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How the Doctor Sleep movie is different from Stephen King's book

Fans of Stephen King's The Shining as well as Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of the story long wondered whatever happened to little Danny Torrance and his mother Wendy after their horrific experiences at the haunted Overlook Hotel. As it turns out, Stephen King was equally haunted — by the fate of Danny in particular — and finally revisited the character in his 2013 novel Doctor Sleep, which dives into the events directly after the Torrances escape from the Overlook and then jumps decades into the future, exploring how this extreme childhood trauma affected Danny, now called Dan Torrance. 

Dan's shine is still present, but alcoholism dulls it. He finds sanctuary in Frazier, a small New Hampshire town, where he joins AA and uses his power to help elderly infirm folks die with dignity. Concurrently, he psychically connects with a little girl named Abra whose shining vastly outmatches Dan's. All the while, a group of psychic vampires called the True Knot are traversing America in RVs, looking for shining children to torture and eat through psychic energy they call steam. The three stories converge in an epic showdown in Colorado where everyone's powers are put to a life or death test. 

While called Stephen King's Doctor Sleep, the movie adaptation heavily draws from Kubrick's version of The Shining, which diverges from King's book. Likewise, the Doctor Sleep book picks up where King's story left off, disregarding Kubrick's film altogether in some places. So how is the Doctor Sleep movie different from the book? Let's explore.

Connections to Kubrick's The Shining

One of the biggest differences between the film and book versions of Doctor Sleep is the absence of references to Kubrick's version of The Shining. In King's Doctor Sleep novel, The Overlook has burned down, and the True Knot has built one of their campgrounds on that still-evil land. In the Doctor Sleep book, there is no hedge maze filled with snow. No blood coming out of the elevator. No Grady Twins. There isn't even a Room 237 — in the book, evil is concentrated in room 217, as it is in King's The Shining novel. The film version of Doctor Sleep, meanwhile, features a still-standing Overlook, albeit boarded up and abandoned for years.  

At the end of Kubrick's version, Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) escape the Overlook without mortal physical injuries, and Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) is murdered by Jack Torrance. But in the books, Wendy was badly beaten by Jack to the point where he broke the upper vertebrae in her spine, her ribs, and her hip. Wendy Torrance in the Doctor Sleep novel is constantly ill and suffering greatly from her injuries for years before she dies. Not so in the Doctor Sleep movie: Wendy's (Alexandra Essoe) scars are on the inside. Also, Dick Halloran lived in King's novels and continued to support the surviving Torrances; in the movie, Dick (Carl Lumbley) appears as a ghost. 

Different endings

Both versions of Doctor Sleep end in epic showdowns, but they're very different. Super-powered shiner Abra has very little in-person action in the book; instead, she mostly astral projects. At the end of the book, Abra challenges head psychic vampire Rose the Hat and says she'll meet at their campground where the Overlook once stood. But it's actually Dan and his friend Billy Freeman who go, Dan loaded up with the psychic energy of Abra's cancer-riddled great-grandmother Concetta. Dan uses Concetta's red death steam to kill many of the remaining Knot, who are already dying of measles. Abra pushes Rose over the lookout point, where she falls to her death. All the other main characters survive. 

By the end of the movie, all of the True Knot vampires are killed except Rose (Rebecca Ferguson), who meets Abra (Kyliegh Curran) and Dan (Ewan McGregor) at the boarded up Overlook. Dan's plan is to get the hungry ghosts of the hotel to eat Rose and her dark shining. While Dan is "waking up" the hotel, he sees his dad Jack (Henry Thomas) is the new bartender, now calling himself Lloyd. Jack tries to get Dan to break his decade-plus sobriety, but he resists, releasing all the hotel spirits he's kept psychically trapped; they devour Rose, giving her a taste of her own medicine. Dan sets off the boiler that burns the Overlook to the ground, as Jack did in the ending of King's The Shining. Abra is the only survivor.

Death and survival

Another shocking difference between the Doctor Sleep movie and the book is that many characters who survive in the novel end up dying in the film. In fact, in the book, virtually every main character except for Abra's great-grandmother Concetta reaches the end — there's a great deal of hope in King's novel, and a feeling that people can move on from terrible events of the past and eventually find happiness. 

Not so in the movie. During the shootout with the True Knot in the New Hampshire woods, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) kills himself after Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind) suggests he do so. Abra's father David (Zachary Momoh) is murdered by Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon) at the Stone residence after he drugs Abra. Crow Daddy himself gets killed by Dan/Abra (who have psychically melded briefly) when they crash his car into a tree. 

Arguably the most tragic death, though, is when Dan Torrance burns himself up with the Overlook at the end, suggesting that the horrors of childhood trauma can't be escaped through anything but death. In the book, Dan heals and continues developing relationships with the people who helped him and Abra defeat the True Knot.

