books v film, Horror Writing

Books V Film: The Shining

The differences – The small things

Photo by Magda Ehlers on

There are a lot of little differences such as the main character’s name, Danny’s age and intelligence levels (he’s very clever in the book, not so much in the film), the fact that in the book Jack is writing a play whereas in the film it’s not clear what he’s writing, and Wendy’s visual appearance (she’s blonde in the book). However, these smaller changes are mostly surface level stuff and don’t change the story much at all.

The differences – The medium things

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Then there are slightly bigger differences such as Jack already having the job at the hotel in the book and him being offered the job in the film. This was possibly done to cement in the audience’s mind that this is work not just a random vacation or a favour for a friend etc.

The holiday season in the film is longer, with Jack only going into the hotel at the end of October (in the book he arrives in September) this is done so that the family arrive on Halloween. A minor change that could have been done to try and effect the feel of the film. Personally, I don’t think this was needed, it feels like the executives/writers/whoever all sat together in a room and talked about what’s spooky, oh Halloween is spooky let set it during Halloween. One of the horror genre’s best strengths is its subversion of people/places/things, to take the safe mundane and twist it into something horrific. So changing the month from September to October really feels like the writers for the film didn’t understand that.  

The hotel in the book is big and noisy, always creaking and groaning, but it’s silent in the film. Personally either of these can work in horror, silence can be oppressive and threatening just as much as creepy, creaky old buildings.

The hedges, a hosepipe and the elevator all seem to come to life in the book but in the film, this doesn’t happen, unless you count the bloody elevator (which I don’t). This is a bigger change and feeds into the change they made regarding the fact that the hotel itself is kind of alive in the book, it has motivations, wants and desires, in particular, it wants Danny’s power. In the film it’s just a hotel, just a building, it has no soul. By stopping the inanimate objects coming to life they remove the building itself as a threat and that’s a real shame. The idea that the family is effectively trapped in this building in the middle of nowhere that’s out to get them, they literally have no safe place to retreat to is far more effective than having ‘Jack’ and his madness be the only real threat. This change takes out a lot of the atmosphere from the story which again is a real shame.

The differences – The big things

Photo by Elina Krima on

There are three bigger changes, such as in the book Danny sees everything that will happen in a vision before any of it happens, while in the film he only sees the creepy twin girls and the elevator blood. This was probably done so as not to spoil the story. But removes a lot of the foreshadowing and also manages to remove a lot of Danny’s power. So while I understand why this was probably removed I feel it shouldn’t have been. It could have been done subtly, perhaps having Danny see flashes then showing those flashes to be premonitions. It could have been used both as foreshadowing and as a way to independently build tension and threat.

Dick dies in the film, he doesn’t in the book. I think this was probably done to add drama. It’s not a horror film till someone dies right?

The hotel also explodes in the book but does not in the film. I think this was done so that a sequel could be considered. Hard to have a sequel without the hotel? (Please ignore Dr Sleep for the purposes of this review lol, it had not been written at the time of this film). While I don’t hate that the hotel wasn’t destroyed, mostly because they removed the hotel as its own character in the film it is a shame, we didn’t get to see a cool explosion.

The differences – The iconic things

Then there are the iconic things, for example, the phrase ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy’ doesn’t appear in the book.

Redrum happens in the second half of the film and is a surprise, but in the book, Danny already knows about Redrum due to his vision.

The famous Axe wielded by Jack in the film is a mallet in the book.

Jack also smashes the place up big style in the film, he does not do this in the book, he just breaks down a door.

“Here’s Jonny,” was an improv of Jack Nicolson so obviously does not appear in the book.

2 thoughts on “Books V Film: The Shining”

  1. I haven’t read the book, but I remember reading and hearing about a number of differences, such as that in the book Jack is much more sympathetic and not nuts from the beginning as he’s been labeled as in the film, and his struggle with alcoholism in the book apparently is much more strongly emphasized.

    The YouTube channel CineFix has an excellent video discussing differences in the book and film (with a few references to the TV miniseries version too).

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