The Shining: Movie vs. Book

miloHey Pal:

Nice post! That is by far the best intermingling of text and image we have achieved on this blog. It was the next best thing to a graphic novel. Congrats on raising the bar.

While you’ve spent this October thinking about manly things like scotch and football, I have been devoting my time, as I often do, to creepy things. And with Halloween coming up, what better time to talk about one of the scariest horror stories of all time: The Shining.

The Shining, as you undoubtedly know, is about a haunted hotel. And you also undoubtedly know it was first a novel by Stephen King and then a movie by Stanley Kubrick.

Shiningnovel         vs.          movie poster

But did you know this: In the novel, the main character drives a red Volkswagen Beetle, but in the movie version the bug is yellow.

Why change it to yellow? What’s the point of that? It’s not as though Kubrick couldn’t get his hands on a red bug. In fact, a red bug does appear later in the movie – and it has been crushed under a transport truck.

This, it has been said, was Kubrick’s f#@* you to Stephen King. The message is: “You had your vision, I have mine, and my vision crushes yours.”

But does it? Is this a case where the movie is better than the book? Is the movie ever better than the book? The vast majority of the time, people seem to favour the book. And they’re often right. But not always.

Pal, if you ask me, the movie is better than the book more often than people want to admit, and The Shining is one such example.

I’ve spent a lot of time at the Overlook Hotel recently.


I re-read the book and re-watched the movie. The book is solid, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the movie that scares the bejesus out of me every time. You can’t watch that movie and not have many images…


 …burned into your mind for all time. The book is a slow burn with a predictable ending and is, for me, a little forgettable.

Out of respect for Stephen King (I am a fan), it should be noted the book makes more sense. Main character Jack Torrance’s descent into madness is gradual and believable. In the film there is no logic to the story and Jack Nicholson’s whacko portrayal of Jack Torrance is pretty much a raving lunatic from the get-go.


I don’t think Kubrick had any interest in telling a logical story, he just wanted to play around with what he likely considered a low-brow movie genre, and make something utterly creepy and weird.

Mission accomplished, Stanley.

The film has had an interesting history. Critical opinion has improved immensely over the years, and it has developed a weird and obsessive cult. If you’d like to hear from members of that weird obsessive cult, watch the excellent movie Room 237.


Room 237 is a documentary featuring a bunch of very interesting people with a bunch of very interesting ideas about Kubrick’s movie (including the point above about the colour of the car). They see a lot of hidden meaning in that movie. A lot. They’ll tell you it’s about everything from horny demons to the holocaust to the first moon landing. Their amazing theories are based on strange, quirky things in the film: objects that disappear or change colour, an impossible window, wonky architecture etc.

room 237 images

Many of these quirky things are what most people would call continuity errors, but that doesn’t hold up when it comes to Stanley Kubrick who was notoriously obsessive about each and every little detail in his films. If a chair disappears, it’s because he wants it to.

But what does it mean? Does it mean that the moon landing was staged? I doubt it. As fascinating as the various theories are, I suspect Kubrick just wanted to fill his moody, slow-moving film with all sorts of impossibilities and inconsistencies just to give viewers a sense that there is something very wrong with this hotel. To keep us unsettled without really knowing why. That way, by the time the twins start talking and the elevators start bleeding, we’re already completely unnerved.


The book gave me a few chills, but nothing like the movie.

And as far as I know the book has not inspired a crazy obsessed cult who will read it hundreds of times and find new details every time.

So this is one case where the movie beats the book.

How about some others?

Pal, do you know of any?

Our many reader – how about you?

I can think of a few but I will keep them to myself.

Let’s hear from you. If you’ve got an example where the movie kicked the book’s ass, leave a comment and tell us. Then, after you’ve left your example (and only after – no cheating!), check out this excellent list from Complex Magazine:

(Take note of the lively discussion in the comments section about The Shining – clearly a divisive choice.)

Later, Pal.


4 responses to “The Shining: Movie vs. Book

  1. Many of the obvious ones on lists, I have to admit, I cannot comment on as I have never read the book version. In my world, I think that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was a better movie than book. I also think that the movie/stage production of Les Mis blows the book out of the water (the book is way too focused on Napoleon and the government issues of he time. I do have to say that I am sitting on he fence with Hunger Games. The movie was at least on par with its literary partner. I can’t commit either way.

  2. I think that it all depends on what you read/see first. With Harry Potter, I prefer the movies, because the books weren’t as good as they should have been. I know so many people would say the books are wayyyyy better than the movies, but I saw the movies first so the books were ruined. Then there’s book like the Percy Jackson series that are amazing. Then I saw the movie and I hated it. I LOVED the books and so all I did while watching the movie was criticize it’s differences from the books. So to me, what you like better all depends on what you read or see first.

  3. Fight Club, About a Boy… there are others I’m sure, but I’m inclined to agree it often comes down to which you are exposed to first.
    Shawshank Redemption, loved the movie and when I read the book all I could hear was Morgan Freeman. Would it have been the same if I read the book first? Cider House Rules – Good movie but I read the book first and liked it better. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, this one is a toss up for me, great movie, great book!

  4. With you T on Shawshank… May I add Babe and Field of Dreams….

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