suddenly awake and “clamor the momentary weakness away”. Having said that, there are so many suicides that occur due to addiction.
– “He stared at her, groggy but appalled. He didn’t know how to answer her. It was so paranoid . . . so crazy. . . .”
You can’t have a logical conversation when addiction is involved! It makes no sense, it’s paranoid and crazy.
– “Now, he thought, unbending it and holding it in his right hand. You will not shake. Hold that thought, YOU WILL NOT SHAKE.”
When you haven’t gotten you fix, an addict will get shaky, and those shakes can then turn into a seizure. If you talk to addicts or alcoholics, they can all relate to their hands being so shaky they can’t even do anything until they’ve had some drinks.
-“He could see in her skittery eyes how frightened she had been and still was. How close he had come [to dying]. She was taking extravagant care of him… Although Annie never said so, he believed she had filled in the n’s either as another evidence of her solicitude— How can you say I was cruel to you, Paul, when you see all the n’s I have filled in?—or as an act of atonement, or possibly even as a quasi-superstitious rite: enough bandage-changes, enough sponge baths, enough n’s filled in, and Paul would live.”
The pendulum that is addiction. Terrible one moment, and seemingly comforting the next. Also, so willing to do all these helpful things, yet not willing to do that one thing that matters more than anything else. There is a quote I read from a recovering addict, “I would have died for my kids, but I couldn’t stop drinking for them.” Annie will do all these things for Paul, yet can’t do the one thing he needs which is to let him go.
– “…feeling angry at her was better than feeling scared of her…he tried to hold onto the anger, because the anger made him feel brave. A brave man could think. A coward couldn’t.”
Addiction makes you scared and hopeless, but hopelessness is always what preceeds anger, because we want to feel a sense of power (which fear has taken) so we turn to anger as a way to feel more in control.
One of the things I loved about the book was the realness of it, for lack of a better word. Paul is put in such vulnerable and embarrassing situations. At one point, when he doesn’t yet have a wheelchair, Annie leaves for over two days. Not only is the pain unbearable, but he is also super thirsty. At one point he urinates and tries to get some in his cupped hands, which he tries to drink. It then says, “He would never tell anyone about that, assuming he ever got out of this, and he supposed he might try to lie about it to himself, but he would never be able to [believe the lie].” He brings this up again at another point, how it is something he would never tell anyone of.
I don’t think the movie really captured this aspect. There are times where he will beg Annie, but he didn’t come across quite as scared, desperate and degraded as he is in the book. He also cries frequently. There are times when he begins to cry over something more minor, but that’s what trauma does to you. You can be set off emotionally be something that normally wouldn’t be that big of a deal. There is also a section which says, “He could hear the first evening crickets tuning up in Annie’s field. He thought, I heard that same sound as a small, unhurt boy, and for a moment he nearly wept.” Another scene similar to this is when he gives her $400 he had in his wallet. Holding the wallet and the money, he is reminded of when he was at the bank and the plans he had for that money, before his life was turned upside down. He suddenly realizes he is crying. This is also reflects addiction, when you spend the last of your money on whatever substance, even though doing so brings you pain and sadness-misery!
When he gets the courage to leave the room, and later attempt to kill Annie, it says, “He thought later that the world, in its unfailing perversity, would probably construe those things which he did next as acts of heroism. And he would probably let them—but in fact what he did was nothing more than a final staggering grab for self-preservation.”
He also talks about how lying has become second nature, because he must lie, and attempt to flatter Annie if he wants to live.
There are several things in the book that she does to him that aren’t much compared to when she hobbles him; but are those smaller ways she degrades him which are left out of the movie. For example, she makes him drink from a cleaning bucket which has soap and filthy residue, she also puts a gag in his mouth when she sees a cop driving up and the rag also had cleaning product on it which makes him vomit, then later she locks him in the basement overnight where it is pitch black and there are rats.
In the movie he has more attitude with her, including flipping her off when she waves to him. In the book there are a few times he tries to assert himself, but she always gets back at him for it in some way. He never would have flipped her off in the book because he was too scared of what she would have done to him as punishment.