Missing or minimized characters

Like a lot of authors, Stephen King loads his novels up with many important characters, and it makes sense that not all of them would end up onscreen, or would have to be combined. In the Doctor Sleep novel, it's Casey Kingston who becomes Dan's AA sponsor as well as the one who gets Dan the job at the Rivington House Hospice. In the movie, Billy Freeman takes on Casey's role, as well as his own from the book. 

Dr. John Dalton is key to Dan and Abra's stories in the book. Like Dan, he's a member of AA, and he's also the doctor that Abra's parents take her to after they realize she has powers. He plays a key support role in the battle between Dan, Abra, and the True Knot. Dr. John (Bruce Greenwood) barely registers in the movie, however.

Abra's Momo Concetta is only mentioned in the movie in passing to explain why Abra's mom Lucy (Jocelin Donahue) isn't home when her husband is murdered and daughter kidnapped. In the book, Concetta helps defeat the True Knot in the end, and also reveals the family link between the Stones and Dan Torrance. She's super important, but she's missing in the movie. 

In the book, Dick Halloran has a huge presence while still alive, and after his death from cancer, he appears to Dan once through a dying patient at the Rivington House hospice. In the movie, Dick appears several times as a ghost. 

Different backgrounds

The differences in plot, narrative arc, and character development between the Doctor Sleep book and movie don't stop there. In the book, Abra is described having bright blue eyes and long blonde hair she pulls back in a ponytail. In the book, Billy Freeman has blue eyes and a shock of white hair on his head. In the movie, however, Abra's mother is white and her father is African-American, although she does often wear her hair in a ponytail. Billy Freeman is played by Maori actor Cliff Curtis, with a slight suggestion he's playing Afro-Latino based on his hairstyle and collection of tattoos. Crow Daddy is described ambiguously in the book as having long dark hair, but he too is white. There are no people of color in the True Knot in the book. However, in the Doctor Sleep film, Crow Daddy is played by Native American actor Zahn McClarnon, Short Eddie is played by Asian-American actor Met Clark, and Apron Annie is portrayed by multiracial West Indian actress Selena Anduze. 

Dan and Abra's meeting

A key aspect of both Doctor Sleep versions is the psychic connection between Abra Stone and Dan Torrance, but how this plays out happens differently from one to the other. In the book, Abra first writes her name in Dan's AA meeting notebook, and then years later greets him on the blackboard in his room. Eventually she gives him her email address via the blackboard and they begin writing. It is over email that Dan and Abra arrange to meet in the Frazier town square. Also, it's just a simple blackboard in the book. In the movie, Dan has an entire wall you can write on with chalk. Book Abra never smashes the wall like she does in the movie, and in the book she also doesn't write "REDRUM."

In the movie, Abra and Dan's communication is mainly through the blackboard, in far more cryptic fits and starts than the book. Diverging wildly from the source material, Abra hops on a bus and just goes to Frazier, using her telepathy to find a shocked Dan, who responds terribly to the encounter. He does eventually comes around to help her, but is far more skeptical in the movie than the book.

Dan's tragic past

Doctor Sleep is a story about the long-term repercussions of childhood trauma, and for Dan Torrance, alcoholism ends up being a self-destructive coping mechanism. His rock bottom moment comes after a drunken and cocaine-fueled night with a woman named Deenie. The next morning, he wakes up in her apartment to realize he spent his entire paycheck on a bag of coke left on the table. Worse, Deenie's toddler walks into the room and reaches for the drugs, thinking they're candy. The boy has terrible bruises on his body that Dan's shining tells him his uncle inflicted. Dan moves the cocaine out of reach, but also guiltily steals $60 Deenie has in her purse before he leaves. Not long after, Deenie's ghost visits him. Dan finds out that her brother killed the toddler in a fit of rage and she overdosed shortly after. Dan is haunted by these events as much as he is by the Overlook, and Deenie and her boy become a traumatic trigger that keeps his alcoholism in full bloom. 

In the movie, the toddler doesn't reach for the cocaine, calling it "canny." He also doesn't have any bruises. The Doctor Sleep movie doesn't tell us how Deenie (Chelsea Talmadge) and the boy died; they just appear to terribly frighten Dan (and the audience).

Dan and Abra's powers

In the Doctor Sleep book, a living Dick Halloran teaches Dan how to capture the Overlook ghosts who continue to torment him by locking them up in metal "boxes" in his mind. The boxes are small, like ones you'd use to store toys or petty cash. In the movie, however, they become elaborately decorated trunks that could actually fit a person. 

The novel gives us a Dan who has been helping elderly infirm folks "sleep" for years, watching red mist emerge from their mouths as they die. But in the movie, Dan does his first death watch at Rivington House, and the death mist is white, not red. Also, Dan's helper cat Azzie is gray in the book, but in the movie, he's white with a gray tail. Further, the description of Dan and Abra's astral projection is different in the book, where it's described as a record turntable that spins around. In the movie, the world tilts by 45 degrees and drops Dan and Abra into their target world. 

