How Stephen King’s ‘Doctor Sleep’ Connects to ‘The Shining’
Doctor Sleepcomes out this weekend – tonight, to be precise, if you’re the type of person who rushes out to see new movies as soon as you legally can. I am such a person, and rest assured I will be elbowing fellow opening-nighters aside, possibly while you’re reading this, to sit in a reclining leather seat that has almost definitely never been wiped down to see what’s happened to Jack Torrence’s son Danny in the decades since The Shining. My abiding hope is that several minutes of the film are devoted to the history of Danny’s bowl cut, and the year of his life in which he finally shaved it off.
Doctor Sleep is based on the novel by Stephen King, which is a sequel to The Shining, one of the author’s earliest and most popular novels. Considering the two books were published nearly a lifetime apart (36 years), King had plenty of time to think about what parts of The Shining he wanted to expand upon in Doctor Sleep, and what wholly new elements he wanted to explore. (Although if he’s anything like me, he dicked around for several presidential administrations and waited until the night before the Doctor Sleep draft was due to crank it all out.) As a result, the two stories mirror each other in some interesting ways, a few of which may not be obvious if it’s been a while since you’ve read either book, or if you’ve never opened them at all.
So, in the spirit of both novels, which are about potentially life-destroying curses you pass on to loved ones, I’ve prepared a quick primer of all the major ways Doctor Sleep connects back to The Shining. MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD for the book Doctor Sleep, although I’ll keep some details as vague as possible to preserve your enjoyment of the new movie while I pass my curse on to you.
The main connection between the two stories is the shining itself – Danny’s psychic ability that allows him to read minds, see spirits, and peek into the past and future, kind of. In The Shining, Danny learns from the Overlook Hotel’s cook, Dick Hallorann, that there are other people in the world who have the same power, Hallorann included. It’s hinted at that Danny’s father Jack might also have a touch of the shining, though nowhere near on the same level.
In Doctor Sleep, an adult Danny (now going by Dan because he’s a man in his goddamn forties) makes mental contact with a girl named Abra, who has the shining amped up to Dark Phoenix degrees. He also learns of the True Knot, a band of psychic vampires who prey on children that have the shining to enhance their own powers and extend their lives. The leader of the True Knot, a hip-as-shit vampire lady named Rose the Hat, inevitably catches wind of Abra, because she’s tossing out shining vibes like wristbands at an outdoor music festival. The True Knot just so happen to own a campsite at the exact location where the Overlook Hotel once stood, because evil things are drawn to it (an idea pretty firmly established in the first book). The shining connects virtually every major character from Doctor Sleep back to The Shining, and vice versa.
Related to that is Dan’s nickname in both books – “Doc.” Danny’s parents call him Doc in The Shining, in reference to Bugs Bunny’s famous catchphrase. In Doctor Sleep, grown-up Dan finds his way into working at a hospice as an orderly. Thanks to his abilities (and a cat who seems to know when someone in the building is about to die), Dan is able to help dying patients pass on into the next world with peace and comfort. His knack for always being around when a patient dies earns him the nickname Doctor Sleep – Doc, for short. That’s ultimately how the shining works – it connects people to the past and the future, kind of like a horror version of the Force. Dan was always going to have this job and help people in this way, because he was always Doctor Sleep.
Another major connection is alcoholism. In The Shining, Jack is a recovering alcoholic, trying to clean up his act after dislocating Danny’s arm in a drunken outburst and losing his job as a professor after assaulting a student he catches in the act of slashing his tires. Jack’s doing a balancing act above booze and his anger, and the ghosts of the Overlook push him off the highwire. Jack actually gets the job as the Overlook’s caretaker thanks to his AA sponsor.
When we first check in with Dan at the beginning of Doctor Sleep, he’s a pretty out-of-control drunk. Even after escaping the Overlook, the ghosts still came after him for years, hungry for his rad psychic powers. Hallorann taught him how to trap the ghosts in a “lockbox” in his mind, but over the years Dan grew so weary of all the visions the shining would bring him that he decided to stay blind drunk to block them out. When Dan decides to clean himself up and get sober, he gets a job at the hospice thanks to his friend and AA sponsor. So, both The Shining and Doctor Sleep begin with father and son respectively being given a second chance to stop destroying themselves with liquor.
Related to that point, Dan and Jack are tested in essentially the same way. The Overlook’s spook troop try to seduce Jack into giving them Danny by tempting him with booze and freedom from the responsibility of having a family. And the ghoul patrol that is the True Knot try to convince Dan to hand them Abra with similar promises. Basically, both men are courted by dark forces into doing some truly awful shit in exchange for purely selfish rewards. Dan overcomes his challenge. Jack doesn’t.
There’s one last major connection between The Shining and Doctor Sleep, and it’s a doozy. So if you don’t want any of the story’s reveals spoiled for you, close your browser immediately and leave the room. Walk all the way out of the building, just to be safe. You’ve been warned.
Ok. So it turns out that Dan is actually Abra’s uncle. Abra’s mother Lucy is Dan’s half-sister, born from a drunken affair Jack had while still married to Wendy, Dan’s mother. It’s yet another example of Jack choosing himself over his family, but in a way, it winds up saving Dan, albeit three-and-a-half decades later. Jack’s affair brings Abra into the world, Abra’s ability brings Dan to her, Dan and Abra come together to fight the True Knot and potentially save countless children, and Dan discovers he still has family, even though he never married and his parents are long dead. It’s that goddamned shining, connecting people to the past, present, and future in a big, flat spooky circle. Although if Rust Cohle had had the shining, he’d have solved those murders way faster.