-“The anger and humiliation surged again, awakening the first dull answering throb in his legs. Yes. The work, the pride in your work, the worth of the work itself . . . all those things faded away to the magic-lantern shades they really were when the pain got bad enough. That she would do that to him—that she could, when he had spent most of his adult life thinking the word writer was the most important definition of himself—made her seem utterly monstrous, something he must escape. She really was an idol, and if she didn’t kill him, she might kill what was in him.”
-“And of all she had done to him, this resignation was surely a symptom of the worst—she had turned him into a painwracked animal with no moral options at all.”
-“He was aware that the horizons of his interest had shrunk, but he accepted this as the price of survival. It was a genuine wonder he had survived at all.”
-“Had he known, before this had he really known how badly she had cowed him, or how much of his essential self…she had scraped away? He knew how constantly he had been terrorized, but did he know how much of his own subjective reality, once so strong he had taken it for granted, had been erased?”
I guess I should get to the hobbling scene which the movie is notorious for. In both she starts with this line about what people did to workers in mines who were caught stealing, “If they caught them they made sure that they could go on working . . . but they also made sure they would never run again. The operation was called hobbling, Paul, and that is what I’m going to do to you. For my own safety . . . and yours as well.”
In the movie, she puts a block between his ankles, then smashes them against the block using a sledgehammer.
Yes, this scene is intense and is well done on all sides. When watching it for the first time, it definitely stood out. However, after reading the book, this scene didn’t seem too bad lol.
In the book, things are more gruesome. For starters, she had been gone, then he awakes in the dark seeing her pull a needle out of his arm. She is talking to him and mentions giving him a “per-op shot”. When he hears this, he can’t pay attention to what else she is saying because he is freaked out about what she means by “per-op”. This scene is also when he is trying to get the knife under the mattress, then she pulls it out and reveals she found it. My adrenaline was pumping as I was reading this whole scene! Then the climax of the scene takes place when she picks up an ax, he hadn’t been able to previously see. She then chops off his foot! Then burns the stump to stop the bleeding. When this happens it says, “…and before his mind was completely consumed in a forest fire of panic he understood that when this was over, she would have only the vaguest memories of what she had done” This line also goes along with addiction, because people do things they don’t remember having done. She also tells him once again not to blame her, and it’s his own fault.
Paul says how he tries to forget that night but he can’t, “Because writers remember everything, Paul. Especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels, not amnesia.”
Now, as if this isn’t bad enough. We are then moved ahead like three weeks. Paul talks about what those weeks had been like. He and Annie had gotten into a routine. She would even wheel the TV into his room and they would watch an episode of MASH together each night. She would also roll his wheelchair out to the back porch where we could enjoy the fresh air. Despite the previous insanity, they got in a comfortable rhythm (considering). He says something about her being outside and waving, and he waves back with his hand with the missing thumb. When I read this line, I was like wait, what? Did I miss something? What happened to his thumb? It then goes back in time as he reflects, explaining what happened. But basically, she just went crazy about something minor, as usual, and cut off his thumb with an electric knife!
Anyway, having two parts of his body removed is of course incredibly traumatizing and at one point she enters his room at a later point and he is thinking, please if you’re going to kill me just do, just please don’t cut off anymore of me.
Hobbling him in these ways can also be symbolic of addiction and how it cripples you and you are hobbled by addiction.
In the movie, she briefly puts him in the basement when she sees Buster, the sheriff, approaching. It is daylight, so being in the basement doesn’t seem to have much effect on him.
In the book, she puts him down there at night and doesn’t leave a light on. She has to drive the young trooper’s car away to hide and will be gone till later the next day. She can’t risk him trying to escape and says she has no choice but to keep him in the basement. He begs her not to, or to at least leave him a light.
