The Shining (Amazon Affiliate Link)
Author : Stephen King
Series : The Shining
Volume : 1 of 2
Published By : HarperCollins, Harper Voyager
Year Published : 1977
Genre / Tags : Horror, Thriller, General Fiction, Stories-About-Families (this should be a genre)
Formats : Paperback, Hardcover, Audiobook, eBook
# of Pages : 450 pages (Hardcover) 688 pages (Paperback)
Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.
After intending for years and years to read a Stephen King novel, I’m glad to have waited so long. That might sound weird so let me elaborate. His style (or at least, the style present in The Shining) requires a level of patience and maturity, I think, that might have had me DNF’ing this book years ago and not getting along with the characters. The Shining in particular is so utterly character-driven, digging deep in the psyche of its three main leads and seeking to bring them to life via lengthy flashbacks, nitty-gritty details of their reactions and feelings, and occasional use of repetition to really drive home their demons and struggles. This is particularly true of who could be considered the main character of the three, Jack Torrance.
Jack struggles with anger and addiction. Though he’s tried to stay clean and sober, not drinking has been a constant and daily battle for him. He also has a history of abuse toward his wife and son. He feels regret for his actions and has changed at the start of the story but like the matter of his addiction, the circumstances that led him to act out in violence are not completely resolved and the trust between he and his wife, Wendy, is strained.
I’m not usually drawn to domestic fiction but the way abuse is handled in this story and the portrayal of Jack is interestingly balanced in a way that provides nuance to the character. I didn’t have a sense that the reader is meant to excuse his actions at all, but he’s not treated like an otherworldly one-dimensional villain either. He’s a very flawed, yet human character. While some of what he’s done (even before reaching the hotel) is frankly beyond forgiveness, I did sometimes feel compassion for the guy after we learn about his upbringing and the way a dark multi-generational trauma in his family repeats itself.
The main star of the story in my view is his son, Danny. He’s such a preciously lovable character. Some of the more heartwarming moments involve him, along with the most tense ones when he is in danger and facing some serious odds. One thing about Danny though, he reads older than five years old. He’s gifted beyond his years but I had to suspend disbelief at least somewhat. He probably should have been aged up a bit to 8 or 9 years of age.
While Wendy is given some good moments and is a solid character overall, I do feel like she comes in a marked third place for deep character development and a vivid interior. While her past, upbringing, feelings, and heroic later efforts are well-described enough, I always had a keener sense of Danny and Jack. Her past warranted more delving. I was really curious about how she and Jack even ended up together before all the problems that erupted. Given how much exhaustive detail is already given to the characterization and especially Jack’s portrayal, it could have been a worthwhile inclusion.
These nitty-gritty details might seem like a head scratcher given that this is supposed to be a horror novel. However, the greatest focus of these characters is in their down-to-earth facets. Unfortunately, the ghosts and prior generations that roamed Overlook Hotel are not afforded much in way of back story. This is a considerable drawback, as I wanted to know more about what led to Overlook’s predatory, creepy power.
There is one more character of note, Dick Hollorann. I was pleased to see King infuse this character with some notable back story and a prominent voice. His first interaction with Danny is a great moment.
General Storyline and the setting : Overlook Hotel
I was fortunate in liking the characters and this book’s broad emphasis on them- but even if I’d hated it, the whole concept of the hotel would still be an undeniable high and inspired point of this novel.
Overlook Hotel is situated in the Rocky Mountains, in oppressive and eerie seclusion. Nothing about this structure is trustworthy, even the outside topiaries are immediately suspicious. There’s a “forbidden” room the characters shouldn’t venture into, an elevator that has a mind of its own, and the whole structure’s uncanny ability to make its inhabitants see visions of the past or hallucinations. Things start off gradually though and build in momentum.
Overlook is like a character, brimming with history to unravel and unpredictable actions. It has a power and energy that is adversarial, seeking to control or destroy its visitors. I think most people getting into this novel expect these things. But King writes this setting well, with an air mystery and moments of deceptive tranquility wherein the characters can explore its nooks and crannies.
Overall, I greatly approved of the development of Overlook as a central location and source of horror, but I wanted more from it. Throughout The Shining, I would describe the focuses of the book being a battle between the haunting of Overlook or the ‘family’s story’, with the family’s story given limitless range to take over most of these pages.
Toward the final third of this book, intensity and plotting does ramp up toward survival, frenetic action, and the Overlook as an entrapping, spooky entity.
The Film Adaptation VS The Book
I usually wouldn’t make such a section but I’ve seen the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film and now having read the book, there are some interesting comparisons to make. While sharing the same names, locations, and basic skeletal plotline- the two have very little in common. I’d even go as far as to say that the atmosphere of each feels different. I saw the film before reading the book and honestly, the movie comes off as if it were written with no major knowledge of the book. Maybe a second hand flurry of basic details and even many of those are reimagined. I think people who love the book might very well hate the movie, and vice versa. But in my view, and this might be quite unpopular, the two balance each other out in a quirky way and fill in each other’s shortcomings.
Kubrick’s The Shining is thick with atmosphere and symbolism. It includes many small and horrific moments that were never in the book. I actually liked several of those moments best of all. Very surprised to find them missing (never existing) in the source novel. In terms of effective horror moments and gearing toward a keener sense of the Overlook’s terror and strangeness, I actually prefer the film’s approach. For example, Wendy finding out a certain shocking detail about Jack’s play was such a horrifying, haunting moment that’s more iconic than the animated topiary animals of the book.
But when it comes to characters, the film fails magnificently at its characters in perhaps the worst way I’ve encountered in any adaptation. Kubrick’s The Shining characters are nothing like King’s. They don’t resemble the descriptions, don’t behave in any similar way, and are even pointedly unlikable and/or paper thin. Just the film version of Danny is practically the antithesis of his novel version.
At the end of it all, I feel like that the book could have used a little more of the scary moments of the film that build Overlook as a setting of convincing terror, and the film could have used more (or any) of the book’s nuanced and detailed attempts at making these characters seem real and sympathetic. The rebalancing of these properties in both mediums would have resulted in perfection.
Overall Rating – 8.75/10
Why You Should Try It – In-depth exploration of the characters and what makes them tick. The Overlook Hotel as a setting and concept is brilliantly intriguing, oppressively remote, and full of potential. The last third or so flows at a hurried pace enough to call this a compelling page turner. The writing style just flows- effective and incisive yet simply approachable.
Why You Might Not Like It – The narrow focus on these three main characters can be a lot to carry and often seems like too much when there’s a giant creepy evil hotel that deserves more attention (and perhaps more aggressive ghosts?) If you end up pointedly disliking any of the three main characters, the incessant focus on them might become a serious issue.
The Shining (Amazon Affiliate Link)
I’m very glad to have read and finished The Shining this October! Definitely interested in reading more Stephen King novels and The Shining’s sequel, Doctor Sleep. Have you read The Shining or want to? Do you have recommendations for other great Stephen King novels? I’m curious about The Tommyknockers since I like small towns and the film gave me a ton of nightmares as a child. It’s funny being an adult, how that negativity can turn into something positive. Now I look for the more effective horror and want for these ghosts/supernatural entities to make their best attempt at creeping me out, lol. Thanks so much for your thoughts, comments, likes, and for just being here. ~ Kitty