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Literature / Needful Things

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A 1991 Stephen King novel in which a new store with the strange name of "Needful Things" opens in the small Maine town of Castle Rock. It is run by a seemingly kindly old man named Leland Gaunt and happens to have something that each of the main characters wants. They only need to pay a minimal sum...and they have to agree to play a little prank on someone. It goes downhill from there, as the "harmless pranks" eventually trigger a chain reaction leading to plenty of suicides, killings, and Stuff Blowing Up.

The story mainly revolves around Sheriff Alan Pangborn and his attempts to find out just what is going on in his town.

Made into a movie in 1993 starring Max von Sydow as Gaunt and Ed Harris as Sheriff Pangborn.


Needful Things provides examples of:

  • The '80s: King has stated that Needful Things is all of the greedy, negative parts of the decade distilled down into one store.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Everybody calls Patricia Chalmers "Polly", except for her Aunt Evvie, who called her Trisha.
  • A Father to His Men: Sheriff Pangborn. Much more pronounced in the book than the movie, though.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Danforth "Buster" Keeton in the books is an unpleasant person through-and-through, even before he goes crazy. He browbeats his wife (and later murders her), bullies skinny Norris Ridgewick and is so rotten that even mild-mannered Sheriff Pangborn finds himself quietly wishing Buster would just die and spare everyone around him his presence. In the movie, however, a lot of this is toned down: his personality is more small-town yokel than pompous prick, he confesses his embezzlement to Alan outright and levels with him as an equal (something book Buster would never do), and in the movie's climax he even turns on Gaunt outright.
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  • Adapted Out: Too many to count, but a special mention should be made for John "Ace" Merrill, the villain of earlier King work The Body (adapted into the film Stand by Me). In the book he is a main character, acting as Gaunt's Psycho for Hire and the closest thing he has to a Dragon, but in the movie he simply never returns to Castle Rock and Gaunt is never given an accomplice at all (he tricks Buster into doing his bidding for a time, but even he turns on Gaunt eventually).
  • The Alcoholic: Hugh Priest.
  • All Gays Are Pedophiles: Frank Jewett keeps magazines of naked little boys in his office. He and his "friend" George Nelson also once went to a party with very underage boys.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse; Ace Merrill, who is deep in debt to mobsters and has been given a set time to pay them back lest they execute him.
  • A Storm Is Coming: The book's prologue, and stated outright by Gaunt in the movie.
  • Asshole Victim: Wilma Jerzyck has the dubious honor of being the least sympathetic of all of Gaunt's victims. And this list includes an animal-abusing alcoholic, a racist white man, a racist African American, and two pedophiles, among others.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: While walking home, Brian Rusk has a fantasy about going on a date with his teacher, Sally Ratcliffe. It gets interrupted when he walks in front of Hugh Priest's truck and Hugh yells at him:
    “No,” she murmurs, and now her eyes are so wide and so close that he seems almost to drown in them, “you mustn’t, Bri ... it’s wrong ...”
    “It’s right, baby, ” he says, and presses his lips to hers.
    She draws away after a few moments and whispers tenderly:
    “Hey, kid, watch out where the fuck you’re goin!”
  • Author Tract: The book could be seen as a commentary on small-town psychology. On the surface, Castle Rock is an idyllic New England town where everyone is polite and friendly. But Gaunt just pulls a little thread here and there, and things start unraveling fast. In a mere week all the simmering grudges just under the surface boil over until the entire town is killing each other. King being from small-town New England, several of his stories have similar themes.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Two big examples, one of which makes it into the film and one of which does not.
    • Hugh Priest initially comes across as more pathetic than loathsome, but what he does to Raider puts him up there with Wilma Jerzyck in the Asshole Victim category.
    • Frank Jewett, who kills a parakeet with a steak knife at one point.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Gaunt gets to play with this in the film on a grand scale. Not only are several disasters of the 20th century implied to be his handiwork, he directly namedrops Jesus as part of his upgrade from demonic entity to the actual devil.
    Gaunt: The young carpenter from Nazareth? I knew him well. Promising young man. Died badly.
  • Berserk Button: Don't call Danforth Keeton "Buster." Just... don't.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Nettie and possibly Polly, near the end.
