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Literature: Misery
aka: MISERY

"The book Stephen King wrote in an attempt to keep other people from becoming authors."

Misery is a 1987 novel by Stephen King.

Novelist Paul Sheldon crashes his car in a Colorado snowstorm while driving west to celebrate finishing his latest book. His legs shattered, he is rescued by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse, who takes him to her isolated house in the countyside. She claims that she is his No. 1 fan and loves his Misery novels, as well as their main heroine Misery Chastain. However, the next Misery novel is released while he's in her care, and Annie finds out that Misery dies at the end. She becomes enraged, and forces Paul to write a new novel that undoes Misery's death. Paul, being too injured to leave her house, is totally dependent on Annie, and so begins his fight to find a way to write Misery back to life, all while Annie subjects him to all manner of deranged (and sometimes horrific) ministrations.

In 1990, a film based on the book was created starring James Caan as Paul and Kathy Bates as Annie with Lauren Bacall in a minor role. It was directed by Rob Reiner. A few details aside, it's very faithful to the book and was critically acclaimed. Bates' role is considered to be one of her best, and she took home the Best Actress Oscar for her psychotic Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, which was good enough to be included in Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.

In 2009, Lifetime released an original movie with a plotline somewhat similar to Misery called Homecoming.


Tropes included:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Of a psychological version rather than physically.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: To a small degree. While Kathy Bates isn't exactly what many people would call a looker, she was at least clean and well-groomed, a far cry from how Annie was in the novel: a huge blob of a woman who dressed dumpily and stank of dirt, half-spoiled food, and cheap makeup.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The movie forgoes any of the new novel nor the analogies to writing. Paul's ankles are also crushed, instead of his foot cut off; his thumb remains happily on his hand, and Paul's addiction to his pain medication is left out.
    • In the novel, it's pretty clear right off the bat that Annie is certifiably insane. From the moment Paul regains consciousness he is able to assess that Annie is mentally unstable. However, in the film, Annie is originally played off as a kind and hospitable person, albeit a bit eccentric. The audience and Paul don't realize just how deeply disturbed she is until later in the movie.
      • Another example is how in the novel, Annie makes no attempt to hide why she hasn't brought him to a hospital given the nigh immediate reveal of her insanity. In the movie, she claims to be keeping him in her home temporarily due to the roads being shut off from the storm.
  • Affably Evil / Faux Affably Evil: Annie Wilkes.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Buster in the movie, and Paul in a broader sense.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Annie displays traits associated with an array of mental illnesses (at the very least, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, a severe personality disorder with paranoid and borderline features, and likely some sort of schizophrenic- or schizoaffective-spectrum disorder). In a special feature on the collector's edition DVD, a forensic psychologist described Annie as a "virtual catalog of mental illness."
  • Antagonist Title: Paul hates Misery but the character's popularity precludes him from being a more serious writer.
  • Arc Words: Can You?, Africa, goddess, "Now I must rinse..."
  • Ascended Fangirl: What Annie Wilkes thinks she is...
    • Ax-Crazy: ...what she actually is. She then grows to becoming Lawnmower Crazy and finally Chainsaw Crazy before expiring.
  • Awesome by Analysis: Buster.
  • Autocannibalism: Annie cuts off Paul's thumb, uses it as a candle on a birthday cake, and threatens to make him eat it.
  • Back from the Dead: The whole reason why Misery's Return started to be written.
  • Bad Samaritan: Annie, to Paul. However, Paul speculates that if he didn't happen to be the writer of the novels Annie is obsessed with, she would have called the hospital and gotten him there as soon as possible, mainly to show to people like those cockadoodie Roydmans that she's a good, responsible citizen.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Annie is a registered nurse, and a violent and psychotic one. Also, she's wielded hammers, so her having an actual battleaxe may not be too far off.
    • In the novel, it was an axe instead of a hammer. And a blowtorch to cauterize the wound. And an electric knife.
  • Berserk Button: By the end of the story, Paul knows better than to correct Annie. Also, swearing also makes Annie really mad.
    Paul: Dom Perig-non it is.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Annie has a cheery facade, uses ridiculous childish expressions like "cockadoodie," and has a retreat somewhere up the mountain she calls her "laughing place"... where she hides the body of a state trooper she murdered with a lawnmower.
  • Big Bad: Annie Wilkes. Rather fitting since she's described as being a huge woman in the novel.
  • Big Eater: A rare, non-comic version of this. When Annie gets into her 'moods', she basically binges like crazy.
