Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (2013)
Doctor Sleep directed by Mike Flanagan (2019)
I am covering Doctor Sleep because it won a poll I posted on my youtube community page! Subscribe to my youtube channel, so you can take part in upcoming polls and help choose what books/movies I cover in the future!
Before getting into this, I want to warn you there will be spoilers not only for Doctor Sleep book and movie, but also spoilers for both the book The Shining as well as the movie The Shining! I do have a The Shining book vs movie if you want to check that episode out before listening to this one.
Doctor Sleep is the story of Danny Torrance from The Shining. It begins with his life after the events of the Overlook, but we quickly move on to adult Dan who is now an alcoholic. He hits his rock bottom-stealing money from a woman he slept with while drunk, and he sees she has a toddler who is being abused but he still steals the money and leaves the two of them alone. He continues on this self-destructive path and ends up in a town in New Hampshire.
When there, he feels Tony’s presence for the first time in years, telling him this is where he needs to be. He gets a job but soon wants to drink again. However, his coworker sees him and turns out the boss is an Alcoholics Anonymous member, becomes Dan’s sponsor and helps Dan on the road to recovery.
While hearing Dan’s story, we also hear about this group called the True Knot who are people who were once humans that had different versions of the shine but have been turned into these long living beings. They aren’t immortal and can die from gun shots and normal things that can kill humans, and they even eat real food. But what keeps them living decade after decade, century after century, is feasting on the “steam” of children who have the shine. The shine is stronger in children, plus children are easier to capture and kill. Each time they take in steam, they are rejuvenated.
We also hear about a child named Abra who shines very powerfully. She lives in the next town over from Dan, and the two of them feel a connection and talk through writing on a chalkboard, despite not knowing who the other is. When the True Knot kill one boy in particular, Abra senses it, and the leader of the True, Rose the Hat, sensing Abra looking in. She feels Abra’s power, and this means her steam would be incredibly strong and nourishing for them.
Rose becomes obsessed with getting Abra, partly out of desperation because the True is dying off, but also because not being able to get Abra is hurting Rose’s pride.
Dan and Abra team up, along with some of Dan’s friends, and in the end, they have a final showdown with Rose where the Overlook once stood (or still stands, in the case of the movie) and they kill Rose.
I was surprised how much this book really is its own story. We get a lot of references to The Shining of course, and I love that the showdown takes place where the Overlook was. However, it definitely stands on its own and you don’t even need to have read The Shining in order to appreciate this book.
The Shining feels like a very personal book for King in regard to the alcoholism and the family violence, which is one the reasons I love it so much. Here we get a story that feels just as personal. King himself has been sober for quite some time by the time he wrote Doctor Sleep, whereas he was still in the midst of his addiction when he wrote The Shining. In the afterword he wrote, “…people change. The man who wrote Doctor Sleep is very different from the well-meaning alcoholic who wrote The Shining, but both remain interested in the same thing: telling a kickass story. I enjoyed finding Danny Torrance again and following his adventures. I hope you did, too. If that’s the case, Constant Reader, we’re all good.”
Jack Torrance doesn’t not have a happy ending in The Shining, whereas Dan does and that right there is reflective of where King is in his own life.
There is so much AA throughout this whole book and I loved that so much. As someone who is familiar with the world of AA and Al-anon, I love seeing that representation. I also love that this gives us an alcoholic who is a good person and makes the right choices (maybe not right away, but eventually). Someone who has no familiarity with alcoholism may read The Shining and think of an alcoholic as someone so monstrous and scary, and Jack is someone who wasn’t able to fight it and ultimately gave in. Whereas Dan is stronger and is able to achieve what his father had been unable to do. Here, King writes his recovering alcoholics in such a positive light and shows what a great community that is.
Anyway, kind of getting off topic, but back to the book review, I was surprised how much I loved this book and I would highly recommend it. I am biased when it comes to books about addiction, but nonetheless, even those who aren’t in the AA world, but are fans of King, will love this book, I think.
