The Big Picture
- Stephen King despised Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of The Shining, including the casting of Jack Nicholson, so much that he decided to create his own miniseries adaptation.
- The film and novel have different endings, with the film’s iconic hedge maze sequence leading to Jack’s death, while the novel ends with a dramatic explosion that destroys the hotel.
- The sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, finally gave King the ending he wanted, with the Overlook Hotel burning down and Danny sacrificing himself to save Abra from possession.
It’s not really a secret that Stephen King absolutely hates Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of The Shining, something he reiterated back in 2020 during an interview with New York Times. In fact, he hated it so much that he went on to make his own adaptation of it in 1997 by way of a three-episode miniseries. His biggest qualm with the film was its casting of Jack Nicholson, as he felt Nicholson didn’t capture Jack’s slow descent into madness and was seemingly mad from the jump. But there’s a bigger and more understandable reason to dislike the famous adaptation. Aside from the horrendous treatment of Shelley Duvall, Stanley Kubrick also changed the ending when adapting the novel — and not in a small way.
How Does ‘The Shining’ Book End?
Both the book ending and the movie ending start out similarly enough, with some minor changes made. Wendy and Danny (Danny Lloyd) run from Jack, which results in Wendy locking herself inside a bathroom. Jack tries to break the door down — which has now become one of the most famous and influential scenes — as Wendy fends him off with a knife. She manages to injure him enough to deter him just as Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) arrives back at the Overlook, having received a psychic distress call from Danny. He comes across Jack in the lobby, who, in the book, severely injures him, unlike in the movie, where he kills him. But that’s not the big change we’re talking about here, though that was a noticeable change between the two. This is the last moment in which the two pieces are similar, as they go completely separate ways when it comes to the climax of the story.
In the film adaptation, Jack pursues Danny into the hotel’s hedge maze, while Wendy frantically searches for her son through the hotel. Danny manages to mislead Jack and hides behind a snow bank as he watches Jack take the bait and go the opposite way. He then books it out of the maze where he reunites with his mom, and the two manage to escape to safety in Hallorann’s snowcat, while Jack freezes to death inside the maze. Jack’s frozen body in the maze has become an iconic shot from the film, and the entirety of the hedge maze sequence is truly brilliant. It’s tense and frightening, and it leaves you on the edge of your seat. It really is a great climax to the movie — but it isn’t the ending that Stephen King wrote.
The novel’s ending goes a completely different way. Jack chases Danny through the hotel and manages to corner him on the top floor. For a moment, he manages to break his possession and is himself enough to urge Danny to run before the hotel once again takes control of him. He then damages his face with a mallet, officially succumbing to the hotel’s control. Danny suddenly remembers that Jack hasn’t relieved the pressure of the hotel’s boiler and informs him that the hotel is going to explode. As the possessed Jack goes to the basement in a last-ditch effort to save the hotel from the inevitable, Danny, Wendy, and Hallorann all manage to escape to safety. The boiler does in fact explode just as Danny said, and it promptly kills Jack and destroys the Overlook Hotel.
The novel’s ending is a much larger climax, one that perhaps isn’t as action-heavy but ends the story rather dramatically and fittingly, destroying Jack and the hotel that took him over. Yes, the film ending is iconic now, but one has to wonder how well the book’s ending would’ve worked in the already stunning film portrayal. Though, you don’t have to wonder all that much as this was confronted in 2019.
How Does ‘Doctor Sleep’ Tie in to ‘The Shining’?
In 2013, Stephen King published a sequel to The Shining titled Doctor Sleep. Doctor Sleep follows Danny (Ewan McGregor) decades after the events of The Shining. Danny has since become an alcoholic in an attempt to keep his psychic abilities (known as shining). He eventually gives up drinking which allows his shining to come through once again, and he takes a job at a hospice where he uses his ability to comfort dying patients, earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.” He soon meets a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who has the brightest shine he’s ever seen, and learns that a cult of quasi-immortals, who feed on the shine of those who possess the gift, is targeting her. He decides that he is going to do whatever he can to protect Abra, which inevitably leads him back to the Overlook Hotel. It’s a great sequel to The Shining and was adapted into a film in 2019 by Mike Flanagan, and lucky for Stephen King, Flanagan finally gave him the ending to The Shining that he always wanted. In the novel, the big battle against Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) takes place at the campground that was once the site of the Overlook Hotel. However, the movie changes this up a bit and instead follows the Kubrick ending and has the Overlook still standing, allowing them to stage the battle inside the hotel. This also gave Flanagan the opportunity to portray The Shining’s novel ending.
As a last attempt to save Abra and defeat Rose the Hat, Danny lures her to the Overlook Hotel, knowing all too well that it is still ripe with ghosts and ghouls. He unlocks the boxes in his mind that contain the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel, and they come alive to kill Rose the Hat once and for all. But then Danny gets taken over by the very same ghosts he’s had locked away for years, and he soon takes on the same persona his father had decades prior. This is when the movie pays its homage to The Shining novel. Danny finds Abra, and though his possessed self wants to kill her, he manages to break free long enough to tell her to run away. He knows what he has to do, and that the only way to rid himself of the ghosts and possession and save Abra is for the Overlook to no longer exist. And so, he heads down to the boiler room and forcibly resists the hotel’s possession trying to get him to turn the boiler off. Instead, he sits and watches the boiler break down, with flames engulfing the room that block his exit, killing him and burning down the Overlook Hotel in the process. This is the ending King originally had for The Shining, just with Jack dying instead of Danny, obviously. So though it may not have happened in the Kubrick version, it is still great that we (and King himself) finally got to see a big-budget version of his original ending.