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.

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)

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Fascinating Facts About Herman Melville

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in New York City to a wealthy and socially connected family, Herman Melville (1819-1891) chose a life as exciting as that of his Moby-Dick narrator Ishmael. He spent years at sea on whaling ships and traveled to far-flung places, but also struggled to make it as a novelist while supporting a large extended family. To celebrate his birthday on August 1, we’re diving into Melville’s adventures and fishing for some surprising facts.

1. Herman Melville's mother changed the spelling of their last name.

Despite his family’s wealth and pedigree—his mother Maria Gansevoort descended from one of the first Dutch families in New York, and his father Allan Melvill came from old Boston stock—young Herman had an unstable, unhappy childhood. Allan declared bankruptcy in 1830 and died two years later, leaving Maria with eight children under the age of 17 and a pile of debt from loans and Allan’s unsuccessful businesses. Soon afterward, Maria added an "e" to their surname—perhaps to hide from collection agencies, although scholars are not sure exactly why. "It always seemed to me an unlikely way to avoid creditors in the early 19th century," Will Garrison, executive director of the Berkshire Historical Society, tells Mental Floss.

2. Herman Melville struggled to find employment.

Thanks to a national financial crisis in 1837, Melville had difficulty finding a permanent job, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He served as a bank clerk, teacher, land surveyor, and crew member on a packet ship before signing on, in 1841, to the whaler Acushnet of New Bedford, Massachusetts, then the whaling capital of the world. He served aboard a few different whalers and rose to the role of harpooner. His adventures at sea planted the seeds for Melville’s interrogation of man, morality, and nature in Moby-Dick. In that novel, Melville (in the voice of Ishmael) says, "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

3. Herman Melville jumped ship in the middle of a three-year voyage. 

Melville and the Acushnet’s captain didn’t get along, so when the ship reached the Marquesas Islands, Melville and a friend, Richard Tobias Greene, hid in the forests until the ship departed. They spent a month living with the Pacific Islanders. Melville was impressed with their sophistication and peacefulness; most Europeans believed that Polynesians were cannibals. He also found reason to criticize European attempts to "civilize" the islanders by converting them to Christianity. Melville drew on his South Pacific experiences in his first two novels, which became runaway bestsellers: Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847).

4. Herman Melville was inspired by a mountain.

Herman Melville's home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, MassachusettsDaderot/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Melville moved to Arrowhead, his charming mustard-colored home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with his wife Elizabeth and their son in 1850, after he achieved fame as a popular adventure novelist. In the upstairs study, he set up his writing desk so he could look out the north-facing window, which perfectly framed the summit of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’s tallest mountain. Gazing at the peak on a sunny day, Melville was struck by how much the horizontal apex looked "like a sperm whale rising in the distance." He arranged his desk so he would see the summit when he happened to glance up from his work. In that room, in early 1851, Melville completed his manuscript of Moby-Dick.

5. Herman Melville fictionalized an actual whaling disaster.

While on the Acushnet, Melville had learned about an infamous shipwreck from the son of one of its survivors. In November 1820, a massive sperm whale had attacked and sunk the whaleship Essex of Nantucket in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its crew, stranded in three small boats with little food or water, chose to drift more than 4000 miles to South America instead of 1200 miles to the Marquesas Islands—where Melville had enjoyed his idyll—because they thought they’d be eaten by the natives. Ironically, some of the castaways ended up eating their dead shipmates to survive.

Melville used the disaster to form the climax of Moby-Dick, in which the Pequod of Nantucket is destroyed by the white whale. Melville visited Nantucket for the first time only after the novel was published. He personally interviewed the Essex’s captain, George Pollard, who had survived the terrible ordeal and become the town’s night watchman. Later, Melville wrote, "To the islanders he was a nobody—to me, the most impressive man, tho’ wholly unassuming, even humble—that I ever encountered."

6. Moby-Dick was a flop.

Readers who were expecting another rip-roarin’ adventure like his earlier novels Typee or Redburn were sorely disappointed when Melville’s masterpiece was published in November 1851. The British edition of Moby-Dick, or The Whale received some positive reviews in London newspapers, but American reviewers were shocked at its obscure literary symbolism and complexity. “There is no method in his madness; and we must needs pronounce the chief feature of the volume [the character of Captain Ahab] a perfect failure, and the work itself inartistic,” wrote the New York Albion. The reviewer added that the novel's style was like "having oil, mustard, vinegar, and pepper served up as a dish, in place of being scientifically administered sauce-wise."

7. Herman Melville was very fond of his chimney.

Arrowhead became the locus of Melville’s family life and work. Eventually, he and Lizzie, their two sons and two daughters, his mother Maria, and his sisters Augusta, Helen, and Fanny all lived in the cozy farmhouse. For a couple of years, Nathaniel Hawthorne was such a frequent guest that he had his own small bedroom off Melville’s study. After Moby-Dick, Melville wrote the novels Pierre and The Confidence-Man, his collection of works called The Piazza Tales, short stories including “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and many other pieces there. Melville grew very attached to the house, especially to the massive central chimney, which he immortalized in his 1856 short story “I and My Chimney.” Yet his financial struggles after Moby-Dick failed to find an audience led Melville to sell Arrowhead to his brother Allan in 1863. As an homage, Allan painted a few lines from “I and My Chimney” on the chimney's stonework, which are still visible today.

8. Herman Melville finally got a day job.

Melville’s chronic money woes prompted a return to New York City, into a brick townhouse at 104 East 26th Street in Manhattan, where the family benefited from being back in the bustle of civilization. Melville finally found regular employment as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service and maintained an office at 470 West Street. At the same time, he mostly abandoned writing short stories and novels in favor of poetry. In between inspections he wrote Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, based on his visit to the Middle East in 1857. Because of its length—at more than 18,000 lines, it's the longest poem in American literature—and unconventional approach to its subject, Melville once called it "eminently adapted for unpopularity."

9. Herman Melville's last major work was discovered by accident.

The centennial of Melville’s birth renewed interest in his novels and poems, most of which were long out of print by then. Raymond Weaver, a literature professor at Columbia University working on the first major biography of Melville, collaborated with Eleanor Melville Metcalf, Melville’s granddaughter and literary executor, who gave him access to the author’s papers. In 1919, while poking through letters and notes, Weaver discovered the unfinished manuscript of Billy Budd in a tin breadbox. Melville had started to write the short story about a tragic sailor in 1888 but, by his death in 1891, had not completed it. Weaver edited and published the story in 1924, but initially considered the tale "not distinguished." Other scholars asserted that Billy Budd was Melville’s final masterpiece.

10. You can see Herman Melville's personal collection of knick-knacks.

Just a short drive from Arrowhead, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield holds the world’s largest collection of Melvilliana in its Melville Memorial Room. Along with first editions of Melville’s work and a full library of books about him, there are priceless objects owned by or associated with the author. Fans can geek out over the earliest known portrait of Melville, painted in 1848; carved wooden canoe paddles that he collected in Polynesia; his walking stick; his favorite inkstand, quills, and other desktop tchotchkes; a collection of scrimshaw, maps, and prints; and Elizabeth Melville’s writing desk. There's a section of the first successful transatlantic cable, which Melville valued as a prized souvenir, and even the actual breadbox in which Billy Budd had been hiding.