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10 Fascinating Stories Behind Stephen King’s Most Famous Books

Stephen King is one of the greatest novelists of all-time. Hear that? Of all-time. You can’t deride a man who has written not one, or two, or ten great novels, but countless works of literary brilliance spanning multiple decades – and he’s still putting out all the stops.

There are those who are quick to write off Stephen King as “non-literary,” but those people are just snobs (many of whom haven’t actually sat down to read a Stephen King novel). Truth is, Stephen King is popular for a reason – his power to grip and mesmerise and shock the reader renders him as a something akin to a modern day Charles Dickens. His novels are bold, dense and outright unparalleled in their sheer readability.

Still, one question that often occupies the mind of a Stephen King fan – given their sheer audacity or outright weirdness – is: “Where does he get his ideas?”

Whilst – as most writers will tell you – an idea for a novel can just spring up out of nowhere with no real context involved, many of Stephen King’s works have emerged as a result of specific incidents or events that happened to the author in person. Incidents and events that, in turn, lead to him writing some of his most famous books

10. Cujo Was Inspired By A St. Bernard That Went For King

Warner Bros.

Stephen King’s Cujo tells the story of a once-friendly neighbourhood dog who disappears down a hole one day and comes back wrong. Cujo, the St. Bernard of the title, is made rabid from a bat bite, and winds up on a mission to kill an innocent pair who find themselves trapped in a car as the terrifying beast lingers outside, waiting to strike.

How did King end up writing a story like this, then? What inspired the tale of Cujo?

Essentially, it was King’s own experience with an unfriendly pooch back in 1977. King took his motorcycle out to the sticks in Bridgton, Maine, in order for it to be fixed. As he approached the barn, a St. Bernard emerged from the barn and proceeded to square u to the nervous author. The dog was then followed by the bike mechanic – who – in King’s own words – looked “almost like one of those guys out of Deliverance.” Creepy, right?

The guy informed King that the dog wouldn’t bite him, so King tried to be amicable and stroke the mutt – who proceeded to growl at him. “Gonzo never done that before,” commented the the confused hillbilly mechanic. “I guess he don’t like your face.”

Out of this scenario, Cujo was born; the incident inspired King to write about a blood-thirsty dog in what he perceived to be the ultimate ABC “movie of the week,” but as a novel.

9. Pet Sematary Was Inspired By A Real Pet Sematary Near Stephen King’s House

Paramount Pictures

Pet Sematary tells the haunting, macabre story about a man named Louis Creed who uses the power of an ancient burial ground to revive his deceased son, Gage, after he’s run over and killed by a truck. Gage comes back to life, but something about him has changed… for the worst. In the book, of course, the burial ground has long been used as the “Pet Sematary” of the novel’s title – a place where children bury their pets after they’ve died.

It’s a dark and complex novel with a gripping plot – one that Stephen King was inspired to write when he found himself in a situation similar to that of the book’s premise.

Which is to say, the scenario is reminiscent of a period in the author’s life in which he was living in Orrington, Maine as a university teacher – and next to a busy road that would often claim the lives of the neighbourhood pets. As a result (and just like in the book), the local kids built a Pet Sematary of their own in a field close to where King’s house was located.

Here’s where the parallels with the book grow really strong. King’s daughter’s cat, Smucky, was killed on the road, and she buried it in the Pet Sematary thereafter. This incident is echoed in the novel when Gage’s cat, Church, is killed in the same way and later buried in the Pet Sematary. Then there’s the big event that influence King – his son Owen was nearly killed running towards the busy road, which later influenced the idea of Gage’s death.

Essentially, Pet Sematary was King framing incidents in his own life as a horror novel, but it’s amazing to see how much of the book happened (or almost happened) in real life.

8. Misery Came To King In A Doze After He Read A Short Story About Charles Dickens By Evelyn Waugh

Columbia Pictures

Charles Dickens. Evelyn Waugh. Stephen King.

It took three generations of writers to bring one of Stephen King’s most acclaimed novels to the page – one that sees famous author Paul Sheldon rescued from a car crash and kidnapped by the terrifying Annie Wilkes, his self-declared “Number One Fan.” When Paul announces to Annie that he’s decided to put his acclaimed “Misery Chastain” series to bed, she holds him hostage and violently forces him to write another Misery novel.

Stephen King fever was at its height in 1987, so you could be forgiven for thinking that King pulled the story out of his own experiences with crazy fans.

But you’d be wrong: Misery was actually inspired by the short story “The Man Who Loved Dickens” by Evelyn Waugh. King read the story on a transatlantic flight to London, and it came to him in the form of a half-dream. “Waugh’s story was about a man in South America held prisoner by a chief who falls in love with the stories of Charles Dickens and makes the man read them to him,” he said. “I wondered what it would be like if Dickens himself was held captive.” This proved to be the germ of an idea that ultimately led to all that is Misery.

