The Shining is a classic horror movie by director Stanley Kubrick and is based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. But if you are amongst the people who both read and watched the interpretations of the story, you’ll realize that the novel and the movie are completely different. To me, I think the novel is a better story than the movie and in the subsequent paragraphs, I’ll try and explain why. The Shining movie, even though very different from the source material is a timeless classic that has some of the most iconic scenes in the history of cinema.
The Shining novel was published in the year 1977 and the movie came out in 1980. With the creative changes made by Stanley Kubrick, Stephen King was not pleased with it and he has expressed his dislike towards this change.
The first difference in the plot of both the stories (novel and movie) is that Kubrick’s version is a psychological thriller, whilst King’s version is paranormal horror.
If you haven’t read the novel, you’d be surprised to see how much the source material is different from the movie. And of course, if you intend to read The Shining novel, click away from this article as it contains a lot of spoilers. The same goes for people who haven’t watched The Shining Movie. Spoilers ahead.
The Tiny differences.
First let’s see the small details that were changed in the movie which did not necessarily affect the overall plot of the original story.
In The Shining novel, hotel room 217 is the most haunted room of the Overlook hotel. However, when the movie was filmed, the hotel which represented the Overlook asked the crew to change the hotel number. This was because they thought future customers would be scared to live in that room. Hence the movie used room 237 which is not present in the real hotel. What’s ironic is that room 217 is the most requested room of the hotel today!
The second change in the movie was the hedge maze. There is no hedge maze in the novel, but there are topiaries in the shape of animals and a garden. This change also denotes the overall change in the plot of the movie which we will discuss later in this article.
The name of the main character in the novel is Jack Torrance while in the movie, it is John Torrance. Other than the names, the financial and social conditions of both the characters are similar. Both are failing writers with a problem with alcohol and temper. But there is a big difference in the motivation of these characters which acts as the backbone of the story.
The Major Differences.
Now let’s take a look at the major differences in the Shining novel and movie that change the whole plot of the story.
In the novel, the character of Jack Torrence is a troubled one. He wants to achieve a happy and calm state but he cannot because of his drinking problems and his explosive anger issues. In one instance he broke his son’s arm and this has driven a wedge between him and his wife. He even lost his job (English teacher) because he assaulted a student. The reason why the family moves to the hotel is that Jack wants to overcome the writer’s block and the family needs money too. He also sees this as an opportunity to strengthen the bonds with his family. Overall, with all his flaws, Jack wants to be a loving and caring father and a good husband.
The main character in the Shining movie is portrayed as a sinister character from the beginning. The man is already a mess who needs a push to fall into the pits of madness, held by a single thread. We also get to see in the end that John is actually the reincarnation of the previous caretaker and the evil spirits in the hotel were trying to reclaim him. But the majority of the movie we see his descent into madness. This is why the whole story of the movie diverts towards the psychological thriller genre. John has no apparent intentions of bonding with his family. He visits the hotel to overcome the creative block.
Another character change that was required in the movie was of Wendy Torrance, Jack’s wife. Since the movie has shown the protagonist as this sinister, on-the-verge-of-madness character, his wife is a docile, timid, soft-spoken lady. The movie shows Wendy as this nervous lady who is afraid of Jack’s impulsive nature. This is logical as she must have suffered a lot because of John’s mental mess. Shelly Duvall plays the character of Wendy.
In the book, Wendy is described as a blonde woman (which Duvall is not) who is strong and independent and can do anything to protect her child. Although she is aware of John’s impulsive anger issues, she is not afraid to confront him. Her character is also a major reason why she survives insane John’s atrocities in the final act.
The Iconic Scenes aren’t in the Book.
In both versions, Danny is a shiner. A shiner is someone who can detect supernatural things. Shiners are also able to contact each other via the telepathic medium. If I wanted you to guess the movie name without telling the actual name, the description of these two scenes would be enough for you to understand. The twin sister and the elevator blood flood scene. These two scenes have been parodied and referenced so many times that it has reached a point where Stanley Kubrick is known for them.
But here’s the shocker, there is no such scene in the book! The Grady murders are mentioned in the scrapbook that John finds (which sheds light on the history of the hotel and about the previous caretaker who murdered his daughters). Here we get the mention of two daughters, but the twins never actually present themselves to Danny or anyone. This was the creation of Kubrick’s mind to denote that the hotel does have spirits that are affecting Jack’s personality.
Similarly, the blood flooding from the elevator never happens in the movie. It is yet again, the idea of Kubrick to add to the tension of the scene. The scene was added to denote the murders that have happened in the hotel. It also signified REDRUM.
