Needful Things

Needful Things is a horror novel by Stephen King and published in 1991.

Plot summary

The story is set in the small fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, where a new curiosity shop named "Needful Things" opens, to the curiosity of the townspeople. The story starts out in first person with the narrator greeting the reader and moves to third-person, introducing each of the book's diverse cast of characters and their complicated histories. Castle Rock's citizens then begin to come into Needful Things, each of them drawn by an item they want more than anything else.

They are all greeted by the seemingly kind old man, Leland Gaunt, and they all ignore the sign hanging in his shop, "Caveat emptor" ("Let the buyer beware"). One person after another buys the treasures he has in stock, paying surprisingly low prices and performing small "favors" (pranks) at his request. The person doing a prank usually knows the target, but has no real quarrel or relationship with him/her. Little by little, the pranks worsen existing grudges between the townspeople until they start turning violently against each other or themselves.

It is explained that Gaunt has, for centuries, been wandering through different countries and selling people useless junk. These objects appear to the buyer to be whatever they want most, and once acquired, have the power to strongly affect their moods. Buyers develop severe paranoia and anxiety if they are not physically holding the purchased items. By threatening to either take away the item, destroy it, or remove its power, Gaunt is able to blackmail, coerce, and intimidate his customers into doing whatever he wants. Ultimately he offers only weapons, which everyone eagerly buys so they can defend their property.

In the present, Gaunt eventually closes his curiosity shop and begins selling and giving away firearms to customers who now have scores to settle with their neighbors. At the same time, two locals who have become his underlings plant dynamite all over town, inflicting widespread damage as violence breaks out everywhere. The only one not affected is Sheriff Alan Pangborn, whose skepticism over Gaunt's way of doing business helps him confront the old man and drive him out of town. Those who have survived the entire harrowing ordeal find themselves facing an uncertain future in what is left of Castle Rock.

The novel ends as it began, in the first-person welcome to the reader as a new person in town. In the beginning of the book, the reader was welcomed to Castle Rock, noting the new sign for Needful Things. In the end, the narrator welcomes the reader to Junction City, Iowa, noting the new sign for the store "Answered Prayers" - suggesting that Leland Gaunt has set up shop someplace else to begin his business cycle all over again.

Leland Gaunt

Leland Gaunt is described as an older man, appearing physically to be in his late 50s or early 60s, with graying hair. He is extremely charming, gentlemanly, and urbane -- the very ideal of the perfect small town shop proprietor. Mr. Gaunt also can't stand people who think the answer to anything is in their wallet, like Hugh Priest. He is also capable of great physical strength, as shown when he carries a heavy chair that is "almost like a throne" by himself with no apparent effort.

Mr. Gaunt's eyes change color depending on the observer, always appearing as the exact shade that the observer would find most attractive. For instance, to Brian Rusk he has clear blue eyes, the same color as Sally Ratcliffe's, whom Rusk is secretly attracted to, whereas to Danforth Keeton, his eyes are red and bloodshot, symbolizing his years of hardship fighting "Them". He also has a special car, the Tucker Talisman, which he claims there are only two of in existence, which can become invisible to cops on the road, and never run out of gas despite the tank always reading empty. At the end of the book, when Gaunt is forced out of town, the car transforms into an old-fashioned merchant's wagon with CAVEAT EMPTOR printed on the side.

Mr. Gaunt's palms are unlined, his first two fingers are the same length (with the pointer finger being elongated rather than the middle finger being shrunken), and other characters display a deep aversion to touching his skin. These traits are shared by Randall Flagg, George Stark, and Andre Linoge. Further, Gaunt shares the powers of knowing the history and secrets of any person he encounters and the ability to appear in dreams to command obedience with Flagg and Linoge. He is shown to have a fiery temper - when several of the townspeople eventually start fighting his mental control over them, he threatens them with what they fear most.

Throughout the book Mr. Gaunt displays a number of abilities verging on omnipotence. He can turn invisible, read minds, sense what is going on at a distance, perform minor feats of conjuration such as making coins disappear, cause electronic devices to function without power, cure a person of stuttering, and set up situations and events weeks and months in advance before any of the participants could have known what they would do. For example, he hires Ace Merrill as a stockboy and then later that day sends him to a garage in Boston where there is already a tape Mr. Gaunt has recorded specifically for Ace. The tape player is covered in dust and appears to have been there for years, and switches on by itself.

