10 Facts About Stephen King's Pet Sematary

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In 1983, Stephen King was already among the most successful horror novelists in the world, with a string of bestsellers and hit film adaptations to his name. While he was already becoming recognized as a master of the genre, there were ideas so horrific that even King didn’t want to venture too far into.

Thanks to a move to a new home, a perilous roadway, and a dead cat, King dreamed up a book that he once considered too frightening to even publish, and stuck it in a drawer. A publishing contract ultimately coaxed the book out of that drawer, and we got Pet Sematary—a novel so scary that King didn’t want to show it the world.

In the nearly 40 years since its publication, Pet Sematary has become one of King’s most beloved and most talked-about books, spawning a hit film adaptation in 1989 and a second version set to arrive in theaters on April 5, 2019.

Here, from its dark inspirations to its unlikely path to publication, are 10 facts about Pet Sematary.

1. The book was inspired by Stephen King’s own life.

Stephen King’s inspiration for Pet Sematary came quite clearly and directly from events in his own life. In the late 1970s, King was invited to be a writer in residence and professor at his alma mater, the University of Maine at Orono. To facilitate this, he moved his family into a home in Orrington, Maine. Everything about the arrangement was fine—except for the road that ran past the rural house. It was, like the road in Pet Sematary, full of fast, heavy trucks, and frequently claimed the lives of local pets. As a result, a pet cemetery had been established in the woods by local children. According to King, it really did bear a sign that read “Pet Sematary.”

Shortly after the King family moved into the house, King discovered his daughter’s cat dead by the side of the road, and they buried the pet in the cemetery. A little while later, while the family was outside flying a kite, his youngest son—who was not yet 2 years old—ran toward the road in a scene that clearly mirrors the events of the novel. King managed to stop his son in time, but the implications of the scenario quickly took hold of his imagination, as he explained in a later introduction to the novel:

“But a part of my mind has never escaped from that gruesome what if: Suppose I hadn’t caught him? Or suppose he had fallen in the middle of the road instead of on the edge of it?”

This vivid, horrifying thought—coupled with dreams later that night of a reanimated corpse outside the house—were the seed for Pet Sematary.

2. King didn’t want to publish the book.

For all of its fantastic elements, Pet Sematary is the story of a family who loses a child, and the madness and pain that grief puts them through as it ultimately drives Dr. Louis Creed to do the unthinkable. Because of that, King was reluctant to show the book to anyone upon finishing it.

“I’m proud of that because I followed it all the way through, but it was so gruesome by the end of it, and so awful. I mean, there’s no hope for anybody at the end of that book,” King told The Paris Review in 2006. “Usually I give my drafts to my wife Tabby to read, but I didn’t give it to her. When I finished I put it in the desk and just left it there. I worked on Christine, which I liked a lot better, and which was published before Pet Sematary.”

Even decades after its publication, King still considers Pet Sematary to be his most frightening book, and the one in which he felt he’d finally gone “too far.” Though the book was eventually published in 1983 and embraced by the public as one of his greatest commercial successes, King himself still finds the book extremely distressing.

“Put simply, I was horrified by what I had written, and the conclusions I’d drawn,” King later wrote.

3. It was published out of necessity.

After writing Pet Sematary, King simply filed it away in a drawer and went to work on his next book, later writing in an introduction to the novel that he didn’t expect it would ever be published “in my lifetime.” When the book finally did make it to stores in 1983, it was out of business necessity, and not creative motivation.

“I had ended my relationship with Doubleday, the publisher of my early books, but I owed them a final novel before accounts could be closed completely,” King recalled. “I only had one in hand that wasn’t spoken for, and that one was Pet Sematary. I talked it over with my wife, who is my best counselor when I’m not sure how to proceed, and she told me that I should go ahead and publish the book. She thought it was good. Awful, but too good not to be read.”

Because the book was published as King was parting ways with his previous publisher, Doubleday, he didn’t do any publicity to promote the book, even as Doubleday launched a massive ad campaign of its own along with a huge print run for the book. King’s lack of interviews in the lead-up to its publication only added to its mystique, and Pet Sematary became a huge success as the book even Stephen King thought was too scary. A year after its publication, King was still unsure of his final decision.

“If I had my way about it, I still would not have published Pet Sematary,” King said. “I don’t like it. It’s a terrible book—not in terms of the writing, but it just spirals down into darkness. It seems to be saying that nothing works and nothing is worth it, and I don’t really believe that.”

4. He wrote it at his neighbor’s house.

Author Stephen King poses at the premiere of IT in Bangor, Maine
Scott Eisen, Getty Images for Warner Bros.