“Cover the windows, then!” he yelled after her. “Use some pieces of sheet . . . or . . . or . . . paint them black . . . or . . . Christ, Annie, the rats! The rats!” She was on the third stair. She paused, looking at him from those dusty dime eyes. “I haven’t time to do any of those things,” she said, “and the rats won’t bother you, anyway. They may even recognize you for one of their own, Paul. They may adopt you.” Annie laughed. She climbed the stairs, laughing harder and harder. There was a click as the lights went out and Annie went on laughing and he told himself he wouldn’t scream, wouldn’t beg; that he was past all that. But the damp wildness of the shadows and the boom of her laughter were too much and he shrieked for her not to do this to him, not to leave him, but she only went on laughing and there was a click as the door was shut and her laughter was muted but her laughter was still there, her laughter was on the other side of the door, where there was light, and then the lock clicked, and then another door closed and her laughter was even more muted (but still there), and another lock clicked and a bolt slammed, and her laughter was going away, her laughter was outside, and even after she had started the cruiser up, backed out, put the chain across the driveway, and driven away, he thought he could still hear her. He thought he could still hear her laughing and laughing and laughing.”
In the pitch dark, he is haunted by images of the young trooper whom she killed. One section says,
“Only it wasn’t rats he was afraid of, was it? No. It was the trooper. His so-[freaking]-vivid imagination rarely gave him the horrors, but when it did, God help him. God help him once it was warmed up. It was not only warmed up now, it was hot and running on full choke. That there was no sense at all in what he was thinking made not a whit of difference in the dark. In the dark, rationality seemed stupid and logic a dream. In the dark he thought with his skin.”
I can relate to this line so well! This is why I stopped watching and reading horror years ago. I used to love watching them, but every time after I would go to bed feeling terrified. It didn’t matter that I knew whatever I feared didn’t exist, “In the dark, rationality seemed stupid and logic a dream. In the dark (I) thought with (my) skin.” Even this book was pushing it for me and as a result of reading it have had a couple nights where I feel that fear. I know Annie Wilkes isn’t standing at the end of my bed with an ax or an electric knife, but the terror can feel so real at times!
Anyway, this is a key scene, because in both book and movie, while in.the basement he sees the grill she made him burn his book on (in the movie it was untitled, but in the book, it was called Fast Cars) and he steals the lighter fluid while down there.
Speaking of the manuscript she made him burn, in the movie James Caan does a great job showing how much that manuscript means to him and how painful it is to burn it. The book we get even more detail into how much work went into writing it, and said it is the “result of his labor pains” meaning it is like a child in some ways.
Something that caught me by surprise with the book is how much it is about writing. He talks about the process in some ways, as well as how writing is its own addiction and an escape.
Annie forces him to write Misery’s Return, but little does she know, this ends up saving his life in multiple ways. When he is in the world of his character, Misery Chastain, he can escape Annie and escape his predicament. There is a great section that says, “After awhile Annie turned off the vacuum cleaner and stood in the doorway, watching him. Paul had no idea she was there—had no idea, in fact, that he was. He had finally escaped. He was in Little Dunthorpe’s churchyard, breathing damp night air, smelling moss and earth and mist; he heard the clock in the tower of the Presbyterian church strike two and dumped it into the story without missing a beat. When it was very good, he could see through the paper. He could see through it now. Annie watched him for a long time, her heavy face unsmiling, moveless… After awhile she went away. Her tread was heavy, but Paul didn’t hear that, either.”
As well as another part when he has been writing and is feeling more powerful because of it and even Annie sense it. “Amused, he thought: She felt the heat. I think she’s afraid to get too close in case I might burn her.” I like that section because Paul’s writing puts him on another plain and someone has evil as Annie can’t touch it. Annie, despite being his number one fan, has no interest in learning how a book is written and just thinks of him as having this magical talent. Not recognizing the work that goes into it and the power that comes from creating something.