  • Bitch Alert: Wilma Jerzyck. She bullies anyone she can get away with (a favorite target is Nettie Cobb, a victim of Domestic Abuse who killed her husband and spent time in an asylum), is mean as shit to a husband she doesn't love (she would leave him in a heartbeat in the unlikely event that pro wrestler Jay Strongbow expressed an interest in her), and has a Hair-Trigger Temper.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: And in contrast to the obviously unpleasant Wilma Jerzyck, there's Nan Roberts, owner of her titular lunchonette. She's the very model of a sweet small-town lady, but the narrative later reveals there's "a pile of account books where her heart should be" and that she owns a very large chunk of Castle Rock. When the Baptists and Catholics are pitted against each other, she fights ferociously on the Baptist side.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Gaunt is defeated, but by then, most of Castle Rock is destroyed. Also, he starts the whole thing again in another town.
    • Downer Ending: The film version is this, due to Gaunt being allowed to get away with his crimes completely scot-free.
  • Black Comedy: There's an unnerving cartoonish quality to many of the deadly pranks Gaunt has his customers carry out, even once the bodies start piling up.
  • Blood Knight: Wilma Jerzyck is the small-town housewife version of this, as it is noted several times that she loves nothing more than a good feud, and goes out of her way to pick fights with people over slights both real and imagined. She ultimately becomes the full version of this trope after coming to believe that Nettie has thrown rocks in her house and destroyed much of her property.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: In both the book and the movie, Nettie comes home after playing her prank on Buster Keeton to find that her dog, Raider, has been killed. The book has him "merely" getting impaled with a corkscrew, but in the movie, Raider was skinned alive and hung up in Nettie's closet.
  • Bookends: The story starts with a narrator who greets the reader and talks about the people in Castle Rock and the new shop. At the end, a narrator greets the reader in another small town, where a new shop is about to open...
  • Bullying a Dragon: Wilma likes picking feuds and considers a murderer who just left an asylum to be a good target. Nettie is generally a gentle and timid woman, but picking a fight with someone mentally unstable is probably not a great idea.
  • Call-Back: This book serves as an ending of King's entire Castle Rock saga and makes several Call Backs to the other Castle Rock stories, including The Dead Zone (John Smith and Frank Dodd), "The Body" (Ace Merrill's search for the dead body), Cujo (Polly visits the Camber House, and Cujo himself), The Dark Half (George Stark and the sparrows), and The Sun Dog (Pop Merrill).
  • Corrupt Politician: "Buster" Keeton, who started stealing from the town's funds to cover his gambling addiction.
  • Canon Welding: Remember Ace, the childhood bully from The Body and its adaptation Stand by Me? He's now working for Gaunt.
    • The town seen in the epilogue is from the King novella The Library Policemen, which appeared in the same collection as The Sun Dog.
    • Sheriff Pangborn in the climax wields the mystical force of The White against Gaunt, which is later made a significant element in the The Dark Tower series.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Tastee-Munch Can and the folding flower trick.
  • Chekhov's Hobby: Sheriff Pangborn's shadow puppet skills come in handy against Gaunt, especially when he creates puppets of Cujo and the sparrows from The Dark Half
  • The Chessmaster: Gaunt, unusually for a Stephen King villain, does most of his evil work by having his customers play "pranks" on various townspeople in such a way that plays up their various feuds and insecurities to the point where people have turned against each other, committed murder, and even been Driven to Suicide.
  • Church Militant: Gaunt's pranks culminate in the town's Baptist and Catholic congregations to literally become this, forming mobs and going to war in the streets with each other.
  • Cool Car: Book Gaunt's Tucker Talisman... which is more than just a car. In the movie it's a black 1958 Mercedes-Benz 300d with no supernatural elements other than the ability to appear and disappear out of thin air. It also does pretty well in a high-speed chase against a more modern police cruiser. It disappears after getting wrecked and blown up and returns as Gaunt's getaway car at the end.
  • Cool Old Lady: Although Polly's parents heavily pressured her to either have her baby in secret and give up for adoption or marry the father out of fear that her rich great-aunt would disinherit them for the embarrassment, it turns out Evvy Chalmers is this. She's the most supportive member of Polly's family in the end, and is calmly practical, plus is the only person Polly feels immediately comfortable telling the whole story of her baby to. When Polly starts to have misgivings about her own "needful thing" and the fake letter saying Alan was investigating her, it starts as her imagining Aunt Evvy calling her out.
  • Concert Kiss: The photo Myra buys gives her realistic visions about Elvis when she touches it. The first one is him pulling her up on stage at a concert and kissing her.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Keeton believes that "Them", a shadowy group of authority figures, is after him. What is actually after him is the Bureau of Taxation, because he's stealing from the town's funds.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Myra's regular visits with the King after she buys a framed photo of Elvis Presley from Mr. Gaunt. Same case with Cora Rusk, only with a pair of (supposedly) the King's sunglasses.
