When Stephen King finally decided to write a sequel to his 1977 horror novel The Shining, one of the most popular of all his best sellers, he says he didn't worry if readers needed a refresher course on the horrors — human and supernatural — that plagued the Overlook Hotel.
With the sequel, Doctor Sleep (Scribner), set to be released Tuesday, King says, "It did occur to me that those who'd only seen the movie might be puzzled by some stuff."
Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film, starring Jack Nicholson, is far from a faithful adaptation. It leaves the hotel standing. (It burns down in the novel.) The film kills off a character, a telepathic black chef, who survives The Shining and reappears in Doctor Sleep. Most famously, Nicholson ad-libbed his crazed "Here's Johnnnnny!," a line not in the novel or even the screenplay. (King himself wrote the teleplay for another adaptation, a three-part ABC miniseries in 1997.)
The movie "is certainly beautiful to look at," King says in a phone interview from his home in Bangor, Maine. But it was filmed with what King calls "a cold heart" and little understanding of the characters.
In writing the sequel, he chose not to worry about that: "I decided, 'Screw it.' My book is the true history of the Torrance family."
In The Shining, Jack Torrance, a frustrated, alcoholic writer who lost his teaching job, becomes the winter caretaker of an isolated hotel in the Rockies.
The hotel has no guests — at least none who are alive. The caretaker's telepathic young son, Danny, is terrorized by frightening ghosts and visions. Danny and his mother survive — barely.
Doctor Sleep picks up three years later. In Florida. Danny, now 8, is visited by the ghost from Room 217 at the hotel: "Of all the undead things in the Overlook, she had been the worst."
Two chapters later, Danny has grown up to become Dan, an alcoholic hospital orderly who drifts from job to job. "Your mind was a blackboard," King writes of Dan. "Booze was the eraser."
Part of the suspense in Doctor Sleep is whether Dan, who ends up battling new supernatural forces, is doomed to be as self-destructive as his dad.
In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), King describes his own addictions to drinking and drugs and how he came to see himself as "the guy who had written The Shining without even realizing … that I was writing about myself."
King, who has been sober for 25 years, doesn't consider Doctor Sleep "either autobiographical or confessional, but of course, personal experience is the foundation of writing."
He knows about recovery and the language of Alcoholics Anonymous. "You know," he says, "members never say they're members."
In the 36 years since The Shining, he's been asked "if Jack Torrance ever went to a meeting or saw a counselor and if that could have helped him and made a difference."
He calls it "a blank spot" in the novel. "Back then, I didn't know about that stuff and how to write it."
As he turns 66 on Saturday, King has slowed down — but not much.
His first draft of the 464-page Shining took just four months; that's 3,000 words a day. The 531-page Doctor Sleep took six months, for a rate of 2,000 words a day.
He calls his characterizations in the sequel "sharper. I'm older and have learned a little more. Maybe that's wishful thinking."
Sounding like an aging pitcher, King, a life-long Boston Red Sox fan, adds, "I've probably lost a little bit off my fastball and have gone more to the curve and the slider. There's not quite as much raw urgency."
Bev Vincent, author of The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, says it's risky for King to write a sequel to The Shining, "which is one of the books that will be read for generations. Can he recapture the magic?"
Vincent's verdict: "King created a different kind of magic" in Doctor Sleep. It's "Danny's history from the perspective of a much more experienced and skilled writer."
Early reviews are good. The New York Times praises it as "a very quick and nimble story." Publishers Weekly calls it "a gripping, taut read."
Next for King is a non-supernatural suspense novel, Mister Mercedes, about a deranged terrorist with a bomb. He says he began it before the Boston Marathon bombing, but it's "too creepily close for comfort."
He also hopes to stay involved with the TV adaptation of his science-fiction novel Under the Dome, a CBS hit that ended its debut season with a cliffhanger Monday. Anticipating a second season, he hopes to write the script of the first episode or "maybe even a couple," but he won't say if it will diverge from the novel.
He's more ambivalent about the prospects of a movie or TV version of Doctor Sleep.
"Back in the old days, Doubleday (his first publisher) was serving as my agent, and what they knew about film rights could have been carved on the head of a pin. Warner's got the sequel rights pretty much in perpetuity. They can make it or not. It's nox-mix to me."
(As close readers of King's time-travel novel 11/22/63 may know, "nox-mix" is shorthand for the German macht nichts — it doesn't matter.)
Asked to comment, a Warner Bros. representative didn't respond.