Another plot element from Pet Sematary that King borrowed from his real life is the presence of a kind neighbor, and the neighbor actually had a hand in helping King compose the book. In this case, according to King, the neighbor was a man named Julio DeSanctis, who owned a store across from the Kings’x Orrington home.

It was DeSanctis who gave King the line, “That road has used up a lot of animals.” While he might never have said “dead is better,” DeSanctis did provide King with a comfortable space in which to write his new scary story.

“There was no writing space in the Orrington house, but there was an empty room in Julio’s store, and it was there that I wrote Pet Sematary,” King wrote in his introduction to the book.

5. It takes place in a fictional Maine town with a real-life counterpart.

While King lived in Orrington during his residency at the University of Maine, and Louis Creed moves to his house to take a job at the same university, King chose to set Pet Sematary in a fictional town located in the same area of the state. King chose the name Ludlow for his town, and situated it both near Orono and near his own other fictional towns, Castle Rock (the setting of Cujo and Needful Things, among other stories) and Derry (the setting of IT).

What makes this notable is the fact that there’s already a town named Ludlow in Maine. It’s in the northeastern part of the state, near the Canadian border.

6. It features connections to other King works.

Like most of King’s novels, Pet Sematary exists in a universe populated by other King stories, characters, and locales, and the novel makes brief reference to these at various points. Early in the novel, while talking about the dangers of the road and the animal it’s killed, Jud Crandall refers to a St. Bernard who “went rabid downstate a couple of years ago and killed four people,” a reference to King’s novel Cujo.

Later in the book, Rachel Creed is urgently driving home when she passes an exit sign that lists Jerusalem’s Lot among its destinations. Jerusalem’s Lot is the setting for King’s vampire novel ‘Salem’s Lot, as well as his short story “Jerusalem’s Lot.” At one point, the family also looks down into the Penobscot River valley, and Louis Creed thinks of Derry, the setting of King’s novel IT. The references are small and don’t affect the plot much, but they’re enough to remind readers that King has built worlds upon worlds over the course of his career.

7. The house that inspired Pet Sematary was recently up for sale.

King fans have made a habit of journeying around the author's home state of Maine in search of various landmarks that have either inspired locations or been directly portrayed in his novels and films, but recently everyone had a chance to actually own one. In 2017, the Orrington home King and his family lived in while he was writing Pet Sematary—the one by the road that used up so many animals, including the King family cat—hit the market at a listing price of $255,000. The listing has since been removed, which means the home was either sold … or that road and the nearby pet cemetery proved just too frightening for buyers.

8. King insisted that the first film adaptation be made in Maine.

In 1989, six years after the book was released, Pet Sematary was adapted into a film, directed by Mary Lambert from a script by King himself. The film is one of the most well-received King adaptations, and spawned one sequel (also directed by Lambert, but not written by King) in 1992, with a second film adaptation on the way this spring. Because of King’s direct involvement with the original production, he was able to make one clear request in his contract: That the film’s production not be shipped out to a backlot pretending to be Maine, but that it would actually be shot in Maine. Lambert and company complied, and the director later credited the decision to lending the film an “iconographic quality and archetypal resonance."

9. King was OK with the second film adaptation’s biggest story change.

We’ll see a new version of Pet Sematary play out on the big screen this April, with a film adaptation directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer from a script by Jeff Buhler. The adaptation is part of a wave of renewed interest in King properties in recent years (like the recent remake of IT, which will get its own sequel this fall), and has built up plenty of anticipation from fans thanks to its genuinely creepy trailers.

Things got a little controversial, though, when the second full trailer for the film revealed a major plot change from King’s novel. Spoiler alert: The child who is killed and later resurrected by the pet "sematary" in the novel will no longer be the youngest Creed child, Gage, but the older child, Ellie, who actually escaped the carnage in King’s novel. In an interview with Flickering Myth, star Jason Clarke—who plays Louis Creed—defended the decision:

“It’s pretty easy to justify [the change]. You can’t play that movie with a three-year-old boy. You end up with a doll or some animated thing. So you’re going to get a much deeper, richer story by swapping for a seven-year-old or nine-year-old girl.”

Clarke added that “Stephen King didn't have an issue with it,” so if you’re concerned about the change, apparently the author himself is not.

