Doctor Sleep: What became of The Little School?


The big new Stephen King book came out yesterday. Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining.

You’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten that the protagonist of The Shining, Jack Torrance, was a playwright. It’s easy to get distracted by the blood and the snow and the explosions, but one of the main reasons that Torrance is hotel-sitting at the godforsaken Overlook at all is because he’s ostensibly “working on a play,” a troublesome semiautobiographical five-act opus called The Little School. He’d even been able to interest an agent—“a tough red-headed woman named Phyllis Sandler”—in the unfinished work:

He had written her about the play, which was called The Little School, describing the basic conflict between Denker, a gifted student who had failed into becoming the brutal and brutalizing headmaster of a turn-of-the-century New England prep school, and Gary Benson, the student he sees as a younger version of himself. Phyllis had written back expressing interest and admonishing him to read O’Casey before sitting down to it. She had written again earlier that year asking where the hell was the play?

A cursory thumb though Doctor Sleep finds no overt references to The Little School. The fact that Torrance would stay behind at the hotel to work on it, however, while his wife and son would go exploring elsewhere, has some bearing on how the book ends. Doctor Sleep concerns Jack’s now-grown son Danny and his own problems. These problems stem from being the son of a raging alcoholic much more than they do from being the son of a frustrated playwright.

I’ve written before about Stephen King’s theater pursuits, both on and beyond the printed page. The hero of one of his greatest books, 11/22/63, was a high school drama teacher. I’m a little sorry that there aren’t more theatrical references in Doctor Sleep. But then again, if a work that was as weak as Little School is inferred to be was ever actually finished, let alone produced, that would be one of the most fantastical scenarios Stephen King ever devised.