Desperation (novel)

Desperation (novel)
First edition cover
Author(s) Stephen King
Country USA
Language English
Genre(s) Horror
Publisher Viking
Publication date September 24, 1996
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 704
ISBN 978-0670868360
Preceded by The Green Mile
Followed by Bag of Bones

Desperation is a horror novel by Stephen King. It was published in 1996 at the same time as its "mirror" novel, The Regulators. It was made into a TV film starring Ron Perlman, Tom Skeritt, and Steven Weber[1] in 2006.

The two novels represent parallel universes relative to one another, and most of the characters present in one novel's world also exist in the other novel's reality, albeit in different circumstances.


Plot summary

Desperation is a story about several people who, while traveling along the desolated Highway 50 in Nevada, get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the fictional mining town of Desperation. Entragian uses various pretexts for the abductions, from an arrest for drug possession to “rescuing” a family from a nonexistent gunman.

First brought in is the Carver Family of Ralph, Ellen, their son David and their daughter Kristen, known as Pie to her brother. Entragian pushes Pie down the stairs once the family arrives at the police station, breaking her neck. Then comes Mary and Peter, a married couple driving cross country in Peter's sister's car, and are busted for an unknown stash of drugs. After arriving at the station, Entragian shoots Peter three times in the stomach, leaving him for dead and throwing Mary into a jail cell.

Third comes John Marinville, an old author riding cross country on his motorcycle and gathering material for a new book. Entragian plants the drug baggy found in Peter and Mary's car and hauls him off to jail. Following behind John is his assistant, Steve, who has picked up a female hitchhiker, Cynthia. While Entragian has disposed of Marinville's bike, Marinville manages to get a call through to Steve on his cell phone. However, due to the bad transmission, he is unable to tell them to call the state police.

The final captive, already in the jail cells at the beginning of the novel, is Tom Billingsley, the town vet and former councilman. Billingsley witnessed Entragian systematically murder almost every other person in the town of Desperation.

Soon, the captives realize that something is wrong with Entragian, as they observe his bizarre statements and mannerisms, which soon gets escalated to brutal assaults and murder. Further, they began to notice Entragian bleeding both internally and externally, after which he takes David's mother to the mining pit.

Soon, David realizes that they must escape from Entragian as he might come back and kill all of them. He escapes from his cell after and is able to free the others. David Carver has an ability to commune with and receive guidance from God after a miracle involving his best friend and a horrible accident; in addition to this, he is also able to perform Christ-like miracles such as producing sufficient food for a large number of people from a very small amount. After they escape from the police station, a dark shape reappears in the cop car. It is revealed to be David's mother who has been possessed like Entragian.

The survivors' first inclination is to escape Desperation, until David reveals that it is God's will that they confront Tak, an evil being, and seal it in the pit again. Soon David's mother comes and kidnaps one of the survivors and takes her to the mining pit. The survivors come to understand that Entragian was possessed by an ancient evil, a supernatural entity that calls itself Tak, which had been imprisoned in an old abandoned mineshaft until recent activity by a local mining company unearthed it. Tak has the ability to control the local desert wildlife, such as buzzards, snakes, spiders, scorpions, and coyotes, and can also take more direct control of human hosts, though such manifestation causes rapid deterioration of the host's body. As such, Tak needs to frequently find new hosts to inhabit in order to travel outside the ini, a well in an underground chamber, and Tak’s entryway into this world. Mary, the kidnapped survivor, escapes Tak and hurts David's mother. Soon, the survivors return to the mining pit and one of them, Johnny Marinville, sacrifices himself to seal Tak in the pit forever. As they are leaving town, they stop by Mary's car and while in it, David finds in his pocket a hall pass that Johnny gave back to him unknowingly with a message from Johnny on it.


Stephen King was inspired to write Desperation as a result of a cross-country drive in 1991, during which he visited the small desert community of Ruth, Nevada, near U.S. 50. His first thought was that the town's inhabitants were all dead. He then wondered who had killed them, and the idea occurred to him that the town's sheriff had done so.[2] In 1994, he took another cross-country trip, this time astride his motorcycle, and heard the tale of Chinese laborers who had been trapped inside a collapsed mine near Ruth. Rather than risking the loss of would-be rescuers, the Chinese men were abandoned to their fate. This anecdote was the germ of King's plot for the novel.[3]

Release with The Regulators

Desperation was released simultaneously with the novel The Regulators (published by King under the name Richard Bachman). The two novels share many similarities, most notably the cast of characters (in some instances, the ages of the similar characters are vastly different). The original hardcover versions of the novels had cover artwork by Mark Ryden that connected when the two books were placed side by side.

Dark Tower connections

  • Tak is, more than likely, one of the creatures described as being from the todash spaces between universes.
  • The term can-toi (that is, 'children of the desert') is used in the Dark Tower series to describe the Low Men in Yellow Coats, which are strange animal-human hybrids.
  • In the Dark Tower short story The Little Sisters of Eluria, the vampiric Sisters speak to each other in a language Roland does not recognize. All he can make out is "can de lach, mi him en tow", phrases from Desperation.
  • David Carver walks along Bear Street to reach the Bear Street Woods. This road and the woods may be along the beam of the Bear, a guardian of the Beam in the Dark Tower Series.

TV movie

Connection to King's other works

  • Cynthia Smith, the drifter who gets mixed up in the events of the novel after being picked up by Steve Ames, was a resident of the shelter Daughters and Sisters from Rose Madder. She mentions sustaining a broken nose in Norman's crazed attack. There is also mention of 'a baleful rose-madder glint' in the eyes of a horse drawn on the wall of the movie theatre in which the group takes shelter.
  • In the novel, Ellen Carver mentions reading the paperback Misery in Paradise (presumably by Paul Sheldon, the main character in Misery).[4]
  • Tommyknockers are mentioned during Tom Billingsly's China Pit story.
  • In the film, a vision of David's shows the words "redrum dog" (reversed to: murder god) painted in red upon the wall. This is a reference to The Shining.
  • Audrey Wyler tells an identical story about owning a rifle to a story told by George Barton Dawes in Roadwork, another story by Stephen King (under the pseudonym Richard Bachman). In Desperation Audrey says "The year I was twelve, my old man gave me a .22. The first thing I did was to go outside our house in Sedilia and shoot a jay. When I went over to it, it was still alive, too. It was trembling all over, staring straight ahead, and its beak was opening and closing, very slowly." In Roadwork Dawes is thinking about .22 single-shot rifle he had as a boy. "He had wanted that rifle for three years and when he finally got it he couldn't think of anything to do with it. He shot at cans for a while, then shot a blue jay. The jay hadn't been a clean kill. It sat in the snow surrounded by a pink blood stain, its beak slowly opening and closing." In both stories, the gun and the bird are identical, as is the detail about the beak 'opening and closing' slowly.
  • Toward the end of the film, John Marinville experiences a flashback to an incident in Saigon in which he fled from a bomber, and he realizes that Tak had been in the bomber. Following the revelation, he describes Tak as "It," with a very strong emphasis on the word. This is a reference to the Stephen King novel It, which features an antagonist (Pennywise) possessing very similar abilities to Tak and having a similar "true form."
  • Steve mentions that he lived and has family in Arnette TX, which is ground zero for "the super flu" from The Stand.


External links

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