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“Doctor Sleep” is a worthwhile, if overly long, follow-up to a King classic that speaks to the need for community and connection.

Doctor Sleep

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Doctor Sleep is a 2013 horror novel by Stephen King and the sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining. The book reached the first position on The New York Times Best Seller list and won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel the year of its release. The novel was adapted into a film of the same name, which was released in 2019.

In the book, we witness the aftermath of the Overlook Hotel’s destruction. Danny Torrance (now Dan in his older life) had to learn to box up and imprison the spirits who followed him and lived on through his shining.

Dan’s shine is a metaphor for psychic ability that transcends what other people are capable of.

Unfortunately, Dan is alone in the world since his mother, Wendy, died of lung cancer, and his father perished with the Overlook. He drinks to outrun his demons and bad decisions, just as his dad did.

He moves from town to town but decides on Frazier, New Hampshire, because his shine told him it was the right place for him. Dan works at the hospice and is called Doctor Sleep because he can help older folks pass on peacefully with his shine.

Not far away, a young shiner named Abra Stone is growing up, and her abilities are growing. She can pick up on Dan’s psychic radio signal in his mind because he’s very similarly psychically powerful. When they meet, Abra calls him “Uncle Dan” to deflect attention away from the possibility of anything creepy going on (there isn’t, much like Dan’s friendship with Dick Halloran, another shiner, as a boy).

Eventually, a group of semi-immortal vampiric entities that feed on steam, a substance emitted from a shiner as they die, come into the story as the antagonists.

Rose the Hat is their leader and a powerful adversary for Dan and Abra.

Warning: From this point on, there will be spoilers for Doctor Sleep. Do not proceed if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie and do not want to know what happens.

The True Knot is motivated by their numbers dwindling, so they need to find more steam in the world to keep themselves alive. Rose the Hat picks up on Abra psychically witnessing the murder of a kid for his steam; Abra is able to push Rose out of her mind on multiple occasions, even wounding her.

Rose is determined not only to have Abra’s enormously powerful steam but to kidnap her and hold her hostage indefinitely so she can keep feeding the True Knot.

Abra’s great-grandmother, Concetta, is dying in the hospice Dan is working at and reveals that Abra’s mother, Lucy, is Dan’s half-sister because Jack Torrance (Dan’s dad, a main character from The Shining) is their father.

Dan takes Concetta’s dying steam into himself to use on the True Knot, who is weakening from the measles of the last boy they killed; most of them die from this poisoned steam attack.

Rose the Hat is lured to the remains of the Overlook Hotel in Sidewinder; with the help of some of the trapped ghosts Dan has boxed up, it comes down to Dan and Abra’s shining versus Rose.

The ghost of Jack Torrance helps his son and granddaughter push Rose to her death. Dan celebrates fifteen years of sobriety at Abra’s fifteenth birthday party, warning her not to go down the path of an alcoholic like his dad/her granddad, and she promises not to.

Psychic Suppression & Community

In this story, there is a theme of psychic suppression throughout, much like its predecessor, The Shining.

Abra Stone has a gift she cannot control that is powerful enough to predict horrific world events; her parents, though unbelieving at first, realize she is very special while at times seemingly suppressing those gifts, wishing for normalcy. Only in “Uncle Dan” (they find out he actually is her uncle, funnily enough) does Abra feel at home with her abilities.

She didn’t ask to be special or different, nor did Dan, but it does separate them from the rest of the world. In finding and creating this friendship, they are able to foster their own psychic support group.

Dan (who we know as young Danny) in The Shining consistently worried his mother, Wendy, with his predictions and understanding a child should not have. She feared his gifts, which caused Danny to hide them from her. For people who don’t shine, they are simultaneously intrigued by such gifts and shy away from them.

Only among other shiners do these gifted people find peace and help, which, luckily, Dan and Abra do. Dan can even watch over Abra as she grows so she doesn’t go down a dark path, helping as much as he can.

They destroyed the True Knot because the two found each other to form a mini-community. Psychics/shiners need that; Dan had it in Dick Halloran as a child, and Abra had it in Dan. Without it, Abra would have been captured and continually tortured for her steam.

Even two similar people can be a support system, which mirrors the support Dan finds in Alcoholics Anonymous. Without community, humanity suffers.

Problematic Content

As any longtime fan of Stephen King knows, his books are often more problematic than not.

Though there is a racist nickname used by the True Knot and a few sexist remarks toward women, Doctor Sleep is relatively tame. My main issue with the story (besides those I just mentioned) is one almost all King fans have: it didn’t have to be as long as it was because he spends a lot of time on descriptions that don’t further the story along.

The True Knot is frightening because of how well they blend in and disappear; Rose the Hat and her followers were a worthy adversary for Dan and Abra, who were bound to come across something dark, seeking out their light with how bright they shine.

Otherwise, I enjoyed this further exploration of Danny’s story as an adult and his niece, Abra Stone, along with other dark, parasitic attachments that look for shine to feed off of.

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