    • Implied with The Fundamentalist Sally Ratcliffe, who feels unusually excited after playing her prank on Frank Jewett.
  • Dead Animal Warning: Nettie's dog, Raider, is skewered with a swiss army knife and left with the note for her to find.
  • Deadly Prank: Part of the payment for every item Gaunt sells in the titular shop. Most of them do not directly result in the death of any person or animal, but the combination of all of the "pranks" lead to multiple murders and suicides.
    • The stink bombs kill at least one person and injure many others, since they cause a stampede toward doors that had been barred beforehand.
  • Deal with the Devil: Any transaction that Mr. Gaunt makes with a customer. No matter how much of a bargain the item appears to be and no matter how low the price seems, the consequences of whatever prank you play will come to bite you in the end, the item will turn shoddy, and he may or may not get your soul in his valise.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The book has two, both of whom work for the city's school system: Frank Jewett (principal) and George T. Nelson (shop teacher). They're both gay, and also both pedophiles. While Jewett makes a minor appearance in the film, for obvious reasons his subplot with George T. Nelson was left out.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Mr. Gaunt, who uses his affability to his advantage. At first, even the reader is led to believe that he is just a nice guy who owns a little shop that has anything a person would desire and is willing to sell you the thing you desire for a bargain and the only ones who would think otherwise are readers familiar with Stephen King's formula. There are also multiple hints that he is up to no good and may not even be human even from the beginning, yet no one except Brian, and the only one he tells is his little brother before he shoots himself right in front of him, realizes that he's a malign influence until after bodies start piling up.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Gaunt typically sets people off by having their possessions or reputations damaged, which causes them to lash out in murderous rage. While the people involved would probably cool off eventually, they aren't given the chance.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Of a sort in the movie. While Gaunt is practically stated outright to be a demon, very few of his supernatural elements and abilities actually survive the transition between the book and the film. The climax in particular, which is much more epic in the book, is downgraded to Gaunt simply tanking a huge explosion and then arrogantly sauntering to his car.
  • Domestic Abuse: The book contains a number of example, most of which survive the transition between book and film.
    • "Buster" Keeton verbally and emotionally abuses his wife, Myrtle, though he doesn't hurt her physically until he goes completely insane and beats her to death with a hammer.
    • Nettie Cobb's husband was a brutal domestic abuser, and she eventually killed him.
    • Wilma Jerzyck specializes in utterly breaking down her husband's spirit.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Polly doesn't want anyone to know about her dead son, even her boyfriend. She also tries to hide how much her arthritis torments her.
  • Driven to Suicide: Several residents commit suicide or try. The first example is tragic, the second has hints of condemnation for cowardice and the third is averted by someone actually taking responsibility for their actions.
    • Brian Rusk, Gaunt's first customer, when he sees that the pranks he did on Gaunt's order indirectly led to the deaths of Wilma and Nettie. His suicide helps majorly clue Alan in to what is going on because it was simply so bizarre.
    • Sally Ratcliffe also does herself in, but the scene in question shows she still couldn't give up the supposed fragment of the ark she bought. She never really tried to fix things either.
    • Norris Ridgewick attempts suicide for similar reasons, but changes his mind. As such he plays a crucial role in the resolution of the climax.
  • Dueling Messiahs: Reverend Rose of the Baptists and Father Brigham of the Catholics. Made explicit in the movie when Reverend Rose shows up at Wilma's funeral and both pastors start trying to drown each other out with their respective prayers for the deceased.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Buster" Keeton hates his childhood nickname.
    • Reverend Rose is also called "Steamboat Willie" behind his back.
  • Enforced Cold War: Played with: even before Gaunt comes to town Castle Rock's Baptist and Catholic churches hate each other, and their respective leaders have apparently made a habit of weekly sermons decrying the moral failings of the other. This cold war is enforced by the rule of law as well as neither side really hating each other to the point of committing violence (though with some members it's a close thing) but Gaunt is easily able to fire up these tensions to the point of both congregations going to war with each other.
  • Expy: Leland Gaunt, of Iago. His methods are also quite similar to that of the character Tortuous Convolvulus (Lucius Détritus in the original French) from Asterix and the Roman Agent, who is sent by Julius Caesar to sow discord in the Gaulish village of the heroes.
  • Eye Colour Change: Book Gaunt's eyes change color depending on who he is talking to. He seems to adopt whatever color will soothe or ingratiate him to his customers most. In one chapter he even goes full Kaleidoscope Eyes.
