First edition cover
|September 24, 1996|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Desperation is a horror novel by Stephen King. It was published in 1996 at the same time as its "mirror" novel, The Regulators. It was made into a TV film starring Ron Perlman, Tom Skeritt and Steven Weber in 2006. The two novels represent parallel universes relative to one another, and most of the characters present in one novel's world also exist in the other novel's reality, albeit in different circumstances.
Desperation is a story about several people who, while traveling along the desolated Highway 50 in Nevada, get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the fictional mining town of Desperation. Entragian uses various pretexts for the abductions, from an arrest for drug possession to "rescuing" a family from a nonexistent gunman. It becomes clear to the captives that Entragian has been possessed by an evil being named Tak, who has control over the surrounding desert wildlife and must change hosts to keep itself alive. They begin to fight for their freedom, sanity and lives before realizing that if they are ever to escape Desperation, they must trap Tak in the place from where he came.
The novel begins with Peter and Mary Jackson, a couple driving cross-country in Peter's sister's car after visiting their friends the Sodersons. Collie Entragian pulls over the Jacksons on the pretext of their missing rear license plate and arrests them for possession of marijuana after finding a baggie in the car trunk. Once they arrive at the Desperation Municipal Building where the holding cells are kept, Entragian shoots Peter in the stomach several times and leaves his body in the doorway before dragging Mary over a dead girl's body and up the stairs to jail.
Once thrown in jail, Mary meets the Carver family, Ralph, Ellen and their son David, who tell Mary that the girl on the stairs was their daughter Kirsten; Entragian pushed her down the stairs once the family arrived at the police station, breaking her neck. The other captive in the cells is Tom Billingsley, the town veterinarian and former councilman. Billingsley witnessed Entragian systematically murder almost every other person in the town of Desperation.
On the outskirts of town Johnny Edward Marinville, an aging author riding cross country on his motorcycle gathering material for a new book (a direct reference to King's own motorcycle trip) with his assistant Steve, comes to the attention of Entragian. Entragian plants the drug baggie found in Peter and Mary's car in one of his bike bags and bundles him into the patrol car. While Entragian is burying his bike, Johnny manages to get a call through to Steve on his cell phone; however, due to the bad transmission, he is unable to tell him to call the state police. Steve senses that his boss is in trouble and his female hitchhiker, Cynthia, agrees that they need to locate Johnny and find out what has happened.
Entragian throws Johnny in a cell in the Municipal Building before leaving all the captives. Johnny tells the others that Entragian is bleeding both internally and externally, leading the group to conclude that something is very wrong with him. However, Entragian returns before the conversation can get much further, taking Ellen away in the patrol car and leaving a coyote to stand guard on the captives.
David receives a message from God and realizes that they need to escape from their cells before Entragian returns; after using a bar of soap and killing the coyote guard, he is able to free the others. It is revealed that David Carver has an ability to communicate with and receive guidance from God after a miracle involving his best friend, Brian, and a horrible accident. Upon some advice from Tom, the group arm themselves with weapons from the Municipal Building and decide to hide out in Desperation's abandoned theater. David uses Johnny's cell phone to call Steve and Cynthia, who are now inside of Desperation, and inform them of their plans; the two agree to leave Steve's truck and meet up with the others at the theater. Entragian returns to the Municipal Building in Ellen's body to discover that the captives have escaped, and promptly sends out creatures to determine where they are hiding.
Once holed up in the theater, the group begins to discuss their options; Steve and Cynthia had stumbled across another survivor, Audrey Wyler, who begins to tell the group about how the Desperation Mining Corporation had recently accidentally uncovered the China Pit (an old mining shaft). The survivors' first inclination is to escape Desperation, until David reveals that it is God's will that they confront Entragian and seal him in the China Pit again; the group begins to argue amongst themselves about whether they should stay or go. Tom leaves the group, and is soon attacked by a desert beast being commanded by Entragian; the rest of the group, except for Audrey and David, rush to his rescue and kill the beast, but Tom bleeds out from his wounds. While the others were distracted, David hid in a rear room of the theater to pray to God and ask for help. Audrey comes across David while he is in a prayer trance and attempts to strangle him. Steve and Cynthia burst into the room and separate Audrey from David, revealing that Audrey is being controlled by Entragian through the use of can-tahs (bewitched stone animal figures). While the group is busy checking on David and watching Audrey's body disintegrate, a possessed Ellen grabs Mary and takes her to the mining pit.
No longer feeling safe in the theater, the survivors move to Steve's truck to try to determine what they should do. David explains the visions that he had while in his prayer trance, and the group comes to understand that Entragian is possessed by an ancient evil, a supernatural entity that calls itself Tak, which had been imprisoned in the China Pit mineshaft until the Desperation Mining Corporation unearthed it. Tak has the ability to control the local desert wildlife, such as buzzards, snakes, spiders, scorpions, and coyotes, and can also take more direct control of human hosts, though such manifestation causes rapid deterioration of the host's body. As such, Tak needs to frequently find new hosts to inhabit in order to travel outside the ini, a well located in an underground chamber that serves as Tak's entryway into this world. After discussion, David, Johnny, Ralph, Cynthia and Steve decide to go to the mining pit to both rescue Mary and seal Tak inside the mining shaft.
