With Doctor Sleep Stephen King has captured one of those numerous ‘what if’ requests that cascade along the metaverse of popular fiction. What if we met Danny Torrance, that little boy who was shocked and awed by the Overlook Hotel and its minions in The Shining, as a grown-up? Would he still shine? Would there still be bad things lurking the peripheries?
And it’s a hard thing to do – to address such a topic – given the mainstream popularity of The Shining. The book that Joey from Friends kept in the freezer because it was so scary; the book from whose adaptation Stanley Kubrick made the equally chilling Jack Nicholson-featured tour de force that happens to be one of my favourite horror movies of all time. That’s despite a difference in tone, and I believe intent, from its source. But Doctor Sleep is a different book too, from its source.
We meet immediately a young Danny – no different, really, from that character in The Shining. He is haunted still by those devils of The Overlook. With some tricks learned from Halloran he is soon able to fix these immediate problems. And then some time passes, a journey into adulthood and with it some problems of a far more human nature. Danny, or Dan as we now know him, battles both demons of drink and issues related to his own gift.
He is transient at first, moving around until he reaches a town where his gift tells him to settle down. And here he slowly fixes and recovers himself. Meanwhile, an evil force rises – or should that be sallies forth, for they have already risen over the centuries to a level of high power. The True Knot is a clan of evil psychics who use their powers to suck life force, or ‘steam’, from certain gifted human beings – such as those with the Shining. It happens that the Shining is strongest in children who harbour the gift, as Danny himself finds out, and though his gift never disappears it does wane.
Masquerading as normal travellers the True Knot circle across America in their RVs and motor homes, their normality, simplicity, contradicting the amassed wealth and associated vampiric gifts a near immortal race might have. On their ever continuing journey they collect to fill their ranks those who have gifts that may benefit them. Killing innocents from whom they can collect life force is a normalcy for them, and they‘ve become pass masters at their manner of atrocities, hiding in plain sight as they go about their warped existence.
Danny himself is not oblivious to a greater danger, for his gift hints at such. As he has settled, he now uses his gift to benefit those who need it, namely the sick and the dying patients at the hospice in which he works. And it is whilst in his new home that he comes into psychic contact with the immensely powerful, and very young, Abra. This toddler shines like a star, and reaches out with her gift to Danny, just to touch base initially, and then over time more communications between the pair occur.
But the True Knot spot this beacon of potential awesome steam, and set a course for Abra. With only Danny to assist, and even his powers insignificant to those of the True Knot, the showdown is set for a clashing of monumental psychic powers.
Whilst filled with horrors, no doubt, and malicious, malignant evil too, this is a warmer book than The Shining; but it’s also more reflective, on outcomes and consequences, that the tome which preceded it. Whereas The Shining was a tale of adults gone wrong, here it’s a tale of their offspring gone right. It’s not just a ‘what if’ we could meet up with Danny Torrance, what if the son had gone the path the father didn’t? But also, and for the horror fans amongst us, what other evils might exist in such a place where a powerful psychic exists? Everything has a different side and perspective here, including even the monumental evil of the True Knot.
Stephen King’s The Shining is one of the finest horror books ever written. That’s my personal and professional opinion, to boot. Not that I am a professional in these matters per say, past my dabbling in this site that is, but it’s always good to fluster and make wide arm movements to add emphasis to such conjecture.
Doctor Sleep is an entirely different creature, with many positives to its name. With nods to Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, not to mention fastidious attention to the various mantras of AA which served Dan, as well as his creator King, very well in their struggles with alcohol; it is a book of falling and rising, of old evil and youthful promise, and numerous shades of grey in-between. It’s an interesting read that wears its horror-fiction garment at times close to its frame, but also loosely at others, allowing a more human element to emerge.