  • For the Evulz: Gaunt at one point muses that there is no real point to what he's doing anymore. He simply doesn't need any more souls than he already has. But it sure is fun. And besides, he's a BORED immortal.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Leland Gaunt initially presents himself as a genial and charismatic shopkeeper, if a bit eccentric. As the novel goes on he begins to drop the pleasantries more and more frequently showing he is not only crude and nasty, but a profoundly evil being who plays with and destroys people's lives purely for his own amusement.
  • Freak Out: Nettie, when she finds her dog dead.
  • Freudian Excuse: One of the main conflicts is between the Catholics and the Baptists of the town, because the Catholics want to hold a "Casino Nite", and the Baptist minister fiercely opposes this, because (though he doesn't admit it) his father was a gambling addict who eventually killed himself.
  • From Bad to Worse: The story in a nutshell.
  • Fuzz Therapy: Nettie Cobb's dog Raider was given to her by Polly for this purpose. Sadly Raider does not make it through the film, and his death is what causes Nettie to finally snap.
  • The Gambling Addict: "Buster" Keeton, one of the town's selectmen is addicted to gambling at the horse tracks, and started embezzling to cover the costs.
  • Game Face: Gaunt sometimes looks like a charming and handsome man, but he's actually a demon with claws, and a face that is "a horror of eyes and teeth".
  • Genre Blindness: Most of the town. They spend a week playing mean-spirited tricks on people they don't know for reasons they don't understand... not a one of them (except - belatedly - Polly and Eddie) imagines that the mean-spirited tricks played on them might have a similar source.
  • Genre Savvy: Sheriff Pangborn. He has been in a King novel before, after all. Gaunt actually seems to sense this about Pangborn, and avoids interacting with him until the novel's climax.
    Gaunt: That sheriff is what we in the business call a 'hard sell'.
    • This is disappointingly subverted in the film, which has Gaunt meet with Pangborn early and even in the climax has no fear at all of him.
  • Glamour Failure
    • Gaunt admits that most of the things that people get from Needful Things are junk, disguised as treasures by an implied magical illusion. The illusion fails sometimes, usually in a My God, What Have I Done? moment or when someone else's treasure is seen. This is actually all they are, too: They're just a thing you want so badly you trick yourself into thinking you need it.
    • Gaunt himself also experiences significant glamour failure in the book, particularly in the climax where being pressed by Sheriff Pangborn makes it much harder for him to maintain his disguise. After being trashed by Sheriff Pangborn armed with the power of the White, his true form is revealed for all to see and he rides out of town screaming in his Cool Car, which is also quickly revealed to be demonic in nature.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Wilma Jerzyck.
  • Harmful to Minors: Eleven year old Brian Rusk plays two seemingly harmless pranks on Wilma Jerzyk one, throwing mud on her clean sheets; two, throwing rocks at her house with messages rubber banded to them. This results in her and Nettie Cobb killing each other. He hears of their deaths and the role of his pranks in their deaths and the guilt drives him to commit suicide in his garage in front of his seven year old brother.
  • Hate Plague: Gaunt's influence makes the townspeople more aggressive, to the point that they are willing to commit murder over pranks. When he's finally defeated, all fighting stops immediately.
  • Henpecked Husband: Pete Jerzyck, Wilma's husband. The narration states that he wasn't merely afraid of Wilma, "he lived in awe of her, as natives in certain tropical climes once supposedly lived in awe and superstitious dread of the Great God Thunder Mountain."
  • Hope Spot: One of the few items Gaunt sells that seems to actually do anything at all is seemingly magical board game that lets "Buster" predict race winners. He earns a lot of money quickly and plans to use it to cover his embezzlement by reducing it to a level people could overlook, but then one of Alan's deputies plays a little "prank" that makes him go into full blown paranoia mode. He never recovers from this.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Gaunt looks like a charming older man, but his eyes are not a constant color and his hands are misshapen and extremely unpleasant to the touch. His true form is rather less appealing.
  • Hurting Hero: Alan Pangborn has never gotten over his wife and son's death in a car accident several years before.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Keeton is outraged when Mr. Gaunt sends Ace Merrill to help him — Ace is, after all, a criminal. If this is meant to be Played for Laughs, though, it's a very dark joke indeed: Keeton has been embezzling for years, just beat his long-suffering wife's head in with a hammer, and is now planning to blow up most of the town with dynamite. Of course, by this point, Keeton is completely insane.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Hugh Priest starts the story as a reasonable sympathetic alcoholic until he straight up stabs a lonely woman's dog to death with a corkscrew just so he can keep a foxtail that he refuses to even risk by putting it on his car like he intended. He realizes after doing it that he just destroyed the only thing this woman has going for her, only to shrug and walk out.
