Unlike Stephen King’s many other protagonists, Gwendy Peterson didn’t face the existential threat of a killer dog, demonic clown or alcoholic innkeeper. As the legendary horror author puts it, she was “dying in a desk drawer” in his Maine office until fellow writer Richard Chizmar came along and saved her.
Because “Gwendy just did not want to die,” King says, she became the catalyst and central figure of a book trilogy written by the two friends that travels the far reaches of the Stephen King Universe.
The 2017 novella “Gwendy’s Button Box” introduced 12-year-old Gwendy, growing up in King’s old haunts of Castle Rock in 1974 when she meets a man in a black suit and is given a mysterious mahogany box with buttons that, when pushed, produce treats or death and destruction. When King was busy with other work, Chizmar took the reins for 2019’s “Gwendy’s Magic Father,” which catches up with Gwendy as a 37-year-old newly elected congresswoman having to return to her hometown.
But King and Chizmar have teamed up again for the closing chapter, “Gwendy’s Final Task” (out in hardcover Tuesday via Cemetery Dance Publications, and Simon and Schuster audiobook). In 2026, Gwendy is a Maine senator when the dangerous box comes back into her life, as well as the evil that wants it, so she joins a space mission to take care of it once and for all.
“I thought to myself, the way to – pun intended – button this up is Gwendy’s gotta get rid of the button box,” King says. “And the answer seemed clear: The only place to really get rid of something for good is the universe.”
Adds Chizmar: “I think we both kind of fell in love with Gwendy again.”
“Final Task” brings in elements of our world, from the pandemic to modern politics. It also tackles themes of consequence and temptation as Gwendy develops Alzheimer’s as a result of the button box. “Her mental deterioration, it was almost like the perfect ticking clock,” Chizmar says.
The book also ties into King’s other works: Part of it takes place in Derry, the Maine locale of the Losers Club and Pennywise in “It,” and the Dark Tower on the “Final Task” cover alludes to its connection to King’s sprawling fantasy series and the title structure that connects all worlds.
“I like stories that seem to fit into a bigger pattern, and for me, this one was part of it,” King says. “Everything that I’ve written for a long, long time has always been with the tower in the corner of my eye. In ‘Gwendy’s Final Task,’ the Dark Tower comes forward more than it does in some of the other works. It’s actually in the foreground here.”
Plotting those connections ahead of time isn’t how King and Chizmar write together, however. They trade chunks of pages, improving and polishing each other’s work as they go, though Chizmar does recall being “a little nervous” taking the plot through Derry.
“I thought, ‘Oh man, that is really sacred ground. He might not have liked that. I might be doing my 50 pages over again,’ ” Chizmar says with a laugh. “But he reacted really favorably and just immediately made what I did so much better just blending stuff in and just adding little details and grace notes.”
It was most important for King that Gwendy’s last story “showed her decency to the very end, even when she’s losing her mind piece by piece. She’s in this strange environment and she’s facing death, but also that she could be clever,” he says, teasing a couple of crowd-pleasing twists and “a sting in the tail at the end of the book.”
King admires how Chizmar combines fantasy elements with “a texture that’s pure American. It’s a little bit like Charles Grant, except with more teeth.” And Chizmar feels he’s gained confidence in his writing watching King’s storytelling choices up close: “It’s like being a young ballplayer and you’re working with the seasoned veteran who’s been there and has so much success and has such a natural ability.”
A film adaptation of King’s short story “The Boogeyman” goes into production this summer – the film stars Marin Ireland, who narrates the “Gwendy’s Final Task” audiobook. And King’s next novel is “Fairy Tale” (out Sept. 6), about a teenage boy who discovers a shed that’s a portal to another world where good and evil are at war.
It’s already received one glowing review. “It’s the kind of book that made me fall in love with reading when I was young,” says Chizmar, who’s working on a sequel to his book “Chasing the Boogeyman.” “When I was finished, I emailed Steve and gushed all over the place and said it made me want to go to the library and be surrounded by books and my youth. It was a neat feeling for me. And I have no idea how he did it. I turned back to the beginning and said, ‘I’m gonna read it again.’ ”
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