Curiouser and Curiouser, Part 1: Danny’s Lessons and Escapes



The Shining is flush with patterns, and while we can learn loads by looking into how characters move in either the same or opposing directions through the same spaces, or by studying the dialogue to look at repeated phrases, I thought we should start with the most significant pattern sequence: the one that Tony teaches Danny in order to save him from the Overlook.

First off, what do you see here?

Danny’s first four turns with his trike, and his last four escapes from the maze are left turns.

And what’s this?

Danny’s first maze walk with Wendy and his first escape series from Jack follow a similar pattern, only these are mirror images of each other.

1st Maze Walk goes: RRL LRL LRL
The 1st Escape goes: LRL LRL LRR

Up next, a parallel.

Danny’s 2nd trike ride and his 2nd maze run go LRRR (trike) and LRRR (maze).

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And his 3rd ride and 3rd maze run go RL and LR, another mirrorform.

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But what’s interesting there is that Danny’s backward walk comes between those LR turns, so I wonder if that has something to do with this:

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This is a fairly dispensable observation, but it is notable that both Danny and Jack do a major backward walk (as you can see below, Wendy does a bunch of little ones and the more major lounge fight, but I don’t know if they’re related to this). And Jack’s happens in 237, which will get real important in a second.

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But first, let’s recap.

  • The first “lesson” and the last “escape” are both LLLL.
  • The second lesson and the first escape are RRL LRL LRL and LRL LRL LRR, perfect reflections.
  • The third lesson and the second escape are the same again, LRRR.
  • And the fourth lesson and the third escape are mirrors again, with the escape split somewhat by Danny’s backward walk, RL and L*R.

So, if we assign the lessons the numbers 1234, then the order they apply to the escapes is 2341.

1 234/234 1 — Got that? Okay. Now check this out.

This is the same pattern as we see among the four bird paintings in room 237, and the four (technically five) bird stickers on Danny’s door in Boulder. Right down to the first and last being two different blue-headed, brown-winged, white-bodied birds. (Update: I finally identified the artists behind the four birds, and, as you can read here, the last bird painting is actually another blue/white/brown bird, but beyond discounting the black/white bird from the analysis, this doesn’t change anything about the following.)

1 234 234 1

I call these bird arrangements the two “keys”. The first key we see chronologically (Danny’s door) correlates to the last series of escapes (2341), while the second key (237) correlates to the order of the first series of lessons (1234). Chronologically, it goes: escape key–lessons–lesson key–escapes. So, when Danny sees the final key in room 237 (which happens offscreen 12 minutes before the midpoint of the film (Jack passes it 126 seconds after the midpoint)), he now knows everything he needs to know in order to survive the movie. In fact, what is going on in the mirrorform when he’s receiving the final key?

As Danny heads into 237 the shot transitions to Wendy in the boiler room where she’ll hear nightmare Jack’s screams, but if we assume that he saw the final key in those next few moments, then backward Jack is approaching the ghostball and crossing the threshold. That seems significant, since, wasn’t it a ghost ball that lured Danny toward the final key? Does that imply that Jack’s ghostball lures him toward the final “key” of his undoing?

Also, Jack, having lived in Boulder, and having crossed through 237 (we even see him look at the four bird paintings), also sees both the lesson key and escape key. But he was not moving around, living life, before this. So even if he somehow recognized the pattern, he wouldn’t know what to do with it.

And here’s a neat thing: once Jack has assumed stewardship of the Overlook, we almost never see him moving. His biggest move is (coincidentally?) the same as Danny’s first lesson: he throws the ball at the floor in the lobby, and does four left turns around the spot, in a quick circle, before catching it and whipping it down the hall (third image below). His next four sequences are stationary, and then he makes a left to enter the Gold Room, and a left while scanning room 237. Once returned from 237, he’ll make more dynamic moves throughout the building, but during Danny’s entire Lessons/Escapes portion, all he manages to do is repeat the first lesson.

Why is that extra awesome? Well, following Danny into the heart of the maze only meant tracing the boy’s path. So, it’s as if Jack’s cheating, repeating lessons 2, 3, and 4 without realizing it. The only thing Danny does that Jack doesn’t (left/right-wise) is repeat the four left turns to escape the maze. And that’s the one lesson Jack managed to receive.

Back to the mirrorform: as forward Jack is getting the final key, backward Wendy is telling Jack that Danny told her a crazy woman in one of the rooms tried to strangle him to death. And what is Jack’s response? “Are you out of your fucking mind?” He should feel exonerated or even vindicated, but he’s simply incredulous. So it’s as if Jack has already written off coincidences and reports of patterns. He was destined not to notice the keys. Or perhaps it was the ghostdrinks affecting his judgment…

If Danny senses his father’s intoxication, or simply understands Jack won’t be helping them escape the very real ghosts in this place, he does the next logical thing and reaches out to the only person he knows who does understand the Overlook’s malice: Dick Hallorann.

