One of the first pieces I wrote for Blogcritics, while still under a trial membership, was an announcement and discussion piece on Steven King’s upcoming sequel to The Shining called Doctor Sleep. I wondered what the motivation was for returning to such an old, yet incredibly beloved, story and whether the risks of audience approval would be worth it. Did it reveal a lack of new ideas for the literary machine that is King or just a nagging sense that the people left over at the end of that bloody and terrifying winter at the Overlook Hotel still had something to say? Well, I have since read, or more accurately devoured, the daring sequel and I can report it was well worth the risk.
Doctor Sleep catches up with little Danny Torrance years later when he’s in his thirties and now goes by Dan Torrance. He’s spent his life chasing the visions and demons in head away, mostly through the use of drugs and booze, but the bottom of the bottle would not be as low as he would go. After following his instinct one last time, he lands in a quaint small town and makes a last ditch effort to turn his life around. It brings him not only some new friends and support, but his renewed clarity also connects him and his gift with young girl, Abra, whose strength and power is even greater than his own. Abra stumbles into the path of a roving band of people who feed off kids like her and Dan must now challenge himself once more to become the hero he never thought he could be.
If readers find the initial pages in the book slightly slow or not catching enough, don’t fear because it picks up quickly. I found the doubt around needing a sequel to The Shining falling away completely by page 30. I was right there with Dan, Abra and the True Knot and I needed badly to find out how it all ended. Abra is also a fantastic character, reminiscent of Danny when he was first learning about his power and had help from the old chef at the hotel. She was growing up, growing more powerful and had no idea there were others like her. The loneliness and isolation of those who are different is a universal concept and King plays it out beautifully.
There were moments early in Abra’s introduction where he talks about the strange incidents, ghostly piano playing in her house, spoons flying up and attaching themselves to the ceiling and other incredible feats that made me think of my own newborn son and how I would handle it if things like that were happening around him. Since I can’t just pick up the phone and call Agents Mulder and Scully, I’ve really no clue what I would do.
Once again, King manages also not only to create relatable heroes and protagonists, but understandable, primal and kinetic villains. The True Knot and their hypnotically beautiful leader, Rose the Hat, may be mean, terrible and all the other nasty words, but what they do they do for survival. For them it’s a psychic version of the dog eat dog world, their dogs just happen to be much more powerful than the rest. They see their cause as the natural progress of human evolution, but then again, many dictators and sociopaths in history have used the same logic, so draw your own conclusions.
In the end, Doctor Sleep is indeed a sequel to The Shining, but stands on its own two feet as another in the long line of classic King night frights.