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Sunday, September 6, 2020

Stephen King’s The Shining

Stephen King’s The Shining was a reread for me. I first read this a very long time ago, probably in the late 1980s. I decided to read this book again after many years because I rewatched the film and then saw the movie version of its sequel, Doctor Sleep. I decided to read Doctor Sleep for the first time but I wanted to reread this book first. I was surprised at how much that I liked this novel the second time around. I found this to be an effective combination of horror and character study. This was first published in 1977.

When I blog about a book, I do not usually like to talk about the film version as do not see much value in comparing books and movies. However, the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film is so famous and so many people have seen it that I need to share few thoughts about it here. King did not approve of that movie. While I thought that the film was brilliant, I understand King’s objections. This book, in addition to being a horror story, is also an effective character study. Much of the deep psychological insights that are present in the novel were only hinted at in the film. In particular, most of the complexity of the story’s adult main character, Jack Torrance, was lost. I think that movie version, like most Kubrick films was innovative, effective and is endowed with more positives then I could list here. It was not however, the deeply complex look into a person’s psychology that the novel was. There was a 1997 television miniseries version of the story that King was the executive producer of and that he approved of. I have not seen that version. 

For those who are unfamiliar with the plot, the story revolves around the Torrance family. There is Jack, his wife Wendy, and his son Danny. The Torrances are troubled. Jack is a young writer and teacher who still holds promise, but he has a drinking problem and has an issue with his temper. However, he is not a monster and is a complex mix of good and bad traits. Jack is a masterful creation as he is balanced between positive and negative. His drinking and temper have gotten him into trouble and he has lost a good teaching job as a result. He has let is family down in serious ways and their well - being is in jeopardy because of him. In one incident he inadvertently injured Danny when he was drunk. King gets into his head and he is sometimes, but not always, angry and cynical. He is also intelligent and perceptive. But he is not abusive and his wife and son do not fear him. In fact, he has a strong and warm relationship with Danny and an up and down relationship with Wendy. He has also quit drinking. He is self - aware and is never in denial and recognizes and acknowledges his problems and understands that he must overcome them. He is also wracked with guilt over his past behavior. He is a well - done and interesting mix of traits. 

Danny is not only gifted with intelligence and perception, but he also manifests psychic powers. The boy is able to know things, read minds and see the future. Wendy is intelligent and capable of standing up for Danny and herself. Her character is stronger and more competent then it was in the film.

Jack takes the job of the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. The hotel is forty miles from civilization and once the snows begin the Torrances will be completely isolated from civilization. Before the family arrives at The Overlook, Danny begins to have horrendous and bloody visions about the hotel. 

On the last day that the hotel is open, as all the guests and staff are preparing to depart and the Torrances are settling in, the family encounters Dick Hallorann, who is the Overlook’s cook. Hallorann immediately recognizes Danny’s abilities which he also shares. The cook calls this these powers “Shining” based on old folk stories that Hallorann has heard from his grandmother. Hallorann also indicates that The Overlook is haunted and that there are bad forces at play there. He is headed off to Florida for the winter but indicates that if Danny gets into trouble, he may be able to psychically call out for help. 

As the winter sets in and The Overlook is cut off by snow, each of the Torrances begins to see ghosts and manifestations. These phenomena range from visions of past murders that occurred at the hotel to hedge animals that come alive. Both Danny’s psychic abilities and Jack’s character weaknesses stimulate and attract the evil spirits. The ghosts begin to play off Jack’s dark side encouraging him to drink, become angry, resentful and abusive towards his wife and son, and eventually to murder them. As things deteriorate Jack does become murderous, Danny attempts to call Hallorann for help. 

In think that the strongest aspect of this book is the nuanced and complex portrait of Jack. His drinking has been a problem for his family and himself. Jack walked into the Overlook on a knife edge between the positive and the negative, between good and evil. The evil that dwells at the hotel jumps right into Jack’s mind. Jack, who is at least self – aware, realizes, 

everything became clear to him. It was not just Danny the Overlook was working on. It was working on him, too. It wasn’t Danny who was the weak link, it was him. He was the vulnerable one, the one who could be bent and twisted until something snapped.

The dark spirits in the hotel proceed to push Jack over the edge. One wonders how Jack and his family would have made out in life had they never gone to The Overlook. 