I gave it four stars though, because it wasn’t quite as edge of my seat as I wanted and ultimately it feels like the good guys win too easily.
I heard about this movie when it came out but honestly, I had no interest because I was like, a Shining sequel 40 years after the movie? No thanks. And that, as well as being worried it would be too scary, was why I wasn’t in a hurry to cover it after having covered The Shining. I even put this in a poll! If it’s a movie I really want to do, I just do it, I don’t risk putting it in a poll lol.
Anyway, after reading the book I saw this has a 7.3 on IMDb which is really good! And I loved the book, so I was very excited for the movie-and I was not disappointed!
I think this was a great adaptation of Doctor Sleep, while also being a great homage to the book and movie The Shining. And that is a tough task seeing as how with The Shining, the book and movie are so different!
The performances were incredible, child actors can be painful to watch sometimes, but Kyliegh Curran as Abra did amazing and then we have Jacob Trembley (from Room which I covered) is in the same role of the baseball boy, but he too is amazing in his brief but important role. Rebecca Ferguson was the standout I would say, she completely captured Rose the Hat!
While I do think this is a great adaptation, there are quite a few changes, especially with the ending so there is quite a bit to get into here.
Mental Lock Boxes
When Danny and Wendy have escaped the Overlook, we see in book and movie that Danny is being visited by ghosts from the hotel. He sees the bathtub lady, and she even leaves a residue that Wendy sees. In both, Dick Hallorann tells him he can create lock boxes in his mind, and using his shining, he can trap these ghosts in these boxes. In the book, Wendy had called Dick for help, but in the movie, Dick had died in the end of The Shining, so it is his ghost that helps Danny.
Dan’s rock bottom
In the beginning of Dan’s adult life when we see what he later thinks of as his deepest moment and a memory of his he can’t bring himself to tell anyone else because of the shame and regret he feels over it. The movie has the scene with Deenie, the woman he wakes up next to and steals from, as well as her toddler son, but the movie doesn’t show what an impact this has on Dan for the next 15 years of his life. The movie gives us the scene (omitting the fact that he knows due to his shine that the toddler is being abused by Deenie’s brother) and then later we see them as ghostly corpses. But the movie doesn’t make it clear whether this is just a dream or if he is seeing the truth of what happened to them.
In the book, he is visited by Deenie in a dream and she warns him of Rose the Hat. But Dan also knows from this that her son was killed by his uncle (Deenie’s brother) and that Deenie then committed suicide. This knowledge of what happened to them after he left them is what fills him with so much guilt and he doesn’t tell anyone about it. Even though part of the AA 12 steps is to confess everything to another person. His sponsor warns him, “you’re only as sick as your secrets” but Dan still can’t bring himself to talk about it.
This comes full circle, because in the end, he finally is able to talk about it. We will get more into that very end scene a little later…
In the movie, Dr. Dalton overs him a job of being a janitor at a hospice. In the book it seems like Dan had worked in hospices before, and that is why he applies to the one here. His first job is working with the Teenytown people, but when the season ends, he applies to the hospice.
In the movie, when he first helps someone pass on, it seems he has never done this before. But the man is very soothed by his presence and Dan’s ability to read the man’s mind and put him at ease. Dan also knows that our lives don’t end with death, and even though he doesn’t know what it is after this life, he knows we continue and that also brings comfort. This man then calls him Doctor Sleep. We then cut to eight years later and we see him help another person pass on and it is really a very beautiful and touching scene and we see that he has embraced this gift of his.
In the book, he is also called Doctor Sleep of course, but we don’t see when that nickname becomes a thing. We just cut to present day and hear that he is called that.
I really loved the way King wrote about death in this book, and how Dan sees it with such reverence. There is a line I love which reads, “Death was no less a miracle than birth.”
In the book, him guiding people into death, into sleep, is something that comes into play later and in general we just get more with him in the hospice, so the name is more fitting. In the movie, that part of his life doesn’t necessarily apply to the main events so I wouldn’t have been surprised if they renamed the movie. Nonetheless, I like that they kept the name because it is very cool, even if it doesn’t pertain to the plot as much as it had in the book.
