Monday, September 03, 2007
The Shining, by Stephen King
We know the story. The images are iconic. Blood pouring down the hallway. Two little girls standing in front of a door. Jack Nicholson typing "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" over and over. Redrum. The axe. "Heeeeere's Johnny!" The images are iconic.
But that's the movie. This is the book.
The set up is the same. Jack Torrance, a former alcoholic, writer, and disgraced teacher, needs a job. He takes a position as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. You know the one. It closes down for the winter because the roads will be blocked when the snows come. The hotel has a history. A recent caretaker got so stir crazy that he killed his wife and daughters. The boiler is old and touchy and need to be adjusted twice a day or it'll blow. There are reports of strange activity at the hotel. You know the story. This is where Jack brings his wife Wendy and son Danny for the winter because Jack needs the job.
This is The Shining.
One might think that this is your basic haunted house, or haunted hotel, story. It isn't. The Shining is a slow build of tension and horror and a descent into madness. The hotel has a power.
Yes, The Overlook Hotel is haunted. Yes, the hotel has a history of violence and murder, and horror. But the The Shining is not so much about the hotel. The Shining is about Jack and Danny and fathers and sons and relationships and failure and personal demons and fearing to disappoint one's family.
The Shining is, thus far in his career (1977), King's most accomplished novel. It dares to really go personal with King's horror, to get into the things that scare fathers and sons and mothers and wives most. And it all takes place in a haunted hotel.
This is not a perfect novel by any means. It moves slowly, builds creepingly along to an explosive ending, but the reader needs to make the investment in The Shining to get the pay off. At times it is a big investment and things take longer to develop than absolutely necessary. Stephen King likely could have edited a hundred pages out of this novel (in paperback) and had a much tighter, gripping novel. But, he didn't, and what we are left with is a flawed, yet compelling novel of personal horror which just happens to have some ghosts.