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.