Cell (novel): Wikis


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Cell by Stephen King.jpg
First edition cover
Author Stephen King
Cover artist Mark Stutzman
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror novel
Publisher Scribner
Publication date January 24, 2006
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 355
ISBN 0743292332
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 22
LC Classification PS3561.I483 C38 2006
Preceded by The Colorado Kid
Followed by Lisey's Story

Cell is an apocalyptic horror novel published by American author Stephen King in 2006. The plot concerns a New England artist struggling to reunite with his young son after a mysterious signal broadcast over the global cell-phone network turns the majority of his fellow humans into mindless vicious animals.


Plot Summary

Just as Clayton Riddell, a struggling artist from Maine lands a graphic novel deal in Boston, somebody, somewhere, triggers "The Pulse," a signal sent out over the global cell phone network that instantly turns any cellphone user into a mindless killer. Civilization crumbles as the "phoners" attack each other and any unaltered people in view.

Amidst the chaos, Clay is thrown together with middle-aged Tom McCourt and teenager Alice Maxwell; the trio escapes to Tom's suburban home as Boston burns. The next day, they learn that the phoners have begun foraging for food and banding together in "flocks." Clay is still unalterably determined to return to Maine and reunite with his young son, Johnny. Having no better alternatives, Tom and Alice come with him. They trek north by night across a devastated New England, having fleeting encounters with other survivors and catching disturbing hints about the activities of the phone crazies, who still attack non-phoners on sight.

Crossing into New Hampshire, they arrive at the Gaiten Academy, a prep school with one remaining teacher, Charles Ardai, and one surviving pupil, Jordan. The pair show the newcomers where the local phoner flock goes at night: packed into the Academy's soccer field like sardines, "switched off" until morning. It it clear the phoners have become a hive mind, and are developing psychic abilities. The five of them decide that they must destroy the flock and, using two propane tankers, they succeed.

Clay tries to get everyone to flee the scene, but the others refuse to abandon the elderly Ardai. The sleep that follows is filled with a horrific dream: everyone sees themselves in a stadium, surrounded by phoners, as a disheveled man wearing a Harvard University hooded sweatshirt approaches, bringing their death. Waking, the heroes dub him "The Raggedy Man". A new flock surrounds their residence, and the "normies" face the flock's metaphorical spokesman: the man wearing the Harvard hoodie. The flock commits bloody reprisal on other normals, and orders the protagonists to head north to a spot in Maine called "Kashwak". To preempt one objection, the flock psychically compels Ardai to commit suicide. Clay and the others bury him and travel north, as Clay is still determined to go home.

En route, they learn that as "flock-killers" they have been psychically marked as untouchables, to be shunned by other normies. Following a petty squabble on the road, Alice is killed by a loutish pair of normals. The group buries her and arrives in Clay's hometown of Kent Pond, where they discover notes from Johnny which tell them that Clay's estranged wife Sharon was turned into a phoner, but that their son survived for several days, before he and the other normies were prompted by the phoners to head to the supposedly cellphone-free Kashwak. Clay has another nightmare which reveals that once there, they were all exposed to the Pulse. He remains intent on finding his son, but after meeting another group of flock-killers, Tom and Jordan decide to avoid the ceremonial executions the phoners have planned. Before separating, the group discovers that Alice's murderers were compelled into suicide for touching an untouchable.

Clay sets off alone, but the others soon reappear driving a small school bus; the phoners have used their ever-increasing powers to force them to rejoin him. One of the flock-killers, a construction worker named Ray, gives Clay a cell phone and a phone number, telling him to use them when the time is right. Ray then commits suicide. The group arrives at Kashwak, the site of a half-assembled county fair, where phoners are beginning to behave erratically and break out of the flock. Jordan theorizes that a computer program caused the Pulse, and while it is still broadcasting into the battery-powered cellphone network, it has become corrupted with a computer worm that has infected the newer phoners with a mutated Pulse. Nevertheless, an entire army of phoners is waiting for them. The phoners lock the group in the fair's exhibition hall for the night.

