According to the New York Times, the new Hulu series Castle Rock may look and feel like an adaptation of one of the many Stephen King stories out there, but it’s not. The show isn't based on any one particular short story or novel. In fact, aside from a myriad of playful and necessary references to what Hulu dubs the “Stephen King multiverse,” Castle Rock is wholly the creation of executive producer J.J. Abrams and writers Sam Shaw and Dusty Thomason.
The story of a young man’s (Bill Skarsgård) discovery in the depths of the Shawshank State Prison, death row attorney Henry Deaver’s (André Holland) efforts to help him, and the consequences that follow are unique to Castle Rock. What’s not, however, is the anthology series’ name, which marks the fictional Maine town where many of King’s stories have been set, or referenced, throughout the 70-year-old author’s long career.
Castle Rock is an original concept based on the fictional universe King created. As a result, audiences hoping to check out the new show when it debuts on Wednesday may want to brush up on all things Stephen King. That’s not to say reading Cujo or watching the recent It movie are necessary for understanding Castle Rock, but it may make the experience more enjoyable.
Get ready for Castle Rock with these Stephen King stories
Published in 1982, Different Seasons - a collection of four novellas - presents one of King’s most comprehensive guides to the town of Castle Rock. While the book contains less of the horror the author is known for, three of its dramatic stories - Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil” and The Body - all take place in, or greatly reference, the fictional New England locale. What’s more, all three have been adapted for the big screen, with The Body becoming Rob Reiner’s popular coming-of-age comedy Stand By Me.
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About a minute into the latest trailer for Castle Rock, Deaver is seen flipping through a collection of old files and newspaper clippings. One of the latter scares with the headline “Rabid Dog Tears Through Town,” while an accompanying article reads “Rabies Vaccines At All Time High.” Intrepid King fans will immediately know that both are an easter egg for Cujo, the 1981 horror novel about a rabid dog tormenting the townspeople. It became a film two years later.
Like“Fargo and American Crime Story, Castle Rock boasts an impressive ensemble cast that includes acting veterans like Scott Glenn. Here he portrays Alan Pangborn, the retired sheriff hero of King’s 1991 book Needful Things, in which the demonic Leland Gaunt’s titular shop offered customers seemingly rare trinkets in exchange for their souls. Hence Pangborn’s line from the trailer: “I always thought the devil was just a metaphor.”
Though set in the fictional town of Derry, Maine, another fictional location created by King, It bears a poignant connection to Castle Rock. Yes, the book references the other fictional setting, but the recent film adaptation, which became the highest grossing horror movie of all time, also stars Skarsgård. In “It” he plays Pennywise the Clown, whose creepy malevolence doesn’t seem too different from the mysterious unnamed character he plays in Castle Rock.
Speaking of connections across King’s vast “multiverse,” Castle Rock also features the return of Sissy Spacek to the author’s material. Here she plays Ruth Deaver, Henry’s mother who suffers from dementia, but previously she starred in the 1976 supernatural horror film Carrie, which was based on King’s 1974 novel of the same name. “I adore Stephen King,” she told the New York Times. “I think we’re both probably indebted to each other for the experience that we had with Carrie.”
Castle Rock premieres Wednesday on Hulu.