Literature / Desperation

Desperation is a 1996 novel by Stephen King turned into a movie in 2006. It begins on Highway 50 in Nevada, a place some refer to as the loneliest place on Earth. A couple, Mary and Peter Jackson, are on their way back from a visit with friends when they are stopped by a sheriff who behaves strangely and discovers pot in their trunk, (accidentally left in there by Peter's stoner sister) and takes them to jail in the seemingly abandoned mining town of Desperation.

On the way there, he recites the Miranda warning, only mixing "I'm going to kill you" in with it, which unnerves the couple.

The cop proceeds to abduct more people as they pass through the lonely Nevada road, using one excuse or another. He repeatedly speaks in a strange, guttural language and seems to have literal control over the local animals, such as coyotes, insects, and birds.

Soon he gets Johnny Marinville, a recovering alcoholic writer. He beats Johnny up and takes him to Desperation, but not before he gets in a call on his cell phone to his editor Steve Ames, who later arrives with a girl named Cynthia Smith. A family of four, the Carvers, is also stopped and hauled into the Desperation jail.

Several of them are killed by the cop, whose bizarre statements and mannerisms escalate into violence and murder sprees. The dead appearance of the town is no coincidence. Among the survivors is a boy named David, who seems to have a special connection and communication with God. With little time and little choice, the group must establish a chain and fight to survive against the growing evil. The miners Dug Too Deep, and Tak, an Ancient Evil driving this nightmare, wants to play.