Perhaps this explains why the very centre of the film is Hallorann just before receiving Danny’s distress shine. Danny’s passed through the looking glass of his own story now, and he knows it. He doesn’t trust his father (of recently fraternizing with ghosts fame) to handle the 237 challenge with necessary aplomb. He’s realized that his lessons and his keys will be needed when the time is right. And when will that time be right?

Well, perhaps to understand that, we need to look at the mirrorform moment for the first key.

Which is Danny a second before he runs for the labyrinth. In the novel, a lot of time is spent on Tony telling Danny to remember, to be the one who remembers. And what Danny remembers is that Jack hasn’t dumped the hotel’s boilers in a long time, causing Jack to run to the boiler room to prevent an explosion, to no avail (boiler spoiler!). Here, in this insanely ornate film, what Danny remembers (perhaps all at once), is that first key (the escape key), and how it relates to the second key (the lesson key), and what the second key tells him about the labyrinth. Once he’s got all this in his head, he’s saved.

So perhaps it’s apt that the only new shine Tony has for him after the hinge-point of the film is…


A mirror phrase, to help him see that he’s right, he has passed through the hinge, and is now on the downslope of this drama. Hence calling for help from the only person in the world who he trusted to understand his message and come to his rescue.

(Now, there is the point to be made: if Tony/Danny understood all this, why didn’t Tony (who we know is capable of moving Danny’s body and speaking for him) boost him and Wendy while the getting was good?; there’s 14.5 screen minutes between Jack storming out after the 237 report, and Jack ripping the guts out of the radio. Fair enough. Though, other than drawing and speaking “REDRUM”, we never see Tony do anything on Danny’s behalf that would affect the direction of Danny’s existence. When Danny “goes away”, Tony lets him go. Tony’s about as effectual as the mirror mirror on the wall is to Snow White.)

Also, speaking of Snow White, did you notice how those are not Dopey’s colours? Dopey’s colours are green and purple, like the 237 carpet. Red and yellow are Winnie-the-Pooh’s colours. And this Dopey-Winnie is above Minnie on the door (Mickey is never seen in this shot), whose name is like an imperfect Winnie twin.

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Then, when Wendy goes to close the door later, Dopey’s disappeared.

In my Snow White analysis, I suggest that, of the seven people who help Danny, who may all correlate to the seven dwarves, Wendy is most likely correlating to Dopey. Just as she’s correlated to the Goofy puppet throughout this long scene, by the way they’re dressed the same (something she might realize in this moment as her eyes flick across that region).

So why does Dopey disappear? Why, if Dopey and Goofy and Winnie are all Wendy (note the red and yellow tennis rackets atop the Candy Land box below Goofy), and if Dopey’s true colours are the 237 colours, and if Dopey appears amidst the escape keys once, does he not later? Perhaps it’s because Wendy will never set foot in 237. And perhaps it’s because Wendy’s survival won’t depend on her being a supercomputer able to process a complex pattern of historical details and memories in a moment. Her survival will depend upon her simple incorruptibility (however confused she may get at times). She will face down the apocalypse, and win.

Also, the five sets of ceiling beams above Jack every time he’s in the lounge (which seems to be a lot of the time, in his final 10 days of life), have two patterns. The one pattern is the middle pattern, lining up with the Yei/Zapotec wall hanging (and room 237?), which is symmetrical: 1234-4321. And the other four are in the order of the lesson and escape keys, but instead of 1234-2341 (escape-lesson), they’re 1234-4123 (lesson-escape) (you can see the two that are blocked out in the below shot when Wendy’s running in to wake nightmare Jack). You can also see the lesson-escape pattern above Danny during his first lesson (see below).

As for how this relates to Jack, I’m not exactly sure. It seems to be saying that the key to understanding how Danny would beat Jack (symmetricality and pattern recognition), was sitting right in front of Jack the whole time, ignored. But he also didn’t go through Danny’s lessons or escapes himself, so how would he know what to look for? Possibly it just serves to underscore his ignorance. We also know that the CAMERA WALK billboard was sitting behind him in this room with the summer photo that corresponds to him in the Redrum Road analysis. So, we have evidence of Jack ignoring his past, and evidence of his ignoring his future/salvation.

The following bullet points are something I noticed from studying the film’s shot lengths in order to see if 42s and 237s popped up, so I’m just pasting here what I found there. But in case you’re reading this part first, I consider 42s as being linked to 237s, since 2 x 3 x 7 = 42.

