First edition cover
|September 8, 1981|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
Cujo's name was based on the alias of Willie Wolfe, one of the men responsible for orchestrating Patty Hearst's kidnapping and indoctrination into the Symbionese Liberation Army. Stephen King discusses Cujo in On Writing, referring to it as a novel he "barely remembers writing at all." King wrote the book while he was on a cocaine binge. King goes on to say he likes the book and wishes he could remember enjoying the good parts as he put them on the page.
According to King, the novel was partly inspired by his trip to a mechanic during the spring of 1977. In a 2006 interview with The Paris Review, King describes how issues with his motorcycle led him to visit an auto shop on the northern outskirts of Bridgton, Maine. He claims his motorcycle died when he arrived at the shop, and moments after, a Saint Bernard emerged from the garage, growling at him and eventually lunging for his hand. Although the mechanic stopped the dog from harming King by hitting the dog's hindquarters with a wrench, King was still startled by the encounter. This incident, as well as a story published in a Portland, Maine, newspaper about a young child who was killed by a Saint Bernard, provided inspiration for the novel. King also owned a dysfunctional Ford Pinto at the time, which is the same car model the novel's protagonist, Donna Trenton, drives to the auto garage where she encounters the rabid Cujo.
The story takes place in the setting for many King stories: the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine. Revolving around two local families, the narrative is interspersed with vignettes from the seemingly mundane lives of various other residents. There are no chapter headings, but breaks between passages indicate when the narration switches to a different perspective.
The middle-class Trentons have recently moved to Castle Rock from New York City, bringing with them their four-year-old son, Tad. Vic Trenton discovers his wife, Donna, has recently had an affair with a tennis player named Steve Kemp. In the midst of this household tension, Vic's advertising agency, Ad Worx, is failing due to a scandal over a cereal called Red Razberry Zingers. Vic, and his business partner Roger Breakstone, are forced to travel out of town, leaving Tad and Donna at home alone.
The blue-collar Cambers, meanwhile, are longtime residents of Castle Rock. Joe is a mechanic who dominates and abuses his wife, Charity, and their ten-year-old son, Brett. Charity wins a $5,000 lottery prize and uses the proceeds to trick Joe into allowing her to take Brett on a trip to visit Charity's sister, Holly, in Connecticut. Joe acquiesces and secretly plans to use the time to take a pleasure trip to Boston with his friend and alcoholic retired vet neighbor, Gary Pervier.
While the Cambers are getting ready for their respective trips, their dog Cujo, a large good-natured Saint Bernard, chases a wild rabbit in the fields around their house and inserts his head in the entrance to a small limestone cave. A bat bites him on the nose and infects him with rabies. Charity and Brett leave town, and while they are gone, Cujo kills Gary Pervier, and eventually Joe Camber as well.
Donna, home alone with Tad, takes their failing Ford Pinto to the Cambers' for repairs. The car breaks down in Camber's dooryard, and as Donna attempts to find Joe, Cujo appears and attacks her. She climbs back in the car as Cujo starts to attack. Donna and Tad are trapped in their vehicle, the interior of which becomes increasingly hot in the summer sun. During one escape attempt, Donna is bitten in the stomach and leg, but manages to survive and escape back into the car. She plans to run for the house but abandons the idea because she fears the door will be locked and that she will be subsequently killed by Cujo, leaving her son alone.
Vic returns to Castle Rock after several failed attempts to contact Donna and learns from the police that Steve Kemp, the man with whom Donna was having an affair, is suspected of ransacking his home and possibly kidnapping Donna and Tad. To explore all leads, the state police send Castle Rock Sheriff George Bannerman out to the Cambers' house, but Cujo attacks and kills him. Donna, after witnessing the attack and realizing Tad is in danger of dying of dehydration, battles Cujo and kills him. Vic arrives on the scene with the authorities soon after, but Tad has already died from dehydration and heatstroke. Donna is rushed to the hospital, and Cujo's head is removed for a biopsy to check for rabies prior to the cremation of his remains.
