If you read or watch enough of a creator’s work, you start to notice their particular tropes. Quentin Tarantino really has a thing for women without shoes. Wes Anderson loves symmetry more than some people love their children. And for whatever reason, Stephen King‘s characters almost always piss their pants.
Pee is so prevalent in King’s work it’s made its way into his film adaptations. Both the film and novel versions of The Green Mile have major plot points involving urine. At one point the nefarious Percy (played by Doug Hutchison) is groped by “Wild Bill” Wharton, which causes him to pee himself in terror. While that is happening Paul (played by Tom Hanks) was likely looking on in jealousy. He spends most of the story battling a urinary tract infection. In Cujo, one of the most terrifying moments revolves around Tad (played by Danny Pintauro) opening the car door to pee while the murderous dog looms somewhere nearby. And then there’s The Shawshank Redemption, which ends with an inmate crawling to freedom through a literal pipe of human sewage.
It appears again in King’s follow up to The Shining, Doctor Sleep. When young Danny Torrance (played by Roger Dale Floyd) sees the lady in the bathtub in his own house, he pees himself in fright. Though that particular bodily function doesn’t appear in the original novel, it certainly happened in The Shining. King’s revered novel includes several scenes in which Danny pees himself in fright. The most notable example happens when Danny is confronted by the Overlook’s bathroom lady in Room 237.
But even when urine isn’t depicted on screen it still remains a major part of King’s work. After the first 24 hours in Gerald’s Game the handcuffed Jessie losses control of her bladder, forcing her to lay in her own urine for hours on end. Most of the horror in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon starts after its main character, Trisha, leaves a hike with her mom and brother to relieve her bladder. In Misery, Paul is forced to drink his own urine to stay hydrated after he’s been captured by his biggest fan. The Stand describes Randall Flagg as “When he looks at you a certain way, your prostate goes bad and your urine burns.”
Those examples don’t even touch upon the countless other times King’s characters pee themselves in fright. The most notable example may be The Night Flier, a horror story about vampires first published in Prime Evil: New Stories by the Masters of Modern Horror. This relatively short story features scared peeing multiple times and even has a vampire who pees blood.
That’s a whole lot of urine.
This particular literary crutch makes a certain amount of sense in King’s twisted worlds. More than most authors, King excels at finding horror in discomfort. He revels in the parts of the human condition that embarrasses most of us. And what’s more embarrassing than a grown man peeing his pants? Part of it also has to do with King’s unique love of disgusting his readers, as well as horrifying them. Just try to read about Dreamcatcher‘s “shit weasels” and try not to be revolted to your core.
Or maybe King’s love of pee pants is something far simpler than either of those ideas. Maybe he’s just a guy who has published 61 novels throughout his career. It doesn’t matter how extraordinary an author you are. After novel number 40, you’re bound to develop some literary habits. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure: If you ever read about a character wetting himself in fright, there’s a good chance the modern master of horror’s name is on the front cover.