The Real History of Stephen King's Fictional Town, Castle Rock

It's "the human center of the King Universe."

If Stephen King fans don’t already know that Castle Rock, Maine, is a pretty terrible town from reading several of the horror masters’ books, they’ll soon find out when they watch Hulu’s new series set in the eponymous fictional town. However, it may not be a real place, but the lifelong Maine-resident based it on several aspects of his home state.

The town, named for a fort in Lord of the Flies, first appeared in King’s 1979 novel The Dead Zone, but would go on to be what one of Castle Rock’s showrunners Dustin Thomason called “the human center of the King Universe.” Cujo, the novel about the rabid Saint Bernard, is set in the town, as are The Dark Half, Needful Things, and The Body, a novella better-known for its film adaptation, Stand By Me.

In addition, Castle Rock gets several shout-outs in other King books, including Pet Sematary, It, and one of King’s more recent books, Revival. Shawshank State Prison is not explicitly set in Castle Rock in the original novel (though the narrator does indicate that he’s from the town), but the Hulu series sets the prison inside the town’s borders.

Various hints across different King stories and adaptations have dropped clues as to where, exactly, in Maine Castle Rock is. Much like Springfield in The Simpsons, however, it’s hard to pin down. Some suggest it’s within 40 miles of the state capital of Portland, but a graphic for the Hulu show suggests it’s much farther inland. It’s set in the fictional “Castle County,” which isn’t much help for would-be cartographers.

Castle Rock's location, according to the show.
Castle Rock's location, according to the show.

King, who hails from Durham, Maine, a town with a population of fewer than 4,000, came up with several fictional towns in addition to Castle Rock. It, Insomnia, and part of 11/22/63 are a few of the tales set in Derry, while Salem’s Lot is set in Jerusalem’s Lot. Under the Dome is set in Chester’s Mill, while Carrie occurs in Chamberlain.

King likes Maine, is the takeaway here, and for good reason. The author knows it well, and there’s something about Maine’s relative isolation that makes it a fitting setting for his often psychological horror. It’s also a state that has seen many of its small towns ravaged by the death of industry, which adds a human element of misery that King can then augment with the supernatural. That was one of the main reasons why showrunners Thomason and Sam Shaw were so interested in making a show set in Castle Rock.

“Who stays in a place like Castle Rock?” Shaw told Inverse ahead of the Hulu series’ premiere. “Who endures so many horrors, rabid dogs, serial killer, everything that’s happened in Castle Rock, and decides to stay?”

Viewers will find out when Castle Rock premieres on July 25.

Media via Hulu