The novel ends several months later with both the Trenton and Camber families trying to move on with their lives. Donna has completed her treatment for rabies and her marriage to Vic has survived. Charity gives Brett a new, vaccinated puppy named Willie. A postscript says that the hole Cujo chased the rabbit into was not discovered. It also reminds the reader that Cujo was a good dog who always tried to keep his owners happy, but the ravage of rabies drove him to violence.
- Cujo: a friendly Saint Bernard that becomes murderous after contracting rabies from a bat bite.
- Donna Trenton: wife of Vic Trenton. She becomes trapped in the car after arriving at the auto shop where the rabid Cujo lurks.
- Vic Trenton: Donna's husband. He is on a work-related trip when his wife and son encounter Cujo at the Camber auto shop.
- Tad Trenton: son of Donna and Vic. He becomes trapped in the car with Donna at the auto shop.
- Gary Pervier: the next-door neighbour and poker buddy of Joe Camber. A sixty-year old army veteran who looks like a hermit. He is the first murder victim of Cujo.
- Joe Camber: mechanic and owner of the auto shop where Donna and Tad encounter Cujo.
- Charity Camber: wife of Joe Camber. She and her son leave Cujo behind while on a trip to visit Charity's sister.
- Brett Camber: son of Joe and Charity. Cujo is Brett's dog.
- Frank Dodd: a former Castle Rock police officer who was discovered to be the “Castle Rock Strangler,” a serial killer traumatizing Castle Rock during the 1970s (see The Dead Zone). Cujo makes many references to Dodd throughout the story.
- George Bannerman: the current Castle Rock sheriff. He once worked with Dodd and discovered Dodd's guilt in the Castle Rock murders. He is killed by Cujo in his attempt to save Donna and Tad.
- Steve Kemp: The man with whom Donna has had an affair. He breaks into and vandalizes Donna's house after learning she wants to end the affair.
- Roger Breakstone: Vic's friend and coworker. He accompanies Vic on his work-related trip.
Upon its initial release in 1981, the novel earned and maintained a high position on bestseller lists in the United States. Some critics have criticized the novel for its dismal ending. The 1983 film adaptation of the novel featured a more optimistic conclusion.
Allusions and connections to other King novels
- There are allusions to Cujo in King's other works, which often reference the Saint Bernard and refer generally to the incident of the summer of 1980 when the rabid dog killed three people in Castle Rock, Maine.
- On the official Stephen King website, Cujo is listed as a character in numerous other novels, including Needful Things, The Dark Half, and Pet Sematary.
- "1982 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
- March 1, 1976. Patty's Long Ordeal on the Stand  Time.com
- August 14, 1981. Cujo: New York Times Book Review  New York Times.com
- King, Stephen. On Writing, page 110, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 978-0-340-82046-9
- "StephenKing.com - Cujo Inspiration". stephenking.com. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
- Rolls, Albert (2008). Stephen King: A Biography. ABC-CLIO. p. 34. ISBN 978-0313345739.
- Rich, Interviewed by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt and Nathaniel (2006). "Stephen King, The Art of Fiction No. 189". The Paris Review. Fall 2006 (178). ISSN 0031-2037. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
- McDowell, Edwin (September 27, 1981). "Behind the Best Sellers". New York Times.
- Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (August 14, 1981). "Cujo: New York Times Book Review". New York Times.
- Rogak, Lisa (2010). Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1429987974.
- Smythe, James (2012-11-02). "Rereading Stephen King: week 11 – Cujo". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
- "StephenKing.com - Needful Things Characters". www.stephenking.com. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
- "StephenKing.com - The Dark Half Characters". www.stephenking.com. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
- "StephenKing.com - Pet Sematary Characters". www.stephenking.com. Retrieved 2018-05-02.