Nobody was more surprised that me to find that most of the more iconic elements in The Shining film did not appear in the book.
This is one of those situations when I did things in reverse – I first watched the film first (throwback in theatres last autumn before Doctor Sleep came out – super fun experience, actually) and then read the book back in March. I figured that I had things covered, that I knew what to expect and the rest would be just details, like a delightful re-experiencing. Many books are like that, but it was the details that were wrong. The hotel. Big details and small ones, but they were very noticeable.
Mark me – they were noticeable, not bad. It’s an important difference. Both formats told the same story with the same silhouettes, but there were enough differences to leave me waiting for certain things to reveal themselves… that never did.
Lets start with the hotel itself, because I think that was the most interesting discrepancy. The Overlook Hotel in the book is a hotel with a strain of bad luck to it that has, essentially, become sentient in its evil. There have been a variety of deaths there, from homicides to suicides to heart attacks. The hotel itself seeps in that dark energy and lives off it, hungry for more.
There were a handful of notable haunts in the book – the topiary, the fire extinguishers, the presidential suite. There were also a few that overlap between the two, like the masquerade party, Lloyd the bartender, and women in the bathtub. Although, and I know this is just me nitpicking, but bathtub lady is in room 217 in the book and room 376 in the film, and I don’t understand why they decided to change such a minor, inconsequential detail. 217 is actually significant from the POV of the katet of 19 in his Dark Tower series and the inter-connectivity of King’s universe (2+17 = 19). So you know. Little things.
While the famous twins are mentioned in the book (not as ghosts, but as the daughters of a previous caretaker, which they were) they never appear to play with Danny. The elevator serves as a one night spooky happenstances, but there certainly isn’t the illusion blood spilling out its doors. All these scenes, the ghosts of the Overlook, have become iconic in horror fan culture – even pop culture, as we see in Ready Player One – but most of them are not, strictly, canon. In both versions, the hotel is haunted… but it is haunted differently.
One of the major changes in the hotel layout was the use of a hedge maze instead of the animal topiaries. From a cinematic perspective, I think this was a good choice – the topiaries were a bit hokey and the labyrinth adds the elements of surprise (c’mon, you need jump scares in horror movies) as well as the danger of the elements, and footprints… altogether, a good cinematic choice. But that hedge maze is definitely not in the book.
Where The Shining as a book really pulled me in… I kept waiting for the movie to do the same. I think I may be a bit jaded by the evolution of cinematic horror, but the surprises and jump scares were so few and far between that I often found myself getting bored. Particularly in the scenes away from Jack. I think this puts The Shining in sort of a complicated position for me – listening to the audiobook had me engrossed the entire time. I listened to this at the beginning of coronavirus quarantine and the feelings of isolation were so relevant. Although the movie didn’t have the same sort of slow, anxious burn for me (except maybe the hedge maze scene), the iconic moments that were added to the film are… just… so good?
So when it comes to this book vs. movie, I think I have to say that I’m disappointed the iconic elements were added for the film, but I liked the book better as an entertainment source. I think the setting in this film is absolutely fantastic and I appreciated seeing it for that element. I don’t want to say the book was better because it feels… wrong? Not incorrect, per se, but there are just such good moments in the film.
The movie is better for its classic scenes and moments, but the book makes a better whole.
You’ve definitely got to see The Shining because of Jack Nicholson, though. His performance is absolutely perfect. For better or worse, Nicholson does an incredible job of performing these mentally taxing roles and creating his characters with such precision that even if The Shining movie doesn’t stick with you… Nicholson’s performance of Jack Torrence will.
Have you ever seen The Shining? My predilection against horror movies had me missing it most my life, but I went to see a re-screening of it last October, and I’m glad I did – it was fun! What do you think of the movie?