The Shining

I have just finished reading Stephen King´s "The Shining". The only other thing I have read by King apart from "Cujo" in the 80´s, is his excellent book "On Writing" which I have read twice, with a few years of experience in the meantime. Ok, everyone´s process is different, but King seems to be fairly accurate about how I function, at least - although I didn´t know it the first time I read him. He has some good advice, if you are bent on writing a book yourself. (And why shouldn´t you? Everyone has a story.)

In the mountains, no one can hear you scream...
I decided on "The Shining" in particular because I had read rave reviews about the sequel, "Doctor Sleep", and because Priya seems to think it´s one of the best books ever. I have not seen Stanley Kubrik´s film with Jack Nicholson and I understand it differs quite a bit from the book. 

It took me more than two months to finish "The Shining", which must be some kind of record with a novel, for me. It wasn´t that I didn´t like it. It wasn´t that it was badly written - gosh no, King knows his stuff and he has a lesson for you on every page if you are a student of his. It was partly because I had a pretty busy summer, and partly that the main character, Jack Torrance, was a bit predictable. Crap childhood, history of abuse, mood swings, temper control issues - perhaps characters like these were not regulars of crime and other fiction in the 70´s, but Torrance has certainly had many, many followers in books, on film, and television. The chemistry between Torrance and his wife Wendy and their psychic son Danny, is also pretty familiar. Fear and love is a bitter brew; many of us can relate, and not just through fiction either. These character feels real because they are, there are versions of Jack Torrance in every village, on every block, in every extended family - I hope you are lucky enough not to have one in yours. 
...his father´s attitude was strange. It was a feeling that he had done something that was very hard and had done it right. But Danny could not seem to see exactly what the something was. His father was guarding that carefully, even in his own mind. Was it possible, Danny wondered, to be glad you had done something and still be so ashamed of that something that you tried not to think of it? The quesiton was a disturbing one. He didn´t think such a thing was possible... in a normal mind. His hardest probings at his father had only brought him a dim picture of something like an octopus, whirling up into the hard blue sky.
In short, what happens is that Jack takes a job as a winter caretaker of the summer mountain resort The Overlook. The family gets snowed in for months in the Colorado mountains, in a house brimming with tragic history and the dangerous shadows these events are casting. As they settle in, King tells the background story in flashbacks. Like I said: well written and realistic, but familiar. Then the spooky stuff starts, and that cheered me up a bit; I finished the last half of the novel within a week. King is really good at making the most improbable things absolutely believable. Also, I fell head over heals for the wonderful Mr Hallorann, who comes to the rescue in the end. 
Jack wasn´t out there anymore. She was hearing the lunatic, raving voice of the Overlook itself.
For me, this is a story about rage, and by rage I mean anger that grows bigger than what you were initially angry about, until it is out of control or even controls you. Wendy and Danny keep repeating that it wasn´t Jack doing those things he did, it was the house, the Overlook, the ghosts that made him do it. But I keep thinking that Jack had all that rage in him when he came. The Overlook didn´t make Jack Torrance any different, it just worked with what was already there. And of course, that is King´s point (or so I imagine): that the people who love us are capable of infinite indulgence, forgiveness, and hold hope for us even when we are hopeless. To the point of self-sacrifice; Wendy and Danny see what´s coming, and yet choose to stay.  

I kind of wish I had read this when I was a bit younger. Perhaps it would have taught me something that could have been useful to me. But that´s easy to say in retrospect. Now, I am much eager to go on with "Doctor Sleep", which, I imagine is about the grown-up Danny and how he (hopefully) breaks his father´s curse. 


  1. I've never read this book (it's on my to-be-read list), but I love the film. I would never have read or seen it when I was young. I'm a fairly recent convert to horror.

    I've decided (after a recent re-watching of the LOTR movies) that I need to approach movies in a vacuum, separate from the book. In the past I've spent a lot of energy comparing the films to the books they're based on, but I'm going to try to stop.

    1. I never really got into horror, I suppose. I think I approached this as I would any novel. Perhaps that is a mistake, I don´t know.

      I think it is generally a good attitude to regard novels and films as separate pieces of art. Clearly, many novels are impossible to adapt faithfully, but a creative film-maker may see something that he can turn into something great, but different, in good, or even bad, novels.