From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
First edition cover
AuthorStephen King
CountryUnited States
PublisherViking Press
Publication date
September 8, 1981
Media typePrint (hardcover)

Cujo (/ˈk/) is a 1981 horror novel by American writer Stephen King about a rabid Saint Bernard. The novel won the British Fantasy Award in 1982[1] and was made into a film in 1983. 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.[2][3] King discusses Cujo in On Writing, referring to it as a novel he "barely remembers writing at all." King wrote the book during the height of his struggle with alcohol addiction. 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.[4]


According to King, the novel was partly inspired by his trip to a mechanic during the spring of 1977.[5][6] 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.[7] 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.[5][7] 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.[6][7] 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.[6][7] 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.[7]


In the summer of 1980, the middle-class Trentons have recently moved to the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine from New York City with their four-year-old son, Tad. Donna has recently had an affair with a local man named Steve Kemp. After she ends the relationship, Steve spitefully reveals the affair to her husband, Vic. In the midst of this household tension, Vic's advertising agency is failing due to a scandal over a cereal. Vic is forced to travel out of town, leaving Tad and Donna at home alone.

Blue-collar Joe Camber is a mechanic who abuses his wife, Charity, and their ten-year-old son, Brett. Charity wins a $5,000 (equivalent to $17,000 in 2023) lottery prize, and uses the proceeds to bargain with Joe to allow her to take Brett on a trip to visit Charity's sister in Connecticut and show him the possibility of a better life. Joe acquiesces and secretly plans to take a pleasure trip to Boston with his friend, alcoholic Gary.

The Cambers' dog Cujo, a large, good-natured Saint Bernard, chases a rabbit in the nearby fields and inserts his head in a small cave. A bat bites him on the nose and infects him with rabies, against which Cujo is not vaccinated. Cujo enters the prodromal phase, becoming lethargic and irritable. After Charity and Brett leave town, Cujo kills Gary and Joe.

Donna, with Tad, takes their failing Ford Pinto to Joe for repairs. The car breaks down in the Cambers' dooryard, and as Donna attempts to find Joe, Cujo attacks her. She gets back into the car but becomes trapped when Cujo continues to attack them. The interior of the car becomes increasingly hot in the summer sun. During one escape attempt, Donna is bitten in the stomach and leg, but manages to escape back into the car. Tad becomes catatonic with fear and begins to have seizures.

Steve Kemp goes to the Trenton home to attack Donna, then ransacks it when he finds it empty. Vic returns to Castle Rock after failed attempts to contact Donna. The police suspect Steve of kidnapping Donna and Tad, and also send Sheriff George Bannerman out to the Cambers' house, but Cujo kills him. Donna, after witnessing the attack and realizing Tad is in danger of dying of dehydration, battles the weakened Cujo and kills him with a baseball bat. Vic arrives as the fight ends but Tad has already died from dehydration and heatstroke. A veterinarian removes Cujo's head for a biopsy to check for rabies prior to the cremation of his remains. Charity receives a phone call and learns of Cujo's rampage and her husband's death.

Several months later, the Trenton and Camber families are trying to move on. Donna has completed her treatment for rabies and her injuries have healed. The Trentons' marriage has survived, as well as Vic's business, and they mourn Tad together. Charity, now working in order to support herself and Brett, gives Brett a new, vaccinated puppy. A postscript says that the hole Cujo chased the rabbit into was never 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 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 neighbor and poker buddy of Joe Camber. A sixty-year-old WW2 army veteran and an alcoholic. He is the first 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 business partner. He accompanies Vic on his work-related trip.

Critical reception[edit]

Upon its initial release in 1981, the novel earned and maintained a high position on bestseller lists in the United States.[8] Some critics have criticized the novel for its ending.[9][10] The 1983 film adaptation of the novel featured a more optimistic conclusion. Cujo received the following accolades:

  • Locus Award Nominee for Best Fantasy Novel (1982)[11]
  • Balrog Award Nominee for Best Novel (1982)[12]
  • British Fantasy Award for Best Novel (August Derleth Fantasy Award) (1982)[13]

Despite the above, according to the American Library Association, Cujo was the 49th most banned and challenged book in the United States between 1990 and 1999.[14]

Allusions and connections to other King novels[edit]

  • 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 four people in Castle Rock, Maine.[15]
  • On the official Stephen King website, Cujo is listed as a character in numerous other novels, including Needful Things, The Body, The Dark Half and Pet Sematary.[16][17][18]
  • In the Stephen King book Fairy Tale, Cujo is referenced as a piece of fiction.
  • King's 2024 collection, You Like It Darker, contains the story "Rattlesnakes", described by King as a sequel to Cujo. It is told in the first person with Vic Trenton as narrator.[19]


  1. ^ "1982 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
  2. ^ March 1, 1976. Patty's Long Ordeal on the Stand [1]
  3. ^ August 14, 1981. Cujo: New York Times Book Review [2] New York
  4. ^ King, Stephen. On Writing, page 73, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000, ISBN 978-0-340-82046-9
  5. ^ a b " - Cujo Inspiration". Archived from the original on 2018-05-05. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  6. ^ a b c Rolls, Albert (2008). Stephen King: A Biography. ABC-CLIO. p. 34. ISBN 978-0313345739.
  7. ^ a b c d e Rich, Interviewed by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt and Nathaniel (2006). "Stephen King, The Art of Fiction No. 189". The Paris Review. Vol. Fall 2006, no. 178. ISSN 0031-2037. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  8. ^ McDowell, Edwin (September 27, 1981). "Behind the Best Sellers". New York Times.
  9. ^ Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (August 14, 1981). "Cujo: New York Times Book Review". New York Times.
  10. ^ Rogak, Lisa (2010). Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1429987974.
  11. ^ "Cujo". Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  12. ^ "Cujo". Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  13. ^ "Cujo". Goodreads. Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  14. ^ Office of Intellectual Freedom (2013-03-26). "100 most frequently challenged books: 1990-1999". American Library Association. Retrieved 2021-06-19.
  15. ^ Smythe, James (2012-11-02). "Rereading Stephen King: week 11 – Cujo". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  16. ^ " - Needful Things Characters". Archived from the original on 2018-05-05. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  17. ^ " - The Dark Half Characters". Archived from the original on 2018-05-05. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  18. ^ " - Pet Sematary Characters". Archived from the original on 2018-05-05. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  19. ^ Clark Collis (November 6, 2023). "Read the start of Stephen King's Cujo sequel in excerpt from story collection, You Like It Darker". Entertainment Weekly.

External links[edit]