The Shining * Stephen King Book Review

Because it’s the month of gruesome tales and amazing hauntings, why not discuss the mad and absolutely amazing “Shining” book by horror master, Stephen King. This is the story of Jack Torrence (played wonderfully by Jake Nicholson) who decides to take a job as a hotel overseer during the winter months when the hotel was empty.  He takes his family with him and as they prepare to tackle the long, hard, winter coming along, they will have to deal with another problem. Jack goes mad. He starts seeing ghosts and he develops a strong urge to kill his family (just like in Amitiville horror). But was he mad? Or was he driven mad by the specters present in the house?

The whole place was empty.
But it wasn’t really empty. Because here in the Overlook things just went on and on. Here in the Overlook all times were one

In a way, the story reminded me of the place out of time described by Dean Koontz in 77 Shadow street * Dean Koontz Book Review  and in Odd Apocalypse. This is a place who has seen some tragedy – but this fact is only briefly discussed when they move in and is only mentioned in passing by the current overseer.

“Any big hotels have got scandals,” he said. “Just like every big hotel has got a ghost. Why? Hell, people come and go. Sometimes one of em will pop off in his room, heart attack or stroke or something like that. Hotels are superstitious places. No thirteenth floor or room thirteen, no mirrors on the back of the door you come in through, stuff like that.

So the questions stays: was Jack mad before he moved in or did the ghosts tip the balance by constantly whispering in his ear?

This inhuman place makes human monsters.

One of the more likeable characters is Wendy  – Jack’s wife. By no means a push-over, this is a woman who was madly in love with Jack when they first met and then slowly driven away from him by his constant drinking. Maybe there was something of Stephen King himself in Jack and something of Tabitha King in Wendy – the way they went around their marriage problems caused by drinking and substance abuse.

“Once, during the drinking phase, Wendy had accused him of desiring his own destruction but not possessing the necessary moral fiber to support a full-blown deathwish. So he manufactured ways in which other people could do it, lopping a piece at a time off himself and their family.”

The other cute character is Danny – Jack’s little boy. Playful and full of curiosity, he takes to the place like a fish to water and the previous overseer recognizes that spark in him that makes him special. His shine. Danny can read minds. He can see the frightening thoughts inside his Dad’s and Mom’s heads (“DIVORCE”, “SUICIDE”) but is powerless to do anything about it. Danny does not know that he has a gift; he takes it as a matter of course, until Dick Halloran of the Overlook Hotel tells him that he “shines on”.

If you have read the Dark Tower and also Hearts in Atlantis, you would see why Danny is such a special boy. His “shine” is something that’s very much sought-after by the mid-world in order to destroy the Beams.

“People who shine can sometimes see things that are gonna happen, and I think sometimes they can see things that did happen. But they’re just like pictures in a book.”

He tries to warn Danny about the dangers in the hotel for such a gifted child, and he tells him to stay away from room 217 as he knows that he can see the murders and the ghosts and all the bad bits that drove the people to kill themselves or others in the hotel.

Danny? You listen to me. I’m going to talk to you about it this once and never again this same way. There’s some things no six-year-old boy in the world should have to be told, but the way things should be and the way things are hardly ever get together. The world’s a hard place, Danny. It don’t care. It don’t hate you and me, but it don’t love us, either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they’re things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it’s only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper. The world don’t love you, but your momma does and so do I. You’re a good boy. You grieve for your daddy, and when you feel you have to cry over what happened to him, you go into a closet or under your covers and cry until it’s all out of you again. That’s what a good son has to do. But see that you get on. That’s your job in this hard world, to keep your love alive and see that you get on, no matter what. Pull your act together and just go on.

This is very similar to the advice in The Sixth Sense – Just pretend you don’t see them and maybe they’ll go away.

But the ghosts in the hotel are here to stay. And once they know Danny is special, they start unleashing their torture on Jack – the weakest link in the family.

He needs to be corrected, if you don’t mind me saying so. He needs a good talking-to, and perhaps a bit more. My own girls, sir, didn’t care for the Overlook at first. One of them actually stole a pack of my matches and tried to burn it down. I corrected them. I corrected them most harshly. And when my wife tried to stop me from doing my duty, I corrected her.

The novel slowly grows in horror, starting with mild unease, moving up through sweaty palms and dry mouth, to pure, gut-wrenching terror. Jack’s slow slide into madness is paralleled by the growth in power of the hotel’s dark miasma, and Danny’s extraordinary capabilities. We are on a roller-coaster ride into darkness.  The idea of being trapped in a hotel with a bunch of ghosts is scary in a horror story kind of way. The idea of being trapped in a hotel with an ill-tempered drunk with a history of violence as he is cracking up is downright terrifying.

The world of grownups is often frighteningly incomprehensible to young children: these fears seldom die as we grow up, but remain dormant in our psyche. There are very few of us who does not have a ghost in our childhood somewhere. It is when the writer invokes this ghost that story gets to us. King does a masterly job of awakening that child, and putting him/ her in the midst of childhood terrors through the alter ego of Danny Torrance, lost in the cavernous corridors of the Overlook.

 

There are a lot of passages which literally creeped me out in this novel (the topiary animals, the fire hose in the corridor, the woman in the bathroom to name a few)

“Small children are great accepters. They don’t understand shame, or the need to hide things.”

Torrance was a teacher and promising writer, but his alcoholism and short temper wrecked his career and very nearly ended his marriage. Jack has been sober over a year, and he and Wendy have started down the path of reconciliation. However, she can never entirely forgive him for breaking the arm of their son Danny in an incident that was equal parts rage and accident.

“How many times, over how many years, had he—a grown man—asked for the mercy of another chance? He was suddenly so sick of himself, so revolted, that he could have groaned aloud.”

Jack Torrance isn’t a monster. He’s a troubled man who does love his wife and son, and he’s self-aware enough to realize that he’s on the brink. He’ll either turn his life around and earn his wife’s trust back, or he’ll give in to his own worst impulses. This would be hard enough under any circumstances, but under the influence of the evil spirits of the Overlook, Jack becomes a tragedy.

I place this masterpiece next to ‘The Exorcist’, a tale that is more than just a simple tale of demonic possession. To say the ‘The Shining’ is just a ghost story is something Kubrick ran with… completely ignoring the pathos of a family eating away at itself. The Torrences suffer because they had been broken prior to the stay at the Overlook… it seems that for this one all the stars aligned and all the ingredients for one of the most amazing horror stories of all time mixed exquisitely.

 

 

What I loved about the book: Climbing Horror & Janitorial divine intervention. Wendy is not a pusher, she will fight.

What I hated about the book: You finish it and you wish there was more. There is a feeling of unfulfillment making this great masterpiece just close to great but not very great. Break those doors!

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