Funny enough, I had these same thoughts in regard to The Shining lol. In the book, the title The Shining was much more fitting, whereas in the movie, Danny’s shine isn’t as big a part and therefore doesn’t make as much sense for it to be the name.
Dr. Dalton and Billy
The first 2.3rds of the book and movie are very similar. The movie rushed the timeline a bit of course, but they were able to keep so much of the plot the same. One change though was Dr. Dalton. In the book he was a huge character! He was Abra’s family doctor, and Dan knows him from AA. The reasons Abra’s parents are willing to trust Dan, is because Dalton is there vouching for him. Whereas in the movie, he is in AA, gives Dan the hospice job, then that’s it. Dalton is the one that goes with Dan to get the baseball boy’s glove, whereas in the movie they have it be Billy. And Billy is played by a middle-aged guy, whereas in the book he had been pretty old. In the book, Dan also saves Billy’s life at one point because he sees a few death flies on Billy’s face and is able to convince Billy to go to a doctor and see if there is anything wrong.
Also, I don’t think Billy had been in AA. Billy’s boss was a guy named Casey, and he is the one who is Dan’s sponsor. The movie condensed characters though and got rid of Casey.
The True Knot
Before continuing with the plot, I wanted to talk about the True for a bit.
The True only turn adults who have a shine. They do have younger people who are members, but in most cases, they just kill younger kids because they steam is too good to pass up.
Rose the Hat can read minds, and enter in other minds, as well as sense the location of those who shine.
In the book, we learn that when they feed, their jaw like dislocates and they have this single tusk like thing in their mouth. Pretty weird! I thought the movie would include something like that, but they look pretty normal when they feed, they just have eyes that glow.
In the book, after the baseball boy, one of them starts to get sick and he has measles on him. They are in a weaker state and the measles cause him to die. The others are starting to get measles as well, and it seems like in time, they will all get the measles and die. This gives Rose an extra sense of urgency to get Abra because she thinks Abra’s steam will save them.
In the movie the same guy dies, but it is because they just don’t have as much steam as they used to. Rose says, “eat well, live long”, but if they don’t eat well, they can’t live long.
In the book, after the death of Crow and all of them, a good number of the True don’t want to go after Abra because clearly, she is too powerful and it is too risky. They start to go their separate ways, but there is still a group that stays with Rose.
In the movie, by the end Rose is the only one left of her group. Not because some of them left, but just because they all ended up being killed.
I did like too how King included certain moments that made you see the love the True Knot has for each other. Basically, showing that very few things are pure evil, just as very few things are pure goodness. Obviously, they are evil, but they had a love for each other such as when one died (the movie also has this when Grandpa Flick dies, Rose makes a beautiful speech about how she shouldn’t be afraid, showing that she is a Doctor Sleep herself). But also, other moments, when they are close to death or dying, they have moments of humanity.
I loved how the True Knot basically look like any other group of RVer’s. King even says in his afterword, “Let me close with a word of caution: when you’re on the turnpikes and freeways of America, watch out for those Winnebagos and Bounders. You never know who might be inside. Or what.” I love when supernatural books use something like this, because it will stick with the reader. It is something that is part of normal life, and it is therefore will stay in the back of your mind whenever you do come across it.
In the movie, Dalton doesn’t help at all with Abra like I said, so of course he lives in the end of the movie. He also lives in the end of the book, as well as Billy! There are a couple times when Billy’s life seems in danger, yet he too lives.
In the movie, when they ambush the True, making them think Abra is at the picnic, Andie the Snake tells Billy to kill himself, right before she herself dies. In the book I don’t think Andi could convince anyone to do anything I think she could only make people sleep. Anyway, she causes Billy to die in the movie. Abra’s dad also dies when Crow gets Abra while the ambush is going on.