Also in the book, Abra identifies the tortured and eaten baseball boy Bradley (Jacob Tremblay) when she sees a coupon mailer with photos of missing children on the back. In the movie, Abra actively looks for him and finds his picture on a missing person's forum on the internet. 

The True Knot

The True Knot is a group of ancient psychic vampires who torture and consume the souls of children who shine. They call the souls "steam," and this substance keeps them looking much younger than they are. 

In the book, the True Knot is described as middle-aged and older white folks who dress like retirees driving around America in their RVs. They wear shirts with slogans like "I'm a people person!" and "World's best grandma!" Their goal is to blend in, not stand out. They aren't sexy or edgy, except for Rose with her jaunty top hat, but even she is described as looking like she's in her 40s. In the movie they're young, good-looking, and outfitted as if they're on their way to join a carnival. The movie has also added people of color to the crew, who aren't in the book. 

In the book, Grampa Flick is described as looking like Papa Walton from the TV show The Waltons. Played by genre legend Karel Struyken in the movie, he looks quite the opposite of Papa Walton, and also has a non-specific European accent. King's True Knot also doesn't carry guns in case they ever get stopped by law enforcement. While they do have fake identification, guns pose too big a risk. In the movie, they're all packing heat. 

Also, there are less than a dozen members of the True Knot in the movie, all of whom die by the end. In the book, they start out several dozen strong.

Snakebite Andi's altered story

The True Knot is comprised of many members who have varying levels of psychic powers, a darker kind of shining than Dan and Abra. They don't often invite new people into the group, and when they do it's because the person has something they need. In the book, Snakebite Andi has a horrific history of abuse at the hands of her father. She is 32 years old with a rattlesnake tattoo on her upper arm. Her only power is to put people to sleep with her words, and she cuts a huge double V into the faces of the men she robs while they are under. Rose the Hat decides to turn her since they need a new "sleeper," as she calls it. After Andi becomes a member of the Knot, she ends up in a relationship with another Knot woman, Silent Sarey. 

But in the Doctor Sleep movie, Andi is only 15. She's still a "sleeper" but also has the power of suggestion — a "pusher." She carves small fang marks into her victims' cheeks, and suggests that every time they see the scar the men will say aloud, "I like little girls." There isn't any implied relationship between her and any other Knot member in the movie. 

Rose and Crow Daddy's changed relationship

The True Knot's appearance isn't the only dynamic about the monstrous group that differs between the Doctor Sleep movie and the book. In the novel, Rose is the supreme leader of their group because of her exceptional power. She makes every last decision, down to even the smallest details. While most of the True Knot have special abilities to go along with their vampirism, Rose's partner Crow Daddy is not one of them. One of the big reasons Rose keeps him around is because he's fully in love with her and does what he's told, even though Rose often has sex with other Knot members like Snakebite Andi, especially after they've just turned. 

But in the movie, Crow Daddy seems like he's strictly Rose's lieutenant. When Rose tries to flirt with him in the movie, he pushes her away, an act that would result in Rose's violence in the book. In the movie, Crow Daddy is the one who decides Rose should stay behind when the rest go to kidnap Abra, while in the book Rose makes every single decision herself. In the film adaptation of Doctor Sleep, Crow Daddy has powers and is what they call "a locator," a vampire who can find people. 

The True Knot's demise

In the Doctor Sleep book, the True Knot hunts down shining youngster Bradley, who Abra calls the baseball boy. During a truly horrific display of violence against a small child, they torture him and feed on his soul. But they don't find out until much later that his energy — what they call steam — is poisoned with measles. Bradley wasn't vaccinated, so as the True Knot were effectively bathing in his blood, their physical forms caught his dormant infection. This is why in the book, Rose and company need to eat super-powered shiner Abra so badly: Rose thinks steam of Abra's caliber will cure them all. 

But the film version of Doctor Sleep omits this key detail from the book, and the enmity between Rose and Abra is focused instead on the fact that Abra is far more powerful than Rose, which makes Rose furious. And also unlike the book, in the movie the True Knot vampires don't use a curved tusk that emerges from their mouths to feed. Rose uses a scalpel to cut the child, and they breathe in steam as if it were vapor.

Dan and Abra's lost family connection

In the Doctor Sleep novel, when Abra Stone and Dan Torrance meet, he says she should call him Uncle Dan if anyone asks. Toward the end of the book, we learn that Abra's mother, Lucy Stone, was born out of wedlock, and Lucy's mother Alessandra never told anyone who the father was. Dan's father Jack Torrance was a teacher at Alessandra's school and they had an affair resulting in her pregnancy. After Alessandra died in a drunk driving accident, Lucy was raised by her grandmother Concetta, which is why Concetta is such a hugely important character in the book, and not just because of how she helps kill members of the True Knot. When Concetta dies, Lucy finds papers in one of Concetta's boxes that prove the connection, even though they plan on taking a DNA test to make sure. It explains further why Abra and Dan were linked so strongly. It was also by blood, not just their power to shine. Sadly, these details and nuances were not included in the Doctor Sleep movie.