Yeah, you’ve probably seen the movie, which is seven separate flavors of awesomesauce.
If you haven’t watched it, this is the trailer.
While half the planet may have already seen this movie (not sure, haven’t done a poll), I bet you all the monies in my wallet and yours that far fewer people have read the novella it’s based on. Faithfully, too. They did not mangle the text like Hollywood tends to do.
RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION is the first part of a collection of novellas released by Stephen King back when some actor was president in 1982 and the Soviet Union existed and parachute pants were a thing.
I’ve seen the movie maybe four or five times and would happily watch it today. Have read the novella twice as many times and re-read it last night. If you have not read it, pick up a paperback copy of DIFFERENT SEASONS and it’s the first story. Pick it up, a used bookstore will have seven of them for like three bucks.
Let’s get into why this novella is a SHINY DIAMOND MADE OF WORDS.
1) Red, the narrator, puts us at the right distance
Instead of seeing this story from Andy’s point of view as he goes to prison and eventually escapes, we see and hear it through Red.
This is a lot like the classic narrative device of having Watson tells us every Sherlock Holmes story. It works for a larger-than-life character like Andy, who becomes myth and legend in the prison.
Telling this story from Andy’s POV wouldn’t work as well, just like Sherlock’s POV would come off as arrogant. You never toot your own horn.
2) Red has to keep guessing, just like we do
He has to piece together a lot of Andy’s story from rumors, gossip, and theories. There are a lot of puzzles he doesn’t put together until the end, like we do.
Having this story told via Red writing it down, as it happens, also helps build suspense. Red isn’t giving us the whole tale after he knows the end. This is more like a diary, and that becomes more important toward the end of the story.
3) The stakes are real and they actually matter
Sure, I love action movies and zombie flicks.
Yet the stakes in this story feel far more real and raw than the novels and movies where bodies pile up. You feel the stifling bars and walls of the prison, the beatings and menace of the Sisters, and the time Red or Andy spend in the Hole.
You feel it, and unlike movies where you know the hero won’t die, the stakes hit harder.
4) It’s actually Red’s story more than Andy’s
Andy’s time in prison doesn’t break his spirit.
This novella, and the movie, are really Red’s story–because he’s the character who changes the most, and it comes via the catalyst of Andy.
This passage just rocks:
Andy was the part of me they could never lock up, the part of me that will rejoice finally open for me and I walk out in my cheap suit with my twenty dollars of mad-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.
5) The ending cannot be improved
Come on. You can’t beat this:
Sure I remember the name. Zihuatenejo. A name like that is too pretty to forget.
I find that I am excited, so excited that I can hardly hold the pencil in my trembling hand. I think it is the excitement that only a free man can feel, a free man starting a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.
I hope Andy is down there.
I hope I can make it across the border.
I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.
I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.