As for the book being scary or chilling, King does write a few very effective passages. For instance, when the Torrances wake in the middle of the night, in the completely cut off and isolated hotel and they hear then elevator running,

The illuminated clock on his nightstand said it was five minutes to twelve. The humming sound again. Loud and steady, varying the slightest bit. Followed by a clank as the humming ceased. A rattling bang. A thump. Then the humming resumed. It was the elevator.

There are a lot of chilling and spooky moments in the book, but I found that them to be mostly laid back and moderate. Character takes center stage in this work. With that, the Overlook is a fantastic setting for all of this and the novel has a lot of atmosphere. 

I have always felt that King was not the most original novelist. At least for the books that I have read and films that I have seen that were based upon those books, his plots usually share a commonality with older works. Before this was written there were lots of stories about a person going to a bad place and being unduly influenced by that place. One strong influence here is Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. In fact, King pays tribute to that other work as it is mentioned in the text. What I think that King does vey well, is to retell these older stories in a very effective way. 

I thought that novel was better than I remembered it. It is a superb character study that evolves into a battle between good and evil inside one person’s head. The setting of the Overlook is also a perfect place to set such a tale. Fans of this type of story who have not read this book will probably get a lot out of it. I should also mention that as the novel nears its end the plot deviates from the 1977 film so those who only know that story can at least expect a different resolution. I think that many non - horror fans might also find this worthwhile. I plan to move on to Doctor Sleep soon.

49 comments:

  1. Stephen King does an amazing job at writing complex characters. Even when I don't love his books, I admire that about his writing. While this isn't my favorite King novel, I did really like Danny and Halloran. :)

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    1. Hi Lark - Halloran was a really fun character to read about.

      I read a lot of King books a long time ago. I would need to reread them to get a real appreciation for the characters.

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  2. As you may know, Brian, I have always had a horror of horror stories and movies. It now seems to me that I have missed out on am important genre of literature and I am gearing up to give it a try. The other night we watched the original Spielberg movie, Poltergeists. I didn't love it and it had all those horror movie tropes that annoy me. Still I recognized that I have almost got my courage up and your review may have opened the door for me to King's horror" books. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Judy - every genre is not for every person. I also have not read a lot of horror but I occasionally read a distinctive. I really like Poltergeist but it has been a while since I saw it.

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  3. I happened to read The Shining and Doctor Sleep earlier this year. I hadn't read The Shining before but I had read a few of King's/Brachman's books when I was younger. Like you, I enjoyed my recent read. I think King's main objection to Kubrick's film was that Kubrick implies it's all in Jack's head but for King it really happens. In the end I like both book and film.

    As I tend to read more 'serious' books these days (whatever that means) it was fun to read a more plot-driven mainstream book. I feel that King enjoys his writing more when he's advancing the plot.

    I enjoyed my reading of Doctor Sleep but it's sort of cartoony - it's definitely got a different vibe than The Shining.

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    1. Hi Johnathan - I also tend to read more serious books these days. I also like the book and film. In the film, both Wendy and Danny did see visions but not as much as in the book.

      Doctor Sleep promises to be interesting.

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  4. Not only have I never read this, I haven't even seen the movie! Got to get a move on.

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    1. Hi Debra - At the very lest, the film is worth seeing if one likes horror.

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  5. Always nice to find that a book you read long ago still stands up! I suppose it’s never possible to get everything into a film version of a novel. Sometimes the film just has to stand alone, as with Bladerunner, which is a classic in its own right, though not much like the novel.

    My brother and nephew are huge fans of the Shining film, and my nephew, a gifted artist, has painted his own version of the film poster.

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    1. Hi Sue - I think that film and books are very different so I do not usually compare them. There is a lot more room to explore things in books.

      That is really interesting about your relatives interest in this story.

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  6. I also read several Stephen King novels in the early 80s. While this was not one of them I enjoyed, briefly, those I did read, especially The Stand, although I thought that novel was a bit too long and could have benefited from some cutting of the last section. Imagine my surprise when years later he came out with a revised version that was even longer.
    I enjoyed King's novels, but found the some of the detail annoying. The Shining I only know from the film version. I think Kubrick made a Kubrick movie out of the novel so it does not surprise me that King was dissatisfied. Elia Kazan was similar in the regard - a great director who would take a great novel and make it his own way on film.

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    1. Hi James - It is so true, Kubrick films were Kubrick films. He took a lot of liberties with the book.

      The Stand was indeed a very long boo

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  7. I may be one of the few literate people around who has never read King. I consider that a mark against me as a reader, one that I hope to remedy. Your review of this book really makes me want to read it. Maybe I'll start there.