  • Big Lipped Alligator Moment: The rare in-universe example. At the very end of the book, after his hallucination at the restaurant, Paul sees a small child going by with a skunk in a shopping cart, The oddness of the entire image inspires him to write a novel speculating on what the heck was going on with the kid.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Wicks (short and slim) and McKnight (huge and muscular), two cops that show up to question Annie. Paul of course doesn't know their names when he first sees them through the bedroom window, so he dubs them David and Goliath respectively.
  • Book Within A Book: Misery's Return, of course. The reader gets to see bits of it, particularly passages that mirror Paul's situation.
  • The Caretaker: The whole reason for this plot is because Annie Wilkes decided to take it upon herself to be this for Paul rather than calling 911 or taking him to the hospital herself. It does not go well.
  • Cat Scare: Paul adopts a cat at the end of the book and it startles him by popping out from behind the couch. He thinks it's Annie at first and that she's invincible.
  • Chainsaw Good: Annie kills a deputy with a lawnmower, and just as she grabbed a chainsaw itself to go after Paul succumbed to her own wounds.
  • Cliffhanger Copout: Annie accuses Paul of this, when he first attemts to revive Misery by simply rewriting the end of the last book so that she never died. She brings up an example of her favorite childhood serial Rocket Man. In one episode, the Rocket Man was locked into his car, which then fell off a cliff and exploded. The next episode showed the Rocket Man jumping out of his car in the last minute, which made Annie extremely angry, because "that wasn't what happened last week!"
  • Cluster F-Bomb: When Paul begins typing on his new typewriter, only one word comes to mind.
  • Completely Different Title: The book is known as Sie (meaning She) in German, presumably in imitation of It.
    • Also apt as Paul compares Annie to an African idol in H. Rider Haggard's novel She (published as Sie in Germany).
  • Contrived Coincidence: Averted in Misery's Return: Paul is well aware that it would come off as too much of a coincidence for two women in the same town to have been Buried Alive, so he comes up with a way to link the two events.
    • In the novel, Annie just happening to run across Paul's crashed car, and him just happening to be the Paul Sheldon whose books are an object of her obsession, is a bit contrived as well. It's averted in the film; it's no coincidence that Annie runs across Paul—she was following him.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Annie is insane, but she is not stupid. Annie discovers that Paul has managed to get out of the locked bedroom after taping hairs from her own head over objects in the house and leaving for a while, and coming back later to find them broken. The crazy part? She did this everywhere in the house, including upstairs and in the shed out back, places it would have been almost impossible for Paul to get in his injured state. Then there is the alibi Annie explains to Paul after she kills the young state trooper: she'll take an empty Pepsi bottle and press the trooper's fingers on it, then toss it in a ditch a few miles up the road, and mention to any cops that come by that she did speak with the trooper, and she gave him a Pepsi for the road because it was hot that day.
  • Creator Backlash: Invoked. Paul really hates Misery, and quite happily kills her off. He'd also become so disgusted with having to write about her so much that he penned a short story implied to be about Misery having sex with her love interest's dog and circulated it among his friends.
  • Dedication: Paul dedicates the manuscript of Misery's Return to Annie.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Paul, in the film. After Annie puts him in the wheelchair for the first time:
    Annie: Now isn't this nice?!
    Paul: Yeah. I always wanted to visit the other side of the room.
  • Deus ex Machina: Discussed. Paul realizes that Annie knows it in all but name.
  • Dies Wide Open: Annie, in the movie.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The novel is a parable for writing. For example, the amputation of body parts are analogous to the author having to cut parts of a book they like.
    • In On Writing, King notes that Annie Wilkes is a metaphor for his drug addiction. "Annie was (drugs and booze) and I was tired of being Annie's pet writer." With, of course, the dependence and isolation and exhaustion that go with addiction.
  • Death by Childbirth: Paul had to pay big for making Misery have this fate.
  • The Dog Bites Back: When seeing he's likely doomed to die at her hand either way, Paul finally turns on Annie, destroying the script in front of her very eyes. When she naturally gets rather upset over this, he fends her off and gives her a good taste of her own physical punishment before knocking her out.
  • Double Meaning Title: Misery Chastain, and Paul's own misery.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • The End... Or Is It?: Subverted! After Paul is found by the police, they tell him that Annie's body is not in the bedroom where he left it, and the window was open. The book then jumps forward in a time skip, and it is explained that eventually they did find Annie, who only made it as far as the barn before succumbing to her wounds. He still has nightmares about her, and at one point at the end, hallucinates her jumping up from behind the couch in his darkened apartment, brandishing an axe.