It is suggested in the novel that Leland Gaunt is actually the devil, or at least a demon of some power. Upon being confronted and defeated by Sheriff Pangborn, he reverts back to his true form, first a spidery skeleton creature, then a demonic, dwarf-like humanoid.


Castle Rock is home to a large assortment of characters, most of whom meet a gruesome end thanks to the efforts of Gaunt and his coerced customers. Many of the townspeople already had existing grudges with other people, and for some confrontation would have been an inevitability had Gaunt not speeded things along. Almost all of them visit Needful Things and 'purchase' the object of their desire, which is in reality nothing but useless junk.

  • Brian Rusk: an ordinary, happy boy, Brian is the first to visit Needful Things and the first to receive the object of his desire - a 1956, specially autographed (to Brian) Topps Sandy Koufax baseball card. In reality it is nothing but an old, worn card of some unknown player. As a price for the card, Brian plays a prank on Wilma Jerzyck, then is later forced to play another prank on Wilma. Tormented by guilt, knowing he is directly responsible for the deaths of Jerzyck and Nettie Cobb, Brian eventually commits suicide, warning his younger brother Sean not to buy "poison from the poison man (Gaunt)".
  • Nettie Cobb: one of many townspeople who was already somewhat unbalanced before Gaunt arrived, Cobb was formerly in a mental hospital for killing her abusive husband of many years in his sleep. She was only released and allowed to start over in Castle Rock because of the efforts of Patricia Chalmers, and as such she is grateful to her and serves as her maid and housekeeper. Cobb already had an existing grudge against Wilma Jerzyck, who complained frequently about Cobb's dog's incessant nighttime barking, and who had threatened Cobb with physical violence on many occasions, and when Cobb's dog was killed by Hugh Priest who was acting under Gaunt's orders, Cobb confronted Jerzyck and was killed by her. She had bought a carnival glass lampshade from Gaunt.
  • Cora Rusk: Brian's mother, Cora had an unhealthy obsession with Elvis Presley, and as a result became remote and detached after buying a pair of aviator sunglasses that formerly belonged to "the King" from Gaunt, actually a regular pair of old and tattered sunglasses. By putting the sunglasses on, Cora hallucinated that she was dancing and making love with the King in Graceland, and eventually spent all of her time in these fantasies, not even caring when her son Brian committed suicide. She had an ongoing feud with Myra Evans before Gaunt arrived, the two being rival Elvis fans, and eventually went to her home to kill her with a pistol that she had bought from Gaunt. She was killed by Evans, who was wielding an identical pistol and was waiting for her.
  • Wilma Jerzyck: one of the rare characters who did not purchase an item from Gaunt, Wilma was a Polish woman with a fiery temper who had even cowed her husband, Peter Jerzyck, into a state of animal-like subservience. She was one of the most violent and aggressive of the townspeople, already having a long list of crimes under her name and a notorious reputation. After having two pranks played on her by Brian Rusk but being led to believe it was Nettie Cobb, Wilma confronted Cobb and was killed by her.
  • Myra Evans: an Elvis fan who had a rivalry with Cora Rusk, Myra Evans had an obsession to the point where she masturbated constantly while fantasizing about the King. She had bought a framed picture of Elvis from Gaunt, which Gaunt used to control her by showing her hallucinations of it shattering. She was eventually shot and killed in her own bed by Cora Rusk.
  • Hugh Priest: a well-known dirty and sleazy man who worked in the town's junkyard, Priest bought a foxtail from Gaunt, imagining it to be lustrous and wonderful when really it was old and rotten. As a price for the foxtail, Priest had killed Nettie Cobb's dog. After having his car's tires slashed by Norris Ridgewick and being led to believe it was Henry Beaufort, Priest confronted Beaufort with a pistol he had gotten from Gaunt and was shot and killed by him.
  • Henry Beaufort: another of the townspeople who had not purchased anything from Gaunt, Beaufort had an existing feud with Hugh Priest and had correctly anticipated his arrival, killing him with a sawed-off shotgun he had kept hidden. Although he was not fatally shot by Priest, he later died from the poison spread from the pistol's bullets on his way to the hospital.
