You might have heard of Stephen King. He’s a writer and did stuff like The Shining. Quite famous and all that, but we’ve not read much of his work before.
However, when he started following the 75 year old on Twitter recently we found his challenging, intelligent, and witty posts to get us on moving. Finally, we bought a book of his to get on with things.
And what better place to start than Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption? It’s not part of his horror oeuvre, but is a mighty fine tale all the same.
Themes of Friendship and Hope in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is from Stephen King’s 1982 collection of short stories Different Seasons: Hope Springs Eternal.
Since then, the work that was adapted into The Shawshank Redemption has also been published into standalone novella form. That’s the version we picked up recently—the fact it’s published like that is down to the enduring popularity of the film and this timeless piece of writing.
Prison break stories aren’t unusual. Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) being one, which is referenced in the 1994 film (“Alexandre Dumbass… Dumbass?!“, reads the prisoner Heywood in confusion).
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is narrated by the character Red, in prison for murdering his wife and her friends. He’s been in jail since 1938 serving three consecutive life sentences and recounts his story from 1975-1977.
In 1947, he recalls how a banker called Andy Dufresne entered the prison—in for murdering his wife, and lover, engaged in an affair.
What follows is Dufresne’s story, told from the perspective of the remorseful, world-weary, increasingly wise Red. The pair eventually become friends, with Dufresne maintaining an unusual air of dignity in the prison. Carrying himself like a free man, rather than a no hoper.
And that’s despite the brutality of the prison conditions, with various heavy-handed wardens and guards eager to whack the living daylights out of prisoners.
Despite its slow pace, this is a story about personal tragedy and suffering. Yet its core theme of hope does permeate the whole work, leading to hopeful conclusion (which you no doubt know about anyway, or can at least guess at).
There are beautiful lines in the novella. If you’re ever put off from reading King as he’s a horror specialist, then this work will change your mind.
“Andy was the part of me they could never lock up, the part of me that will rejoice when the gates finally open for me and I walk out in my cheap suit with my twenty dollars of may-money in my pocket. That part of me will rejoice no matter how old and broken and scared the rest of me is. I guess it’s just that Andy had more of that part than me, and used it better.
There are others here like me, others who remember Andy. We’re glad he’s gone, but a little sad, too. Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And that part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.”
Now, for anyone who’s seen the film, but not read the book, you may be surprised to learn the novella is a slight 130 pages.
With a prison drama where escape is involved, King bucked literary conventions away from Dumas styled weighty contemplation and. Instead, Riya Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption is concise, but like an anvil hitting you.
It leaves its mark and showcases Stephen King as a master storyteller.
It’s also forced us off now to go and read his other books. And if you’re new to his work, this is a fantastic starting point.
The Book to Film Adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Most people know of The Shawshank Redemption. The film adaptation of Stephen King’s novella launched in 1994.
Directed by Frank Darabont, the script was written by Darabont and King. Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins took the lead roles.
Famously, it wasn’t much of a hit at launch. At least to begin with. 1994 was a big year in cinema, with the likes of Pulp Fiction, Speed, The Mask, The Lion King, and Forrest Gump taking up the headlines.
That means a slow burning prison drama with an unusual title didn’t get much press. Word of mouth from cinemagoers helped transform that situation somewhat. But off its $25 million budget, it delivered a disappointing $73.3 million return.
However, once it came out to rent on VHS in 1995 it became on the most rented films of the year. In 1997, the film also began running regularly on TV. When it did, The Shawshank Redemption received record-breaking viewing figures.
That led to the cultural phenomenon it’s become.
On IMDb’s Top 250 Movies, The Shawshank Redemption is ranked #1. And it’s been at the top of the list for a long time.
We think people find a lot of hope in the film. That’s its core message—not to give up, no matter how dire the circumstances. Having a quiet dignity to proceedings is a noble pursuit.
It provides a reason to keep going, which is a very great thing.
When we first watched the film in 1999, we remember noting with surprise it was only five years old. It seemed like it should be an older film. Well, here we are approaching its upcoming 30th anniversary.
Looking at The Shawshank Redemption with modern eyes, the artistic integrity of the film is excellent. All the memorable scenes, such as the introduction to the prison with Thomas Newman’s sweeping score.
The steady development of the plot. Dufresne and Red’s friendship.
And that escape scene is brilliant. We still can’t watch Dufresne crawling through a sewage pipe without wincing on that one.
From our perspective, the film is superior to the novella.
That’s not to diminish King’s brilliance as a novelist, but Darabont and King adapted the work into something timeless. In 100 years, this film will be above the level of Dumas and essentially replace The Counte of Monte Cristo as the quintessential prison escape book. Frankly, it already has.
But it’s interesting to note the differences between the book and film. There are quite a few changes from the novella.
A fair few things were ramped up for dramatic intensity in the film. The fate of Tommy and warden Norton. Plus, psycho bully guard Byron Hadley’s role is tiny in the novella.
One of the most notable differences is Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding. Freeman’s character—in the book, he’s a redheaded Irish bloke.
With the film’s fame, a lot of people will probably be surprised to know it’s a Stephen King novella. And from back in 1982. But both are worth checking out—big time. A fine read. And a great watch.