In the book, Abra’s dad was with Dan, talking to him as if he was Abra and Abra would ping in every now and then to convince the True she was really with him. Abra was staying a friend’s house but having to be in two places at once (and the family she is with doesn’t know this) so she goes home alone to be able to better focus. Billy is guarding her from his truck, but after he sees Abra leave the friends house, Crow shows up and tranquilizes him.
In the book, Crow tranquilizes Abra and Billy and takes Billy’s car to drive back to Rose. Abra wakes up a bit and dan is able to reach her. This is in the movie as well, and in both, Dan is able to possess her body. She herself is so out of it, that she can’t do much. But when Dan takes over, he/she is able to overpower Crow Daddy. Billy also wakes up part way through the fight and helps out.
In the movie, when Abra is possessed by Dan, he causes Crow to hit a tree and he is flung from the car and dies. Billy isn’t with her in the movie, and she walks to a hotel and waits for Dan to get her.
This was a great scene in book and movie, and with the movie I was so impressed with Curran’s acting as she pretended to be Dan. I read that McGregor acted out the scene first, and then Curran mimicked his performance.
In the book, Billy drives them to a hotel and they stay there till Dan and Abra’s family can meet them.
In the book, we learn that Abra’s mom, Lucy, was raised by Concetta, her grandmother. Long story short-Jack Torrance had been having an affair with Lucy’s mom back in his party days when they lived on the east coast and Lucy is the product of that affair. It seems the Torrence family had already moved to Colorado by the time the woman realized she was pregnant. So Abra is Dan’s niece! We got hints about this, and at one point the dad is just kind of rambling and he tells Dan/Abra that Lucy was born out of wedlock and gives a brief rundown of the story. As soon as we found out Lucy doesn’t know her dad (oh and her mom died young which is why Concetta raised her) but as soon as that detail was given, I knew Jack had been the dad. It was a bit cliche, but overall I didn’t mind this twist.
Dan has this realization and they all go to see Concetta who is now dying of cancer. Dan confirms information with her while also having another conversation we don’t hear. He then guides her into death.
After this we see that Dan seems to be sick, assumably from the stress of it all. He even goes into the bathroom and when he looks in the mirror, we see death flies on his face.
This is left out of the movie.
In the book, the True own a campground right where the Overlook once stood. I thought this was such a great tie in. The hotel may be gone, but the evil presence can still be felt and that is why they like it there. This is obviously very significant for Dan.
After escaping Crow, they form a plan. Abra calls up Rose and gets Rose very riled up and angry. She is so angry, that Abra is able to call the shots and tells Rose that she will meet her on the campground alone and they can fight it out. She tells her that all the other True people need to be in this meeting room building on the grounds.
They pull the trick from earlier though, and it is actually Dan and Billy heading to the campground, but Abra pings in, making them think they sense Abra on her way.
Once they get there, they have a doll in the car pretending to be Abra, and Rose is so far away she can’t tell the difference at first. While she is distracted with this, Dan (accompanied mentally by Abra) go to the meeting room the other True members are at.
Dan then releases the cancer “steam” he had taken from Concetta and the cancer kills all of the True.
Rose can feel when a member of the True dies and knows what has happened. She almost gets an upper hand, when she is in Dan’s mind, she makes him think he is strangling her, when really, he is strangling the Abra of his mind. When he realizes what is happening, he stops and he, Abra and it seems the ghost of Jack Torrance, push Rose off a cliff and she dies.
There had been another member of the True hiding in a shed, but Dan releases some of the ghosts he had locked in his mind, and it is the ghost of Horace Dewitt that kills her.
From there, ghost Jacks blows a kiss to Dan, and then he and Billy head back home.
In the movie, Dan decides to meet Rose at the Overlook (it is still standing, because in the movie it didn’t burn down, it is just boarded up). He thinks that the evil there will be just as bad for Rose. Which is the opposite of the book because Rose and her group liked the evil vibe where the Overlook had once stood.
Anyway, Abra joins him, and here it is literally her. On the drive up there, her mom calls her asking what has happened (she came home to find her husband dead!). Abra tells her she loves her, then hangs up and throws the phone out of the window. Knowing she can’t tell her mom what has to be done, until it is over. Again, Curran in this scene was so amazing showing the sadness but also the knowledge that this has to be done regardless of how painful it is emotionally.