When trying to figure out how to bring the character Misery back to life (he had killed her in his most recent Misery book, and Annie is forcing him to write a new book where he brings her back) he talks about a game they played as kids called Can you, where you had to get a character out of a seemingly impossible situation. The paragraph reads, “Can I? Yeah. You bet I can. There’s a million things in this world I can’t do. Couldn’t hit a curve ball, even back in high school. Can’t fix a leaky faucet. Can’t roller-skate or make an F-chord on the guitar that sounds like anything but shit. I have tried twice to be married and couldn’t do it either time. But if you want me to take you away, to scare you or involve you or make you cry or grin, yeah. I can. I can bring it to you and keep bringing it until you holler uncle. I am able. I CAN.” I love this section too, because he believes in himself and writing gives him confidence he would not have otherwise had in that situation. It gives him that power and “heat” I just talked about.
There is also a section where he talks about the “I gotta” that both writers and readers experience. Where nothing else matters because I gotta finish writing this section or I gotta keep reading to find out what happens.
He also starts to realize that he was never writing this book for Annie and says, “The minute you start to write all those people are at the other end of the galaxy, or something. It was never for my ex-wives, or my mother, or for my father. The reason authors almost always put a dedication on a book, Annie, is because their selfishness even horrifies themselves in the end.” I wouldn’t call it selfishness though in any case. If a writer is writing a book just for the sake of someone else, how can it be any good? I think an artist does their best work when they are doing it for themselves. Even if you are doing it with the intent of it being a gift, you are truly doing it for yourself in a lot of ways.
In the movie, we see that he is on a role writing, but we never feel that is saves him mentally, only that is saves him from being killed by Annie. In the end of the book, when he burns Misery’s Return, he tricks Annie and doesn’t burn it, just leads her to believe he has. He put the real manuscript under his bed. He truly feels that it is his best work, and when he escapes, he publishes the book. It of course is a success, partly due to the people being fascinated by the circumstances under which it was written.
In the movie he doesn’t save the manuscript and apparently really does burn it. In the end, he publishes some other book. We don’t know what it is about, but it seems to be a “real” book, not the romance trash that his Misery books were.
Some other random difference in regard to writing, in the movie and book the typewriter is missing an “n”. In the book, it later loses the “t”. Followed soon after by dropping the “e”! At this point, he switches to writing long hand.
The book also has sections of Misery’s Return, which I hadn’t expected but for the most part enjoyed. The way it is printed is also cool because it is in typewriter font, excpet for the n’s which are in a font that looks like handwriting. Then later the t’s are that way as well.
Paul says that he is Scheherazade, protecting himself against Annie. But near the end, a recurring line is, you are Scheherazade to yourself. She is from Arabian nights, a woman who knows she will be killed in the morning, so she tells a story and keeps the king interested enough that he keeps putting off her death. Then after she has told 1000 stories, she has no more, but at this point the king has decided to not kill her at all. Paul initially compares himself to her because it’s thanks to Annie wanting to finish Misery’s Return that she puts off killing him. But he comes to realize the story was saving himself too. Though he also says the book held him back, so maybe the book caused him to put off trying to escape. Double edge sword I guess?
In the movie, there is only one cop and that is Buster. In the book we never see the cops’ personal lives, but I like that the movie includes things from his perspective. Because the scenes with Paul and Annie are so heavy, it’s nice to see the banter of Buster and his wife and see how he is piecing things together. In the movie, he goes through old newspapers to learn about Annie’s past. In the book, everyone in town still fully remembered what she had been tried for and still distrusted her and avoided her.
A cop first appears at her house because she has forgotten to pay bills and they are putting a lien on her house. This is what Paul gives her the $400 for.
Later a second, young cop comes doing a routine check, asking about Paul. Annie is out doing yard work, so Paul sees him first from the window. Paul breaks open the window and yells. The cop sees him and looks down at the picture of Paul he is holding and realizes it’s him. However, Annie then appears holding a wooden stake she was going to put into the ground and attacks the man. He is lying in the ground, seemingly dead, but then he starts to crawl to get his gun. Annie is approaching, sitting on her lawn mower and Paul shouts to warn the man, but it is too late and he is brutally killed. When this happens it says, “Paul felt a terrible aching sympathy for this unnamed young man, but there was another emotion mixed with that. He examined it and was not much surprised to find it was envy. The trooper would never go home to his wife and kids, if he had had them, but on the other hand, he had escaped Annie Wilkes.”
