First edition cover
|Cover artist||Rob Wood|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
Needful Things is a 1991 horror novel by American author Stephen King. It is the first novel King wrote after his rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol. According to the cover, it is "The Last Castle Rock Story". However, the town later serves as the setting for the short story "It Grows on You", published in King's 1993 collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes which, according to King, serves as an epilogue to Needful Things. It was made into a film of the same name in 1993 which was directed by Fraser C. Heston.
A new shop named "Needful Things" opens in the town of Castle Rock, Maine, sparking the curiosity of its citizens. The proprietor, Leland Gaunt, is a charming elderly gentleman who always seems to have an item in stock that is perfectly suited to any customer who comes through his door. The prices are surprisingly low, considering the merchandise - such as a rare Sandy Koufax baseball card, a carnival glass lampshade, and a fragment of wood believed to be from Noah's Ark - but he expects each customer to also play a little prank on someone else in Castle Rock. Gaunt knows about the long-standing private grudges, arguments, and feuds between the various townspeople, and the pranks are his means of forcing them to escalate until the whole town is eventually caught up in madness and violence.
Sheriff Alan Pangborn becomes wary of Gaunt as soon as the shop opens. However, his lover, Polly Chalmers, dismisses his suspicions and buys an ancient charm that relieves the arthritis pain in her hands. Tensions rapidly grow after Nettie Cobb, Polly's housekeeper, and her enemy Wilma Jerzyck kill each other in a confrontation sparked by pranks played on them by others. Many other rivalries begin to fester, spurred by the personal motives of the people involved (drugs, secret pedophilia, bad business dealings, religious disagreements, etc.).
Gaunt eventually hires petty criminal John "Ace" Merrill as his assistant, providing him with high-quality cocaine and hinting at buried treasure that could relieve the debt he owes to a pair of drug dealers. Ace's first assignment is to retrieve crates of pistols, ammunition, and blasting caps from a garage in Boston; Gaunt soon begins to sell the pistols to his customers so they can protect their property. He has traveled the world for centuries, selling useless junk that appears to be whatever the customers desire most. They become so paranoid about keeping their items safe that they eagerly buy up the weapons that he inevitably offers and trade away their souls. Ace begins to suspect the supernatural background of his new employer, but Gaunt keeps him in line through intimidation and promises of revenge against Alan and the town.
With the violence in Castle Rock rapidly escalating, Ace and the town's head selectman Danforth "Buster" Keeton (who has embezzled thousands of dollars from public funds) plant dynamite all over town, using the caps Ace brought back. Alan sets out to kill Ace, wrongly believing him to be responsible for a car accident that killed his wife and son, and Polly realizes the evil of the charm she bought and destroys it. As the dynamite bombs explode and Keeton is killed, Ace takes Polly hostage and demands that Alan hand over a hoard of cash he allegedly stole from one of the sites Ace dug up. One of Alan's deputies kills Ace, leaving Alan to face off against Gaunt.
Using sleight of hand and magic novelties that suddenly come to life, Alan forces Gaunt back and grabs his valise, which contains the souls of his customers. Gaunt flees the scene, his car turning into a horse-drawn wagon as he becomes a hunchbacked dwarf, and the survivors are left to ponder an uncertain future.
The novel ends as it begins, with a first-person narrative indicating that a new and mysterious shop is about to open in a small Iowa town - an implication that Gaunt is ready to begin his business cycle all over again.
- Brian Rusk: The boy who is the first customer in the store called Needful Things.
- Leland Gaunt: Presumably a demon in human form, who has spent centuries traveling about the world and tricking people into selling their souls to him, usually in exchange for useless objects disguised as the things they want most.
- Alan Pangborn: the Sheriff of Castle Rock and the main protagonist.
- Patricia "Polly" Chalmers: known as the town's most eccentric woman, Polly was originally a Castle Rock native who became an "out-of-towner" after living in San Francisco for years before returning.
- Norris Ridgewick: one of the town's deputies and Sheriff Pangborn's closest ally.
- John "Ace" Merrill: the town's resident "bad boy" and petty criminal.
- Danforth "Buster" Keeton: the town's head selectman, who often used the authority of his office to intimidate others.
- Wilma Jerzyck: Mad woman and first victim of one of Mr. Gaunt's pranks, performed by Brian Rusk, which starts the cycle.
- Netitia "Nettie" Cobb: Best friend of Polly Chalmers and enemy of Wilma Jerzyck.
- Myrtle Keeton: Lonely wife of Buster Keeton. Buys a porcelain doll from Mr. Gaunt.