They get to the hotel and Dan tells Abra to stay in the car and let him know when he sees Rose’s headlights in the distance. He goes inside, turns on the lights and the boiler, visits the memorable scenes from the first movie, before going to the very bar Jack drank at. Only now, Jack is the bartender. Jack tries to tempt Dan with alcohol, but Dan remains strong and refuses.
When Rose shows up, we once again get recreations from various moments from the movie. Oh, and when they drive to the Overlook it is the same shot and same music.
Anyway, they trick Rose into thinking she is in Abra’s brain, but really, she is in Dan’s. When she comes out of Dan’s mind, Abra runs for it, and Rose and Dan fight, having the iconic stairs moments from the first movie.
Dan ends up releasing the Overlook ghosts he had locked up and they kill Rose. However, they then turn on Dan and possess him. He goes running after Abra and finds her in a room. Their exchange here is exactly like the moment that happens in the end of the book The Shining! She says he isn’t really Dan, he is the hotel, calls him a lying false face and mentions the boiler being turned on. “Dan” tries to get her with the ax, but the real Dan becomes present enough to stop it from happening. His true self shows through and he tells her to run for it.
She escapes, while he goes down to the boiler. He is about to turn it, but resists, and the real Dan allows the place to go up in flames.
We then cut to Abra back at home and we see her talking to Dan, however it is revealed that Dan passed away and she is talking to his ghost.
I love that they incorporated the book ending in this movie, however I wish when Dan came through, he was abe to overpower the ghosts inside him and escape with Abra. I don’t love that they had him die in the end.
In the book, AA and alcoholism plays such a big part. In the movie, we do see him in a few AA meetings, including one where he is celebrating his eighth birthday. This is about 1/3 into the movie, and he gets up and says how this is in honor of his dad.
The book though, has AA quotes all over the place and it is just such a huge part of this book. I also liked that Danny became an alcoholic to begin with. A quote early one reads, “That was what he thought then. Of course, he also thought he would never take a drink, not after seeing what it had done to his father. Sometimes we just get it wrong.” In Dan’s case, he has the shine, which is overwhelming, then he has the memories of the Overlook he wants to blot out and so he turns to drinking despite seeing what it did to his dad. This happens so much in real life though. It might seem crazy that someone raised by a violent alcoholic would end up drinking themselves, but sadly it happens a lot.
Similar to the Misery episode I did, as well as The Shining, I want to share some lines that I really liked that are about alcoholism.
“I am the Incredible Shrinking Man, he thought, hurrying around the corner with his new prize. Steal a few more things and I will vanish entirely from sight.”
“Times when he felt worthless, and the booze seemed like all he deserved. At times like that he felt very close to his father.”
“He thought, The only one who can put on the brakes is you. This thought had come to him many times before, but now it was followed by a new one. You don’t have to live this way if you don’t want to. You can, of course… but you don’t have to.”
I love that last line; this is when Dan realizes that he doesn’t have to live this way. But he also gives himself permission-you can if you want, but you don’t have to. Ultimately what helps him stop is when Billy and Casey see the way Dan holds a bottle he about to drink, “it was the way he held the bottle, hating it and loving it and needing it all at the same time.”
We get a similar scene after the death of Abra’s dad in the movie, Dan sees what has happened, and there is a bottle on the counter. He goes back to his place and almost drinks but ultimately resists.
I did want to mention how part of AA is to help newcomers. So even if you have been sober for a long time, you keep going partly to help others. That is also what Dan is doing with Abra. She is a newbie, and he is guiding her and helping her.
Very end of the book
At the end, Dan is celebrating his 15-year birthday. He gets up, and finally shares the experience with Deenie and her son. This is such a big moment, because he has built it up in his head over the years. But he sees that to the other AA members, this story isn’t anything too crazy. This is AA after all, they have all been through similar things themselves. He finally is free of this secret that has been causing him so much shame, when in reality, he was making it bigger than it really was. Not to make it seem like it isn’t a big deal to leave a child how is being abused and how thinks cocaine is candy. But it isn’t something he should be beating himself up about.
