How the Doctor Sleep Movie Changed Stephen King’s Book to Match Kubrick’s The Shining

Writer and director Mike Flanagan had a tough needle to thread with his new movie, Doctor Sleep. The film is an adaptation of Stephen King’s 2013 novel, which is itself a sequel to his 1977 classic The Shining. And in 1980 Stanley Kubrick famously used the book as the basis for one of the best horror films of all time. But The Shining the book and The Shining the movie are two very different creatures—which is why King famously hates the film adaptation. In order to honor his literary source material while still allowing the Doctor Sleep movie to fit into the world established by Kubrick’s Shining, Flanagan had to make some changes. Beware: there are a ton of spoilers below.

The movie takes place in a world where the Overlook Hotel is still standing…

Many of the differences between the book and film versions of the story are rooted in the divergent endings in The Shining and its cinematic adaptation. At the end of King’s book, Jack Torrance, busily descending into madness and, while trying to murder his family, forgets to depressurize the Overlook Hotel’s boiler, causing the property to explode with Jack still inside. In the movie, Jack instead freezes to death while the Overlook survives. Little Danny’s friend and fellow telepath Dick Hallorann, however, does not, as Jack stabs him to death, which didn’t happen in the book. So at the end of the book, the Overlook is dead and Dick’s alive, while at the end of the movie the Overlook is alive and poor Dick isn’t.

This has both major and minor implications for the movie version of Doctor Sleep. In the film’s opening, when Danny talks to Dick about how to manage the spirits from the Overlook, he’s speaking to his friend’s ghost. The scene plays out pretty much the same way in the book, except Dick is fully corporeal—the chef is alive and well, and drives to Florida to see Danny. Grown-up Dan is visited by Dick’s ghost again later in the film, and that happens in the book as well, as Dick dies as an old man before the events in Doctor Sleep. (But the conversation plays out a bit differently in the book, as Dick inhabits the body of a recently-deceased patient at Dan’s hospice, instead of appearing as a more run-of-the-mill spirit.)

…which means the endings of the book and the movie are completely different.

The endings of the book and the film are also radically different. In the movie, the final showdown between Dan, Abra, and Rose the Hat takes place at the now-abandoned Overlook Hotel. In the book, the hotel no longer exists, and the fight occurs at a campground that was constructed where the hotel once stood. That means that in Doctor Sleep the book, there aren’t any of The Shining callbacks that fill the movie’s final moments—no elevator full of blood, no ghostly twins, no room 237 (though in the book, the hotel’s most frightening address was room 217).

Not every character from the novel made it to the big screen.

Not all the changes between the book and the film can be chalked up to the differences between the endings. Flanagan eliminated a few characters, like Casey Kingsley, Dan’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, and greatly diminished the roles of others. Dr. John Dalton, who Dan helps recover a lost watch, is coincidentally Abra’s pediatrician in the book, and helps protect the girl alongside Dan and his friend Billy Freeman. And while Abra mentions Momo, her great-grandmother, in the film, Momo is a major character in the book—and instead of unleashing the ghosts of the Overlook to kill Rose the Hat at the end of the book, Dan releases’s Momo’s toxic steam, the leavings of her dying breaths, to kill Rose’s surviving allies.

On the set of The Shining

Jack Nicholson and Danny Lloyd in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

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Flanagan made the story much more dark—and a whole lot sadder.

It’s not often that a Stephen King movie adaptation winds up being grimmer and more frightening that its source material, but that’s exactly what Flanagan did. The murder of Brad Trevor, or the Baseball Boy (played in the movie by Jacob Tremblay, one of the best kid actors in the game) is way more graphic and horrifying in the film. The book spared less than a page to the killing.

And the brutal murder scene is really the least of the dark changes Flanagan’s adaptation adds. Billy, Abra’s father Dave Stone, and Dan Torrance himself all survive in King’s novel. That’s right—in the book, the traveling band of ESP vampires known as the True Knot don’t successfully kill a single one of the story’s heroes, in part because the movie version of the True are much more heavily armed than their literary counterparts. In the movie, Crow Daddy stabs Abra’s dad to death and kidnaps her, while Billy shoots himself after being commanded to do so by Snakebite Andi. But in the book, Andi’s not quite so powerful—she can pretty much only force people to fall asleep. And in King’s writing, it’s Billy who guards Abra while Dave is off with Dan. When Crow kidnaps the girl, he doesn’t stab her protector, but doses him with knockout drugs. And in the end of the book, Dan doesn’t burn to death in the Overlook, because the Overlook already burned down decades ago. Instead, he and Abra kill Rose the Hat and both emerge just fine.

Premiere Of Warner Bros Pictures' "Doctor Sleep" - Red Carpet

Writer/director Mike Flanagan and star Ewan McGregor at the premier of Doctor Sleep.

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And one of the movie’s more understatedly grim moments plays out very differently in the book. In the film, Dan confronts the ghost of his father at the Overlook’s bar. Jack, insisting that he’s a bartender named Lloyd, tries to persuade his alcoholic son to take a sip of whiskey. He’s very clearly working against Dan’s interests, but Dan holds strong and refuses the drink. In the book, Jack’s spirit—perhaps purified by the hotel’s earlier burning—is a benign presence. It intervenes on Dan’s behalf during his fight against Rose, and before leaving the property Dan and his father’s ghost exchange a loving wave.

In all, the changes make a lot of sense.

The changes are significant, but they really work. Flanagan eliminated one of the book’s sillier story lines, which found the near-immortal True Knot dropping like flies after catching, of all things, the measles, and actually made the group seem like formidable foes by having them kill some of the good guys. He also cut the book’s reveal that Dan is actually Abra’s biological uncle. In the novel, Dan realizes that Abra’s mother was the product of an affair between his father and one of his writing students. The revelation doesn’t add much to the story, and seems, even in Stephen King’s world, a little far-fetched. Overall, Flanagan was loyal to the very best of the source material, but the changes he made were almost universally for the better.