Killer clowns, telekinetic murderous rampages, haunted hotels, and…the undying nature of true friendship?
Stephen King, known by many as the Master of Horror, threw audiences for a loop when he wrote Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, a story that details a one-of-a-kind friendship between two convicted inmates and how one of the inmates pulls off a gutsy (and frankly rather poop-laden) escape. The novella—a fancy word for a short novel—is a far cry from the shrieks and scares we often associate with King, which might explain why it was included as part of King's Different Seasons collection.
Get it? Different. We guess even the Master of Horror himself needs a break from the keep-the-light-on-at-night stories he is so well known for.
Most people discovered this story via its 1994 movie adaptation, which bombed on its initial release, but found new life after being nominated for seven Academy Awards and endlessly rebroadcast on cable TV networks. Seriously, this film has been aired on cable at least once every one or two months since 1997. But the book's always been there, lending the movie its most powerful moments and asking for nothing in return.
The story's themes focus on issues of imprisonment and injustice. Andy, the hero, is thrown in jail for a crime he didn't commit, while his buddy Red is the only person in prison truthful enough to admit that he dun it. In prison, they're placed at the mercy of "honest" wardens and guards who are totally corrupt and make money on scams that should put them inside the walls with the prisoners they exploit and brutalize.
Red and Andy both survive decades in the prison's bleak, gray environment, "institutionalized" until they can't even remember what it's like to function on the outside. In Shawshank, audiences see how Andy holds onto hope and makes life worth living while in prison, and helps teach Red to look at things the same way. Over the course of the story, Andy makes a boatload of money for a corrupt warden, then (spoiler alert!) pulls off a straight Houdini after spending twenty years digging a hole in a wall. Overall, the story drives home some nice points about not giving up even when things look bleak, and about how the joys of life come from inside rather than outside. As we said, it's kind of weird that this is all coming from a guy who loves to scare the pants off of us, but since it's such an awesome book, we'll let it slide.
Human beings have the potential to be some pretty resilient creatures, but sometimes it can be hard for us to get back on our feet once we've been knocked down. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is such a great story because it reminds us of the importance of staying positive no matter what your circumstances. Andy has it rough—imagine being imprisoned for a crime you didn't even commit—but he builds a secret world within himself, separate and removed from the harsh realities of daily life in jail. With this inner strength, he shrugs off all the blows that Shawshank rains down on him and, even more importantly, he inspires other prisoners, like Red, to do the same.
We can learn some valuable lessons from Andy. Granted, most of us haven't been to prison, but we've all felt hopeless or desperate at some point in our lives, be it the result of a difficult work environment, an intolerant community, or the rough parts of high school—mean classmates or tough teachers—sooner or later, it starts to feel like prison. Shawshank shows us how to create an inner world to protect yourself from life's low points, reminding us to be patient, persistent, and to focus on what brings us joy. Lessons like that never go out of style, not as long as there's someone out there stuck watching the clock, wishing he could be anywhere else.
Stephen King's Official Homepage
Stephen King has his own homepage, as befits a kajillionaire bestselling author. It includes a rather disappointing section on Shawshank.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
There's only been one movie adaptation of Shawshank, and considering how great it is, there probably only will be. Morgan Freeman plays Red, Tim Robbins plays Andy, and while it takes a few minor liberties with the story, they're all in keeping with King's original prose. People consider it the best adaptation of a Stephen King work ever… and more than that. IMDB viewers list it as one of the greatest movies of all time, (http://www.imdb.com/chart/top?tt0111161&ref_=tt_awd) up there with the likes of Schindler's List and The Godfather. Yowza.
Roger Ebert's Review of the Movie
Shawshank the book has been kind of overshadowed by Shawshank the movie. Case in point: Roger Ebert's beautiful review of the film.
The New York Times Book Review
The Times reviews Different Seasons, including Shawshank.
Here's the scene of Andy's escape from the 1994 movie. It's a fantastic sequence; we tear up a little bit every time we see it.
Charlie Rose Interviews
Charlie Rose interviews Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins and director Frank Darabont about the movie version of Shawshank.
Barnes and Noble Audiobook
Shawshank is still copyrighted, which means you gotta pay to get an audio version of it. Barnes and Noble has a brief sample on their website, for your listening pleasure.
Here's an image of Rita Hayworth as King described her: "Rita is dressed-sort of-in a bathing suit, one hand behind her head, her eyes half closed, those full, sulky red lips parted." (126) The movie uses a different image, but this is the one that matches the description.
Linda's the lucky girl whose photo covers Andy's escape from the prison. We couldn't find the exact image King described – "Linda was looking back over her shoulder, her hands tucked into the back pockets of a very tight pair of fawn-colored slacks." (426)—which we suspect may be a bit of artistic license on his part. This pic gets pretty close, though.
Here's the famous shot of Marilyn, "that picture from The Seven Year Itch where she's standing over a subway grating and the warm air is flipping her skirt up." (221) She doesn't play as large a role in the story as Rita and Linda do, but she certainly looks good.