One of King's greatest works, The Shining, emerged from a dream he had in a snowy hotel in the mountains. A lesser-known piece was inspired by Denis Rader, one of America's most notorious serial killers. To find out who inspired Misery's obsessive Annie Wilkes and which real St. Bernard led to Cujo, read on.
Stand By Me Was Based on King's Childhood
The film Stand By Me was based on King's short story The Body, about a ragtag group of kids who find a body in the woods.
King and his brother were raised by a single mother who, when King was 11, moved to Maine to be closer to her family, who could help with the kids. There, King attended a one-room school with only four other classmates. These kids became the characters in The Body.
King also recounts an event that occurred when he was 4-years-old; his friend was struck by a car. He does not remember the incident at all, but does remember his mother telling him about that day.
"For along time I thought that I would love to be able to find a string to put on a lot of the childhood experiences that I remember – a lot of them were funny and some of them were kind of sad – and the people that I’d known and some of the guys that I hung out with that really weren't headed anywhere except down blind alleys. Nothing came and nothing came, and what you do when nothing comes is, you don’t push. You just put it aside… The most important things are the hardest to say. You can’t talk about them because once you start, they tarnish.”
Misery's Annie Wilkes Was Inspired by Drugs
In Misery, an author is kidnapped by deranged superfan Annie Wilkes, who forces him to rewrite his novel the way she sees fit. King based Annie, masterfully portrayed by Kathy Bates in the subsequent film, on his own drug problems. "Annie was my drug problem, and she was my number-one fan. God, she never wanted to leave," he said.
The novel was also inspired by the Evelyn Waugh story The Man Who Loved Dickens. In the Waugh's tale, a man holds another man captive and forces him to read Charles Dickens aloud. King said he pondered what it would be like if the man had managed to capture Dickens himself.
Annie Wilkes, nurse by trade, and is suspected of murdering several children under her care. This aspect of her origin story is based on Genene Jones, a former nurse who is believed to have killed as many as 46 children. She would poison them, then try to rescue them to receive praise. Her rescue efforts were not always successful.
The Shining Was Based on a Real Hotel
The Shining, arguably one of King's best works, concerns a family that agrees to be caretakers of a hotel in the Colorado mountains over the winter. They're snowed in, trapped in the gorgeous old building. Which is, of course, haunted.
The Overlook Hotel of The Shining is actually The Stanley Hotel in Colorado. In October of 1974, King and his wife stayed in Room 217 of the Stanley, a room rumored to be haunted. As King slept, he dreamed of his young son being chased around the hotel by a fire-hose.
"I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind."
The Stanley Hotel embraces its immortal spookiness, and is now home to an annual horror festival.
The Inspiration for It Came from a Bridge
It, the story of a sewer-dwelling clown/spider/beast that terrorizes a group of children and then haunts them again as adults, cemented a lifelong fear of clowns in many kids who caught a peek of Tim Curry's portrayal of Pennywise the Clown in the film.
King got part of the idea for the novel when his car broke down one summer day in 1978. He took the car to the shop and, when it was fixed, walked three miles back to the mechanic to pick it up. King's route took him across and old wooden bridge, which caused him to remember an old fairytale about three goats encountering a troll who lived beneath a bridge. Somehow, this fairytale sparked in King the structural device of It.
King was also inspired by the local sewer system of Bangor, Maine, the town in which he was living.
"Somebody told me apparently you can put a canoe down into the sewers just over across from here at the Westgate Mall and you can come out by the Mount Hope cemetery at the other end of town. This same guy told me that the Bangor sewer system was built during the WPA and they lost track of what they were building under there. They had money from the federal government for sewers, so they built like crazy. A lot of the blueprints have now been lost and it’s easy to get lost down there. I decided I wanted to put all that into a book and eventually I did. Bangor became Derry."
The idea of a killer clown is also rooted in truth. Serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who murdered 30 young men and boys in the Chicago area in the 70s, performed at children's parties as Pogo the Clown.