  • Sonny Jackett: a well-known mechanic of Castle Rock. He had bought a box of double-measure adjustable socket wrenches, actually a box of rusted old junk, from Gaunt, and after being led to believe that Eddie Warburton was going to attempt to steal them, he shot and killed Warburton with a pistol he had gotten from Gaunt.
  • Sally Ratcliffe: a young, Christian speech teacher. She was very attractive and was the talk of the town, as well as being the object of Brian Rusk's recurring sexual fantasies. She had a nice relationship with fellow teacher Lester Pratt, intending to both marry him and give her virginity to him before Gaunt interfered, using a note Slopey Dodd was instructed to plant tricked Ratcliffe into believing Pratt had cheated on her. As a result Ratcliffe broke off all contact with Pratt, calling him a cheater, which led to his death. Tortured by guilt, Ratcliffe committed suicide by hanging. She had bought a wooden splinter from Gaunt that was supposedly a fragment of Noah's Ark, but it was actually just a normal wooden splinter that was rotten and infested with wood lice.
  • Myrtle Keeton: Danforth's meek and helpless wife, who had convinced herself that she deserved his constant verbal and physical abuse. After years of constant torment, she had been trained into a submissive state, always expecting his abuse. She had bought a doll from Gaunt to add to her collection, which she took refuge in whenever Danforth was particularly mad. She was eventually beaten to death by Danforth after mistakenly calling him by his childhood nickname, Buster.
  • "Slopey" Dodd: another ordinary school student, Slopey had a bad stutter and as a result was ostracized and humiliated constantly by the other students. He had bought a teapot from Gaunt, paying for it by planting a note for Sally Ratcliffe to find and then later tricking Lester Pratt into a murderous rage.
  • Eddie Warburton: a man who had a strong grudge against Sonny Jackett, believing him to have cheated him once when he fixed his car. A black man who suspected the citizens of Castle Rock to be closet racists, Warburton was eventually led into a state of paranoia and anger by Gaunt, and had taken a pistol from Gaunt to go kill Sonny Jackett, only to mistakenly kill another mechanic instead and then be shot and killed by Sonny.
  • Lester Pratt: the school physical education teacher, a hulking athlete of a man who was both a devout Christian and a loyal boyfriend. He worshipped his fiancee Sally Ratcliffe, and after being tricked into believing she was cheating on him with Deputy John LaPointe, he attacked LaPointe in a murderous rage and almost killed him before being killed by Sheila Brigham.
  • Father Brigham: the leader of the local Catholic populace, Brigham had planned to hold a Casino Nite event, a night of church-sponsored gambling intended to convert more citizens to his flock. The Catholics had an existing rivalry with the local Baptist population, led by Reverend Rose, and Casino Nite only exacerbated the problem. After having pranks played on both groups by Gaunt's paying customers, the two groups eventually met in a chaotic melee, killing dozens of each other.
  • Frank Jewett: the principal of the Castle Rock high school, Jewett was a closet homosexual and pedophile, and had a secret, large collection of pornographic magazines featuring young boys. He had revealed this secret to only one person, his friend George T. Nelson, whom he had also shared his crack habit with. After being led into believing Nelson was blackmailing him, Jewett killed Nelson's pet parakeet and desecrated a picture of Nelson's mother, and eventually confronted Nelson himself outside the Castle Rock Municipal Building, which promptly exploded and killed both men.
  • Reverend Rose: the leader of the local Baptist populace, Rose had a father who had gone into deep debt and eventually committed suicide because of his gambling problem, and as a result Rose had a strong hatred for Brigham and the Catholics. Although he had first planned only a peaceful protest of Casino Nite, things escalated into an all-out brawl leading to the deaths of many of the churchgoers from both sides.
  • George T. Nelson: a cocaine addict, homosexual, and pedophile, Nelson was a friend of Frank Jewett who had once participated in an all-gay gangbang with him. After finding his parakeet dead and his mother's picture fouled, Nelson bought a pistol from Gaunt and confronted Jewett, only for both men to die in an explosion.