    • In the film version, Paul is having a conversation with someone concerning his time with Annie and, as with the book version, ends up hallucinating Annie, coldly walking towards him, brandishing a butcher's knife. It's just a waitress bringing his dinner, who cheerfully tells him that she's his biggest fan. Not surprisingly, Paul comes across as a bit nervous about this.
  • Enfante Terrible: Annie. See Serial Killer below.
  • Even Bad Women Love Their Mamas: She keeps a framed portrait of her mother in her parlor and in the book, says that her mother was the only person to stick up for her.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: No, seriously. Annie owns a little model of a penguin on a pedestal. It becomes surprisingly memorable. Five words: "NOW MY TALE IS TOLD!"
  • Evil Overlooker: The poster above.
  • Eye Poke: During his struggle with Annie, Paul fingers her eyes until they start bleeding.
  • Fan Dumb: A very mixed in-universe example. Annie was extremely pissed when she found out about the new book Paul was writing, Fast Cars, which was (in short) about a guy who stole cars. Essentially she was saying, "How dare you write anything but what I want you to write!!!" This is also emphasized later on when she tries to save the burning script she screams: "My Misery!" However, there are some aversions, particularly where she tears down Paul's Cliffhanger Copout in the first draft of Misery's Return, and also when Paul realizes that Fast Cars really was kind of pretentious, while Misery's Return might be the best thing he's ever written.
  • Film of the Book: Starring James Caan as Paul and Kathy Bates as Annie.
  • Fingore: Annie cuts off Paul's thumb, and uses it as a candle in a cake.
  • Flipping the Bird: In the film version, Paul does this to Annie through a window after assorted traumas. She thinks he's joking around with her.
  • Focus Group Ending: Focus groups were extremely unhappy with Paul walking normally at the end of the film, so the ending was re-shot with Paul needing a cane to walk.
  • Genre Savvy: Annie is, in the film, at least as far as Paul's writing habits go. When he tells her he's already made copies of his new novel (in an attempt to keep from having to burn the only copy), she knows he's bluffing because she's read and seen every interview he's ever given, and knows he never makes copies of his work.
  • The Ghost:
    • Annie's mom, a great influence in the story despite being dead for who knows how long before it.
    • The Roydmans, Annie's oft-mentioned but never seen neighbors, whom she detests.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Buster, the amiable local sheriff who figures the puzzle out. He only appears in the movie.
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Annie doesn't like it when your characters are dirty birds who use cockadoodie foul language... Paul also comes to realize that on the few occasions she actually uses outright swearwords he should even more afraid of her than usual.
  • Groin Attack: See the No Kill Like Overkill example. In the film she also does one to Paul in in their struggle, perhaps the one point she is on the defense.
  • Growing the Beard: An in-universe example with Misery's Return. Paul goes as far as to consider that it might be the best book he's ever written.
    • To the point that, in the novel, it's revealed that he'd only burned the cover-sheet for the book to trick Annie into trying to save it. He'd kept the rest of the novel hidden so he could publish it after his escape.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Annie Wilkes
  • Handicapped Badass: In the climax, Paul fights and knocks out Annie, a psychopathic murderer (not to mention in the midst of a Villainous Breakdown) and chokes her with the remains of her own book, after already having his legs shattered and arm shot.
  • Hikikomori: Except to purchase food (and the next copy of Misery's romantic escapades, of course), Annie rarely if ever leaves her secluded cabin.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Paul's agent pitches him the idea of writing a non-fiction book regarding his experience, he elegantly disregards it as a cheap shenanigan.
  • I'm Your Biggest Fan: One of the most well-known examples in fiction.
  • Improvised Weapon: Paul hits Annie in the head with a typewriter, shortly after feeding her some burning papers. In the movie, she is killed with a pig doorstop.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: When Paul reads Annie's collection of newspaper clippings (called 'Memory Lane') he sees that she was "startlingly pretty" when she was young.
  • Jerk Ass Has A Point: Paul concedes that some of Annie's criticism of his writing is perceptive.
  • Karmic Death: Annie is killed by Paul's typewriter after being choked by paper.
  • The Kindnapper: Annie Wilkes, who, upon finding Paul Sheldon, the protagonist and her favorite author, at the scene of a car accident, decides to take him home with her rather than at least attempt to call the hospital or for other emergency help. She's figured that since she's a trained nurse, she could take care of Paul herself! And she loves him, so surely he'll love her, too, once he gets to know her...
  • Kitsch Collection: Annie's. She realizes Paul has been secretly exploring the house when he accidentally moves a porcelain penguin.
  • Large Ham: There's a reason why Kathy Bates is nowaday best known as Annie Wilkes in the movie.
    • Evil Is Hammy: And also why Annie is played that (horrifying!) way.