  • Danny’s 1st lesson (him circling the lounge, starting and ending one floor down from room 237) takes 37 seconds (34:41-35:18).
  • Danny’s 2nd lesson starts with a shot lasting 23 seconds (37:59-38:22). The last shot in that sequence–the aerial shot over the labyrinth into Danny and Wendy walking the maze heart–goes for 42 seconds (39:46-40:28). Which means that the middle section of Danny and Wendy exploring the maze and Jack studying the model goes for 84 seconds (38:22-39:46), or 42 x 2.
  • Danny’s third lesson starts with a 37-second shot (41:14-41:51), which ends with the cut to the first shot of the 237 door. The second shot of the door from his perspective starts at exactly 42:00, and Danny’s hand is grabbing and starting to twist the knob at 42:37. Also, everything that follows the initial 37 seconds takes 73 seconds (41:51-43:04).
  • Danny’s 4th lesson (meeting the Grady twins) breaks apart in a fascinating rhythm. Him triking behind the lobby is 17 seconds (49:17-49:34), him triking to the twins takes 6 seconds (49:34-49:40), their spook show takes 37 seconds (49:40-50:17), and the aftermath takes 58 (50:17-51:15). So, 17 and 6 make 23, which means we’ve got yet another 23-37 dynamic here. And 58 is the number of years Jack travels back in time to get to 1921. How fitting is it, then, that these 58 seconds totally mirror over Jack being seduced into his time-stuck fate?
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It’s worth pointing out that if Jack’s four sequences between starting to go mad and having his murder dream are tantamount to his “lessons”, then they each share a connection to Danny’s corresponding lesson.

The first sequence features him on the lounge, shot from the same height as Danny was at during his triking.

The second features him staring out the lounge’s south windows, in the direction of the labyrinth.

The third gives us this look at the upper floor, where Danny does his room 237 lesson, and we’re at the same height here as Danny experienced. We can even see the rabbit painting Danny passes above Jack there.

And finally, Danny’s last lesson involves the twins, and here Jack looks a little twin-like, with his blue attire, and his mirror self. Also, Jack paraphrases what the twins say to Danny in this scene when he says, “I wish we could stay here forever…and ever…and ever.” His head is also blocking Paul Peel’s After the Bath here, a painting of two naked twin children.

And while Danny’s four lessons see him swerving left and right, Jack’s four lessons see him utterly stationary. Probably because that’s what the hotel is offering him. The other thing to point out about these two sets of lessons is their mutual chronology: Danny’s 1st-3rd occur, then Jack’s 1st-3rd, then Danny’s 4th lesson happens, and then Danny and Jack come together for Jack’s 4th lesson. So it’s interesting that this is their only scene alone together in the entire film, both men having gained all the wisdom they’ll need for surviving/not surviving their final battle. A battle which will begin right here when Wendy is clutching Danny in the very spot Jack’s sitting, knife pointing to REDRUM.

Now, there may be an even deeper mathematics at play in all this, but I think this is enough to understand that Kubrick’s purpose goes deeper than a simple morality play on how not to murder your family.

For how this all possesses an incredibly unlikely connection to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band…did you ever notice how there’s wax models of the Beatles next to their living counterparts?

What do you see now? Do you see: George-John-Ringo-Paul-John-Ringo-Paul-George?

Or 1 234 234 1?

Yep. Sgt. Pepper, widely regarded as the pinnacle achievement in 20th century music, bears the same pattern as Danny’s two keys. Sgt. Pepper is why Danny survives Jack.

And while that would be a lovely mic drop moment, there’s a few other things to note.

Like how in the novel, in paragraph 51 of page 32, when Tony is showing Danny the equivalent of the bloodfall vision, he scrolls Danny’s eyes over the carnage someone (Jack) has made of their Overlook apartment, which involves inspecting a knocked over record player, along with all of Wendy’s records. What’s among them? Four classical composers, and… “the Beatles”. Then later, at the novel’s version of the ghost ball, on page 352, the ghost band starts playing Ticket to Ride (a Lennon/McCartney track) off the 1965 album Help!, the track that was considered the first “Rosebud” in the band’s many enigmatic, culture-shifting musical statements, the track that transformed them, perhaps, into the cultural pioneers we now take them for granted as being. The ghost band’s performance is interrupted mid-song a few paragraphs later so that the ghost crowd can bellow, “Unmask! Unmask!” a reference to the Poe short story that inspired King’s novel, and which is referenced directly numerous times in the text, including on the following page, 353. Then on page 380, Jack defines Danny as his “ticket of admission” for joining the hotel’s eternal ranks. There’s a few interpretations of the song’s meaning, but I prefer Lennon’s explanation that it’s in reference to the cards Hamburg prostitutes carried in the 1960s to indicate the clean state of their health. Thus, critics have interpreted it being about a woman leaving her man to become a prostitute. So right after the moment Grady pressures Jack into “dealing” with his son, the Overlook invokes a song (possibly) about being abandoned for a life of prostitution (in this same moment, Jack witnesses a servent ghost, Roger, engaged in a homoerotic dog/master relationship with the ghost of the hotel’s former manager, Horace Derwent). Jack, envious of the closeness between mother and son, and feeling like Wendy is pulling away from him (just because of several little mortal betrayals), might relate enough to the meaning to think he’s getting back at Wendy by giving the Overlook his “ticket” to “ride”. So Kubrick probably noticed these “Beatles keys” and knew he’d need some of his own.

