I have spent the last couple weeks making my way through Stephen King’s The Shining a horror literature classic that my dad gave me for Christmas. As I was reading the book, my parents asked me about some familiar and iconic movie scenes and how I enjoyed reading them. After finishing the book and not coming across those scenes, I realized that there were some stark contrasts between the novel and Stanley Kubrick’s re-imagined classic. Thus, I decided to do research and have conversations with my dad about the differences between the two entertainment sources, and analyze their impact on their respective audiences.
Several subtle differences to the atmosphere have occurred to properly terrify audiences according to the type of media consumed. For instance, Danny’s interaction with the “wolf-man” is replaced with Wendy’s vision of a man in a bear suit in the movie. While both concepts are frightening in description and convey similar themes, the “wolf-man” is more cartoonish and sudden, showing the experience as one would expect from a terrified child’s mind. However, the movie interpretation is more unnerving than a typical jumpscare, showcased in a quick zoom shot that cannot be as successfully accomplished in a literary style. These differences in interpretation thus offer a similar effect using entirely different scare techniques, both appropriate for the interpretation and entertainment style it’s present in. Additional scenes, such as Danny turning a corner to find himself faced with the twins and the blood-filled elevator, are not present in the book due to their unnerving and sudden appearances, something that cannot be done through King’s detailed descriptive writing. The strongest and most important setting difference between the book and the movie is the animal-shaped hedges, replaced in the move by a maze. This has a profound effect on the plot, and is known as one of the most memorable features of the film’s Overlook hotel.
Concept and character differences make up an even more influential part of the contrast between the two versions. In King’s book, it is made abundantly clear that while Jack has his demons to deal with regardless of his position, the hotel is genuinely haunted and a large factor in his eventual descent into madness. This is shown through his son Danny, and the kid’s ability to sense the ghosts of the Overlook through what the cook Halloran calls “The Shine”. In the movie, however, Danny’s power is less intense, and we are forced to question if Jack is truly seeing things and going crazy due to his own guilt and violent tendencies. One of my least favorite aspects of Kubrick’s adaptation is his treatment of Wendy Torrance, the leading lady of the story. In the novel, Wendy is much more powerful and independent, able to defend herself and her son from Jack. She even goes as far as to use a tiny shaving razor to defend herself, showing her resourcefulness when faced with impossible odds.
Because a story is always most well known for its plot, it is important to take note of the plot differences between the two media forms. In the book, the story ends with Halloran trudging through the snow to rescue Danny, taking the mother and son away on a snowmobile as the Overlook explodes with Jack inside. However, the movie takes a more eerie and suspenseful approach, all while killing off Halloran once he steps inside the hotel. Jack chases Danny through the hedge maze, and he eventually escapes, leaving Jack to freeze to death in his madness. The movie closes with an image from a 1920’s scrapbook picture, Jack being seen at the center of the party, symbolizing how Jack has become one of the eternal ghosts of the Overlook. Due to plot differences, this haunting final image does not present itself in the novel. Additional plot differences such as Jack’s weapon (an axe in the movie and a mallet in the novel) and the fate of Jack’s play are changed for the sake of forwarding the plot, allowing for characters to meet certain fates or build up to truly terrifying moments.
The Shining as a whole is a brilliant story filled with terrors, dread, and undeniably interesting characters. Both materials have stood the test of time and lived up to their reputation. As a literature fan, I am impartial to King’s original story due to its fascinating writing style and descriptions of themes and slow dread building to the plot’s climax. However, I also give credit to Kubrick’s film for its ability to terrify audiences in its own way. While not exactly holding true to the source material and thus an inadequate adaptation, it carves its own path in horror media as a phenomenally crafted film with its own story to tell.
The Shining by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.