Stephen King’s Novel, The Shining
The Shining was published in 1977, and it was one of the few Stephen King books that I did not read growing up. I decided it was time to read it and I was not disappointed. The story follows an American family trying to make it threw some rough times. An out-of-work Jack Torrance accepts the position as winter caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, which sits high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Jack and Wendy Torrance, along with their young son Danny, make the long drive cross country hoping for a fresh start. The family moves into the hotel as the hotel staff exits for the winter. Soon after arriving Danny’s begins to see strange visions of ghosts and gruesome murders. At first, the visions are like pictures in a book, but as time passes the visions come to life and attack the family. Before the family can flee the hotel a fierce winter storm cuts them off from the outside world.
My one sentence synopsis for The Shining would be: We are all haunted by the past. The Shining’s characters, including the hotel, have a complicated history. Jack Torrance grew up in a physically abusive home. His father was a drunk and a bully who without warning would brutally beat his mother. Like father like son, Jack Torrance is an alcoholic, who was recently fired from his teaching job after going into a blind rage and beating a student. Wendy’s controlling mother belittled and shamed her. Wendy escapes her mother, but allows Jack to take over the role of abuser. Wendy considers divorce, but never breaks away from her domineering husband. The couple’s young son Danny is an innocent boy, but he is keeping a secret from his parents. He has a powerful psychic ability (called Shining) that causes him to fall into a trance and see strange visions. He can also telepathically communicate with others who also have this gift. It’s Danny’s psychic power that fuels the Overlook Hotel and gives life back to the dead. The Overlook Hotel has a long tragic history and the longer Danny stays the more powerful the Hotel becomes.
What I like about this book is that unlike the 1980 movie, by the same name, the book does a better job of explaining the evolution of Jack Torrance, and the connection Danny has with the hotel. Jack isn’t simply a deranged maniac. He’s a flawed man, struggling to find a way to support his family, save his marriage, beat alcoholism, and manage his personal demons. Then unexpectedly, Jack is forced to battle supernatural forces and he simply doesn’t have the willpower. The hotel’s dark forces become too strong and deviously exploit Jack’s weaknesses. The hotel materializes alcoholic drinks and offers Jack the position of head manager, provided Jack can prove himself worthy. The hotel convinces Jack that Wendy and Danny are plotting against him. Everything the hotel does is a trick because it wants to steal Danny’s gift. Despite Jack’s best effort he loses the fight and becomes possessed by a beast that wears his face like a masquerade mask. Danny uses his gift and screams out to the only other person he knows with a Shining, Dick Hallorann, who is the hotel’s cook he briefly met before Hallorann left for Florida. Hallorann hears Danny’s call like a hammer to his head and almost wrecks his car. Hallorann books a flight back to Colorado and starts his journey to save Danny. Hallorann’s journey is a big part of this story that that I enjoyed. The movie doesn’t show it, but along the way Hallorann is helped by several other “Shining” people, and without their aid Hallorann would not have made it back to the hotel.
The story is not perfect. It could have used a better ending. I can see why the ending was rewritten for the movie. In a book filled with ghosts, demons, and psychics, the hotel’s boiler was the most unrealistic story concept. Part of the caretaker’s daily function was to release the pressure on the ancient basement boiler. The boiler had no safety features, it wasn’t up to code, and if someone didn’t manually turn the release valve at least once per day then the boiler would explode and take the entire hotel with it, which is exactly what happens. So basically, this multimillion dollar luxury hotel, where all the best people stay, can be horribly destroyed if a low paid maintenance man forgot his daily duty. King attempts to write away the problem by claiming the hotel manager is a penny pinching asshole, but it’s just not believable, and the boiler bomb is a ridiculous concept. However, since the hotel’s explosion is only one part of the ending it doesn’t ruin the story. The book does have a few other flaws, but overall, the book’s flaws are minor. The story is so good that a few small issues can be disregarded.
I classify The Shining as one of the greatest ghost stories ever written. It’s been so successful that tragically the novel’s best parts have been made into pop culture jokes and horror movie clichés. For a book written over thirty year ago, the story has not only held up, but it has reach legendary status. An argument can be made that this is Stephen King’s best work. My conclusion is that The Shining is a well written story with deep overlapping themes, memorable imagery, creeping terror, and agonizing suspense. I highly recommend this book. It’s a great story to read around Halloween.
|Price:||$4.00 to $10.00 on average|
|Pros:||Multi-Layered story. Great ghost story.|
|Cons:||Bit wordy at times.|
|Comments:||Recommended reading. Classic ghost story.|