  • Lethal Chef: Annie sort of counts. For instance, in the film she serves Paul her homemade meatloaf:
    Annie: And, to give it that extra zip, I mix a little Spam in with the ground beef!
  • Loony Fan: Guess.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Not that Annie wasn't evil to begin with, mind you.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: To an extent; Annie's love of the Misery novels can cloud her judgement.
  • Mad Doctor: Annie, killer nurse.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Annie murdered both her father and her college roommate with this method; she put something in a flight of stairs so they would stumble and fall. With her father, she used a pile of clothes, with the roommate, the corpse of their cat, whom she poisoned.
  • Mary Sue / Canon Sue: Misery is an in-universe example. Paul is all too aware of this, and that is why he hates her.
  • Mercy Kill: Paul theorizes that Annie sees most of her murders as examples of this. She mostly kills old and sick people - that's why she gets away with it - whom she sees as "poor, poor things", and thinks she's doing them a favor. Later, when she gets more psychotic, she starts to see babies like that, and it turns into a murderous Munchausen Syndrome.
    • She basically sees people as either "poor, poor things" or "dirty birdies", and thinks that both are better off dead.
  • Minimalist Cast: In most of the book, there are only two characters: Paul and Annie.
  • Money, Dear Boy: Invoked. Why Paul puts up with writing the torrid rag of a Victorian airhead whom he has grown to hate for so long: to put braces on his daughter's teeth and put her through private school and college, of course.
  • Mood-Swinger: Annie can be pleasant one minute and angry the next.
    • Fridge Brilliance: invoked by Stephen King in his memoir On Writing. He subscribes to the Show, Don't Tell school of work, and does not spell out that Annie is manic-depressive, preferring that readers work it out for themselves.
  • Mood Whiplash: Annie spouting phrases like "kaka-poopie-doopie!" in the middle of her "moods" is either utterly terrifying or darkly hilarious.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Paul Sheldon is the author of a best-selling series of Victorian-era romance novels surrounding the heroine character Misery Chastain. This trope is the premise of the entire plot.
  • Munchausen Syndrome: Specifically, Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Not a good trait in a nurse.
  • Mythology Gag: When Annie is talking to Paul about her "good news and bad news," she mentions a hitchhiker who was sketching pictures of an old hotel whose caretaker had gone crazy and burned it down. "Famous old hotel called the Overlook."
    • When he was a kid, Paul lived across the street from the Kaspbraks
  • Nice to the Waiter: Paul is mentioned as being always friendly to the staff at the hotel and never bothering anyone. In the novel, he gives the waiter who brings him his champagne a fifty dollar tip.
  • No Kill Like Overkill: When it looks as if Paul is saved when a state trooper shows up, Annie stabs the guy with a gravemarker in the chest, in the groin, and in the butt among other places... and when it turns out he's still alive, she runs him over with a riding lawnmower.
  • Oh, Crap: Every time Paul realizes that Annie is in a mood switch. Especially when she swears.
    "If you can get into that chair all by yourself, Paul," she said at last, "then I think you can fill in your own fucking n's."
  • One-Paragraph Chapter: Taken Up to Eleven. "Rinse."
  • Pet Peeve Trope: In-Universe-Annie's are Cliffhanger Copout and Cluster F-Bomb.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • Subverted and zigzagged in the film: at first the sheriff Buster seems to be just a rustic old man warming a chair, but he turns out to be quite competent and thorough despite a bickering deputy who doubles as his wife. In the end he is however taken by surprise and killed, but not in vain.
    • Justified and averted in the book. The first cop that comes out to talk to Annie is young, inexperienced, and alone, and he was sent out on a shit detail to look for some numbnuts author who most likely wrecked his car in a snowstorm, then wandered off into the woods to die. However, when he doesn't report back in (because Annie killed him when Paul got his attention by breaking the bedroom window), the cops not only send out a more experienced cop, they send two of them. However, Paul weighs his chances and decides not to try alerting the pair, as there is still an outside chance that Annie might be able to kill both of them as well.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Annie Wilkes in the book, with her usage of the N-word to refer to the character Hezekiah in Paul Sheldon's Misery series
    • In the movie, she refers to "that Dago" who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
  • Precision F-Strike: When Annie tells Paul to "fill in his own fucking n's", he and the audience know things are going to go bad.
    • Also used against her as Paul shoves the burnt remains of her precious novel down the "sick twisted FUCK's" throat.
    • Also later in the book (and the only time Annie actually swears in the film): "I'M GONNA KILL YOU, YOU LYING COCKSUCKER!!!"