  • Andy Clutterbuck, Sheila Brigham, and John LaPointe: three people who worked under Sheriff Pangborn at the local department. Clutterbuck, called Clut, and LaPointe were both deputies while Sheila was their secretary. The three had nothing to do with Gaunt and did not purchase anything from him, but were nonetheless caught in the chaos as they tried to defuse Castle Rock. Clutterbuck's wife was accidentally shot and killed and he committed suicide two years later. Sheila went into shock after she was forced to kill Lester Pratt, defending John LaPointe.
  • Henry Payton: the leader of the State police, Payton was called in to Castle Rock with a whole regiment of State Troopers after the Cobb-Jerzyck double murder, but he and all of his men were sadly, not even remotely prepared for Gaunt, and they were unable to contain the situation in Castle Rock. Many of his squad died as they attempted to stop the Catholic-Baptist brawl, the various shootings, and were caught in the many dynamite explosions.
  • Danforth "Buster" Keeton: Danforth was one of the town's selectmen and thus enjoyed a position of little authority. He was a large man with a brutal, fiery temper who constantly abused his wife, Myrtle. Unknown to just about everyone, he was actually deep in debt from his constant gambling at the horse tracks, which he paid for out of the town's funds. He was guilty of a long list of crimes, including theft, fraud, and embezzlement. Mentally unstable, he was paranoid and believed in "Them", the shadowy cabal of authority figures that he believed persecuted him at every turn and intended to drive him insane. He had bought a mechanical horse-racing game from Gaunt that had the power to correctly predict winners of future races, and became a close ally of Gaunt after being led to believe that Gaunt was also fighting Them. With the help of Ace Merrill, Danforth planted dynamite all around the town, bringing Castle Rock to its knees before finally being shot by Norris Ridgewick, and being mercifully finished off by Ace.
  • Ace Merrill: the town's resident "bad boy". Ace was a notorious bully in high school but left the town, becoming a cocaine addict and gunrunner. After being tricked in one of his deals, Ace became heavily indebted to a pair of fellow dealers known as the Flying Corson Brothers, and only had a short time to pay them before being subjected to a horrific and painful death. In a bid of desperation, he returned to Castle Rock, finding Gaunt and becoming his closest ally, bringing Gaunt's stash of magic pistols and blasting caps to the town, as well as helping Danforth Keeton plant the dynamite around the town. He had an uncle in Castle Rock who was an infamously frugal man, and secretly believed his uncle had buried his wealth before he died. After buying a map to this supposed treasure from Gaunt, in reality just an ordinary copy of Treasure Island, Ace traveled around the country digging up the buried booty, only to find nothing but near-worthless junk. In one of these spots, he dug up a note planted there by Patricia Chalmers that said Alan Pangborn had found and recovered the treasure first. In an enraged state, Ace planned to confront and kill Pangborn, only to be shot and killed by Norris Ridgewick.
  • Norris Ridgewick: one of the town's deputies and Sheriff Pangborn's closest ally. Norris was an avid fisherman who had learned the craft from his father, and had a strong liking for Bazun fishing rods. He bought one of these rods from Gaunt, which in reality was nothing but an old and broken Zebco, but was so paranoid about the rod somehow getting broken that he never actually fished with it. After paying for the rod by playing a prank on Hugh Priest, leading Priest to attempt to kill Henry Beaufort, Ridgewick was tormented by the guilt of indirectly causing Priest's death, and almost committed suicide, until his guilt and depression was so strong he was able to break from Gaunt's spell, and see the Bazun rod for what it really was. Then his grief was replaced by an even stronger emotion: anger and hatred towards Gaunt for conning him. Norris then set out to get revenge on Gaunt and help Pangborn. He was shot by one of Gaunt's magic pistols, but before the poison could finish him off, Gaunt was driven out of town, and the spell was lifted. Norris survives and later has a cameo appearance in another Stephen King novel; Bag of Bones.
