Warning: Contains mild spoilers for Stephen King’s novel, Billy Summers.
The Overlook Hotel may be gone, but its monstrous legacy lives on.
The evil building that facilitated Jack Torrance’s infamous axe wielding burned down at the conclusion of Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining, only to get another mention (this time as an absence rather than a presence) in the 2013 sequel Doctor Sleep.
And now, eight years later, it’s back again.
Stephen King’s latest novel, Billy Summers, is a story about an assassin on one final job. Unlike many of King’s books it’s a fairly straight thriller without any overt supernatural elements — but hidden among the disguises and the shootouts is a hat-tip to King’s horror roots, and it comes in the form of an Easter egg anyone familiar with The Shining will recognise straight away.
How does The Shining feature in Billy Summers?
The first thing worth mentioning is that the events of The Shining don’t play a key role in the plot of Billy Summers. They feature in passing, something the main characters stumble across mid-way through their journey. But the references do crop up on a fair few pages, and they’re detailed enough to make them worth breaking down a little.
Credit: Warner Bros / Hawk Films / Kobal / Shutterstock
The first mention comes when the title character Billy Summers and his companion Alice arrive at the home of Billy’s associate Bucky, who just so happens to live in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains near a place called — you guessed it — Sidewinder. This is the fictional town that features in The Shining, and it isn’t long before the Overlook Hotel itself gets a mention.
“‘Used to be a resort hotel there, but it burned flat many a moon ago.'” Bucky tells Alice, when he’s describing the view across the ravine she’ll be treated to if she walks a little way from his cabin. “‘It was reputed to be haunted.'”
Sure enough, when Alice returns from her walk she’s seen a ghost. Or rather, the ghost of building.
“This is crazy, but I thought I saw that hotel you talked about,” Alice says. “Then I blinked my eyes — the wind was so strong they were tearing up — and when I looked again, it was gone.”
Credit: sam haysom / mashable
Later, Billy uses a summer house not far from Bucky’s cabin to work on the book he’s writing. It’s situated just across the valley from where the Overlook used to stand. On the wall is a painting.
“It appears to show a bunch of hedges that have been clipped into animal shapes,” reads the description. “There’s a dog on the left, a couple of rabbits on the right, two lions in the middle, and what might be a bull behind the lions. Or maybe it’s supposed to be a rhinoceros. It’s a poorly executed thing, the greens of the animals too violent, and the artist has for some reason plinked a dab of red in the lions’ eyes to give them a devilish aspect.”
10 of the best Stephen King book endings
Anyone who’s read The Shining will recognise this immediately. In the novel, these same topiary hedge animals lurk in the Overlook Hotel’s playground. In one memorable scene they appear to come to life and chase Danny Torrance back inside the hotel.
Sure enough, later on in Billy Summers, the topiary hedge animals — the ones in the painting — appear to mimic the events in The Shining:
“He studies the painting, frowning. The hedge dog is on the right, the hedge rabbits on the left. Weren’t they the other way around before? And aren’t the lions closer?
“I got it wrong, that’s all, he thinks, but before leaving the summer-house he takes the picture down. Not neglecting to turn it so it faces the wall.”
Credit: sam haysom / mashable
The painting gets mentioned a few more times after that in Billy Summers, whenever the main character visits the cabin near Bucky’s place. Whenever he takes it down, he finds it back on the wall again. Billy ultimately throws the thing away, convinced the summer house is haunted.
What does it mean?
So, why did Stephen King decide to sneak a reference to the Overlook Hotel — along with the aforementioned creepy painting — into his latest novel? Could he be setting up a sequel to Doctor Sleep in which the Overlook will feature more centrally?
Well, it’s always possible. But if we had to guess, we’d say it’s more likely that King is simply doing what he’s always enjoyed doing — creating connections between his various works. The horror master regularly sneaks references to his other novels into new stories, reinforcing the idea that his stories all take place in the same multi-verse.
Finally, it’s also possible that the mention of the Overlook is there to make a larger point about the writing itself. Billy Summers is a book about a character writing a book, after all.
At the novel’s conclusion, Alice — who is thinking about her own future as a writer — returns to Bucky’s cabin and looks out over the ravine, wondering if she’ll see the ghost of the Overlook again. She doesn’t, but in that moment she realises she could bring it into reality herself through the act of writing.
“I could make it be there,” she thinks. “I could even fill it with ghosts, if I wanted to.”
Ultimately, the references to The Shining in Billy Summers feel like more than just a fun Easter egg. They feel like an extended metaphor for writing, and creation, and the worlds that can be brought to life on paper.