  • Psychopathic Womanchild: Annie.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Played with. Following Paul's attack on Annie, it's all he can do but keep her pinned to the ground while making her choke on handfuls of burning paper. This makes him briefly think of a rape scene. However, in a twist, Paul embraces the idea when he thinks of all the terrible things she subjected him to, believing it to be proper retribution for everything she'd done.
  • Rasputinian Death: Annie's death could be considered this. Paul throws the typewriter at her, then starts choking her with the burning "manuscript" (which of course burns her). She looks dead for a moment, then gets back up, and then trips over the typewriter and hits her head. Then she gets up again (Paul's locked in the bathroom at this point) and crawls to the barn to get her chainsaw... and finally, she dies. Phew.
  • Retcon: Annie isn't happy that Paul killed off Misery and forces him to write a book that brings her back to life.
    • And Annie isn't happy when Paul's first attempt at Misery's Return retcons the ending of the previous book, considering it "cheating".
  • Sacrificial Lion: Sherff Buster in the movie version. He spends most of the movie investigating Paul's disappearance and eventually arrives at Annie's house to question her, only to get shot to death by Annie when Paul manages to get his attention
  • Sadistic Choice: Burn the book you worked really hard on to break away from your style, or go without food, water, and that painkiller you're addicted to until you do.
    • In the movie, it's burn the book you worked really hard on to break away from your style, or burn yourself.
      • Take a Third Option: Paul does this: Just tell Annie that a stack of blank papers are the novel, and burn them, and after she dies, publish Misery's Return.
  • Saved by the Fans: Misery herself. In-universe
  • Self-Made Orphan: Annie killed her father when she was 14, by putting a heap of clothes on the stairs so he'd fall off.
  • Serial Killer: Annie Wilkes murdered more than thirty patients as a nurse. She got away with it because they were usually old and very sick, and thus everyone expected them to die. Her crimes only started to raise suspicion when she was transferred to the nursery ward and started murdering healthy infants.
    • Made even more creepier when the reader learns that Annie committed her first murders when she was all of 11 years old.
  • Scheherezade Gambit: Paul compares himself to Scheherezade, in that as long as he keeps writing, Annie won't kill him before seeing how Misery's Return ends. And he's right.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Paul tries it, but Annie accidentally knocks the glass over.
  • The Sociopath: Annie in spades.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: A great example in the film: "Moonlight Sonata" starts to play as Annie breaks Paul's feet.
  • Spotting the Thread: The direction her ceramic penguin is facing tips Annie off that Paul has left his room.
    • In the novel, she tapes strands of her hair across doorways, drawers, and books, and figures out that Paul left the room when she finds them broken, making it an almost literal example.
  • Stealth Pun: In the book, Annie killed a young deputy. In the film, Annie shot the sheriff, but she did not shoot the deputy.
    • Why does Annie kidnap Paul? Because MISERY loves company.
    • Also, those patients? She thought she was putting them out of their MISERY.
  • Stylistic Suck: Paul's first attempt at Misery's Return is this. Later, as he becomes more attached to the story, it's not quite sucky, per se, but it's quite distinguishable from King's usual style.
  • Sweet Tooth: Annie loves ice cream, cookies, and soda.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Paul wonders what Annie would've been like if all the chemicals would've formed right in her brain.
  • Take That: To crazy fans, Fan Dumb, cheesy romance lovers, writers who use deus ex machina...It's more subtle, but the novel also takes this view with the opposite idea, that the mentality of writing "serious" books to amaze critics and win awards isn't much better.
  • Tears of Joy: When Paul finds himself starting to write a new novel at the end, after everything he's been through, he starts to weep with joy.
  • Trust Me, I'm an X: In the novel when Annie is about to cut off Paul's leg to punish him, she says: "Don't worry. I'm a trained nurse." She is, but that doesn't make it much better.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Both the book and the film were made well before the darker side of the Fan Dumb was exposed via the internet.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Annie uses many bizarre and childish words to compensate for profanity.
    • She finally snaps and subverts this after Paul burns her novel: "I'M GONNA KILL YOU, YOU LYING COCKSUCKER!!!"
  • Villainous Breakdown: Annie, though pretty unhinged by this point anyway, completely goes off the deep end when Paul burns the novel in revenge. Granted by this point, he wants her blood just as much.
  • Who's Laughing Now?: After realising escape is impossible, Paul finally snaps and delivers a rather brutal last laugh to Annie.
    Annie:: Paul you can't!
    Paul:: Why not? I learned it from you.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Annie's first victims were kids she babysat. Later she began killing newborns at the hospital where she worked.
  • Yandere: Oh dear lord, Annie.


Now my tale is told.
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alternative title(s): Misery; Misery
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