If you haven’t read my Redrum Road analysis you might not realize that there’s multiple shots in the film where Ullman, Wendy, Jack and Watson seem to be impersonating the album cover for Abbey Road, which means that Ullman corresponds to John Lennon, Wendy to Ringo, Jack to Paul and Watson to George Harrison.

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So, the lessons that correspond to Sgt. Pepper‘s George (Watson) and Ringo (Wendy) are the ones that twin their escapes (LLLL and LRRR, respectively), while the John (Ullman) and Paul (Jack) lesson-escapes are both the most intricate (John = RRL LRL LRL/LRL LRL LRR) and the most basic (Paul = RL/LR) of mirrorform left-rights (Note, though, that the very centre of John’s is the same as Paul’s (RLLR)), and are symmetrical within themselves.

This might imply that Ringo and George are twins by virtue of contributing the least to the band compositionally, or by virtue of both having tried to leave the band after Sgt. Pepper. While John and Paul are mirrors of each other by virtue of working so closely as songwriters, and by both being such hotheads that the band couldn’t survive their egos. John’s complexity and Paul’s simplicity could be comments on their songwriting prowess. And what would it mean that George is paired with the lounge, John with the labyrinth, Ringo with 237, and Paul with the Grady twins?

I’m not really sure how to read all this; I think it’s open to interpretation. The unshakable core (if you accept the Sgt. Pepper Connection premise) is that Danny’s self-saviourdom has a stylistic link to the greatest music of the 20th century. Perhaps these are the better wings Kubrick envisioned for Icarus…

Oh, there’s one other thing I recently discovered which supports this theory (if we need more proof). In my phi grid vs. rule of thirds analysis, I discovered that there are only three parts of the Abbey Road Tour where the whole band appears in the middle column of the sequence’s composition: the lounge, the maze, and the lobby back hall.

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Otherwise known as the three places where Danny’s lessons occur. So Kubrick used phi grid composition to imprint a complete-bandness onto these three areas, which might be a wink at the fact that Sgt. Pepper was the band’s greatest, most unified achievement, but definitely connects to Danny’s great achievement.

And for a disturbingly revealing look into what the lesson key symbolizes (beyond the formula for Danny’s survival), go read my study of the four bird paintings themselves. But in case you don’t got time for all that, the birds are the Fieldfare (George), the Bullfinch (John), the Blackbird (Ringo), and the Kingfisher (Paul). And there’s clues in both their English and Latin names connecting these birds to World War II (Fieldfare), Greek mythology (Bullfinch), the Beatles (Blackbird), and Herakles (Kingfisher). There’s no point in my repeating all my findings here, so follow that last link for more details.

Oh, one more thing. Believe it or not, I don’t really want to do a complete analysis of all the lefts and rights in the entire movie (I just looked at all of Jack’s post-maze-defeat left-rights, and they basically spell utter chaos–the chaos of the defeated?), but I did notice one other small symmetry.

On the tour of the hotel, the team makes a LLRLRLL going from the beginning to the “breaking up the band” moment. But this depends on counting the lean in to check out Danny’s room as a turn. We also don’t officially see them make the right turn outside the labyrinth. So I suppose you could read this as LLLLL. And that’s why I think it might be an invitation to slight madness if we get into every single left and right. Some turns are seen but not seen, so to speak, and some are half turns, and some have the effect of completely rotating the character 180 degrees (is that one turn or two?), and some are walked backwards, like Wendy leaving Danny’s room with the doctor (does that undo another of her turns?). Danny’s lessons and escapes are clear cut and have clear correspondents. Still, if some other fanatic wants to undertake a further study, and finds something substantial, I’ll be happy to point readers your way.

Click here to continue on to Curiouser and Curiouser, Part 2: Mirror Movements

I’m also mindful of the fact that this is one of the most linked-to pages on the site, it being one of the most significant subtextual patterns in the film, so you might want to click back to where you came from to get here.