In 1977, Stephen King wasn’t STEPHEN KING (!!!) yet; he was just a promising young novelist. That’s why he recalls the many details of the morning when the much-celebrated director Stanley Kubrick called his home 36 years ago about adapting King’s novel, “The Shining.”
King has told the story a number of times to captive audiences at speaking engagements – most recently while promoting the novel’s sequel, “Doctor Sleep.”
He’d been drinking the night before and was terribly hung-over; his wife came running to the bathroom, where King was shaving. With the phone in her hands, Tabitha King said, “Some guy claiming to be Stanley Kubrick says he wants to talk with you.” She later mouthed silently, “Stanley. Kubrick.”
With a bit of blood trickling down his half-shaven face, King said hello to Kubrick, who lived in England – five hours ahead of the King clan’s household – and was in no mood for small talk.
“I always think stories about the supernatural are optimistic, don’t you?” Kubrick asked in a forthright voice.
“I don’t understand; what do you mean by that?”
“Well, they posit the basic suggestion that we survive death,” Kubrick asserted. “If we survive death, that’s optimistic!”
“What about Hell?” King asked. After a long pause, Kubrick replied in a very different tone: “I don’t believe in Hell.”
Jokingly, King follows up the story with, “… and that was the only preproduction discussion we had.”
Like Hitchcock before him, Kubrick had a notorious reputation for being a control freak regarding all phases of his movies. It was his way or the highway, and so it went with King’s novel, “The Shining.” It was retooled to fit Kubrick’s vision – at the expense of King’s, which has continued to be a thorn in the writer’s side. In one interview, King called Kubrick’s film misogynistic because of the meek portrayal of Wendy Torrance, Jack’s wife. A great story could be written about the creative differences between these two heavyweights.
In King’s novel, protagonist Jack Torrance starts out as a sympathetic everyman who is slowly pushed to the edge of his sanity, until he finally breaks. In Kubrick’s version, Jack starts out immediately edgy, yielding much less character arc. Also, at the end of King’s novel, Jack and the supernatural Overlook Hotel burn. But in Kubrick’s telling, Jack and the hotel remain frozen.
More importantly, the tone of the story is significantly different in both, and the popular view is that Kubrick got the better of King in terms of popularity and legacy. I disagree, and much prefer the book. Kubrick, now deceased, will never make a sequel to the film, and fortunately the premise of King’s sequel is based on the first novel’s ending, which concluded in fire.
I believe history will treat King with the same reverence with which we now view great American writers from Hemmingway to Twain, (no one other than King has approached Twain’s understanding of the pre-adolescent boy). I cannot wait to read the sequel, and will do so as I always do—limiting myself to a few pages at a time to savor it like a great Bourgogne pinot.