  • Patricia Chalmers: known as the town's most eccentric woman, Patricia "Polly" Chalmers was originally a Castle Rock native who became an "out-of-towner" after living in San Francisco for years before returning. She had left to escape the iron heel of her devout parents after getting pregnant, planning to give up the baby and start a new life in the city, but she kept the child out of love, naming him Kelton, and was intending to raise him herself before he tragically died in a house fire. Blaming herself and her pride, Polly returned to Castle Rock, where she was regarded by suspicion by the rest of the townspeople, save for Alan Pangborn, her boyfriend and lover. Polly had severe arthritis in her hands, to the point where performing ordinary household tasks was almost impossible and getting a good night's sleep was rare. She bought an azka, an Egyptian amulet that supposedly had the power to cure disease, from Gaunt, but it was really nothing more than a small glass vial that had some kind of horrific spider creature inside, which fed on her arthritic pain and became bloated from the poison. After being tricked into believing Alan had gone behind her back, Polly had planned to break it off, but she was able to break instead Gaunt's spell, preferring the pain of her arthritis and the pain of her past becoming known instead of being in thrall to the azka and living in fear. Shattering the azka, Polly fought the terrible spider monster inside, which had grown to the size of a cat on Polly's pain, and managed to kill it with a plunger. With her arthritis back and worse than ever, Polly then set out to find Alan, knowing that he had "bought" something from Gaunt, and managed to find him and return him to normal as he was setting out to kill Ace Merrill. Polly then helped banish Gaunt.
  • Sheriff Alan Pangborn: the Sheriff of Castle Rock and the main protagonist. Gaunt was wary of Pangborn from the start, knowing he would not be nearly as easy to fool as the others and that Gaunt would need a lot of help before he would be able to face Pangborn head-on. Pangborn once had a wife and son, but they both died in a mysterious, unsolved car accident. Never knowing if it was truly just an accident or if his wife, who had been suffering from an unstated mental illness, had committed suicide and brought his son along for the ride, Pangborn was constantly tormented by guilt and depression, which took the form of a sarcastic, cheerful voice in his head. His son was fond of magic tricks, and Pangborn carried around two mementos with him: a spring-loaded snake and a collapsing bouquet. He was an ordinary man except for two features: he was extraordinarily quick, and he had a rapacious cunning. He recognized from the start that the Cobb-Jerzyck double murder was suspicious and rife with strange coincidences, and correctly predicted early on that there was another party involved (Gaunt), that had pitted the two women against each other. After finding out about Brian Rusk and Hugh Priest's involvement in the murders, he set out to interrogate both, only for Rusk to commit suicide and Priest to die by Henry Beaufort. Pangborn then confronted Sean Rusk, Brian's younger brother, and found out about the magical Sandy Koufax card and Brian's last words, warning Sean of the "poison from the poison man". Pangborn then correctly deduced that Gaunt had been somehow tricking people, giving them useless but cursed and highly dangerous junk, and had been inciting Castle Rock's citizens into murderous frenzies. He then set out to confront Gaunt in his own shop and drive him out of town, but upon reaching and entering Needful Things, he was overpowered by his curiosity and played a videotape that Gaunt had left for him as a trap, which supposedly showed how his wife and son died. In the video, they were run off the road by Ace Merrill in such a way that suggested an accident. Forgetting all about Gaunt and his original mission, Pangborn left Needful Things to find and kill Ace Merrill, only to be stopped by Polly Chalmers. He then broke free of Gaunt's spell and confronted the store owner himself in front of Needful Things, attacking him with two weapons: his snake in a can that suddenly became a real snake, and his sleeve bouquet that shot out not flowers but a dazzling white light that burned Gaunt and reduced him to his true form. Taking Gaunt's bag of souls, thus releasing all of Castle Rock from Gaunt's thrall, Pangborn forced Gaunt out of town.

