The Tommyknockers

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The Tommyknockers
First edition cover
Author Stephen King
Cover artist One Plus One Studio
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Published November 10, 1987
Publisher Putnam
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 558
ISBN 978-0-399-13314-5

The Tommyknockers is a 1987 science fiction novel by Stephen King. While maintaining a horror style, the novel is more of an excursion into the realm of science fiction for King, as the residents of the Maine town of Haven gradually fall under the influence of a mysterious object buried in the woods.

King would later look back on the novel unfavorably, describing it as "an awful book."[1]

Plot summary[edit]

While walking in the woods near the small town of Haven, Maine, Roberta (Bobbi) Anderson, a writer of Wild West-themed fiction, stumbles upon a metal object that turns out to be a protrusion of a long-buried alien spacecraft. Once exposed, the spacecraft begins to release an invisible gas into the atmosphere that gradually transforms people into beings similar to the aliens who populated the ship. The transformation, or "becoming," provides them with a limited form of genius which makes them very inventive but does not provide any philosophical or ethical insight into their inventions. The spacecraft also prevents those affected by it from leaving town, provokes psychotic violence in some people, and causes the disappearance of a young boy, David Brown, whose older brother Hilly teleports him to the planet referred to as Altair 4 by the Havenites.

The book's central character is James Eric Gardener, a poet and friend of Bobbi Anderson, who goes by the nickname "Gard". He is somewhat immune to the ship's effects because of the steel plate in his head, a souvenir of a teenage skiing accident. Gard is also an alcoholic and is prone to binges that result in violent outbursts followed by lengthy blackouts. As Bobbi is almost totally overcome by the euphoria of "becoming" one with the spacecraft, Gard increasingly sees her health worsen and her sanity disappear.

Seeing the transformation of the townspeople worsen, the torture and manipulation of Bobbi's dog Peter, and people being killed or worse when they pry too deeply into the strange events, Gard eventually manipulates Bobbi into allowing him into the ship. After he sees that Bobbi is not entirely his old friend and lover, he shoots and kills her; before she dies, she telepathically calls to the townspeople who then swarm to her place, intent on killing him. Ev Hillman, David and Hilly's grandfather, helps Gardener escape into the woods in exchange for saving David Brown from Altair-4. Gard enters the ship near death after his struggle with the townspeople. With his last ounce of strength, he activates the ship and telepathically launches it into space. This results in the eventual deaths of nearly all of the changed townspeople but prevents the possibly disastrous consequences of the ship's influence spreading to the outside world. Very shortly afterward, agents from the FBI, CIA, and "The Shop" invade Haven and take as many of the Havenites as possible, killing nearly a quarter of the survivors and a few of the devices created by the altered people of Haven.

In the last pages, David Brown is discovered safe and sound in Hilly Brown's hospital room.


In his autobiography On Writing, King attributes the basic premise to the short story "The Colour Out of Space" by H. P. Lovecraft. He also used a poem from his childhood for the preamble, which went: Late last night and the night before, Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door. I want to go out, don't know if I can, 'cause I'm so afraid of the Tommyknocker man.

The writer and critic Kim Newman has cited another influence on the novel, saying that in it King had "more or less rewritten Quatermass and the Pit",[2] a 1950s BBC television science-fiction serial involving the excavation of a long-buried alien spacecraft, and the growing influence of the dormant machine on surrounding human beings.

The novel was written during the height of King's experiences with his own addictions and is filled with metaphors for the stranglehold of substance abuse.[3] In an interview with Rolling Stone, King acknowledged that the quality of his writing suffered during his period of drug use, saying, "The Tommyknockers is an awful book. That was the last one I wrote before I cleaned up my act."[1]

Other themes in the book include the dangers of nuclear power and radioactive fallout, as evidenced by the physical transformations of the townspeople which resemble the effects of radiation exposure, of unchecked technological advancement, and of the corrupting influence of power.[4]


The original 1987 hardcover edition was issued with three different dust jackets. The most common have the author's name in gold (pictured at the top right of this page) or red lettering. The rarer dust jacket features the author's name in silver lettering and pale blue light shining from under the door, as opposed to green as in the other two.


A two-part television miniseries based on the novel was shown in 1993 on ABC, starring Jimmy Smits as Jim Gardner and Marg Helgenberger as Bobbi Anderson.

NBC announced in July 2013 that they would be producing a new miniseries based on The Tommyknockers.[5][6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Greene, Andy. "Stephen King: The Rolling Stone Interview, Rolling Stone Issue 1221, November 6, 2014". Retrieved October 31, 2014. 
  2. ^ Newman, Kim in Producer – Tom Ware; Executive Producer – Michael Poole (October 15, 2003). "The Kneale Tapes". Timsehift. BBC Four. 
  3. ^ Smythe, James (August 28, 2013). "Rereading Stephen King, chapter 25: The Tommyknockers". Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  4. ^ Magistrale, Tony. Stephen King - Second Decade: 'Danse Macabre' to 'The Dark Half'. Twayne Publishers. ISBN 978-0805739572. 
  5. ^ NBC Orders Hillary Clinton, 'Rosemary's Baby,' Stephen King's 'Tommyknockers,' Plymouth Rock Miniseries
  6. ^ Collins, Scott (July 27, 2013). "TCA press tour: NBC preps Hillary Clinton bio and 'Tommyknockers'". Los Angeles Times. 
  7. ^ Goldman, Eric. "NBC Announces Remakes of Rosemary's Baby and The Tommyknockers". IGN.