Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
Author: Stephen King
I read this story particularly because I had seen the movie probably hundreds of times since it came out in 1994 and I figured after all this time I should see which one was better, the novella or the movie adaptation. Most often, the book is better. But in this case, I’d say it’s a really close call.
As with all original novels that films are made from, the novella lacks various things that were in the movie. While some don’t strike me as that big of a deal there are others that I feel had a real impact on the finished film product and the success of the movie once it was released. But first, let’s talk about the book. Then we can get into comparing the two.
There are a number of things that make this a great story. First of all, I think this is a story that any generation would like. It’s not a horror story that is so graphic that it would be inappropriate for teens or young adults, in my opinion. And yet it is a story that adults would like just as much if not more. With Stephen King, it’s not always about the typical gore as many might think. He writes across the entire horror spectrum, leaving readers with a vast selection from which to choose.
This story takes place at a prison. It is about Andy Dufresne and his life in prison after he is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover in a jealous rage. The story is told from Red’s point of view, who was Andy’s friend in prison. Now, if you’ve seen the movie, and I can’t think of anyone I know who hasn’t, you know that Morgan Freeman plays Red. As I read the text of this story the words were processed in my head in Morgan Freeman’s voice as if he were narrating it to me. I didn’t try to do that, it just happened that way because he narrates the movie. I do have to say though, if you can do that, it does make the reading all that much more entertaining.
Being a novella this isn’t one of those two-inch-thick books that we often see King’s name on. The story started with a great lead-in and kept going all the way until the end. The thing is, there weren’t any spots that were what you would think of as typical horror with a bunch of gory, bloody murderous attacks—no moments or swirls of action between characters that are spelled out in graphic detail. The story isn’t really violent or terrifying unless you consider going to prison in itself to be considered horror-genre-level material. I do not. It’s just the setting where the story takes place so to me that doesn’t automatically fit into being defined as horror.
Even though the timeline of events at the prison is somewhat different in the novella than in the film, it doesn’t interfere with the flow of the story at all. I thought it might be strange or awkward while reading because when you know what happens (or you think you know what happens) because you saw the film there are certain expectations you will naturally have. I always remind myself that Hollywood will most often take a lot of liberties with adaptations and also that it would be very difficult to put every little detail from any book into a film that would fall within the normal parameters of the majority of films released. Still, you get absolutely invested very quickly in the story and in the characters, as it was with the film for most viewers. King has many talents and one of them is making the reader empathize with his characters and their experiences.
As Red recounts his time spent serving out some of his prison sentence with Andy at Shawshank you are pulled into the story in such a familiar way it was as though this was a story that your grandpa or uncle was telling you. While the story is intense and fraught with heavy emotions there’s still a somewhat lighthearted tone to it. There’s a happiness in the presentation of the tale but at the same time, there is a loneliness and a sadness that most readers could probably relate to. I mean, let’s face it, this is Stephen King. His writing always evokes several emotions and even instincts. He’s a master of horror.
In this novella, the kind of horror is more subtle. It’s not the monster under the bed kind of scary or the villain that never dies going on a rampage. It’s not aliens taking over or a zombie apocalypse type of horror either. The horror in this story lies in the reality of the circumstances. Innocent people are put in prison. Some for a very long time, some forever until they die. The idea of being trapped in prison for a violent crime you didn’t commit, having your life taken away right after you lose your spouse to the violent crime you are accused of, has got to be one of the scariest realities someone could face. So to me, since this is something that could really happen in real life, I find it much scarier. Now, whether every other aspect of the story is totally realistic or not, that doesn’t weigh as heavy on me.
Putting all of that together, I felt like the novella was very close to being as good as the movie. If the novella had the parts the movie added it would have been equal to the film, in my mind. But there were a few things that a lot of the people who saw the movie felt were very memorable or important points of the film.
So what were the main differences? I’ll try to give you the condensed version and in no particular order. First, the “man” who has all the bank accounts holding the money Andy stole from the warden is named Randall Stevens in the movie and Peter Stevens in the book. And Andy steals the warden’s suit and shoes to wear after his escape in the movie. This does not happen in the book at all. Next, in the novella, Andy goes through multiple rock hammers while in the movie we only see him with the one. In addition to that, Boggs doesn’t get his beating in the same way as in the movie, the setup and circumstances in the book are a bit different. Also, Byron Hadley doesn’t get arrested like he does in the movie, that too is a bit of a different situation. But the biggest difference for me was with the warden. The warden doesn’t shoot himself as the police are coming to arrest him. And Andy doesn’t send anything to the papers to expose the prison and the warden either. There are a few smaller details such as the happenings in the movie are not in the same order in the plot timeline as they are in the book.
However, I still thought this was a fantastic read. I had a hard time putting it down. The fact that it was so close to the movie and vice-versa, I have to give Hollywood some credit. It seems that most of what they added was just for cinematic effect. Luckily, they didn’t really change anything in the story. This is one of my favorite novellas of King’s and will be for a long time, if not always.