About the book

Needful Things marks a watershed in King's career, as he bids farewell to the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, a city he visited in The Dead Zone, Cujo, The Body, The Sun Dog and The Dark Half. This book is also considered by King to be the final part of an unofficial, loosely-linked trilogy of stories - the first of which was The Dark Half, and the second of which was "The Sun Dog", a short story that was part of his Four Past Midnight collection. As a result, the Sheriff often thinks about Thad Beaumont from The Dark Half.

Stephen King has said his inspiration for the story was the decadence of the Eighties: "It occurred to me that in the eighties, everything had come with a price tag, that the decade quite literally was the sale of the century. The final items up on the block had been honor, integrity, self-respect, and innocence... I decided to turn the eighties into a small-town curio shop called Needful Things and see what happened."


References to other King works in Needful Things

(In chronological order by publication date)

The Dead Zone, 1979

  • In the foreword of the novel, an unnamed narrator explains to us that 'not all [our] troubles in Castle Rock are ordinary' and lists several occurrences in Castle Rock that King had written of previously, starting with 'No one has forgotten Frank Dodd, the crossing guard who went crazy here twelve years ago and killed those women.' Johnny Smith ends up breaking this case in The Dead Zone. A minor character in Needful Things, an ostracized stutterer "Slopey" Dodd, may be related to the murderer.
  • During the final portion of the novel, lightning strikes the Town Common: ". . . blowing the bandstand, where a tormented young man named Johnny Smith had once discovered the name of a killer, to flaming matchwood."
  • Polly remembers seeing an ad for a healing "pinwheel gadget" in a copy of "Inside View", a fictional tabloid magazine that tried to recruit Johnny Smith after his psychic powers are publicised, and for which Richard Dees works for in The Night Flier.

Cujo, 1981

  • There are several references to Cujo in Needful Things, mostly in passing. They also begin in the foreword of the novel, where the unnamed narrator goes on: 'the dog. . . the one that came down with rabies and killed Joe Camber and the old rummy down the road from him. The dog killed good old Sheriff George Bannerman, too.'
  • Cujo himself is referenced once by name, as is 'the old Camber place'.
  • Polly goes to the Camber place and thinks about a small boy and Sheriff Bannerman who died in the dooryard, which is reputed to be haunted. Later, she hears a growl issuing from the barn, and thinks she sees 'two sunken red circles of light peering out', which prompts her to get into her car. The car, for a fraction of a second, will not start. She thinks, wildly, that no one knows where she is. During this period we get a lot of consideration about the characters--from the Cambers to Donna Trenton.
  • Polly's Aunt Evie Chalmers is the woman who accurately predicted the weather at the beginning of Cujo.
  • During the final showdown, Alan makes a shadow shape of a dog, and we're given an aside of how it might just be a Saint Bernard.

"Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption", from Different Seasons, 1982

  • In a flashback, Ace Merrill is warned by his uncle, 'Pop', that 'careless people end up in the Shank'. Later, he's proven correct, as Ace spends a brief turn in Shawshank Prison.

"The Body", from Different Seasons, 1982

  • Ace Merrill, who appears in the novel as Mr. Gaunt's 'employee', is the same Ace Merrill who led the group of bullies that tormented Gordon Lachance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio, finally confronting them after they find the body; upon Ace's entrance to the story, we're told that "The boys Ace Merrill had once terrorized--boys like Teddy Duchamp, Chris Chambers, and Vern Tessio--would have recognized him at once in spite of his graying hair."
  • Ace remembers the happenings of "The Body": "He thought back all the way to a time, many years ago, when four snotnosed kids had cheated him and his friends (Ace had had friends back in those days, or at least a reasonable approximation thereof) out of something Ace had wanted. They had caught one of the snotnoses - Gordie LaChance - later on and had beaten the living shit out of him, but it hadn't mattered. These days LaChance was a bigshot writer living in another part of the state, and he probably wiped his ass with ten-dollar bills. Somehow the snotnoses had won, and things had never been the same for Ace after that. That was when his luck had turned bad. Doors that had been open to him had begun to close, one by one. Little by little he had begun to realize that he was not a king and Castle Rock was not his kingdom. If that had ever been true, those days had begun to pass that Labor Day weekend when he was sixteen, when the snots had cheated him and his friends out of what was rightfully theirs. By the time Ace was old enough to drink legally in The Mellow Tiger, he had gone from being a king to being a soldier without a uniform, skulking through enemy territory."

Christine, 1983

  • When Ace Merrill gets into Leland Gaunt's Tucker Talisman, the car is described as still having "that incomparable new-car smell, nothing like it in the world (except maybe for pussy)..." This is a reference to what Roland Lebay, from whom Arnie purchases Christine, says about new-car smell.

It, 1986

  • Nettie Cobb had recently been released from Juniper Hill (on a work-release program with the aid of Polly Chalmers). Juniper Hill is a mental institution/prison for the criminally dangerous. It's where Henry Bowers was put after he murdered his father, and from which he broke free to hunt down the Losers years later.

