When Rolling Stone asked its readers to name the best Stephen King novels a couple years ago, The Stand, It, Salem's Lot and Misery topped the list. And of course, they have every right to be there; they are some of King's best-known, terrifyingly classic stories. Many books on the list were popular enough to become critically acclaimed films. But what about the Stephen King novels that have been overlooked (no pun intended) by filmmakers, fans and horror story lovers?
One novel in particular that really stuck with me is the chilling and imaginative Insomnia, a sci-fi/horror hybrid from 1994. It had me laughing, crying and binge-reading (I stayed up until 1 a.m. just to finish it).
The story is set in King's multiverse, in the fictional town of Derry, Maine (similar to It and Dreamcatcher). The protagonist, Ralph Roberts is a retired widower who begins to suffer from insomnia — hint in the title — that he tries to cure with pills, acupuncture and home remedies. None of them work, and he begins to witness phenomena invisible to others' eyes, including colorful auras and mysterious, eerie white-coated beings he calls "little bald doctors."
Why Isn't Insomnia As Well-Known As Other King Classics?
Now, my bookshelf is full to the brim with King novels, so it's no shock to hear that I love all of the King books I have read. But for some reason, Insomnia really resonated with me; the more of it I read, the more I found myself immersed in the characters and magical plot that King conjured up.
If I found it so riveting, why does it feel like so few others have even heard of it? Why didn't it make the top 10 in Rolling Stone's Reader's Poll, and why was it ranked a very disappointing 61 out of 64 in Vulture's list of King's best works?
One Of His Greatest Achievements
The cleverness of the novel stems from King's use sci-fi creatures to explain the intense and complicated phenomenon of death. (Spoilers follow.)
When Ralph finds out that his close friend, Lois, has also been having trouble sleeping — which likewise caused her to witness this unknown world — they both set out to figure out its strange nature. Their expedition results in an all-out mission to save the town of Derry from a force known as Atropos.
The characters Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos — suitably named after the Three Fates in Greek Mythology — appear as bald male doctors, reflecting how Ralph is a man who has constantly been let down by the medical profession. Clotho and Lachesis explain to Ralph that their job is to free people from life when the time has come, and they wish to help Ralph and Lois use their new powers to help defeat the antagonist of the book, Atropos, the "bald doctor of fate" who has gone rogue.
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Does It Deserve A Film Or TV Adaptation?
I definitely think it does. Especially with the recent explosion of love and praise that Netflix's recent, partially King-inspired horror series Stranger Things received. (Cristopher Nolan's Insomnia, starring Al Pacino, is a totally different story, of course.)
I imagine that an Insomnia movie would strike a lot of similarities to many of King's adaptations already out there — but it would have an edge that hasn't yet been seen in King adaptations. The supernatural elements don't make you think, "Wow, that sounds neat," but instead make you fear for Ralph. The visuals would be astounding; imagine seeing the auras, colors and supernatural characters presented on the big screen. A lot could be done with this concept!
However, one downside to a film adaptation would be the amount of story that would have to be taken out. The novel is a whopping 650 pages long, and many have criticized it for being slow and drawn out. Personally I feel that the length adds to King's trademark skill in character development — the story needs to be 650 pages long to really make you cry (and boy, did I cry) — but you can't expect people to sit in a movie theater for six hours. I was mad as hell when Kubrick left out parts of The Shining, but again, it's a necessary filmmaking decision. Perhaps as a Netflix or Hulu original series like 11/22/63, the full story of Insomnia could be seen.
Fan Casting By An Insomnia Super Fan
If the novel were to be made into an adaptation (please please please), then I think fan casting is in order! As a huge fan of the book, I imagined the faces of each character in my head so vividly and so memorably that I've put together a little list of who I think would rock the main roles:
- Max von Sydow (Old Ralph): Before Ralph finds out he can see into a new universe, he's a retired widower. When he gains powers, Ralph is able to suck up other people's life force and his appearance becomes young and fruitful again. I believe Max von Sydow would fit the role perfectly. You'll know him from Game of Thrones and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I remember most fondly his role in Shutter Island as Dr. Jeremiah Naehring.
- Pierce Brosnan (Younger Ralph): In the book, Ralph begins to notice his hair gaining color and his features becoming younger — I could see Brosnan filling that look well.
- Ellen Burstyn (Lois Chasse): I think that Ellen Burstyn would play an immensely cute Lois, as Lois's characteristics in the novel are awfully cute. I love her so much in the book and I believe that Burstyn has the perfect look! Lois also begins to de-age, but I think Ellen could be manipulated to look younger, therefore no "young Lois" casting is needed.
- Norman Reedus (Ed Deepneau): Ed is a character who becomes quite the naughty egg — he was once Ralph's friend, but falls under the influence of the rogue "bald doctor" Atropos. Ed is much younger than Ralph, therefore I think that Norman Reedus would rock this role. He has the rugged look needed to pull off the distressed, newly evil Ed (well, maybe with a haircut and fewer zombie remains all over him).
- Cate Blanchett (Helen Deepneau): Helen falls victim to Ed's abuse when he becomes "changed," and therefore turns to Ralph for help. She also is a member of the pro-choice movement, which angers Ed, and part of the women's shelter to protect women against domestic violence. I think Cate Blanchett would fill this role perfectly!
Insomnia Fans, Speak Out!
We need to unite to push this amazing book into the mainstream eye to get the film adaptation we all deserve! It is such an underrated novel. And if you haven't read it yet and you're a Stephen King fan, please find yourself a copy of Insomnia — you will not regret it!
What's your favorite underrated Stephen King novel? Who would you want to see in an Insomnia movie? Let us know in the comments below!