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    1. Hi Dorothy - I actually thought that a lot of people look down on King. Maybe to an extent I did too but less so after this reread. I may reread a few of his other books after Doctor Sleep.

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  8. I read the book first and so was very disappointed when I saw the movie. I should give the movie another chance one of these days and judge it on its own merit, especially since I like just about everything else Kubrick has done.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Kirk. I winded what I would have thought of the film if I had been a fan of the book first. It is in so many ways different.

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  9. Hi Brian,

    I have never read the book or seen the movie. I've always been afraid that it would haunt me or give me bad dreams. Children of the Corn kind of scared me off of any other King movies.

    I do like the thought of character study, though. That's what I like about books vs. movies. I like the visual impact of movies, but I really like character study and development.

    I didn't know the story so it was interesting to read your retelling of it. That might be as far as I get with a King novel. My husband enjoys Kind and I think we have this novel as he has a number of his books.

    Have a good week.

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    1. Hi Sharon- The film had some disturbing parts so it might be something that stays with you in a not so good way. I thought that Children of the Corn was more graphic but The Shining was more psychological.

      So much more can be done with characters in books but as you say, film has such a visual impact. That is one reason that I generally compare the two

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  10. Much as I admire Kubrick's skills as a director, the film is not a particular favourite of mine - to the point where I suspect I would prefer the book. The characterisation sounds excellent, suitably psychological in focus.

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    1. Hi Jacqui- In some ways. There is a lot more going on in the book that might appeal to you.

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  11. This book and Christine creeped me out along the same avenue -- the little invasions of the dead past into the present. With Christine it was the weird radio on the car, here it was the frequent visions of scenes long by.....that aspect of ghost stories has always riveted me!

    I tend to agree about the movie version of the Shining -- it was a fine movie in its own right, but it makes it clear from the BEGINNING that Jack is a bit off. Even the music on the drive up is disconcerting.

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    1. Hi Stephan - King is often very good at pushing buttons. I have not read Christine but I saw the movie.

      That music from the opening of the film.

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  12. A book that I likewise probably first read in the 80's. Whilst I have seen the film several times now (for me it is one of those rare films that was just as good if not, dare I say it?, better than the book) I have yet to re-visit the novel, not that I can see myself doing so any time soon as my love of Stephen King's book has long since past. Though that said I have two of his books that I have never read on my To Be Read pile and Doctor Sleep on my Wish List. Talking of which I hadn't realised there was a film version of Doctor Sleep (not that it surprises me, it was bound to happen some time) perhaps i'll get around to watching it with Mr T before I get around to reading the book.

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    1. Hi Felicity- A lot of people from our generation read a lot of King back in the 1980s. Kubrick was one of those filmmaker that often transcended base novels.

      I liked the Doctor Sleep film a lot. See what you think about it.

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  13. Fantastic post as always Brian. The Shining is one of my favorites by King. I like how The Overlook is a character in itself.

    I did the same, I re-read this one because I wanted to read Doctor Sleep. I feel like so many King film adaptions sometimes just miss the mark. Like you mention though Kubrick's film is fantastic, even though it's different from the novel. I watched the 1997 television miniseries version and it was very good and it did keep to the novel and showed Jack in a more complex light. There's even an emotional scene toward the end he has with Danny that was in the novel.

    I know King has been vocal of his dislike for the Kubric version, it's ironic though because the film is such a classic.

    I LOVED Doctor Sleep the novel, the film not so much. That novel had so much going on especially with the paranormal aspects, it just doesn't translate well onto the screen.

    I haven't read The Haunting of Hill House but I watched the NetFlix mini series and it was really good.


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  14. Thanks Naida - I would say that Kubrick generally does not even try to hit the mark when it comes to adaptations, he creates his own. I generally prefer this style of moviemaking. Someday I will watch the 1997 mini - series.

    I thought that The Netflix Hauning of Hill House was also excellent but it has little relationship to the book.

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  15. I have never been able to read this book, the movie scared the $%#@* out of me when I was a kid and my sister tried to read the book and put it down saying it was even more scary. My husband on the other hand is a huge King fan and has read it and he read Doctor Sleep too. Really liked it.

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    1. Hi Stephanie -These books and movies can be scary. I would say that folks who get that disturbed probably should avoid them. I just started Doctor Sleep.

