Needful Things Essay - Critical Essays

Needful Things

Stephen King states that NEEDFUL THINGS will be “The Last Castle Rock Story.” The fictitious Maine town has been the setting for a number of King’s horror classics, including THE DEAD ZONE (1979), CUJO (1981), and THE DARK HALF (1989). A newcomer to Castle Rock, Leland Gaunt, supposedly from Akron, Ohio, opens a shop called Needful Things. For some mysterious reason, Gaunt seems to know what item each of his customers will do almost anything to possess. Eleven-year-old Brian Rusk, Gaunt’s first customer, buys a Sandy Koufax baseball card. The price that Gaunt asks may seem low in monetary terms, but he also asks young Brian to play a trick on a local woman. Each of Gaunt’s customers is asked to do something over and above the cash price.

Gaunt’s charm woos his customer. He seems to understand all too well his customers’ character flaws. He pushes the correct buttons, and the citizens of Castle Rock commit hideous crimes. The only character who seems to be immune from Gaunt’s influence is the sheriff, Andy Pangborn. He becomes more and more suspicious of Gaunt after a number of crimes lead back to the shop, yet the shop is always closed when Pangborn passes by.

As NEEDFUL THINGS moves forward, the number of citizens who fall prey to Gaunt’s influence increases. King details many grisly acts of violence. The narrative shifts back and forth from one character’s point of view to another. It becomes evident that Gaunt is some sort of monster or devil. The sheriff risks his own life to drive Gaunt out of town, but not without Castle Rock being destroyed. NEEDFUL THINGS is somewhat overwritten, but nevertheless, it is one of King’s most frightening and apocalyptic tales.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXVII, June 15, 1991, p. 1907.

Kirkus Reviews. LIX, July 1, 1991, p. 813.

Locus. XXVII, July, 1991, p. 23.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 20, 1991, p. 6.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, September 29, 1991, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, July 25, 1991, p. 36.

Time. CXXXVIII, November 11, 1991, p. GT12.

The Times Literary Supplement. November 15, 1991, p. 6.

USA Today. October 31, 1991, p. D8.

The Washington Post Book World. XXI, September 29, 1991, p. 9.