Doctor Sleep: Here's What Happens in the Terrifying Stephen King Novel

Based on Stephen King's novel of the same name, the new Doctor Sleep finally hits theaters on Friday. If you want to know what twists and turns to expect before you watch the movie but don't have time to read the book, we're here to give you all the spooky details. But be warned, if you want to keep it a surprise, turn back now, because there are a whole lot of spoilers coming at you.

Doctor Sleep, which was published in 2013, is a follow-up to King's 1977 novel The Shining, so you'll need a quick background refresher before jumping into the sequel.

What Happens in The Shining?

The Shining is centered on Jack Torrance, his wife, Wendy, and their young son, Danny. When Jack, an abusive alcoholic writer, accepts a job as a caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, he takes his family to stay there.

But Jack, Danny, and the hotel's chef, Dick Halloran, all have the "shine," which means they can psychically connect and communicate with spirits. The evil ghosts of the Overlook put Jack under a psychic spell, drive him into madness, and coax him to kill his family. Because he has the shine, Danny also attracts attention from the hotel's ghosts, but Dick steps in to help calm the youngster and explain how and why this is happening to him. At the end of The Shining, Dick, Wendy, and Danny escape, but Jack is killed in an explosion at the hotel.

How Does Doctor Sleep Fit In?

Enter Doctor Sleep. The book picks up with a grown-up Danny, a man who has spent years trying to come out from under the trauma he experienced at the Overlook and at the hands of his father. Some of the ghosts of the Overlook find Danny and try to terrorize him, but Dick teaches him how to lock the spirits up inside boxes in his mind. This torment sends Danny into a cycle of alcoholism and rage, but after a few years, he finds sobriety and peace with the support of Alcoholics Anonymous. After sobering up, Dan (as he is referred to in this book) gets a job at a nursing home in a small town in New Hampshire. With the help of a cat that can sense when a person is about to die, Dan uses his psychic abilities to help patients find peace during death and becomes known as "Doctor Sleep."

Aside from the patients he helps, Dan begins telepathically connecting with a young girl named Abra. The toddler has great psychic powers, and initially her communication with Dan is unintentional. But over time, as she gets older, her bond with Dan becomes more conscious and deliberate. When Abra shares her vision of a boy being tortured to death by an evil group of semi-immortals called the True Knot, Dan is shaken by what he sees. He discovers that this group of vampirish entities travels around the country and feeds on the "steam" that is released when young children with the "shine" are tortured to death.

DOCTOR SLEEP, Rebecca Ferguson, 2019. ph: Jessica Miglio /  Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Meet Rose the Hat, the Big Bad

The leader of the group, Rose the Hat, can feel Abra's presence, and she realizes that because Abra's shine is so strong, she would be a potential gold mine for steam. When members of the True Knot begin dying off, the group believes it's a disease, so they plan to kidnap Abra in hopes that her steam will be their cure. Abra senses this and reaches out to Dan for help. In order to help the young girl, Dan must first talk to her father, David, and her doctor, John Dalton. When he first tries to explain his connection to Abra, David doesn't believe it. But eventually, he comes on board to do whatever he can to save his daughter. When the kidnappers come around to take Abra, Dan, David, and Dan's friend Billy Freeman manage to thwart and kill them. But Dan knows that the fight against the True Knot and Rose the Hat isn't over, and they'll do whatever it takes to survive.

When Abra's great-grandmother Concetta is about to die from cancer, Dan goes to visit her and telepathically discovers that Abra's mother, Lucy, is his half-sister. It turns out that Lucy's father was Jack Torrance, meaning Abra is Dan's niece, explaining why the two share such a strong psychic connection. As Concetta passes, Dan takes on her diseased steam.

DOCTOR SLEEP, Roger Dale Ford, 2019.  Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection
Everett Collection

Back to the Overlook

The True Knot begins falling apart due to Rose the Hat's obsession with Abra. With fewer followers to help her, Rose the Hat attempts another kidnapping, but Dan and Abra thwart her efforts once again. Abra knows that Rose the Hat won't give up until she kills her, so she lures her to the location of the Overlook Hotel — where the True Knot's campsite sits.

With the help of Abra's astral projection, Dan and Billy go to the campsite, where Dan releases Concetta's diseased steam, killing off the members of the True Knot. When Dan realizes one member of the group, Silent Sarey, is left, he releases one of his locked spirits to kill him. When only Rose the Hat is left, Dan and Abra try to fight her off through a psychic battle. Eventually, the ghost of Jack Torrance (Dan's father and Abra's grandfather) comes in to help them, and along with Billy, they kill Rose the Hat by pushing her off a cliff. Before Dan leaves the site, he sees Jack's ghost wave to him and realizes his father's spirit has finally found peace.

How Does Doctor Sleep End?

The epilogue picks up after a few years, when Dan is with Abra celebrating her 15th birthday. He gives her advice, warning her not to fall into the cycle of anger that consumed him and his father because of the shine. The book ends with Dan being called back to work to bring peace to a dying patient who was once his colleague and adversary.