Misery = Child

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The most frightening image in Stephen King's Misery?  It wasn't Paul Sheldon's hobbling or the murder of the young cop (spearing him first, then running over his face with a lawn mower).  It wasn't Annie's mutilation of her own face.

 

The most frightening image was when Paul watched as his manuscript, the long overdue Fast Cars, was destroyed.  The desecration of this art was more horrifying than anything else that occurred.

 

This year when I taught Guy de Maupassant's "The Head of Hair" to my 11th graders, a few classes wanted to talk about how someone could write something like that.  They wanted to know if Maupassant was deranged.  We then had a discussion about why someone would write a horror story if they themselves weren't horrific.  I explained that telling stories (any story, not just a horror story) was like sitting around with friends telling ghost stories or talking about the crazy thing that happened in class.  I told my kids that writers just write to entertain other people.  Writers can write about something without it having anything to do with them or their own life.

 

Well, I didn't quite tell the truth.  Every writer - and I mean every writer - puts pieces of herself in what she writes.  The writer's hopes, dreams and fears are all played out on the page.  In Misery, King puts his own fears on paper.

 

Some (like my husband), might argue that King writes of one of Freud's uncanny tropes.  They (Matt, particularly) would say that King's writing is about his fear of castration (since as Freud states, the fear of losing limbs is a repressed fear of losing your "member").  However, I argue that this is not true. 

 

King's fear is one that Freud did not discuss in "The Uncanny."  His fear is the fear of the death of his creation.  This fear is similar (and one could argue the same) as the fear a parent has of losing a child.  It is hard to imagine something worse than the loss of something into which you've poured your heart and soul.

 

On page 26, we see Paul tormented over Fast Cars.  He thinks, "...he didn't even make a copy until the second draft was done.  The manuscript copy of Fast Cars which was now in Annie Wilkes's possession was, in fact, the only existing copy in the whole world.  He had even burned his notes.  Two years of hard work, she didn't like it, and she was crazy" (King).

 

King devotes many pages to the horror surrounding the burning of Paul's manuscript.  And, when it's done, when the book is charred curls of paper, he thinks the same thing a parent might think upon the death of a child.  He thinks, "I'm going to kill her" (King 44).

 

The horror in Misery isn't the brutality inflicted upon Paul's body by Annie.  The horror in the novel is the fear of losing what the author loves most.

2 Comments

Jared Vickery said:

I like this. The idea of mother, child, and caregiver reak through this work. Good comment

Mike Arnzen said:

Excellent response. Thanks, too, for including the anecdote about your teaching of the 'deranged' deMauppasant! :-)

I like your impulse, too, to show how the book's themes transcend the 'uncanny' anxieties of castration. And I don't disagree. But here's a question to consider: do writers really "create" a book, like birthing a "child" or is this popular metaphor (which is used so often any more we no longer question it) reproducing a fantasy that treats a piece of writing like a living breathing thing...an autonomous living thing made of dead tree...e.g., an uncanny text? Perhaps the labor pains and pleasures of rearing a book are apt analogs for what we go through as writers...but the book is just a book. King's fiction might be representing the book as a 'child' born of Sheldon's relationship to Annie Wilkes (and, if Berkencamp is right, between the 'constant reader' and King himself). Worth considering these metaphors and how they operate.

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