While far from one of Stephen King’s scariest books, Cujo, published in 1981, is certainly one of his most popular. About a friendly Saint Bernard that turns rabid and starts brutally slaughtering the citizens of Castle Rock, Maine, Cujo is by far one of Stephen King’s most recognizable characters, in my opinion, right up there with Jack Torrence and Pennywise the Dancing Clown. But how did Stephen King come up with such an idea? While a story where an animal tries to kill the main characters is nothing new, the animal in question is always wild, say, a bear, a wolf, a shark, a lion, even a dinosaur. So what inspired King to make his animal antagonist man’s best friend?
In the spring of 1977, Stephen King took his motorcycle to a mechanic who lived in the middle of nowhere. As the bike died just as he made it, a Saint Bernard suddenly emerged from the shadows of the barn, snarling at him. King retreated, wishing he wasn’t on his bike, when a man came out after the dog, saying, “Don’t worry. He don’t bite.” So King reached out to pet the dog, and in response, it lunged at him. Then the man said, “Down, Gonzo!”, whacking his dog on the rump, and it yelped and sat down, and he then looked up at King and said, “Gonzo never done that before. I guess he don’t like your face.”. As the mechanic was fixing his motorcycle, King thought about his beat-up Pinto, and the main conflict of Cujo – a rabid Saint Bernard trapping a mother and her son in a broken-down car in the middle of nowhere – was born.
Also, in case you’re curious about the origin of the Saint Bernard’s name, Cujo was based on the alias of Willie Wolfe, one of the men responsible for orchestrating Patty Hearst’s kidnapping and indoctrination into the Symbionese Liberation Army. While a member of the group, Wolfe adopted the code name “Kahjoh”, which was misspelled by the media as “Cujo”.
While Cujo, in my opinion, isn’t particularly scary, as I stated above, it is one of Stephen King’s most tragic tales. A gentle, lovable dog who only wanted to keep his family happy, a sickness slowly burns away his sanity until he’s reduced to a murderous beast. Cujo is by far up there as one of King’s most sympathetic main characters, which is why I still recommend the book to any fans of the dismal and bleak.