As Clay awaits his morning execution, he realizes Ray's plan: he filled the rear of the bus with explosives, wired a phone-triggered detonator to them, and killed himself to prevent the phoners from telepathically discovering his plan. The group breaks a window for Jordan to squeeze through, and he drives the vehicle into the midst of the inert phoners. Thanks to a jerry-rigged cellphone patch set up by the pre-Pulse fair workers, Clay is able to detonate the bomb and wipe out the Raggedy Man's flock.

The majority of the group heads into Canada, to let the approaching winter wipe out the region's unprotected phoners. Clay heads south, seeking his son. He finds Johnny, who received a "corrupted" Pulse; he wandered away from Kashwak and seems to almost recognize his father. However, Johnny is an erratic shadow of his former self, and so, following a theory of Jordan's, Clay gives Johnny another blast from the Pulse, hoping that the increasingly corrupted signal will cancel itself out and reset his son's brain. The book ends with Clay putting a cell-phone to Johnny's ear.

eBay auction

A role in the story was offered to the winner of a charity auction sponsored by eBay [1]:

"One (and only one) character name in a novel called CELL, which is now in work and which will appear in either 2006 or 2007. Buyer should be aware that CELL is a violent piece of work, which comes complete with zombies set in motion by bad cell phone signals that destroy the brain. Like cheap whiskey, it's very nasty and extremely satisfying. Character can be male or female, but a buyer who wants to die must in this case be female. In any case, I'll require physical description of auction winner, including any nickname (can be made up, I don't give a rip)."

Other authors like Peter Straub also participated in the online auction, selling roles in their upcoming books. The King auction ran between September 8 and 18, 2005 and the winner, a Ft. Lauderdale woman named Pam Alexander, paid over $20,000. Ms. Alexander gave the honor as a gift to her brother Ray Huizenga; his name was given to one of the zombie-slaughtering "flock killers" in the story, a construction worker who specializes in explosives, but then later commits suicide in the aid of the "flock killers" escape.[2]


The book generally received good reviews from critics. Publishers Weekly described it as "a glib, technophobic but compelling look at the end of civilization" and full of "jaunty and witty" sociological observations [3]. Stephen King scholar Bev Vincent said "It's a dark, gritty, pessimistic novel in many ways and stands in stark contrast to the fundamental optimism of The Stand".[4]