7. A Broken Down Car & An Old Wooden Bridge Inspired King To Write It

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It is often thought to be one of King’s definitive works – a great, epic novel made up of countless characters and spanning decades. Who’d have thought that such a major novel could have been inspired by a broken down car and a walk at dusk over a rickety bridge?

If you’ve read It, you’ll know that it tells the story of seven friends whose lives are influenced by a strange, shape-shifting monster that has plagued them ever since childhood; a horrific manifestation of evil that lurks in the sewers beneath their small town with the ability to transform itself into their worst fears – mostly famously a clown named Pennywise.

The story came to King in a pretty strange and unexpected way. After his car broke down one night in the summer of 1978, three days later the author decided to walk to the motor dealership to pick up his vehicle, opting at the last minute not to take a cab. The walk was three miles and the destination was on the outskirts of the town where King lived at the time in Boulder, Colorado. As he walked through empty fields, dusk set in, and the author became very aware – and somewhat creeped out – by just how alone he was.

Then he crossed an old wooden bridge, and a thought struck him. “I thought of the fairy tale called The Three Billy-Goats Gruff and wondered what I would do if a troll called out from beneath me,” King said of the experience. “‘Who is trip-trapping upon my bridge?'”

He didn’t act on this thought instantly, but subconsciously retained the idea. Two years later, King once again recalled the troll under the bridge incident, and began to run with it. He wanted to write about Bangor, Maine, and its canals, and decided that the bridge of that experience could represent the city, and the sewers below could serve as the troll’s home.

More time passed, but King continued to think on the premise – Bangor as the bridge; the sewers as the place where the troll might lurk. Eventually, the idea – combined with King’s wish to write something about his experiences as a child living in Connecticut – connected and It was born.

6. Thinner Was Inspired By A Doctor Telling King He Was Entering “Heart Attack Country”

Paramount Pictures

Originally published under Stephen King’s “Richard Bachman” namesake, Thinner tells the terrifying story of an overweight man named Billy Halleck who – through an unfortunate incident – winds up being cursed by a gypsy. The curse? Halleck won’t stop losing weight until the spell has been lifted – and time is running out, as he grows thinner and thinner…

Thinner sounds like a bit of a joke on paper, but in King’s capable hands (or Richard Bachman’s capable hands, perhaps?), the novella is a truly harrowing experience.

It’s not surprising that the book came about after the author himself was instructed by a doctor to lose weight and quite smoking – something that King found incredibly difficult to do, likening it to losing part of himself. “I used to weigh 236 pounds, and I smoked heavily.” King tells it. “I went to see the doctor and he told me: ‘Listen, man, your triglycerides are really high. In case you haven’t noticed it, you’ve entered heart attack country.'”

An angry King obeyed the doctor’s orders, but the process of becoming “thinner” made him inherently uncomfortable. He began to ponder what would happen if a person started to lose weight and just couldn’t stop – if they got thinner and thinner no matter what. This run-in with the doctor might have unnerved King, but it resulted in an undeniably chilling book.

5. A Drive Through A Desolate Nevada Town Inspired King To Write Desperation

Touchstone Television

Writing about where his ideas come from, Stephen King once explained: “Stories come at different times and places for me – in the car, in the shower, while walking, even while standing around at parties.” True to his word, here’s a book that came to him in the car.

Desperation tells the strange and twisted story of a town named Desperation, Nevada, which is located – approximately – “out in the middle of nowhere.” After a mining incident goes array, a scary creature known only as “Tak” infiltrates the community by way of an inter-dimensional portal and uses its special ability to take the forms of its residents.

Stephen King was inspired to write the novel when he took a drive through Nevada in his daughter’s car. As he passed through a backwater town called “Ruth,” it appeared to King as though it had been abandoned. Suddenly, his imagination kicked into gear, inspired by the perceived desolation. “They’re all dead,” he thought, followed by: “Who killed them?”

For no clear reason, a voice in Stephen King’s head replied: “The sheriff killed them all.”

The sheriff being the murderer plays into the opening of King’s book, of course, in which a deranged law enforcer named Collie Entragian – possessed by Tak – abducts all visitors. This story is made more interesting because it shows King’s mind at work; thinking up a novel isn’t always a neat process, but one that comes in strange, unexpected bursts.

4. The Shining Was Inspired By King’s Stay In A Creepy Old Hotel (And A Nightmare About His Son)

Warner Bros.

The Shining is probably Stephen King’s most famous novel – the one that everybody thinks about whenever the author’s name is mentioned, presumably because it is one of his most outstanding literary achievements and as a result of the wildly popular film adaptation courtesy of the legendary Stanley Kubrick (a film that King himself admits to hating).