  • Imposter Forgot One Detail: It's implied that there is always some sort of mistake or overlooked detail with Gaunt's illusions or at least that the illusion always fails at least once. It's up to the buyer to notice the deception and acknowledge it.
    • In an attempt to get Pangborn into the spiral of murder overtaking the town, Gaunt shows him an illusion of his wife and son's car being deliberately hit by one driven by Ace. Pangborn realizes it's a fake when he realizes they're wearing their seatbelts in the illusion - when they died in real life specifically because they weren't.
    • How Polly realizes the letter from San Francisco is fake; it uses Patricia, not Polly, and in San Francisco she never used Patricia, not even on official documents.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Gaunt, again.
  • It Amused Me: Gaunt takes souls from those who die as a result of his machinations, but he admits that he's not really doing any of this for the souls; he has plenty of them at this point. He just finds all of this really, really fun.
  • Kaleidoscope Eyes: The first clue of Gaunt's supernatural nature is that his eye color is always what his current customer finds the most attractive.
  • Karma Houdini: Movie Gaunt never gets taken down a peg at all and to the very end is untouchable. While book Gaunt is just as impossible for Alan to kill, he experiences significantly more retribution and is forced to flee Castle Rock in defeat rather than being allowed to taunt the heroes and then drive out of town like he does in the movie.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Ace Merrill was a Karma Houdini in The Body. Then he comes back for this one and Norris blows his brains out in the climax.
  • Keeping the Handicap: Polly goes to Gaunt to get a magical cure for her crippling arthritis, but eventually she realizes his evil ways and refuses the cure:
    Polly: That was what I wanted, but I don't need it to be gone. I can love you and I can love life and bear the pain all at the same time. I think the pain might even make the rest better, the way a good setting can make a diamond look better.
  • Kick the Dog: Nearly every character does it at some point, but Hugh Priest takes it literally with poor Raider.
  • Large Ham: Reverend Rose-uh, in keeping with the Baptist-preacher stereotype.
  • The Last Dance: Nettie and Wilma.
  • Lightning Bruiser: We see hints of this with Alan Pangborn when he reveals uncanny reflexes, and at one point Polly is incredulous that a man as big as him can move so quickly. He's so fast that at the climax, he can take Gaunt by surprise. Subverted with movie Pangborn, who is allowed to save Brian Rusk only to be unceremoniously shot in the climax.
  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Somewhat subverted, as the building itself was there yesterday and will be there tomorrow: it's run as a perfectly normal small town curio store, complete with "coming soon" signs before the grand opening and regular business hours. (Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment.) Less suspicious that way. However, it does seem to be mysteriously closed at inconvenient moments, with a different sign in the door each time.
  • Lonely Doll Girl: Myrtle Keeton likes to be alone with the dolls she collects because they don't call her stupid, unlike her husband. This is adapted out in the movie, which seems to merge her character with the snooty Lenore Potter to make Buster more sympathetic.
  • Louis Cypher: Gaunt is some kind of a demon that has been wandering on Earth for centuries, collecting souls and triggering chaos and death wherever he goes. In the movie, they explicitly try to show he is Satan himself.
  • Made of Iron: Movie Gaunt walks out of an explosion large enough to blow his whole shop to smithereens none the worse for wear. The book version was not nearly so untouchable, experiencing a slow but steady Glamour Failure in the chapters leading up to the climax. It's still impossible for Alan Pangborn to actually kill the monster, but he does manage to drive it away and implicitly free the souls he had taken.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Gaunt is like Iago on a large scale. He takes the already existing grudges between the townspeople and makes them worse with his pranks, until they kill each other.
  • Meaningful Name: It's a pretty safe bet that Leland Gaunt wasn't named at random.
  • Mercy Kill: Ace does this to Buster in the book, after Norris shoots him in the stomach.
  • Mile-High Club: In one of Myra's visions about Elvis, they're having sex on his private jet, the "Lisa Marie".
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Non-comedic example. Gaunt manipulates both Sally Ratcliffe and Lester Pratt (who are engaged to each other) to believe that the other one is cheating. This eventually causes their deaths.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Gaunt in the movie gives Dan Keeton the manhandling he gives Ace in the books in response to catching him praying "on his time". Later in the climax he hectors and calls him "Buster" one time too many.
