After joking about what might happen to some of his most famous characters, King began to wonder...
Horror-fiction legend Stephen King has written books in a series before, but until now he has never penned a bona fide sequel. The novel that changes that, Doctor Sleep, comes out Sept. 24. It’s a follow-up to his 1977 classic, The Shining, which featured a psychic boy named
Danny Torrance trying to survive his father’s madness (and swinging mallet) in the hallways of the Overlook Hotel. Doctor Sleep finds the now-middle-aged loner working at a hospice, where he uses his innate supernatural powers to ease the suffering of the dying.
When did you first consider reviving these characters?
Every now and then somebody would ask, ”Whatever happened to Danny?” I used to joke and say, ”He married Charlie McGee from Firestarter, and they had these amazing kids!” But I did sort of wonder about it.
What finally inspired you to explore that question seriously?
The other thing people would ask me is ”How come [his dad] Jack Torrance never tried AA?” Because he was this total dry drunk in the book who never goes near a meeting. When the [sequel] idea would pop up in my mind I would think, ”Now Danny’s 20, or now he’s 25. I wonder if he’s drinking like his father?” Finally I decided, ”Okay, why don’t I use that in the story and just revisit that whole issue?” Like father, like son.
Most dads aren’t possessed by haunted hotels, but a lot of people know — or can imagine — what it’s like to have an out-of-control parent.
For a lot of kids, Dad is the scary guy. It’s that whole thing where your mother says, ”You just wait until your father comes home!” In The Shining, these people were snowbound in a hotel and Dad is always home! I was kind of feeling my own way in that because I was a father of small children. And one of the things that shocked me about fatherhood was it was possible to get angry at your kids.
So you drew that from your own fears?
I never had a father in the house. My mother raised my brother and me. I wasn’t using my own history, but I did tap into some of the anger you sometimes feel toward the kids, where you say to yourself, ”I have got to hold on to this because I’m the adult.” One reason I wanted to use booze in the book is it has a tendency to fray that leash you have on your temper.
You’ve revealed that Danny is pursued by a nomadic group who masquerade as Winnebago-riding pensioners but feed off people with their energy. Can you talk about where the journey takes them?
I had a chance to return things to the New England setting that I know, but I did go back to Colorado and looked around and said, ”I’ve got to try to bring this back around to where the original book was.” Everything should come home again. So there is actually a climax in — let’s put it this way — an area people will remember. And I’m not sure if this is going to be a problem for readers or not, but Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the novel. It’s not a sequel to the Kubrick film. At the end of the film, the Overlook is still there. It just kind of freezes. But at the end of the book, it burns down.
The Shining is probably high on the list of favorites among your readers. Did you find that intimidating when deciding to write a sequel?
When I really got serious about it, I thought to myself, ”Do you really want to do this? Because most sequels really suck.” So I kinda liked the idea of that challenge. I’m not going to kid you. I felt a little bit like Rocky Balboa going up against Apollo Creed. It’s got that kind of reputation.
I imagine you had to reread The Shining. How was that?
Oh, man, that was a real exercise in self-consciousness. Let’s try to remember, the guy who wrote this was barely 30 years old. That’s half the age I am now, and more. I’ve learned some new tricks, and I’ve lost some of the original urgency that went into the books at that time. I’m not the same man I was, but that was also sort of the attraction for it.
Though you’d never written a true sequel, was it easy to get into that mindset? Most of your books are interconnected. Familiar characters and places pop up, and the Dark Tower series wove them all together.
My son calls those things Easter eggs. There’s a little Salem’s Lot Easter egg in Doctor Sleep. I don’t know if anyone will spot it or not, but it’s there. All of the books kind of relate to other ones. The only exception is The Stand, where the whole world gets destroyed. I guess it’s sort of like Stephen King World, the malevolent version of Disney World, where everything fits together.
I want tickets to Stephen King World.
Let’s put it this way — if there was a Stephen King World, people would only go on the rides…once.