Available as the first novella in The Different Seasons collection, first published in 1982.
This short novel, or rather novella, is absolutely perfect - the narrative grabs the reader and refuses to let go, while the story is unfolded in an almost leisurely fashion; there's nothing but time in prison and the pace of the story effectively creates this feeling. I had Morgan Freeman's voice in my head (the result of having seen the movie before reading this story), as I read the story and I knew the significance of the Rita Hayworth poster but I was still gripped to every word and my foreknowledge didn't damage the story at all. Of course one or two of the clues given - such as the draft in Andy's cell - seemed obvious to me but I don't think they would have had I not seen the film prior to reading the story.
There are some differences between story and movie - For a start the crime that wound Red up in Shawshank is much more hideous than that in the film - I think the film makers were wise with the change as it created more sympathy for Red. Also the Tommy Williams character isn't killed by the corrupt guards but moved to an easier prison in order to keep the story that will prove Andy's innocence quiet. And although Andy does a lot of creative accounting for both the guards and the successive wardens, they don't get their comeuppance in much the same way. Also Red and Andy do not meet back up at the ending but this is left to the reader to decide what happens to the two men. I like to think they're out there though, enjoying the fresh breeze from the Pacific.
Though in fairness the film version does come across as very faithful to the source material. The changes that have been made were probably the better for a cinematic treatment, but the story is just perfect as it is. There's humour, pathos and nail-biting suspense in the narrative. The entire story is told in just over a hundred pages and yet in theme and scope it is as big as anything King has ever written.
Stephen King is often criticised for weak endings and sometimes I think that is justified but this is not the case here. By refusing to tie up all the loose ends, and finishing Red's narrative with him heading towards an unknown destiny, it's as if the story is still happening, as if Red and Andy are still out there living the lives of men who are truly free.
A beautiful piece of fiction.