Hulu’s Castle Rock is shaping up to be one of the most talked-about new series of the year, for many good reasons. The cast? Superlative: André Holland, Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn, and Bill Skarsgård (just to name a few). The source material? Classic—it’s an original story, but draws on the sprawling shared universe of Stephen King’s fiction, focusing specifically on the stories set in the small Maine town of Castle Rock.
In fact, if you’re planning to watch Castle Rock, you might want to bone up on your King, and your Castle Rock lore, and not only because the show is rife with overt shout-outs, Easter Eggs, and references to King’s books and stories (the first three episodes, released on the streaming service Hulu, featured news stories about a certain rabid dog and a dead body found by some train tracks), but also because the show’s writers have shown a willingness to subvert some of King’s favorite tropes in order to keep audiences guessing.
If you want to get the most out of this show, consider this your study guide: King has explicitly set seven novels and novellas and five short stories in this strange, not-so-sleepy small town.
Novels & Novellas Set in Castle Rock
The Dead Zone
While only part of the story takes place in Castle Rock, this 1979 novel is notable because it contains one of the earliest mentions of the town. Psychic Johnny Smith is called in to help the Castle Rock Sheriff, George Bannerman, investigate a string of brutal rapes and murders; Smith is able to provide crucial evidence to help Bannerman solve the case. The identity of the perp provides an early hint that all is not right in the town.
One of the few early King works to feature no supernatural element whatsoever, Cujo is also the first novel set entirely in Castle Rock. As such, the novel gives you one of the best overviews of the town in the King canon, and thee’s also a direct connection to The Dead Zone and the ultimate legacy of Sheriff George Bannerman.
The Dark Half
Though this one is set in the town of Ludlow, the action bleeds over to neighboringCastle Rock when the latter’s new sheriff, Alan Pangborn, investigates the murders committed by George Stark, the formerly imaginary alter-ego of writer Thad Beaumont. This book updates our history of the town to include the majority of the 1980s.
More or less the nexus of King’s Castle Rock universe, Needful Things is the other novel (after Cujo) where you learn the most about the town, as mysterious proprietor Leland Gaunt opens up a mysterious shop and begins selling the residents objects representing their greatest desires—but he doesn’t want money in exchange, he just wants his customers to do a little something for him. Interestingly, when this book was published in 1991, it was billed as “the last Castle Rock story”—understandable, given the sheer chaos and destruction that takes place during the climax.
Gwendy’s Button Box
Co-written with Richard Chizmar, this novella is set in Castle Rock and adds a new geographical detail to the map—the so-called Suicide Stairs, where young Gwendy encounters a mysterious man who invites her to “palaver,” and gives her nightmares.
This upcoming novel is set in Castle Rock, and focuses on resident Scott Carey and his struggle against a mysterious affliction that sees him losing weight no matter what he does—even as he mysteriously weighs the same with his clothes on or off. He’s also engaged in a battle with his neighbors, so there will likely be plenty of updates on the status of the town, but interestingly (and in stark contrast to Needful Things) the theme seems to be building a community rather than tearing one apart. It sounds off-brand for the master of horror, but we’ll just have to wait until October to see how it all turns out.
Bag of Bones
The story of writer Mike Noonan’s struggle with grief and writer’s block after his wife’s death is set in Derry, another Maine town cursed with some epic bad luck, but the action eventually drifts into Castle Rock—and there are even several excerpts from the fictional non-fiction work A History of Castle County and Castle Rock, making this a must-read.
The Body, from the collection Different Seasons.
One of King’s first non-horror stories to earn attention and acclaim, The Body (the basis for the film Stand By Me) is set in 1960s Castle Rock, decades before some of the above horrors. It’s a heartfelt boyhood tale, and the journey into the past gives us a different perspective on the town.
Short Stories Set in Castle Rock
Don’t have a lot of time? Dip your toe into Castle Rock’s dangerous waters with these short stories set in the town.
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut
This is one of the calmer tales set in Castle Rock. It’s about an elderly man who is amused by an old woman’s obsession with shortcuts—until he tags along on one of her rides and finds out why she seems to be getting younger with each trip. There are some mentions of infamous Castle Rock events as well, adding some interesting context.
Uncle Otto’s Truck
This dark story of a haunted truck and a guilty murderer won’t add much to your Caste Rock knowledge despite it being set there; still, it’s a damn fine read.
The Sun Dog
This story about an old Polaroid camera that only produces photos of a slowly advancing black dog is very scary, and offers some extra detail about Castle Rock, as the young protagonist and his father investigate the Sun Dog’s influence and eventually confront it.
It Grows on You
Originally published in 1973, this story of a house that adds wings and grows in size as terrible things happen inside its walls is King’s first bit of fiction set in Castle Rock. Oddly, King has explicitly said this story could be an epilogue to Needful Things, written decades later.
When it appeared in 2009, this grim tale of a man’s less-than-sympathetic reaction to a pair of deaths marked King’s return to Castle Rock after more than a decade. It describes a town that is ghostly and damaged, having clearly never recovered from the climax of Needful Things.
This quiet story about two families competing to put on the biggest fireworks show at their lake homes is mostly set outside of Castle Rock proper, but it’s often described as one of the “most Maine” stories ever written, making it applicably atmospheric.
Novels & Short Stories That Refer to Castle Rock
King has also laced many of his works with cross-references and subtle mentions of Castle Rock and the events of the other books and stories set there. Though the books below aren’t set in Castle Rock, they will enhance your Castle Rock research.
Novels that fit in this section of King’s bibliography include Pet Sematary, which refers to the events of Cujo; It, which is set in the other Maine town you don’t want to move to, Derry; and Gerald’s Game. See also: The Stand, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Riding the Bullet, Dreamcatcher, Lisey’s Story, Under the Dome (set in a town near Castle Rock), Doctor Sleep, Revival, and 11/22/63.
Additionally, short stories that mention Castle Rock in some way include Graveyard Shift, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Gramma, Nona, The Man in the Black Suit, N., A Good Marriage, and the upcoming Squad D, which was written in the 1970s but will be published for the first time as part of the upcoming Shivers VIII anthology.
What’s your favorite Castle Rock story?