As his sixty-fifth birthday winds down, I decided what better way to reflect on arguably the most prolific horror author of all time’s career than by celebrating the strongest female characters in Stephen King’s library of work.
King has made quite a living over the last 39 years weaving tales that haunt, inspire and entertain. While most of these main characters have been males or creatures born in nightmares, there has been a healthy collection of novels driven by female characters in Mr. King’s catalogue.
It has always fascinated me that King can so easily tap into the female psyche with such a strong conviction. It takes a truly talented author to do what King has done for almost four decades. However, as King himself once famously said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
Happy Birthday to one of the hardest working men in literature. Here’s to many, many more.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the ladies who have left their mark on King’s career and our dreams and nightmares.
Winifred Torrance / ‘The Shining’
While Shelley Duvall is widely recognized as Wendy Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of one of King’s greatest works, it’s Rebecca De Mornay who portrayed the character of Winifred far more accurately in the less publicized (and less acclaimed, although it won two Primetime Emmys) mini-series back in 1997.
In the book, Winifred is a woman who has lived through hell and back with her husband, Jack, a recovering alcoholic. Jack becomes an all-around psycho once the family locks themselves into The Overlook Hotel for the duration of a winter up in the mountains of Colorado.
Winifred is not only pitted against Jack and a violently haunted hotel, she also must keep her tormented son Danny in check as she fights for their survival. Duvall’s portrayal was terrifying, but it did absolutely no justice to the strong female character King created in his epic book. De Mornay not only looked like the Wendy we all rooted for in the book, she also was the Winifred who kicks ass and survives the horrors of The Overlook Hotel, making her the leading lady in King’s literary universe.
Carrie White / ‘Carrie’
It all started in 1973 with a novel King all but gave up on when he trashed a few pages of a short story manuscript. Luckily, his wife fished the papers out of the trash and encouraged her husband to finish the intriguing premise.
King flexed his creative muscle right off the bat, telling the tale of a high school girl trapped in a home and a life run by her religiously zealous mother. Aside from the torment of being a maturing young woman in a household where practically everything is a sin, Carrie White also possesses the supernatural ability of telekinesis.
A reversal on the Cinderella fairy tale spun in a way only King can conceive, the story of Carrie White is not only terrifying in the visceral sense, it also introduces the reader to a young girl who we grow to love and root for, even as she is burning down the very town that has long since torn her down.
Annie Wilkes / ‘Misery’
Annie Wilkes just might be one of the most widely recognized cinema psychos of all time. It’s even more awesome that she is even more terrifying, insane and evil in the book that the film starring Kathy Bates was based off of.
Wilkes is a country bumpkin type of lady who only wants to make sure her beloved book series ends to her liking. When she has the chance to incapacitate and hold author Paul Sheldon against his will, Annie jumps at the chance.
The mythos of Annie Wilkes is a deliciously horrid one- we are led to believe she has murdered dozens of people, including several babies while she was a nurse at a hospital, before falling into seclusion in her farm home and spending her days reading paperbacks.
Whether it’s forcing him to drink soap water, cutting off his foot and then cauterizing the wound with a blowtorch, or slicing off his thumb with an electric knife, the book version of Annie Wilkes is downright nightmarish. Of course, the film version isn’t a saint either- who doesn’t know of the quartering scene?
Susannah Dean / ‘The Dark Tower’ series
Odetta Holmes, Detta Walker, Susannah Dean. The woman is known by three names throughout the series, but one thing is for certain- she is an all-around bad ass.
Brain damage caused after being assaulted as a child leaves Odetta/Detta with split personalities- the defined and moral Odetta Holmes and the vengeful, hate-filled Detta Walker. After the two separate beings come together by the power of ka, the woman comes to refer to herself as Susannah Dean. Susannah is the middle name both women share, while Dean is the last name of Eddie, the man the woman grows to love during their journey with Roland of Gilead through the eight books in the series.
As the only member of Roland’s ka-tet to not die at some point in the series, Susannah is arguably the most resilient woman in recent literary memory.
Lisey Landon / ‘Lisey’s Story’
A beautiful mixture of psychological terror and romance, this is one of King’s most underrated works as far as the mainstream reading world goes.
A widow still struggling to cope with the loss of her famous author husband two years earlier, Lisey finally musters up the courage to slowly clean out her husband’s writing area. After being tormented emotionally and physically by a crazed fan of her husband’s, Lisey is forced to begin to realize her marriage wasn’t as plain and simple as she’d like to believe it was.
Lisey transports to an alternate world her husband Scott fondly referred to as ‘Boo’ya Moon’, a world that provides a safe haven for those who inhabit it. A world that holds a special gift for Lisey from Scott- Lisey’s story.
Mrs. Massey (‘The Shining’) – No one will ever forget her horrid bath tub scene from Kubrick’s film version, but her tale in the book is equally nightmarish and grotesque.
Jessie Burlingame (‘Gerald’s Game’) – a slow burn of a story, Jessie is the hallucinating lead character who must fight off the demons in her head and in the real world all while handcuffed to the head board of the bed she once shared with her husband.
Mother Abagail (‘The Stand’) – The spiritual guidance of the Free Zone Committee, Abagail represented the wholesome Christianity at play during the end of the world for a small group of survivors.
Did your favorite King female character make the list? Was she ranked where she ought to be? I look forward to your comments!