The Dark Half, 1989

  • The character George Stark, Thad Beaumont's alter ego from The Dark Half, makes a cameo appearance in several of Sherriff Pangborn's dreams, driving his trademark black Tornado.
  • Norris remembers finding the corpse of Homer Gamache, beaten to death with his own artificial arm. (pg. 96). Gamache was Stark's first victim.
  • Throughout the story and in the final battle, the sheriff is reminded of his episode with the sparrows, and often makes them in the shadows.

"The Sun Dog" from Four Past Midnight, 1990

  • The fire that destroyed The Emporium Galorium (and killed Reginald 'Pop' Merrill) is referenced in the foreword, citing that Pop's nephew Ace 'says somethin' spooky happened to his uncle before that fire'. The Sun Dog chronicles that story, from the 'spooky' occurrence to the fire itself.

"The Library Policeman" from Four Past Midnight, 1990

  • Sam Peebles and Naomi Higgins, the main characters of this novella, are mentioned briefly in the epilogue of Needful Things. Mr. Gaunt sets up his new shop, Answered Prayers, in Sam's former office. In the time since the events of the story, Sam and Naomi have married and moved away.

"The Dark Tower"

  • When Alan opens up the trick flower bouquet that turns into blazing light, he thinks, "The white! The coming of the white!" The phrase "the white" appears in many places throughout the Dark Tower series, and Mordred often refers to Roland as his "White father." This exact phrase was coined by John "Jake" Chambers from the Dark Tower series in the third book on the day that he escaped into Mid-World.

References to other works in Needful Things

Cthulhu Mythos

An interesting subtext in the book is frequent, subtle references to H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, which lends to the possibility that Leland Gaunt may be an avatar of the sadistic shapeshifting deity Nyarlathotep, sometimes associated with Satan by other authors (see also Randall Flagg). "Gaunts", or "Nightgaunts" feature in Cthulhu Mythos stories, and the name Leland Gaunt references this fact.

  • After giving Ace some very powerful cocaine, Mr. Gaunt tells him that he obtained it from 'The Plains of Leng'. This, perhaps, gives us a clue as to Mr. Gaunt's origins.
  • During his trip to Boston under the behest of Mr. Gaunt, Ace Merrill reads the following graffiti: 'Yog-Sothoth Rules'. This is a reference to "The Freshman," a humorous Cthulhu mythos short story in which "Yog-Sothoth sucks!" is found graffitied across the Miskatonic University campus.
  • When asked where he got the Tucker Talisman (by a Mobil Gas jockey), Ace says "The Plains of Leng. Yog-Sothoth Vintage Motors".

Young Guns

  • In the hospital, Sean Rusk asks Alan if he's a sheriff like from Young Guns, a movie which starred Kiefer Sutherland, who played Ace Merrill in the film adaption of "The Body", Stand By Me. He also complains that now that his brother is dead, he can't go and see Young Guns II in theatres.

Dawn of the Dead

  • Crime scene onlookers remind Sheriff Alan Pangborn of the "mall zombies from Dawn of the Dead," a movie directed by George Romero. Romero directed Creepshow (from a screenplay written by King) and The Dark Half, a 1993 movie adaptation of King's novel.


  • When greeting some of the visitors to his shop, Gaunt askes them to "leave some of the happiness you bring!" Count Dracula invites Jonathan Harker to do the same in chapter two of Dracula.

Lord of the Flies

  • The recurrence of bad-guy character Ace Merril.


A movie adaptation was released in 1993, starring Max von Sydow as Gaunt, and Ed Harris as Sheriff Pangborn. Bonnie Bedelia played Polly, Pangborn's girlfriend. It was markedly different from the book, however. Notable differences include the absence of Ace Merril, many of the items bought from Gaunt altered, a number of subplots illustrating the townfolks' peccadilloes and dirty secrets dropped, and Danforth 'Buster' Keeton curiously becoming a sort of hero--if an inept one--who stands up to his tormentor. Also in the movie, Gaunt's influence is attributed to major world crises, such as World War II, the plague, and catastrophic accidents. At the end Gaunt promises to return to plague Pangborn's descendant, even giving a specific time and place, before his car vanishes at the end of the road. A longer version running 186 minutes can be seen occasionally on television - however, no home version of the extended cut has yet been released.



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