This work contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Johnny Marinville used to be one, and Tom Billingsley is one.
  • Alternate Universe: The Regulators, another book by Stephen King, is an alternate universe version of Desperation. It has the same characters, but in different roles (a brother and sister become a married couple for example, with their parents in one book becoming their children in the other).
  • All Myths Are True: Averted in-universe; the legend about the origins of the ancient evil is not quite true.
  • Animal Eye Spy: The body-snatching Eldritch Abomination Tak can enter and control animals, seeing through their eyes and feeling their thoughts, but only for short periods. Its presence inside living things causes them to wither and die and it has to hop from one to the other fairly quickly. It prefers humans because they last the longest.
  • Anyone Can Die: Well, it's a Stephen King book. Out of the group of 8 people that Johnny nicknames the "Collie Entragian Survivors Society", only four survive until the end.
  • Arc Words: "God is Cruel."
  • Artifact of Doom: The can tahs, which transform anybody who touches it into a homicidal maniac controlled by Tak.
  • Black Speech: The language spoken by Tak and those he possesses/brainwashes.
    "Mi him, can de lach, mi him, min en tow. Tak!"
  • Blood from Every Orifice: This happens to the bodies of the humans Tax inhabits when they start to disintegrate.
  • Body Horror: The ancient spirit Tak is so powerful that it causes any body it possesses to expand and fall apart (animals will explode if it possesses them).
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: The sheriff casually inserts the words "I'm going to kill you" into the middle of the Miranda rights.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The shotgun shell David puts in his pocket in the sheriff's office is later used to destroy the gate to Tak's dimension.
  • Chinese Laborer: Chinese workers accidentally discovered the gate to Tak's dimension when they Dug Too Deep.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Entragian tries to scare Johnny Marinville by showing him his blood-dripping penis, but it doesn't work because he saw far more disturbing things in Vietnam.
  • Cruel Mercy: See God Is Evil.
  • Demonic Possession
  • Dug Too Deep
  • Eldritch Abomination: Tak, a sadistic, incorporeal monstrosity heavily implied to have no true form, it has no apparent motive other than causing chaos and killing everything it comes across. The effects it has on those it possesses are... disconcerting, to say the least.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The events of novel take place over a single day.
  • The Film of the Book: The 2006 movie with Ron Perlman as the sheriff.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Johnny refuses to believe in God, even after he sees David performing miracles.
  • Ghost Town: Desperation.
  • God Is Evil: Well, not exactly evil, but very cruel. He sends David Carver, an eleven-year-old boy against the Big Bad; his family is killed one by one; when he wishes to die, and the Big Bad needs to be defeated with a suicidal mission, God sends not him, but Johnny, who says to David:
    "You said 'God is cruel' the way a person who's lived his whole life on Tahiti might say 'Snow is cold.' You knew, but you didn't understand. Do you know how cruel your God can be, David? How fantastically cruel? Sometimes he makes us live."
  • Happy Fun Ball: A hand-held statuette of a poorly-carved coyote, touched by the Big Bad, has the adverse effect of causing those in contact with it to give into their savage, normally restrained instincts. While turning the savage Up to Eleven, from the account of several characters.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Johnny Marinville
  • Hollywood Atheist: When David prays after his sister's death, his mother angrily yells at him to stop because a good God wouldn't have let her die and because of all the people who were murdered in His name.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Desperation? Sounds like a great place to live.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art: Desperation and The Regulators had covers which formed a complete picture when laid next to each other. This tied in with the fact that the characters in each book were alternate-universe versions of each other.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. Poor Pie.
  • Irony: Cynthia Smith survived an assault by a villainous policeman in Rose Madder... and now she is threatened by another villainous cop. Collie Entragian is being possessed by an Eldritch Abomination though, whereas Norman Daniels didn't need any possession to be thoroughly evil and insane.
  • The Legend of Chekhov: Someone tells the legend of why an old mine was abandoned (a trapped Chinese Laborer summoned a bad spirit). There really is a monster, though its origin is quite different; it's an Eldritch Abomination set loose when miners Dug Too Deep.
  • Miranda Rights: One of the first signs something is very wrong is when the cop mixes "I am going to kill you" into the Miranda rights.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The story takes place in the Nevada desert during the summer and includes a few scenes with hordes of fiddleback spiders. Said spiders do not live this far to the west, and they prefer a temperate climate.
  • Mission from God: David Carter is forced by God to destroy the evil entity Tak with the help of a group of strangers. Other characters point out how needlessly cruel it is for God to drag David out into the desert and get his family killed before asking him to do that.
  • Monochrome Past: The flashback showing the first time people encountered Tak is depicted in sepia tones. Johnny's flashback to Vietnam isn't, though.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: One of the main characters, Johnny Marinville, is a writer.
  • Mythology Gag: Desperation and The Regulators were published simultaneously (by King and his alter ego, Richard Bachman), and thus the characters, settings and plot are connected and have a lot of overlap. However, both novels also feature a character called Cynthia Smith, who mentions briefly in Desperation that her nose was broken by a bad man. Cynthia was a secondary character in King's previous novel Rose Madder, in which she was assaulted by Norman Daniels, the villain of that story.
  • Name's the Same: One character is called Peter Jackson (which is also the name of a cigarette brand).
  • Non Sequitur: Entragian makes many of these, sometimes making strange movie references, other times saying words in his Black Speech, and once saying "I am going to kill you" in the middle of a sentence.
  • Possession Burnout: This happens to everyone possessed by Tak during the course of the novel.
  • Rabid Cop: Sheriff Collie Entragian.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: Johnny Marinville, a burnt-out writer in the present had once won the National Book Award.
  • Religious Horror
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Although Johnny is not technically a veteran because he only went to the Vietnam War as a journalist, the trope still applies to him. It's eventually revealed that his experiences basically killed his soul.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Johnny opens a cabin like this.
  • Sibling Switch Squick: Thanks to the alternate universe, the Carver family from one version of the story reverses who are siblings and who is married. In other words, David and Kirsten/Pie would be brother and sister in Desperation, and their parents Ellen and Ralph, but in The Regulators, they're married, and Ellen and Ralph are their children.
  • Significant Anagram: The very tall sheriff is called Collie Entragian. Entragian is an anagram for "near giant".
  • Stupid Evil: Discussed. One character wonders why, if Tak regularly needs new humans to use as hosts, did he slaughter everybody in a city in the middle of a desert. He mostly gets this trope as an answer.
    "Evil is both fragile and stupid, dying soon after the ecosystem it's poisoned."
  • Taking You with Me: Johnny in the end.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Johnny after his "resurrection".
  • Trauma Button: The song "Good Lovin'" from The Young Rascals triggers Johnny's Vietnam War flashbacks.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Tak can not only talk to animals but also give them orders in Black Speech.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: As with most of King's earlier works, he slips in a contemporary reference that pinpoints the story in the mid-'90s; namely, the radio blaring a song from The Tractors, a One-Hit Wonder country band.
  • Verbal Tic: Sheriff Collie Entragian has a habit of adding "TAK!" to the end of random sentences. He was possessed by the eponymous Ultimate Evil at the time.