  • The book makes reference to "the panic rat", which is a motif in King's work to showcase fear as an imaginary creature feeding away at the thoughts of the lead character. Clayton experiences this continually throughout the book in fear of his son's fate. This was previously mentioned in Gerald's Game, in which the lead female character Jessie Burlingame experiences the panic bug as she's handcuffed to a bed.
  • The enigmatic reference "Dodge had a good time, too", made by a traveler when "Lawrence Welk and his champagne music makers" can be heard playing Baby Elephant Walk, is a reference to Dodge Division of the Chrysler Corporation. It was The Lawrence Welk Show's in-studio sponsor early on, and was later replaced by Geritol.
  • The concept of an auditory signal that can destroy a person's brain is very similar to the concepts put forth in Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson. King also references Stephenson in the book, when the character of Jordan calls him "a god".
  • The Raggedy Man is the name of a poem by the American poet James Whitcomb Riley.[5]
  • The book is co-dedicated to film director George A. Romero and sci-fi/horror writer Richard Matheson. Romero has worked with King on numerous occasions, including Creepshow and the feature film version of The Dark Half, and is most famous for his "Living Dead" horror movies, which feature swarms of zombies overwhelming human civilization; Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead are both directly mentioned in Cell — although the effects of The Pulse more closely resemble the effects of the bioweapon in Romero's 1973 film The Crazies, in that phoners are not dead and that they indiscriminately attack each other and normals, unlike Romero's ghouls who exclusively attack the living. In much the same vein as Cell, Matheson's novel I Am Legend depicts a lone "normal" waging a grim post-apocalyptic battle against an army of hideously-altered former humans.
  • In the story, King makes a reference to Juniper Hill (a mental hospital), which he has used in other stories as well, such as It.
  • Clay's son goes to a middle school in Chamberlain, Maine, which is the town where King's novel Carrie was set.
  • The town of Kashwak is said to be somewhere in the vicinity of the unincorporated township of TR-90 - the setting for King's earlier novel Bag of Bones .
  • In the story, the Head's vegetable garden is called the 'Victory Garden', the same name as was given to the vegetable garden at Hetton House in King's Blaze. This was also a common name given to gardens grown by people during the Second World War. They were intended as a way for people on the home front to help by growing as much of their own food as they could rather than buying it, thus helping to alleviate demand for food back home and increase supplies for the war effort.
  • The story mentions the Micmac Indians several times. In Pet Sematary, Church, Gage, and Rachel were buried and brought back to life in the Micmac Burial Ground.
  • As is typical of King's novels, several elements of the Cell reference King's The Dark Tower series. A "half-constructed kiddie ride" at Kashwak is named Charlie the Choo-Choo, which is also the name of a plot-important children's book in The Dark Tower series. Also, the graphic novel that Clay sells prior to the Pulse is called Dark Wanderer, a story (as his wife puts it) involving "apocalypse cowboys." The story, and its characters, are likely a reference to the Dark Tower series and the gunslingers of King's apocalyptic fantasy world. Most notably, the protagonist of Clay's novel is named Ray Damon, who shares the initials of Roland Deschain, the hero of The Dark Tower Series. King frequently creates alter-egos of repeated characters with identical initials, such as Randall Flagg. There is also a recurring motif, in which many of King's villains are linked in one way or another: The Raggedy Man wears a red hooded garment, which mirrors one of the many forms of the Crimson King, who is the main antagonist of the Dark Tower series. The Raggedy Man wears a Harvard sweatshirt; Harvard's sports teams and daily newspaper are both nicknamed Crimson, another allusion to the Crimson King.
  • While sitting at the kitchen table with Clay, Tom says "That's all right, then." In King's novel Bag of Bones, Mike Noonan's wife Jo always said the same thing when Mike finished a novel.

Outside references

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

On March 8, 2006, Ain't It Cool News announced that Dimension Films had bought the film rights to the book and would produce a film to be directed by Eli Roth (Hostel, Cabin Fever) for a 2009 release.

Said Roth about his approach to the film:

I fucking love that book. Such a smart take on the zombie movie. I am so psyched to do it. I think you can really do almost a cross between the Dawn of the Dead remake with a 'Roland Emmerich' approach (for lack of a better reference) where you show it happening all over the world. When the pulse hits, I wanna see it hit EVERYWHERE. In restaurants, in movie theaters, at sports events, all the places that people drive you crazy when they're talking on their cell phones. I see total armageddon. People going crazy killing each other - everyone at once - all over the world. Cars smashing into each other, people getting stabbed, throats getting ripped out. The one thing I always wanted to see in zombie movies is the actual moment the plague hits, and not just in one spot, but everywhere. You usually get flashes of it happening around the world on news broadcasts, but you never actually get to experience it happening everywhere. Then as the phone crazies start to change and mutate, the story gets pared down to a story about human survival in the post-apocalyptic world ruled by phone crazies. I'm so excited, I wish the script was ready right now so I could start production. But it'll get written (or at least a draft will) while I'm doing Hostel 2, and then I can go right into it. It should feel like an ultra-violent event movie.[6]

On June 15, 2007, Eli Roth posted in his MySpace blog that he would not be directing Cell "anytime soon", as he planned to spend the rest of the year writing other projects. On July 10, 2009, he dropped out of the project, saying:

There was just sort of a difference in opinion on how to make to film and what the story should be, and there’s a different direction the studio wants to go with it. It was very friendly because it’s the Weinsteins, they made Inglourious Basterds and we’re all friends. I said, ‘I’m not really interested in doing the film this way. You guys go ahead and I’m going to make my own films.’ I’ve also learned that I really am only interested in directing original stories that I write, that’s another thing I learned through that whole process.[7]

On November 11, 2009, Stephen King announced at a book signing in Dundalk, Maryland that he had finished a screenplay. He stated that he had complaints with the ending of the book and it was redone for the screenplay.[8]


External links


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