The Shining – Stephen King
Everyone has seen the Stanley Kubick version of the Shining haven’t they? Over the years I have seen it a few times and seen parts of it far more. I’ve always wanted to read the book but have been turned off by knowing the film. However, I read that Stephen King never really liked Stanley Kubick’s version of the film and preferred the original series made for TV. I happened to catch the last episode of this once and it intrigued me enough to want to read the book. When Stephen King announced that Doctor Sleep – a sort of sequel to the Shining would be his next book, I realised the time had come to finally read one of his most famous creations.
The Overlook Hotel is more than just a home-away-from-home for the Torrance family. For Jack, Wendy, and their young son, Danny, it is a place where past horrors come to life. And where those gifted with the shining do battle with the darkest evils. Stephen King's classic thriller is one of the most powerfully imagined novels of our time.
The thing I love about Stephen King’s books is his ability to write characters. There are numerous characters in the Shining but for the vast majority of it, there are only three. Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy and their son Danny.
By all intents and purposes the reader should hate Jack Torrence. He is a lousy father, a past drunk and all in all, not a very nice guy. Stephen King never really tries to justify Jack’s behaviour yet still he somehow makes you root for him and feel empathy when events start to descend into chaos.
You know that by accepting the job to mind the Overlook hotel in its off season it is all going to end badly, yet still you admire Jack for wishing to better his life and mend his relationship. The man is unhinged yet he is always trying to be the better person, striving to be the type of husband and father he should be.
Wendy his long suffering wife, is a little weak as a character. She displays signs of strength but mostly she is passive to the events that unfold. She attempts to reason with Jack every now and then but never takes any initiative in bettering there lives. At times she even defers to her five year old son, relying on his perceived “gift” to help her make decisions.
It is Danny who is the really interesting one. He possesses a gift called “the Shining.” He does not really understand the gift but it allows him to have vague premonitions and also hear people’s thoughts on occasions. Sometimes it is hard to imagine Danny is only five years old, as his thought process is often quite grown up, however, as he becomes more and more afraid of his premonitions the tension in the story escalates as well.
Stephen King does an excellent job of drip feeding the horror. We only really get insight into what is going on through Danny, but in between these interludes, King does a terrific job of portraying the unravelling of Jack and Wendy’s minds and their relationship.
It would be remiss of me to fail to mention the Overlook hotel itself. We are all familiar of the creepy goings on within its walls but it is not until I read the book that you really appreciate it. The hotel is a character in itself. Its past horrors ooze through the pages and create a sense of unease. It is a malevolent entity that demands attention from those that stay within its rooms and let’s not forget room 217.
To mention the film, Stanley Kubrick’s version has so many iconic scenes. Jack Nicholson captures Jack Torrance well when he is unhinged, but I think the book provides so much more background to the character. Where as the film perhaps relies on these elements in the book they are seamlessly woven into the plot so that they do not stand out. I was surprised at how different in places the film and book were in fact. Instead what you get is a more rounded descent into madness.
The ending is far better in the book. The story makes sense and events reach a crescendo that the book deserves.
All in all, I really enjoyed the Shining. I have read around 20 of King’s novels but have always steered clear of reading the ones where I have seen the film. I think I need to revisit that philosophy.
My rating: 8.9