  • Moral Guardians: Reverend William "Steamboat Willie" Rose of the Baptists is one of these, as he is morally outraged by the Catholic Church's "Casino Nite" event which involves some (very soft) gambling. Late in the book it's revealed through narration that his father was a compulsive gambler and alcoholic, explaining his fanatical stance of the issue.
  • Mutual Kill: Most of the townsfolk set up to fight each other end up killing both their opponent and themselves in the process. It's even enforced by the "guns" Gaunt sells near the end, which are implied to be guns no more than his car is really a car. Even if the victim survives the bullet wound, their heart will eventually explode. Though gunshot victims who survive until Gaunt is driven out of town seem to survive.
  • My God, What Have I Done?
    • Several of Gaunt's pawns have this reaction as they manage to break free of his influence. Three of them try to commit suicide. Two succeed. The third, Deputy Norris Ridgewick, stops himself when he realizes just how badly he was tricked, and takes a level in badass, as seen below, to help stop Gaunt. Polly also realizes her mistake and destroys her arthritis charm in the process.
    • Two of Gaunt's victims manage to somehow both fire at each other and miss their bullets, which snaps them back to their senses. They move to reconcile only for the building to explode next to them and kill both. Good riddance: Both were child molesters and one dealt drugs.
  • Nervous Wreck: Nettie is always tense and jumpy due to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband and her own mental instability. Keeton also gradually becomes this as paranoia sets in.
  • The Nondescript: In the book, essentially nothing about Leland Gaunt's physical appearance is ever revealed, save for his more peculiar features. He seems to be a tall, thin man somewhere in later middle-age based on Brian's initial impression, and later interactions with other characters bear at least this out, but only two things are described in explicit, consistent detail — his crooked teeth, which "jostle" and overlap in a very wide smile, and his hands, on which the first and second finger are exactly the same length. The narration also makes it abundantly clear that his eyes change color to whatever the customer finds most trustworthy, and that he can do it himself at will, so it's more accurate to say that Leland Gaunt looks like however you expect him to.
  • Non-Fatal Explosions: Averted Frank Jewett and George Nelson do NOT escape after their last-minute reconciliation.
  • Noodle Incident: Unusually, a future one (only in the movie):
    Gaunt: Oh, by the way, give my regards to your grandson. Bob will be his name, international trade his game. I'll see him in Jakarta, 2053. August 14th. 10 a.m. A nice, sunny day. We'll make headlines.
  • Number of the Beast: Polly Chalmers had ominous memories of the Department of Child Welfare at 666 Geary Street, San Francisco.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: The movie soundtrack is full of it.
  • One-Winged Angel: Hinted at in the book when Gaunt advises Ace not to make him mad. Ace asks if he would "Hulk out", and though Gaunt seems annoyed at first, yes, he assents, he would "Hulk Out". And later, when Ace does make him angry, Gaunt's face turns into "a horror of eyes and teeth" blowing steam, his hands become talons and he threatens to disembowel Ace.
  • Only Sane Man: Alan Pangborn, and even he is very nearly caught up in Gaunt's treachery.
  • Paranoia Gambit: Gaunt basically pulls a huge one on the entire town. Everyone is assigned to pull a "prank" on someone they have no particular attachment to, positive or negative. Everyone on the receiving end thinks the prank was done by their worst enemy, and sets out for revenge on the wrong person. Even if one of the feuders should come to their senses and restrain themselves from committing any violent acts, the other half of the feud will make sure that there is a violent and fatal confrontation.
    • On a smaller scale, Wilma Jerzyck does this to Nettie Cobb, making threatening phone calls and slow drive-bys of her house just to freak her out.
  • Parental Neglect: After Cora gets the sunglasses from Mr. Gaunt, she pretty much stops paying attention to her sons. When Brian commits suicide, she doesn't even realize what happened, nor does she care.
  • Pet the Dog: After Gaunt is defeated, Reverend Willie and Father Brigham (who had just been trying to kill each other) are seen, badly injured, leaning on each other for support.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: When Cora Rusk angrily storms to Needful Things to see Mr. Gaunt after her visit with the King has been rudely interrupted by the presence of another woman, she doesn't realize that her nightgown is only partially buttoned and showing her privates until Mr. Gaunt points it out to her.
  • Poisoned Weapons: The bullets from the guns Gaunt sells have some kind of unknown toxin on them, which causes slow and painful death (if the bullet wound itself isn't fatal). It may be more supernatural, however, as the "poison" seems to dissipate after the climax.
