This reading group guide for Misery includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
A famous novelist is held hostage by his “number one fan” while suffering a frightening case of writer’s block—how could things get worse? Stephen King finds a way as bestselling novelist Paul Sheldon matches wits with the deranged Annie Wilkes. As Annie nurses Paul after an automobile accident, she discovers that her beloved author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie then becomes Paul’s captor, insisting that Paul write a book that brings Misery back to life—just for Annie, or else. Annie has a lot of ways to inspire Paul. One is a needle. Another is an axe. Misery is “classic Stephen King . . . full of twists and turns and mounting suspense” (The Boston Globe).
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Part I begins with the Friedrich Nietzsche quote “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” How does this quote set the stage for the “Annie” section of the novel and for Annie Wilkes herself?
2. Think of other characters like Annie in literature, such as Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. What do these women have in common? Why are they so intimidating and frightening?
3. Though Paul has “spent most of his adult life thinking the word writer was the most important definition of himself” (page 31), he despises Misery, his own creation and his most popular work. What does this tell the reader about Paul?
4. Paul often recalls episodes from his childhood that parallel his current circumstances. The African bird from a visit to the zoo with his mother, for instance. Why does Paul associate himself with the African bird (page 62)?
5. Why is Annie so insistent on Misery’s Return being fair (page 116)? Why does Paul ultimately agree with her criticism?
6. King includes several passages from Misery’s Return throughout Misery itself, even with the missing letters from the typewriter and then in cursive when Paul begins writing longhand. Are these passages necessary? How do they affect the novel as a whole?
7. In the Uncle Remus stories, when Brer Rabbit leads his would-be captors to his “laughin’ place,” it turns out to be a cavern of bees. How is Annie’s “Laughing Place” (page 179) like Brer Rabbit’s?
8. There are references to other King novels in Misery, such as when Annie describes The Overlook Hotel from The Shining on page 219. Some authors create fictional worlds for themselves in this manner, like William Faulkner and his Yoknapatawpha County. What does an author achieve with these references and fictional worlds that span many stories?
9. Discuss the many different kinds of “gotta” (pages 249 and 284) found in Misery. How is each character driven by his or her gottas?
10. Why is Paul also Scheherazade to himself (page 246)? Why does it take him such a long time to realize this?
11. Think of Humbert Humbert in Lolita and Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick, obsessives who lose touch with reality, much like Annie. Why is obsession such fertile ground for unsettling and terrifying characters?
12. The four parts of Misery are titled “Annie,” “Misery,” “Paul,” and “Goddess.” Why is the novel structured this way? How do these section names reflect Paul’s experiences?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Watch the 1990 film adaptation of Misery starring Kathy Bates and James Caan. Discuss the similarities and differences between the book and the movie. Misery has also been adapted for the stage. What do you think makes the story work visually?
2. Play a game of Can You? (page 124) like Paul did as a child. After the game, discuss whether it was easier or harder than you thought and what
Misery 01Duration: 01h20min
Misery 02Duration: 01h04min
Misery 03Duration: 01h13min
Misery 04Duration: 01h23min
Misery 05Duration: 01h24min
Misery 06Duration: 52min
Misery 07Duration: 47min
Misery 08Duration: 01h04min
Misery 09Duration: 01h12min
Misery 10Duration: 01h29min
Misery 11Duration: 17min