In the same way that Joss Whedon's feminist beliefs compel him to imperil beautiful girls in order for them to fight their way to freedom, so Stephen King brings us tale after tale of ordinary women (and plenty of men) who find themselves in the most nightmarish of scenarios and must risk everything to survive. This Top 5 post is dedicated to that classic horror trope, the "final girl" - the female who, through cunning or skill or sheer virtue, stands triumphant at the end of the tale.
Spoilers may lie ahead for readers not familiar with all of Stephen King's work - so, you know. Beware.
There's a tiny clue in the title of this novel as to which character might last to the final page. As everything in the book is from Lisey's perspective, one might suspect that there is no feeling of danger - but King still manages to make the reader fear for Lisey as she discovers the unreal world that her late husband spent much of his troubled life in. More than any other King novel, Lisey's Story is about empowerment. Having long been the supportive wife, Lisey is forced to walk into hell alone, and come out the other side.
4. Sue Snell
It would be easy enough to remember the ending of Carrie, which we all read a long time ago, as one where everybody ended up dead. Not quite: Sue Snell, the popular girl who tried to do something nice for outcast Carrie White, survives to witness the destruction her own actions caused. If she hadn't encouraged her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom, then the unfortunate pig's blood incident would never have happened, and all those cruel teenagers who tormented her would still be alive. Actually, come to think of it, it sounds like an unconventionally happy ending to me.
Motherly love never came stronger than it did in Wendy Torrance. A large, uneasy portion of The Shining is spent watching her walk on eggshells around her recovering alcoholic husband, all the while being eaten up inside with fear and anger at what might happen to their son Danny if Jack falls off the wagon. Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation did nothing to convey the lioness-defending-her-cub strength of character that Wendy embodies in the book - shattered bones and a head injury do not stop her dragging herself, inch by painful inch, to Danny's aid.
This story is one of numerous trials. Rose Daniels suffers for years at the hands of a violent, abusive husband. When she finally works up the courage to leave him, an even more terrifying journey begins, as she finds herself drawn into a dream-like painted world, where her fearsome doppelänger holds the key to vengeance. Rose's survival is a triumph, but is shadowed by an epilogue which reveals (SPOILERS) she has inherited her former husband's bloody rages.
Personally, I think the word "harrowing" is overused, especially when describing books. But in this case I find it incredibly apt - I was as attached to Jessie's ordeal as she was to the bed. When a simple sex game goes awry and Jessie is left naked and alone, it is not death that poses a threat. It is the voices. The madness. And the misshapen face that keeps emerging from the shadows. Gerald's Game is not a supernatural novel, making the unlikely peril Jessie faces feel all the more real.