Misery by Stephen King is a book that can only come out of the mind of a successful author. I’m not talking about the talent to write a book like this. I’m talking about the concept. It’s like Creedence Clearwater Revival singing “Travelin’ Band.” You can’t articulate the pressures success until you’ve been there. So this novel speaks to the reaction all successful authors, or artists, must have to their fans at one time or another. As a self confessed King devotee, I would nerd-out if I ever got the chance to stand in the shadow of his greatness. And it would be comments like that, which would get me escorted from the premises.
This level of obsession goes both ways though. As an aspiring author, I would love that level of attention (yes I want to be stalked), but I also want my privacy and safety. And this is where we find Paul Sheldon, the fictional author and survivor of this story. He has got the attention cranked up to eleven, but privacy and safety have fallen into a snow bank.
But is Annie Wilkes, Sheldon’s devotee, really to blame? If we look at the big picture her obsession saves his life and gives him fuel for his next best seller, the real best seller that he always wanted to write. All it cost him was his sanity and a bit of pain (I would gladly endure both for that best seller).
From an objective level, Annie Wilkes is the ultimate motivation tool. She manipulates him into writing the book that she wants. If he doesn’t write it he’s dead. Also, when he completes it he’s dead. This dichotomy reflects what all of us who love a particular series of books really want. We want a compelling story, and we don’t want it to end… ever. Annie personifies this desire and since the book, the book she produced, is burned before she can read it this also leads us to something else. It is nearly impossible to end a series and make everyone happy. I’ve read a few that have handled it well, The Wheel of Time, Crown of Stars, The Lord of the Rings. But there are many others, others I will not name, that made me want to track the author down and explain what they did wrong. At the end of Misery, we can infer that when Annie reads Sheldon’s new ending it will enrage her and she’ll kill him. Then the next step would be for Annie to take over and keep writing the novels in his place. I believe this was where the novel would end had Sheldon not acted. I know she says that she’ll kill them both because of her fear of being discovered, but based on her past I don’t see suicide in her character. She’s a survivor… well, almost.
So is Annie guilty of loving a story that her, and people like her, helped create? Is she guilty of being in the right place and time to actually make a change? Under the circumstances, I can empathize with what she did. Sheldon is the one who created the fire. Even if she fanned the flames, he lit the match.
And this leads us back to Stephen King. I believe it’s safe to assume that this novel of a fan taking control of an artist’s work reflects his own fears of being at the mercy of an audience who actually controls his livelihood. Our obsession makes his life possible. If he looses us then he’s just some broke, unemployed guy who sits at his computer all day.