- Stanley Kubrick famously adapted Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining, which has since become a horror classic.
- Among the many mysteries surrounding the Overlook Hotel in The Shining is Room 237 (Room 217 in the novel), which is occupied by a terrifying poltergeist.
- While The Shining offers an explanation for the frightening events inside Room 237, there is a real-life inspiration for the room.
This article contains mention of suicide.
Mention the words “Room 237” to a horror fan, and they’re apt to prick up their ears immediately. It serves as one of the focal points for Stephen King’s novel The Shining as well as Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 film adaptation. The ghost of a dead woman dwells in the bathroom, and pursues Danny Torrance even after he escapes the Overlook Hotel as recounted in the sequel, Doctor Sleep.
It’s one of the most terrifying sequences in book and film alike, helping The Shining become a horror classic. Room 237 (or Room 217, which is the number used in the novel) has a surprisingly detailed backstory, as well as an offscreen history involving the real-life hotels that have stood in for the Overlook. That goes for its spectral occupant as well as the physical space itself.
What’s the Deal with Room 237?
Room 237 contains the ghost of a dead woman, who emerges from the bathroom and tries to strangle Danny Torrance when he dares to enter. His father Jack later comes to investigate his claims of the mysterious woman in the room. In the book, he sees signs of her, but retreats before she can attack him. In the movie, she appears as a beautiful young woman, and Jack embraces her before she transforms into a rotting corpse.
King uses it as a catalyst for Jack Torrance’s alcoholism and rage, as his wife Wendy initially blames him for Danny’s injuries. The author’s build-up to the initial confrontation is equally powerful, with Danny equating the room to the story of Bluebeard and his wives, and believing that the ghost can’t hurt him right up until the moment she wraps her hands around his throat. Kubrick enhances that with a sequence of nail-biting suspense, as ominous music and a feigned human heartbeat plays over Jack’s maddeningly slow survey of the room.
Color theory plays a huge role in the scene’s unsettling quality as well. The rug is a Joker-esque combination of bright green and purple, with furniture of a dull lavender and a bathroom decorated in an Art Deco mint green. The off-putting clash of colors is further enhanced by the famous burnt-orange-and-umber hexagonal carpet in the corridor outside, leading to a sense of dread and unease despite its ostensibly bright atmosphere.
Who Is the Woman in Room 237?
The woman herself is named Lorraine Massey, and King relates her story through several cryptic passages in both The Shining and Doctor Sleep. She’s the most recent addition to the Overlook’s collection of ghosts, which helps explain why she’s so strong. The wife of a New York attorney, she comes to the hotel to cheat on her spouse with much younger men. On July 1977, her lover departs the hotel while she’s drunk. She spends the next day drinking in the Colorado Lounge, then goes up to her room and slits her wrists in the bathtub.
Massey’s tragedy is quite mundane, even sad, which makes her status even more troubling. It lacks any occult trappings or overt criminality, unlike other ghosts like Horace Derwent: it’s just a lonely person who succumbs to despair. Her need for love and rage at being left alone drive the hostility and cruelty of the ghost she becomes.
What Happened to Danny in Room 237?
Dick Hallorann, the Overlook Hotel’s psychic cook, is aware of Mrs. Massey’s ghost after a chambermaid with a slight shining ability reports seeing her in the tub. He doesn’t believe she can hurt anyone and that she’s essentially just a shade with no power to cause physical harm. Still, he tells Danny to stay out anyway rather than confront the unquiet spirit. He’s unaware of how powerful Danny’s shining is, and how it attracts the hotel’s ghosts to him. Danny tries to stay away from Room 237, but curiosity gets the better of him, and Mrs. Massey assaults him before he’s able to get away. It further explains how Mrs. Massey is able to appear to Danny later in life.
Doctor Sleep (both the novel and the film) opens with her menacing the boy in the Torrances’ new home in Florida. Hallorann’s ghost teaches him how to imprison her in a mental box in his mind. In the movie, he releases her — along with the hotel’s other ghosts who have pursued him — during the final battle with Rose the Hat. In the novel, Massey stays in her box and the ghost of the hotel’s mobster owner Horace Derwent is released. Still, she endures despite the destruction of the Overlook. The film of Doctor Sleep ends with her latching on to young Abra Stone, whose powers are even stronger than Danny’s. The movie ends with Abra preparing to lock her in a mental box the same way Danny did.
Is There a Room 237 at the Stanley Hotel?
The Overlook is famously based on the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, which served as one of the big inspirations for The Shining. Stephen King and his wife Tabitha stayed in Room 217 on the night of Oct. 30, 1974. Like the Overlook, the Stanley closes for the winter, and the two were the only guests booked that evening. King recounts that he spent a good deal of time wandering the halls, and had drinks at the bar with a bartender named Grady. That night, he had a bad dream about his then-three-year-old son (horror author Joe Hill) being chased down the hotel corridor by a fire hose. A variation of the dream ended up in the novel (though Kubrick declined to include it in the film) and Room 217 became Mrs. Massey’s Overlook haunting grounds.
The change in room number came with the movie, which used the Timberline Lodge at Oregon’s Mount Hood for the exterior shots. When production began, the hotel expressed concerns that people wouldn’t want to stay in its Room 217 if they associated it with a horror story. Kubrick changed the number to 237, since the Timberline doesn’t have a Room 237. Ironically, the movie’s fame had the opposite effect, and the Timberline’s website now claims that more people want to stay in Room 217 than any other suite. For its part, the Stanley Hotel has since renamed its Room 217 The Stephen King Suite in the author’s honor. (The 1997 TV miniseries version of The Shining was filmed at the Stanley, and restored the room number to 217 in its storyline.)
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