I loved this moment so much because it shows once again that community you get from these meetings. There is something you are so embarrassed or ashamed of, but you can feel safe to share it with others who have been where you are and they won’t judge you.
I mention this in my episode for The Shining, but I am an Al-anon member. Al-anon is the sister meeting to AA, being for those who have a loved one who is an alcoholic. Having a close relationship with an alcoholic can cause the sober person to act out of character and to do things that they themselves are embarrassed and ashamed of. And we don’t even have the excuse of being drunk! Lol. Anyway, I can relate to the AA stories from my own experience in Al-anon.
I also loved it, because Dan broke the cycle of addiction and violence in his family. My husband is someone who broke that cycle within his own family, and I know it is not easy task when it comes to addiction. I just loved seeing Dan thriving and being free from his secrets and his past.
We also see him guide someone else into death at the end. Someone he hadn’t liked, a mean person who worked at the hospice. Yet Dan is kind and helps him just as much as he would someone else.
Final movie thoughts
Before closing this out, there are a few things with the movie I wanted to talk about.
For starters, we have different actors playing Wendy, Jack, Dick Hallorann and young Danny. I thought they all did a decent job, no Jack and Wendy are perfect, but come on that’s impossible. I was very impressed with the guy who played Dick though.
The scene where Abra gets in Rose’s head while she is in the store, and then Rose tries to turn it on Abra and get in Abra’s head was such a fantastic scene in the movie! Those could not have been easy scenes to figure out how to put it on film, but it was so well done! As well as the scene when Rose tries to sneak into Abra’s mind and get into her “file cabinets” but Abra had set a trap and Rose’s hand gets stuck, and then Abra goes in Rose’s mind. Wow, such an amazing scene! Absolutely loved those two moments.
Also, when they “turn the wheel”, like reverse perspectives, they show people sliding down the floor and that was so cool whenever it happened!
We do get “redrum” in the movie as well as the book. In the book I think it was in a dream. But in the movie, Abra writes murder on the chalkboard they use to communicate when the baseball boy dies. But Dan sees it through the mirror, so it says Redrum. When his landlady walks in to see the “murder” broken into that chalkboard, I wonder what her thoughts were O.O
Book vs Movie
I know there are complaints about the third act of this movie recreating too many moments from The Shining. But honestly, I loved it. I watched Chris Stuckman’s review and he addressed this. These “fan service” moments don’t even happen till two hours into the movie! If he was doing it all throughout (and yes, there are small moments throughout, but nothing heavily recreated until the end) it would have been too much. The director though gives us a movie that stands on its own and it isn’t until the end that it employ’s potential fan service moments.
I also absolutely loved that they included the book ending in the ending of this movie! I love that part in the book sooo much, and it was wonderful to see it in a movie. Though again, I don’t think Danny had to die. I would have loved to see him thriving the way he is in the end of the book.
I loved the book as well, and the book stands on its own more so than the movie does. You could go into the book cold and I think you would still like it. But with the movie, I think those that will like it best are those that are familiar with the book and movie The Shining, as well as the book Doctor Sleep.
As far as which one wins, this is so tough! The movie follows the book so closely up until that third act. I do like that the win isn’t quite as easy in the movie as it had been in the book. But the book has some great moments as well. And that very end brought tears to my eyes.
But honestly, I think I am going to say the movie wins. I just love how they incorporated all three sources, the acting was incredible, those mind swap scenes were so well done, and I just loved it so much! But I would still recommend the book because I loved that it was more AA/addiction focused and I loved that his Doctor Sleep stuff was much more present in the book and that Dan lives. It really is a tough call though, because I am now tempted to say the book! But I do like that in the movie beating the True is more difficult, because in the book everything seemed to always go according to plan and I would have liked more problems popping up.