There is also no scene of Wendy finding the nonsensical repetition of the sentence “All work and no play…” in the novel. Also the iconic “Here’s Johnny” scene where Jack Nicholson looks though the hole in the door was not in the book. It wasn’t even in the script of the movie. Jack Nicholson improved that while the shooting.
The Haunted Hotel.
In the Shining movie, we are aware that there are some spirits inside the hotel. The reason for that is previously there was an Indian burial ground where the hotel stands now. But the story progresses as Jack loses his mind and devolves into a psychotic killer because of his mental issues. The hotel plays a very small part of this. That is not the case with the novel. In the novel, the hotel is haunted itself. It is the hotel that messes with John’s mind and makes him crazy. We see many scenes were the hotel wants John to hurt his family.
There is even a scene in the novel where John can see people in the bar having drinks and celebrating. He even talks to the bartender and tries his best to not consume alcohol. This is a great scene because we see that John is trying his best to leave the alcoholic abusive life and make himself better for his family. But the haunted hotel has other plans for him.
There is another scene where John gets rid of a hornet nest. Danny asks his father to keep the nest and after some hesitation, Johny cleans the nest and gives it to Danny. But later in the night, we see there are hornets in the nest! This showed that the hotel was deliberately trying to make John the bad guy and pull him away from his family.
Dick Hallorann has a purpose in the book.
At the beginning of the story in both movies and books, we get to see that Dick Hallorann, who is the chef of the hotel also has the shining. He talks with Danny and explains what his powers are and is surprised by how much strong Danny’s shining is. He also tells him that if Danny ever needs help, he should contact him via his abilities. This is important because he is setting up a major plot point. After that, the movie and the books divert their paths and this is where I didn’t like the approach the movie took.
In the movie, Danny contacts Hallorann when Jack goes all crazy. Dick arrives at the hotel but then he is killed by Jack. That’s it. That’s the end of his character. It made me wonder, what was the point of adding the character in the movie if his role was just to die? Here is how the books made sense with Hallorann’s character.
In the book, the return of Hallorann saves Wendy from John as he is about to kill her with a mallet (not an ax). As Hallorann enters the hotel, John is distracted and goes to kill him. He manages to injure him gravely but Hallorann survives. Hallorann helps Wendy and Danny escape the hotel in the end. Hence there was a purpose of Hallorann’s arrival.
In the movie, Jack gets stuck in the maze and freezes to death. That is how the end comes for the psychotic murderer. While the end suits the character as he dies is a chaotic mess, this isn’t how things come to a conclusion in the novel. In the novel we see John trying his best to avoid killing his son, Danny. Finally, when Danny is right in front of John, he uses all his strength to avoid hitting his son with the mallet. Instead, he hits his face and beats it to a pulp. This denotes that the John we saw is gone completely. He sacrifices himself to save his son, a great character arc.
John then dies in an explosion in the boiling room that also destroys most of the hotel. As the hotel crumbles, a dark entity leaves the building that also takes the shape of a giant hornet. These scenes showed that the hotel was indeed haunted and it was the hotel that maddened the already troubled John Torrance.
Some Missed Scenes.
There are some scenes in the book which were not present in the movie. The reason for that could be Kubrick’s intentions of making the movie a psychological thriller. But nonetheless, these scenes were really good and its worth mentioning.
The Elevator Scene – In this scene, Wendy says that there is something wrong with the hotel as the family starts noticing paranormal activities. The lift was known to move up and down due to some wiring error. John and Wendy investigate the moving elevator after Wendy hears music and chattering of a crowd at a party. John says that the elevator is faulty and there is nothing to worry about. But when Wendy climbs into the elevator, she finds confetti and masks inside.
The Topiaries in the garden moves – The animal-shaped topiaries in the garden changed their position and posture at the beginning of the story. Later, they attack Dick Hallorann and prevent him from going to the hotel.
Dick Hallorann tries to kill the Torrance family – As the hotel explodes, the shed where the mallets and fuel are stored is still there. Since the shed is a part of the hotel, it also is haunted. When Dick goes inside the shed during their escape, the hotel plays tricks on his sanity and he is almost compelled to kill Wendy and Danny. But he fights this spirit and escapees. This scene in the end added a lot more tension to an already tense climax.
So that was all the differences that we could think of. There are some more, like the scene with the old lady in room 217 but we’ll leave that. Read the novel and watch the movie, and enjoy both versions of the story.