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.
Desperation is the story of several people traveling along the desolate Highway 50 in Nevada who all get abducted by Collie Entragian, the deputy of the fictional mining town of Desperation. Entragian uses various pretexts for his abductions, from an arrest for drug possession to “rescuing” a family from a nonexistent gunman.
The captives quickly realize that something is very wrong with Entragian, as his bizarre statements and mannerisms soon escalate to brutal assaults and murder. They come to understand that he is possessed by an ancient evil, a supernatural entity which calls itself Tak, that 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 vultures, 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 of the ini, a well in an underground chamber, and Tak’s entryway into this world. The story suggests that Tak is actually a physical being trapped in another dimension, but can send its spirit into our world through this opening.
Among the travelers is a boy named David Carver, who is able to commune with and receive guidance from God. This aspect brings a philosophical, religious depth unseen in some of King's other, earlier works.
As the survivors eventually manage to escape the clutches of Entragian/Tak, their first inclination is to escape Desperation, until David reveals that it is God's will that they confront Tak and seal the ini again.
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. Although, 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.
Desperation was adapted into a television movie, written by King himself, was filmed in 2004 and broadcast in 2006. The film was directed by frequent King collaborator Mick Garris and starred Ron Perlman as Collie Entragian, Tom Skerritt, Steven Weber, and Annabeth Gish. Filming primarily took place in Bisbee, Arizona, in the nearly deserted Lowell borough, with other sequences in Old Bisbee, the outskirts of Bisbee, and in Tucson, Arizona. During filming, a set in the Tucson Convention Center (TCC) caught fire. Five people were injured. The fire destroyed everything on the set, including all production gear and equipment, and the TCC was heavily damaged.
The film closely followed the plot of the novel, and received moderate reviews, including a 46 rating from Metacritic. Though originally intended as a two-part miniseries, Desperation aired in its three-hour entirety on May 23, 2006, on ABC, after a red-carpet premiere screening at Tucson's historic Fox Theatre (built in 1929). ABC aired Desperation on the same time as Fox's American Idol, an action that King himself was upset with, and thus did not do well at all in the ratings. Even the bemused populace of Bisbee was torn between the two programs.