Meanwhile, Mary has escaped from the shed where she was being held and begins to run out of the mining pit, the possessed Ellen giving chase. Ellen's body disintegrates before Tak can catch Mary, and is forced to possess a nearby golden eagle. The group arrive in time to help Mary inside, and gather some ANFO explosive to blow up the China Pit. Tak lies in wait at the China Pit entrance for the group to enter, managing to kill Ralph Carver in front of his son before the group manages to kill the golden eagle he is possessing. Johnny prevents the rest of the group from going forward, and proceeds to blow up the ini with the ANFO, sacrificing himself in order to seal Tak in the China Pit.
David, Mary, Steve and Cynthia evacuate the pit as the explosion goes off, and begin to leave the town of Desperation. Before leaving, they stop to collect Mary's car; while in it, David finds in his pocket the hall pass from his previous "deal with God" with a message from Johnny written on it.
- Mary Jackson; poet and wife of Peter Jackson.
- Peter Jackson; English professor and husband of Mary Jackson.
- Collie Entragian; former police officer in Desperation, now the third host of Tak but first one introduced in the novel.
- Kirsten Carver; daughter of Ralph and Ellen Carver, 7-year-old sister of David Carver, who calls her 'Pie'.
- David Carver; son of Ralph and Ellen Carver, 12-year-old brother of Kirsten Carver. Has a close relationship with God that reveals itself throughout the novel.
- Ralph Carver; husband of Ellen Carver and father of David and Kirsten Carver.
- Ellen Carver; wife of Ralph Carver and mother of David and Kirsten Carver. Becomes Tak's fourth host.
- Tom Billingsley; retired town veterinarian, former town councilman and alcoholic.
- John Edward Marinville; author acclaimed for his novel "Desire," now an old washed-up has been traveling the country on a motorcycle.
- Steve Ames; Johnny's assistant, following him across the country in a truck.
- Cynthia Smith; a hitchhiker picked up by Steve on Highway 50.
- Brian Ross; David Carver's best friend. David made a deal with God so that Brian would come out of his coma after being hit by a drunk driver.
- Cary Ripton; pit-foreman of the mining pit and Tak's first host.
- Brad Josephson; receptionist for Desperation Mining Corporation and Tak's second host.
Writing and release
Stephen King was inspired to write Desperation as a result of a cross-country drive in 1991, during which he visited the small desert community of Ruth, Nevada, near U.S. 50. His first thought was that the town's inhabitants were all dead. He then wondered who had killed them, and the idea occurred to him that the town's sheriff had done so. Desperation was released simultaneously with the novel The Regulators (published by King under the name Richard Bachman).
Connections to other King works
- Audrey Wyler tells a story about owning a rifle that is identical to a story told by George Barton Dawes in Roadwork, another story by Stephen King (under the pseudonym Richard Bachman). In Desperation, Audrey says, "The year I was twelve, my old man gave me a .22. The first thing I did was to go outside our house in Sedilia and shoot a jay. When I went over to it, it was still alive, too. It was trembling all over, staring straight ahead, and its beak was opening and closing, very slowly." In Roadwork, Dawes is thinking about a .22 single-shot rifle he had as a boy. "He had wanted that rifle for three years and when he finally got it he couldn't think of anything to do with it. He shot at cans for a while, then shot a blue jay. The jay hadn't been a clean kill. It sat in the snow surrounded by a pink blood stain, its beak slowly opening and closing." In both stories, the gun and the bird are identical, as is the detail about the beak's "opening and closing" slowly.
- Audrey Wyler's story is also similar to an event in Apt Pupil where antagonist Todd Boden sees an injured blue jay on the ground whilst cycling, and again there is a reference the beak "opening and closing" slowly.
- In the novel, Ellen Carver mentions reading the paperback Misery in Paradise (presumably by Paul Sheldon, the main character in Misery).
- The character Cynthia Smith was one of the "almost" victims of the lunatic Norman Daniels in King's novel Rose Madder.
- Cynthia Smith, the drifter who gets mixed up in the events of the novel after being picked up by Steve Ames, was a resident of the shelter Daughters and Sisters from Rose Madder. She mentions sustaining a broken nose in Norman's crazed attack. There is also mention of 'a baleful rose-madder glint' in the eyes of a horse drawn on the wall of the movie theatre in which the group takes shelter.
- Tommyknockers are mentioned during Tom Billingsly's China Pit story.
- In the film, a vision of David's shows the words "redrum dog" (reversed to: murder god) painted in red upon the wall. This is a reference to The Shining.
- Toward the end of the film, John Marinville experiences a flashback to an incident in Saigon in which he fled from a bomber, and he realizes that Tak had been in the bomber. Following the revelation, he describes Tak as "It," with a very strong emphasis on the word. This is a reference to the Stephen King novel IT, which features an antagonist (Pennywise) possessing very similar abilities to Tak and having a similar "true form".
- Steve mentions that he lived and has family in Arnette TX, which is ground zero for "the super flu" from The Stand.
- When Steve and Cynthia first find the small wolf statue there was a note written by Dale 'Barbie' Barbara to Jim next to it. Both characters are featured in Under the Dome. The note read: "Jim--What the hell is this? Any idea? Barbie." Under the Dome wasn't published until years after Desperation was.
- The term can-toi (that is, 'little god', and can-tak meaning big god) is used in the Dark Tower series to describe the Low Men in Yellow Coats, which are strange animal-human hybrids.
- In the Dark Tower short story "The Little Sisters of Eluria", the vampiric Sisters speak to each other in a language Roland does not recognize. All he can make out is "can de lach, mi him en tow", phrases from Desperation.
- Cynthia Smith is a minor character in King's novel Rose Madder and makes some references to its plot.
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- Blurbs concerning the book.