There are some towns whose streets and byways you know almost as well as the back of your hand; you can picture them perfectly, whether it be in the calm stillness of a summer dawn or the frenzied onset of a coming storm. You’ve visited many times, perhaps over the span of several generations and watched with fascination as the passing of time left its mark. Avenues and roads stretch off in maddeningly unknowable directions, the alluring thrill of dark revelation lingering in each shadowed street.
It doesn’t exist, this town. Like Gotham City or Mos Eisley, it’s a work of fictive creation, birthed by the imaginings of its creator and sustained by a connective tissue of stories that have only served to further its legend. It is a town of the imagination, its streets and residents the product of a brilliant and restless mind. I’m talking of course about Stephen King and the town where so many of the denizens of his imagination reside: Castle Rock.
Castle Rock has always sat at the centre of Stephen King’s canon and although deceptively few of his stories are actually set there, the influence of this small Maine town can be felt throughout most of his work. Like a dark heart that pumps blood through a passage of black veins before leading ultimately back to itself, many of the characters in King’s novels have experienced a fleeting brush with the town and its surrounding area and none seem to fare the better for it.
When J.J. Abrams announced this weekend that he would once again be teaming with both King and Hulu to release a series based on the small town, where so many of the atrocities detailed in King’s books have taken place, the logic seemed clear. King has painstakingly knit together a mythology throughout his fifty-odd novels that is both rich and recognisable, two elements guaranteed to interest any producer looking to tap into the current trend for shared universe properties. Where things really take a turn for the interesting however, is when you watch the above announcement trailer and realise that the creators of this anthology-style series seem intent on developing something inherently more ambitious.
Were you to weave together tales from King’s bibliography that solely regarded the town of Castle Rock, you could use Cujo, the tale about the rabid killer dog, The Dark Half, the thriller involving a writer’s murderous alter ego and Needful Things, King’s ‘final’ Castle Rock story detailing the destruction of much of the town following the appearance of a store that stocks that which every heart desires.
Throughout King’s writing, there are a few more trips to Castle Rock of course, including the short story The Body which led to the town making its first cinematic appearance (albeit in Oregon) in Rob Reiner’s masterful Stand By Me. What is especially interesting however is that the teaser trailer instead highlights many of King’s characters that don’t hail from Castle Rock: Pennywise the clown terrorised the citizens of (the also fictional) Derry whilst Danny Torrance’s story in The Shining was centered in Sidewinder, Colorado, as were the events of Misery, the classic King tale of a psychotic fan holding her favourite writer captive. With neither creator being averse to universe-building, one wonders if King and Abrams are planning an ambitious attempt to weave Castle Rock into the lives of all of King’s characters, perhaps as visitors to the town or as residents before they settled into the locations where King’s novels first find them. The connective tissue of pulsing nerves in the trailer is certainly visually suggestive of this; a bright light pulses from the map, serving as a clear nexus for all of the twisted happenings in King’s take on America.
Perhaps Abrams and King plan to go even further: while the show itself is being described as an anthology series, it’s difficult not to imagine that the temptation to connect all of these disparate tales with an underlying meta-plot must surely be there. What does lie in the very centre of the darkness that connects so many horrific events over so many years? Whilst that might seem like a mighty big question to ask, and one hell of a body of work to put at risk, it’s not like King is unfavourably disposed to such ambitious engineering; his Dark Tower Cycle attempted to do much the same in an audacious fashion, linking all of the author’s works together, so expect something similarly grand here. We can take comfort from the creative team’s credentials however, King and Abrams combined to great effect on last year’s adaptation of 11.22.63, his time-hopping historical drama which proved to be one of the best screen adaptations of his work for a long time.
There’s more too: eagle-eyed fans will have noticed that one of the names to flash up during the course of the trailer wasn’t a character at all but instead was King’s alter ego, Richard Bachman. This pseudonym, adopted by King throughout the seventies and eighties saw him publishing some of his most chillingly violent and grounded work (Rage for example is out of print in the U.S. and U.K. as the author is concerned that it may have inspired school shootings). When King was finally outed by a bookstore clerk who noted the similarities in their prose style, he killed Bachman off with ‘cancer of the pseudonym’ but the writer’s dark alter ego has continued to live on in various guises meaning that there’s every chance that King (who has made many cameos in adaptations of his work) could play this troubled aspect of himself. In fact, King has already played the ‘darker half’ of himself on television; the cameo he made in Sons Of Anarchy as a cleaner disposing of an inconvenient body was as a character named Bachman.
It’s clear to see then, why the announcement of such a series has so many fans itching to know more. Having declared he was done with Castle Rock and destroying huge swathes of it in the denouement of 1991’s Needful Things, King has found himself unable to truly part ways with its dark mysteries. Whether it’s the silent, snow-filled watchful streets of Nona or the blazing, golden summers of fifties Castle Rock, an era that King has successfully mined for much of his career, the writer seems unable to extract himself from its seductive embrace. Whenever the show airs, it’s likely that neither, it seems, will we.