  • Police Are Useless: Averted. Sheriff Pangborn is 100% solid badass to the point that even Gaunt knows to stay clear of him, and deputies Norris, Andy, John, and Seat all pull their weight in trying to save the town, even after getting the crap kicked out of them. The importance of dispatchers are also highlighted late in the book, playing an important role in saving the town, both by simply being dispatch as well as joining in the brawl when the police station is under attack.
  • Porn Stash: Frank Jewett, the school principal is secretly a pedophile, and he's actually dumb enough to keep his collection of child pornography magazines in his own office, albeit in a locked drawer. The "prank" Sally Ratcliffe plays on him is to force that drawer open and scatter the magazines all over the floor of the office.
  • Portal Crossroad World: Whipple Street in Cambridge, which is heavily implied to be connected to Leng, a place in the works of Lovecraft where different realities converge. Gaunt sends Ace Merrill there to retrieve his Tucker Talisman (which is later revealed to be a demonic hellwagon).
  • The Prankster: A notably dark example. Gaunt encourages his customers into playing seemingly harmless practical jokes on one another, all for the purpose of escalating long-held grudges that will eventually turn violent. Pangborn compares him to the Joker.
  • Precocious Crush: Eleven-year-old Brian has a crush on the teacher of his speech therapy class, Sally Ratcliffe.
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: The shop has this motto on the wall: I DO NOT ISSUE REFUNDS OR MAKE EXCHANGES CAVEAT EMPTOR! (Latin for "let the buyer beware".)
  • Pride: Polly's Fatal Flaw and what Gaunt uses to turn her against Pangborn. She eventually snaps out of it.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Buster and to some degree even Gaunt himself in the movie. The way he eggs on Pangborn and Buster with grade-school taunts like "Wussy!" destroys his Sophisticated as Hell façade more effectively than any bomb ever could.
  • Pretender Diss: When Alan advises Reverend Rose to let the Catholics hold a casino night and not to escalate the conflict any further, Rose brings up Jesus chasing out the moneylenders from the Temple.
    Rose: When-uh Jesus saw those evil men and women defiling the house of the Lord-uh, He looked for no line of infringement. Our Lord did what He-uh knew to be right!
    Alan: Yes. But you're not Him.
  • Rage-Breaking Point: Nettie Cobb endured years of abuse from her husband...until he broke one of her pieces of carnival glass and she stabbed him to death in his sleep.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Aside from Alan himself, this is what the Castle County Sheriff's Office seems to be made up of. Alan is quite aware of it, but he's A Father to His Men and won't have anyone mistreating them. His loyalty to them is repaid in spades, as their inner badasses are all brought out over the course of the book.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Gaunt in the books is fairly indifferent to sex outside of one strange conversation with Myra Evans. In the movie he has not one but two sexual encounters with Polly Chalmers, and in both of them he's pretty obviously using his supernatural powers to mind whammy her into indulging him.
  • Re-Cut: TBS aired a version of the movie that was extended almost a full hour, restoring a ton a character scenes and story.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Gaunt. In the book, it is mentioned that he was active in Europe during the The Black Death. Practically spelled out for viewers in the movie:
    Norris Ridgewick: Come on, Alan... 1894?
  • Redemption Equals Death: Buster Keeton in the film.
  • Red Right Hand: One of the early signs that something's wrong with Gaunt are his hands: peculiarly long-fingered, and the first and second finger are exactly the same length. They're also rough and extremely unpleasant and even sickening to the touch.
  • The Resenter: Some thirty-forty years later, and Ace Merrill still hasn't gotten over Gordie LaChance and his friends getting the better of him in The Body, to say nothing of the great success LaChance has found in his adulthood as a writer. When Gaunt asks him how he feels about the prospect of blowing Castle Rock to kingdom come, Ace doesn't think about the catastrophic loss of life or the millions of dollars in property damage of the act. No, he thinks about Gordie, and how his old nemesis "probably wipes his ass with ten dollar bills" now.
  • Sanity Slippage: Frank Jewett and Buster Keeton, never the most stable of individuals, are driven totally off the deep end thanks to Gaunt's machinations. Frank actually acknowledges that he has lost his mind, and gleefully embraces it.
  • Selective Obliviousness: When the principal of an elementary school has his desk busted open and all his child pornography strewn about his office, at least one teacher seemingly makes a conscious decision to believe the magazines were planted rather than face the truth.
  • Series Fauxnale: The original front cover billed the book as "the last Castle Rock story", but King has brought it back for several stories that were published later. It still remains the last solo full-length novel of King's to be set in Castle Rock, in part because the town is nearly razed to the ground in the climax.