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  16. I read this back in my University days. It's the only book I've ever read that I was actually *frightened* to turn the page! As you might guess (and from my review posts) I'm not a huge Horror fan. I have read a few of King's work though and agree that he's very good at what he does. My favourite of his is probably 'Firestarter'. I enjoyed the movie (or both actually) and was very impressed by the homage in the movie 'Ready Player One' which I thought was superb (but definitely NOT in the book version!).

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    1. Hi CyberKitten- I think that a lot of us read this a long time ago. I am not a horror fan myself but I occasionally delve into the genre.

      I only saw the Firestarter movie, which I liked.

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  17. Hi Brian, a very fine review. I read a nonfiction book by Stephen King about horror writing i believe and I enjoyed what he had to say. I have always meant to give his novels a try. I guess the reason I have stayed away from The Shining is that over the years I have seen brief clips of the film where Jack Nickelson plays Jack and he is made out to be very demonic but the book I sense gives a more nuanced portrait of Jack and that interests me. King has written so many books where should one start?

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    1. Thanks Kathy. The film portrayed Jack much more simplistically, but it had many other virtues.

      Since I have not read King in awhile it is hard to recommend other books. But this is a good one to start. I renewed The Stand having all sorts of interesting things going on, but I thought that book was more cartoonish, maybe in a good way though.

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  18. Hi Brian just wanted to say unknown is me, Kathy

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  19. I haven't read much King but I have liked the movies made off his books, especially The Shining. Spooky stuff! I lived in a wing of a dorm building once ... and coming back down the long dark corridor -- we used to say watch out for "the twins" ... which would stop anyone who had seen the movie dead in their tracks. There's so many good scenes in the movie .... and the great aerial scenes at the beginning are taken at Glacier National Park (a few hours from here) and a place we like to visit. ... It's cool to hear how the book differs from the movie.

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    1. Hi Sue - That really was a great film. The cinematography was fantastic. The twins were so effective.

      I did not know that scene was filmed at Glacier National Park.

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  20. My husband has read most of King's book and said that I'd enjoy it. I enjoyed the movie instead, but watched it just once. It was excellent in so many ways.

    "Ready, Player, One" refers to the Shining in part of the movie, which is a good movie for geeky people like my husband and me. If no other part of the movie, watch the part where the characters are heading into a theater to see the movie.

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    1. Hi Susan - The film version of this was so good and so unique. I need to both see Ready Player One and read the book.

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  21. My Gosh, Thank You For Being An Inspiration - Haven't Read These In Years But 'Will Correct The Situation' This Long Fall Season - DOC SLEEP The Movie Was A Huge Disappointment In My Eyes And The Ending Was Nothing Like The Book - DOC SLEEP Had So Much Potential From The Reading Stand Point But Missed That Mark On The Big Screen - The Shinning However, Still Gives Me Chills To My Core - Offer Say," Stay Out!! Room 237, Stay OUT." Really Appreciate This Post Brother Man - Shine On This Weekend

    Cheers
    P.S. Have You Taken On THE STAND? Catch A Cold??

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  22. Hi Padre - The Shining was indeed a great film. I am in the middle of Doctor Sleep now. That Room 237!

    I read The Stand long ago. That book had really stayed with me.

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  23. You Are Never Going To Believe This - House Sitting This Weekend - Guess What Is On Tonight - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Wild - Thinking Of You Brother Man

    Cheers

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  24. excellent commentary dear Brain as always !

    i used to watch horror movies a lot with family though it was never my own choice
    your post provoked me to try willingly though
    i saw the trailer after reading this post and i think movies was great and finely made
    i can say same for the novel as through your review it seems remarkable and poignant specially the character building ,lead roll particularly

    i have started to take interest in dark psychology since few years so it might be good start for me to learn it by this read
    thank you for amazing blogging and thank you for widening horizons of your readers
    blessings!

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  25. as book is titled to the abilities of Danny ,i would have loved to read passage about him here

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    1. Thanks Baili - Horror is not for everyone. With that, the film and the book are something special.

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  26. I haven't read this book in years and really wanted to re read after watching Doctor Sleep. I did rewatch the movie before we went to the cinema. Hoping to re read both at some point xxx

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

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    1. Hi Lainy - I was pleasantly surprised at how impressed that I was after all these years. If you gave this a reread I would love to know what you thought of it the second time around.

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  27. I loved this book, as well as the classic movie - though I agree that the movie didn't (and couldn't) develop the characters like the book did.

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    1. Hi Rachel - They we’re both great. The film had its own virtues.

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