10. King still thinks about its most famous line.

Pet Sematary will no doubt be remembered as one of King’s most memorable and most horrifying novels, something the author himself seems to have made peace with. But King can’t seem to shake the themes he was working with in that book, and the sway they hold over both his own mind and his audience. In his introduction to the 2000 version of the book, King admitted that he too is still often haunted by the novel’s most memorable line: “Sometimes, Louis, dead is better.”

“Perhaps ‘sometimes dead is better’ is grief’s last lesson, the one we get to when we finally tire of jumping up and down on the plastic blisters and crying out for God to get his own cat (or his own child) and leave ours alone,” King wrote. “That lesson suggests that in the end, we can only find peace in our human lives by accepting the will of the universe. That may sound like corny, new-age crap, but the alternative looks to me like a darkness too awful for such mortal creatures as us to bear.”

Additional Source:
Introduction to Pet Sematary, by Stephen King (2000)

Rare First Edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Sold for More Than $56,000

UBC Library Communications and Marketing, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
UBC Library Communications and Marketing, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Publishers weren't very optimistic about the future of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when they printed it in 1997. Only 500 first edition copies were made, 300 of which were donated to libraries. As anyone who's been to a bookstore, movie theater, or theme park in the past two decades knows, that prediction couldn't have been further off.

Book one of the Harry Potter series spawned one of the most successful literary franchises of all time and earned millions for author J.K. Rowling. That means those rare first edition prints are exceedingly valuable today, and one of the most pristine copies ever discovered just sold for $56,500 at auction, BBC reports.

The sellers, an anonymous couple from Lancashire, England, had stored their copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone—along with a first edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets—in a code-locked briefcase for safekeeping. The plan wasn't to wait for the books to accrue value over time; originally, they had wanted to protect them and pass them down as family heirlooms.

The couple changed their minds after learning that another first edition copy of Philosopher's Stone had sold for $35,000. That turned out to be a smart move. By locking it away, they managed to preserve one of the best first edition copies of the book experts had seen. The book also contained two errors that made it an even more appealing item for collectors. Its value was placed between $30,700 to $37,000.

At the auction, however, bidders blew past those numbers. It sold for a winning bid of approximately $56,500. The buyer will end up paying $70,000 in total to cover additional fees and taxes.

That's a significant amount to pay for a book, but it's not even the highest figure that's been bid for the title. Earlier in 2019, a first-edition print of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone with several errors sold for $90,000.

[h/t BBC]

10 of the Best-Selling Authors of All Time

Nomadsoul1/iStock via Getty Images
Nomadsoul1/iStock via Getty Images

A few months back, we brought you a list of some of the top-selling books of all time. Now, what about the best-selling authors?

As before, many disclaimers are required. For this list, the question of what counts as an "author" takes center stage. Both Stephen King and J.K. Rowling have written under pseudonyms (Richard Bachman and Robert Galbraith, respectively) and both were outed. While it seems reasonable to count books written under those pseudonyms within their respective author’s totals, some situations are not so cut and dried. The 18th-century work A General History of the Pyrates (a key source for information about the Golden Age of piracy), for example, is credited to one Captain Charles Johnson. However, historians have never been able to find evidence of a Captain Charles Johnson, so in 1932 one scholar decided that it was written by Daniel Defoe—and as a result the book is now frequently listed as one of his works. In the past few decades, though, that attribution has been doubted in favor of a journalist named Nathaniel Mist. So, should this best-seller’s numbers be credited to Defoe, Mist, or left off the list entirely?

Historians are also increasingly theorizing that Shakespeare wasn’t the sole author of many of his plays—according to The New Oxford Shakespeare, “His last three plays were all co-written with [John] Fletcher—who, in all three, seems to have written more of the surviving text than Shakespeare.” How then to deal with Shakespeare? Should his works be divvied up? Or should an asterisk be placed on the record? These questions can get into surprisingly deep philosophical territory.

With those caveats out of the way—and the further caveat that this list doesn’t include religious works, and is, with a few exceptions, steering away from authors who appeared on the best-selling books list; it’s also not complete, exhaustive, or a "top ten" list—here are some candidates for best-selling authors of all time.

  1. Mao Zedong // Untold billions

Mao Zedong appears on our best-selling books list for Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, but he’d likely still be on the list even without Quotations. According to sociologist Zhengyuan Fu, “The scale of the production and consumption of Mao’s icons and symbols is unprecedented in human history. During the ten years from March 1966 to August 1976, there were 1,820 ... state-owned printing factories that printed 6.5 billion volumes of Quotations from Chairman Mao (the little red book), 840 million sets of Selections of Mao Zedong’s Works (3.36 billion volumes), 400 million volumes of Chairman Mao’s Poems, and 2.2 billion sheets of Mao’s standard photo portraits, which came in five standard sizes.” As always when dealing with these kind of numbers, some sources go smaller, but the total is definitely immense.