After this, Annie goes to work cleaning up the mess and this is when she puts him in the basement. She tells him that she has no choice, and must kill him and then herself, but he convinces her to let him finish Misery’s Return, after which he accepts that they must die.
He tells her he just needs five more days, during which time two cops do come by asking about the trooper. They leave, and she tells Paul he needs to finish the book sooner, because next time they come back they will have a search warrant.
Also, news spreads of the missing trooper and word gets out somehow that Annie is one of the people he went to see. Annie starts getting visits not just by police, but also a local news anchor, as well as random people who drive by to shout at her, calling her “Dragon Lady”.
In the movie, Buster comes by the house because he suspects Annie. He is snooping around her house while she is in the kitchen but things seem normal. She put Paul in the basement and drugged him up so he would be quiet. When Buster walks out the door, Paul is awake enough to make stuff fall in the basement which Buster hears. He goes back inside, and hears Paul calling from the basement. He opens the door and he and Paul make eye contact, but then he is shot from behind by Annie.
The same thing happens, where she tells him she needs to kill him and herself, but he says to wait till dawn because by then the book will be done.
In the movie, one of the attempts to escape is by getting the Norvil and putting the powder in her wine. This doesn’t work though, because she tips over the wine. In the book this doesn’t happen, he thinks about it, but the pills are so bitter he says there’s no way she wouldn’t notice.
In the movie he also stops taking the Norvil. In the book he was addicted to the pills. Not only was the pain so bad he had to have them, but he also became a Norvil junkie. In the book and movie, he escapes the room and gets more pills. In the book, this was the whole reason for his escape out the room. She had just slammed his knee and was incredible pain. In the movie, he had stopped taking the pills, so I was confused why they included the scene of him stealing them. But I suppose he was stealing them so he would have more to use to try and drug her with.
In the book and movie, his escape plan is the same. Burning Misery’s Return (though in the book he doesn’t truly burn it), he planned on Annie being crazy enough to pick up the burning manuscript which she does and while bent down he hits her with the heavy typewriter.
In the book it is a bit more graphic, with how burned she gets from the fire.
In the movie, he army crawls out of the room and you think she is dead, then suddenly she grabs him again. In the movie she officially dies and falls on top of him. We don’t see him getting rescued, but it is assumed that someone will soon show up and save him.
In the book, she does make that surprising last grab, which he escapes. He is then able to shut the bedroom door on her and lock her in. He then locks himself in the bathroom where he gets more Novril and sort of knocks out due to the fatigue.
As he is in the bathroom, he is fearful that when he leaves the bathroom, he will see he alive, out there waiting to kill him. However, he makes his way into the living room. When out there, the two cops that had shown up earlier return and find him inside. This scene was so powerful in the book and it made me teary. The officer who finds him is names Wicks, but Paul thought of him and his partner as David and Goliath. Wicks, aka David, is the one to first find Paul and it reads, “Wicks paused for a moment, wanting to better express how it had been, the conflicting emotions he had felt— horror and pity and sorrow and disgust—most of all wonder that a man who looked this bad should still be alive. He could not find the words. ‘When he saw us, he started to cry,’ Wicks said, and finally added: ‘He kept calling me David. I don’t know why.’”
Paul tells him that Annie is in the locked bedroom and they go check, then come back and tell him the room is empty. From here we are taken into the future like six months. This section is great for multiple reasons, but one of which is because the reader is left to assume Annie is still alive somewhere out there! Near the very end though it is revealed that she was found dead out in the barn, with her hands holding a chainsaw which she intended to bring back into the house.
Prior to his plan of escape, he is realizing how at a certain point he stopped thinking of escaping. He recalls a conversation he had with a friend about Jewish people in Europe and why they didn’t leave when they could see things were getting bad. The friend replied that a lot of Jewish people had pianos and pianos are hard to move.