The Shining essentially tells the story of a writer named Jack Torrance, who accepts a job as the caretaker of a remote, mountain-based hotel for the winter (the ominous Overlook) so that he can concentrate on his next book. He brings his wife, Wendy, and his son, Danny, but soon enough strange things start to happen. The hotel – haunted by evil spirits – tries to take hold of Jack and sends him mad; as a result, he tries to murder his family.

How did King think up the plot of The Shining, then? Well, sometimes it’s just a matter of staying in a creepy old hotel, which is exactly what happened to the author.

In 1974, King and his wife Tabby spent a night at a “grand old hotel” in Estes Park called The Stanley, and given that the winter was approaching they were the only guests there. The strange emptiness of the place – and the barren corridors – led King to believe that the hotel was the perfect location for a horror story. That night, he had a nightmare that his son was being attacked by a fire-hose and awoke in a cold sweat, almost falling out of bed.

3. Stephen King Wrote Lisey’s Story After Imagining What Would Happen If He Died

Scribner

Lisey’s Story feels like one of Stephen King’s most personal novels… which makes a lot of sense when you consider that he wrote the thing as a way of probing his own mortality.

The story concerns one Lisey Landon, who – two years after the death of her husband, famous novelist Scott Landon – decides to clean out his office. Soon enough, Lisey finds herself caught in a dangerous situation when a mysterious stranger contacts her and demands that she gives over all of Scott’s papers and files… or there will be trouble.

The seeds of Lisey’s Story actually came about in a really interesting – and incredibly sombre – way. After King spent a period of time in hospital with pneumonia, his home study was cleared out so that it could be redecorated in his absence. When he came back to his house, he saw that many of his possessions were still packed into boxes, and a thought struck him: this is what this room would like if I had died.

This rather sad thought set the premise for the book, in which a famous author – somebody with the weight of Stephen King’s legacy – dies and his wife is left to go through his stuff. It’s a clever idea, and one that obviously resonated with King on a fiercely personal level, given that he often claims that his favourite of all his books is, in fact, Lisey’s Story.

 

2. The Mist Was Inspired By A Freak Thunderstorm & A Visit To The Supermarket

Dimension Films

The Mist has earned a reputation for being one of the many great Stephen King film adaptations, made more famous for the horribly bleak ending poised at the end of Frank Darabont’s movie. The book is an awesome work in its own right, though, and one that came to King as he experienced some of the events of the story in real life. Really.

The premise of The Mist hinges on a freak thunderstorm that unleashes a strange mist over a small-town in Bridgton, Maine, which offers up zero visibility for all its inhabitants. As a result, a ragtag group – two of which are father and son David and Billy Drayton – find themselves cut off in a supermarket, unable to leave, only to discover that the mist contains a number of grotesque monsters hellbent on murdering them.

So what happened to King to inspire such a plot? Well, pretty much everything except for the part with the monsters, really. One night, King found himself astonished by a particularly aggressive thunderstorm that felt apocalyptic in its magnitude. The next day, King visited the supermarket with his son and had a vision of what he called a “big prehistoric flying reptile” flying around the story, which inspired the monster aspects behind The Mist.

No clue why King was thinking about prehistoric flying reptiles, but who are we to argue?

1. CBS Footage Of Test Mice Convulsing & Dying Inspired King To Write The Stand

Doubleday

Tell a fan that you’re only ever going to read one Stephen King novel, and The Stand is the book that they’d mostly likely tell you to take up. It’s arguably King’s magnus opus; in scope, only The Dark Tower comes close to matching its sheer ambition and magnitude. Not only that, but it is definitively King in every way; the all-American characters caught up in a situation they can’t control, the desolate landscapes, the vague, shape-shifting villain…

The plot sees a devastated United States in which 99% percent of the population have been wiped out by a deadly virus known as “Captain Tripps.” The survivors, immune to the virus, must band together to make their final stand as they set out across the barren country towards an inevitable confrontation with a terrifying embodiment of evil.

So where did King get the idea for The Stand, with its premise that begins with a virus escaping a secret lab and dooming society? Well, from an episode of CBS’s 60 Minutes.

That’s right: sitting down one evening to the TV, King watched a special on chemical warfare and it sparked his imagination. “I never forgot the gruesome footage of the test mice shuddering, convulsing, and dying, all in twenty seconds or less,” he said. That got me remembering a chemical spill in Utah that killed a bunch of sheep. These were canisters on their way to some burial ground; they fell off the truck and ruptured.”

The Stand was also written to be an epic in line with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, albeit set in the modern world with Las Vegas standing in for the land of Mordor. You gotta hand it to King; the man really knows how to combine influences like a total pro.

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