  1. Agatha Christie // Estimated 2 billion books sold

According to Guinness World Records, Agatha Christie has the title of “world’s best-selling fiction writer,” with estimated sales of over 2 billion. UNESCO also lists Christie as the most translated author in history.

  1. Barbara Cartland // Possibly over 600 million

Romance novelist Barbara Cartland illustrates the inherent difference between best-selling authors and best-selling books. Sources differ, but it’s generally agreed she wrote around 723 books (over 600 of which were novels) with estimates for her total sales ranging from 600 million to a billion books. Doing some division shows that each book may have sold only a touch over a million copies, but her sheer output—she’s said to have, at times, written 20 books a year—makes her a best-selling author.

  1. Corín Tellado // Possibly around 400 million

According to her obituary in The Guardian, some erroneously believe that Corín Tellado was a publishing house rather than a person. Much like Barbara Cartland, Tellado wrote romantic novels, but a lot more—estimates put her total number of books at anywhere from 4000 to 5000 over a 63-year career; she is said to be the best-selling author in the history of the Spanish language, and on par with Miguel de Cervantes for readership. As an example of the number of books she could produce, she worked some of her career during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, when authorities would heavily censor her books and send them back; The Times of London reports, “In some months as many as four of her novellas might be rejected by the regime’s censors.”

  1. Dr. Seuss // Somewhere between 100 and 650 million

In 2001, Publishers Weekly did a survey to determine the best-selling children’s books. Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel wouldn’t enter the list until number 4 with Green Eggs and Ham at 8 million, but he had six of the top 20. Nowadays, The Washington Post says that Dr. Seuss has sold 650 million copies in 95 countries, with Green Eggs and Ham still leading the way at 17.5 million copies sold.

  1. Charles Schulz // Unknown, though at least 300 million

Newspapers create a fundamental problem for lists like this. If someone writes an article a day for a newspaper and the newspaper has a circulation of a million, it adds up quickly. Though few people buy a newspaper for one writer, Charles Schulz is special. According to a 1999 Wall Street Journal article, his books alone have sold 300 million copies. But it’s the comic strip, Peanuts, that truly shines. At one point it had 355 million readers, appeared in around 2600 newspapers in 75 countries, and according to the Washington Post, Schulz drew “every frame of his strip, seven days a week, since its inception in October 1950” until it ended in early 2000. Robert Thompson of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University proclaimed Peanuts was “arguably the longest story told by a single artist in human history.”

  1. Eiichiro Oda // 450 million

Eiichiro Oda is the mangaka (manga creator) behind One Piece, which has reportedly sold 450 million copies worldwide since 1997—though just 70 million of those have been outside Japan. In 2015, Guinness World Records recognized it as the "Most copies published for the same comic book series by a single author.”

  1. James Patterson // An estimated 300 million

Patterson is frequently thought to be the best-selling author in the world today, and has been since 2001. He’s also credited as the first author to sell 1 million e-books, and is generally listed as the author with the most New York Times bestsellers.

  1. Horatio Alger // Claims of up to 200 million

Horatio Alger was a 19th-century master of the dime novel. His books featured rags-to-riches stories of young boys in the rapidly urbanizing United States. Later on, he’d even shoehorn a presidential biography—Abraham Lincoln, the Young Backwoods Boy; or, How a Young Rail Splitter Became President—into his incredibly successful formula.

  1. Leo Tolstoy // Possibly over 400 million

As always, statistics are hard to come by for older authors, and Tolstoy has this problem in spades. The common internet assertion that he has sold over 400 million copies is based on a single throwaway line in a 1987 New York Times article on Pushkin. With such little evidence, why does he deserve his place on the list? For one, he has definitely sold a lot of books, even if not everyone claiming to have read him is telling the truth; a 2016 BBC survey found that Tolstoy had two of the top five books people most lied about reading (War and Peace at number 4 and Anna Karenina at number 5).

In addition, Tolstoy’s works have become surprise hits in the 21st century. In 2004 Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club picked Anna Karenina; The New York Times reported that, while ordinarily the publisher would be lucky to sell 20,000 copies a year, they upped their press run to 800,000 in preparation for the pick. Meanwhile, in 2016 War and Peace entered the UK Bookseller’s top 50 for the first time thanks to a BBC adaptation. No matter the accuracy of the 400 million number, Tolstoy has had a surprisingly good 21st century.

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