This was a herculean task. The public’s mind was so ensconced and involved with the original 1977 novel and the equally transformative 1980 film, that it was hard to envision a storyline that would perpetuate this seemingly finite tale. In a classic case of “never say never” esteemed author Stephen King decided that it was time to give Danny Torrance his day in the sun.
Never one to shy away from clacking out a few words, King decided that Danny’s epilogue would slowly unfold over the course of 531 pages. Mind you, King’s original opus only took 447 pages to lay out Danny’s father Jack’s insane malevolence. Nonetheless, Dr. Sleep comes in at a nonchalant 531 pages and King takes his sweet, and somewhat self-indulgent, time delivering the punch line.
Published in 2013, Dr. Sleep (NOW, a major motion picture!) follows Danny Torrance some 30 years after the traumatic childhood happenings at the Overlook Hotel. Danny, now in his 40s, has largely spent his entire adulthood dealing with shining-induced demons, profound alcoholism, and a laundry list of poor life decisions. Now, living in New Hampshire, Danny’s decided to begin to use his telekinetic aptitude for good by helping hospice patients deal with the looming specter of death.
Early on in Dr. Sleep, King sets the table for a terrifying experience with Danny and a woman he’s picked up at a local bar. Deftly establishing the lows that Danny’s sunk to in his alcoholism, King follows Danny to one of the darkest and most horrifying paths possible. In the course of an alcohol and cocaine infused stupor Danny manages to thieve money from the woman he’s saddled up with, leave her in a pile of misery, and walk away from her toddler who just happens to mistake the remaining pile of cocaine for “canny.” Interestingly this dark and forboding montage haunts Danny, but for only a portion of the book. It’s easily the most powerful and damning image in the book, but King conveniently abandons it and never really returns to this horror.
Danny eventually gets straight and befriends a young (read: infant) child named Abra who was born in 2001. Abra has the shining and it’s a shining that rivals Danny’s. Strong, prescient, and ever-present. Like any good and misunderstood paranormal power, Abra’s shining quickly attracts a group of vampiric weirdos who go by the self-titled cult moniker “The True Knot.” This clumsy gathering of psychic dirtbags wanders the American countryside in the hopes of finding someone, anyone, who has the shining. Once found the True Knot, led by the gnarly Rose “The Hat”, descends on their victims and sucks the ever-loving life force (AKA: shining) right on out of them. The more shining the greater the high that the True Knot is able to obtain.
Abra’s powers are like a moth to flame for the True Knot. They want what she’s got and they’ll stop at nothing to get at the mother load of parasitic telekinetic glory. Sadly, that’s where Dr. Sleep falls off the cliff. A great premise, an interesting epilogue for Danny, and a fierce antagonist are quickly undone by a 400-page cat-and-mouse game. The True Knot painfully wanders around looking for their next prey to sustain their vampiric needs, all the while trying to figure out Abra’s whereabouts and why her magnificent shining continues to torture them. Danny eventually connects with Abra literally and psychically and assists Abra in a somewhat fun, but overwrought series of bait and switch.
While King employed interesting and plausible devices to bring Danny into adulthood, he weirdly and somewhat unexplainably leaves behind the best and most chilling parts of 1977’s The Shining. Readers want a Shining greatest hits, King wants a new and explainable throughline for Danny, and film studios want a story they can take to the bank. Dr. Sleep delivers on these things, but only partially. In a weird and ill-advised way, King managed to write himself into a corner when he really should have left well enough alone and put the “never say never” adage to sleep.