  • Shout-Out: The book contains several Shout Outs to the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Night-Gaunts are a fictional race that appears in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Gaunt says that he got his cocaine from the Plains of Leng, a place that appears in several Lovecraft stories, and later Gaunt sends Ace to a Cambridge slum that is heavily implied to be at least a part of Leng itself. While examining Gaunt's garage, Ace sees a graffiti that reads "Yog-Sothoth Rules". Yog-Sothoth is a cosmic entity in Lovecraft's work.
    • It also contains several nods to Twin Peaks. The book has sometimes been described as Stephen King's version of Twin Peaks, being that it's about an apparently peaceful small town community full of colorful characters in which things are actually much darker than they seem and a demon entity is wreaking havoc. Specifically, not only is the show directly title dropped when Deputy Norris Ridgewick is compared to Deputy Andy, but it contains a subtler nod: the villain of the piece is called Leland Gaunt and claims to be from Akron, Ohio. Actor Ray Wise, who played Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks, is from Akron, Ohio.
  • Slasher Smile: Mr. Gaunt does this in private after he sells Brian the Sandy Koufax baseball card. Just one of the multiple hints that he is a Devil in Plain Sight and possibly the most obvious of the early ones.
  • Sleight of Handiness: Alan Pangborn is seen performing simple sleight-of-hand tricks and shadow puppets throughout the novel; when he finally confronts Leland Gaunt at the climax, he finds himself tapping into Gaunt's magic, and his tricks become real (attacking Gaunt with shadow-puppets of sparrows and a certain legendarily vicious St. Bernard).
  • Small Town, Big Hell: The sinister Leland Gaunt sets up shop in Castle Rock, and begins turning up the simmering personal and religious tensions between the townsfolk.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Gaunt.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The brutal fight/murder between Nettie and Wilma in the movie is set to Schubert's "Ave Maria", a composition commonly used for this trope.
    • The audiobook version (read by King himself) features a weird, bouncy, jangly carnival organ, especially during the most violent scenes. This along with King's slightly nasal Yankee twang makes the death scenes sound much goofier than they should be.
  • Southern Gothic Satan: An example where the Tall Dark Stranger explicitly is the Devil or at least a demon. Leland Gaunt shows up in a shop that wasn't there before, and gives the townsfolk of Castle Rock special little things in exchange for pranks. The little pranks eventually set the townsfolk against each other till dozens are dead and the town on fire.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Brian Rusk survives his suicide attempt in the movie, in the book he is not so lucky.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Sheriff Pangborn’s wife and son, last seen alive and kicking in The Dark Half, have died in a car crash sometime before the novel starts.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Gaunt leaves a tape for his Dragon, Ace Merrill, giving instructions for what he should do. When Ace considers ignoring the instructions and just stealing Gaunt's stuff, the tape starts up again on its own and threatens him with a fate worse than death. It's at this point that Ace realizes that the tape player isn't even plugged in.
  • Those Two Guys: The "Flying Corson Brothers" Mike and Dave, who only appear once in a flashback and only exist to give Ace Merrill a sufficient motivation to return to Castle Rock.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Used in-universe; most people who buy their personal "needful thing" from Gaunt become too obsessed with protecting and guarding it to ever use it in the manner intended. It's implied that Gaunt relies on this, lest someone else see and point out that their treasure is really junk. Unfortunately, the trope doesn't hold true when Gaunt starts selling guns...
  • Took a Level in Badass: All of Alan's deputies over the course of the novel, but especially Norris Ridgewick, who first appeared as a Clueless Deputy in the previous novel The Dark Half. Here, he finishes off Gaunt's henchmen "Buster" Keeton and Ace. Bag of Bones reveals he goes on to become sheriff of Castle County.
  • Trapped by Gambling Debts: Buster and Ace are both deep in debt, Buster from his embezzling (to cover the costs of his gambling addiction) and Ace from a cocaine deal gone bad. Gaunt gleefully uses it against both of them.
  • Treasure Map: Ace buys a Treasure Map from Gaunt to his uncle's fortune. At least that's what he thinks. The treasure is trash and, while Ace refuses to accept it, it's implied that that his uncle never hid or invested his money at all and it simply burned with him.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Visiting with the King.
  • Vomiting Cop: As previously established in The Dark Half, Norris Ridgewick is a sensitive soul. He tends to throw up when working bad car wrecks. He even does so when the driver has managed to escape injury because of how bad it could have been.
  • Went to the Great X in the Sky: "Pop Merrill's gone to that big flea-market in the sky".
  • What Have We Ear?: Sheriff Pangborn, an amateur magician does the trick with Sean Rusk.