When the threat isn’t great enough, we find reasons to stay, reasons to not kick the addiction. These “pianos” that in the long run, don’t even matter and yet we make ourselves believe they do matter. Paul realizes that writing Misery’s Return was his piano.
There is a line about him putting off the idea of escape, reading, “…he had given up the idea of escape. Only for the time being, his troubled mind protested. No, a deeper voice responded implacably. Forever, Paul. Forever. “I will never give up,” he whispered. “Do you hear me? Never.” Oh no? the voice of the cynic whispered sardonically. Well . . . we’ll see, won’t we?”
This line is also very similar to the thoughts people have with addiction. Telling themselves they will never give up trying, yet that addicted voice in their head wants them to feel doubt.
In the movie, after he escapes, he is meeting with his agent when he sees a woman that resembles Annie, telling him she is his number one fan and it ends there.
In the book it also talks about how he will hallucinate Annie. It also says how since Misery’s Return, he hasn’t been able to write anything else. He also talks about how he missed Annie’s because she had the strong medicine, whereas the doctors here were making him take strong Advil. As he goes about his life, he says, “This is why no one ever writes it. It’s too.. dreary. She should have died after I stuffed her head full of blank paper and busted pages, and I should have died then…” I’m sure getting sober can at times seem boring compared to life in addiction, which is a rollercoaster ride, even when it is misery. Because that misery is such a powerful, intense emotion. Going from that intensity, to just daily life. Adjusting to the more mundane life is a challenge.
Then in the end, he recalls something he had seen when he was on a walk that intrigued him. This ends up spurring an idea for a story, for the first time since escaping Annie’s. Writing once again shows its magic as it says, “in gratitude and in terror, he [wrote]. The hole opened and Paul stared through at what was there, unaware that his fingers were picking up speed, unaware that his aching legs were…fifty blocks away, unaware that he was weeping as he wrote.” This was the second time the book made me cry. Such a touching, perfect, ending!
Some final things, in the movie he talks about a daughter, but in the book there is not mention of one. We also never see things from his agent’s perspective the way we do in the movie (played by the legendary Lauren Bacall).
In the book, it also mentions a hotel nearby called the Overlook, “It was a famous old hotel called the Overlook. It burned down ten years ago. The caretaker burned it down. He was crazy. Everybody in town said so. But never mind; he’s dead.” This is of course a reference to the Stephen King classic, The Shining (which I have yet to read!).
The movie also has the whole thing about how the penguin faces south. In the book, the ceramic penguin is frequently mentioned. However, what clued her into the fact that he had been out of the room was the scrapes his wheelchair made in the doorframe, not the penguin.
Stephen King loved Bates’s performance so much, he wrote Dolores Claiborne with her in mind, as well as a character in The Stand.
There was a Broadway version of Misery, which starred Bruce Willis as Paul, I think he seems like a great fit. Laurie Metcalf plays Annie and though she is a good actress, she is far too frail looking a woman to play Annie in my opinion.
In 1999, Stephen King was hit by a car and had to be in a wheelchair as he finished his book On Writing. Very reminiscent of Paul’s injury!
Book or Movie
There is a lot more I could go into, but I think I have covered all the big stuff.
Going into the movie, I was so excited to watch it. I expected that in the end, I would have a hard time picking a favorite. However, even though the movie is a great adaptation, I can easily say the book for sure wins. We just get such a deep look into Paul in a way only books can do. I also really liked how much the book was about writing and the power of it. The power of creativity and art in general really, but also about the writing process specifically.
I also love the ending of the book. When he is saved, but that last scene, when he starts writing a new book is just so beautiful an ending. Like I said, it is such an inspirational story. While also being gripping, gruesome, and gratifying.
This isn’t the last of Stephen King here at Why the Book Wins! I won’t cover It, or any of his other more scary books, but is suspense/thrillers I’ll cover. If any King fans out there have a recommendation, I will gladly hear it!