Since last OcTerror, my Stephen King collection has grown to fifty books—including short story collections, novels, and nonfiction. This great amassing is thanks in part to the warehouse sales at Grassroots Books, as well as my 2017 mini-resolution to find more King books (hint: it’s going well). With the recent success of King on the big and little screen in adaptations of IT and Gerald’s Game (which I reviewed last year), I figured I might as well review one of his more famous novels before I watch the adaptation.
The Shining follows the Torrance family after they move into the Overlook Hotel to care for the premises during winter in the Colorado Rockies. They’re your prototypical American family: Jack, the recovering alcoholic father who is trying to finish his next play; Wendy, the near invisible wife who takes care of their child; and Danny, their five year old son who experiences premonitions because of his “shining” ability. They’ve had some troubles in the past with Jack’s alcoholism and anger, but they’re hoping that some time away from the pressures of society will help them bond as a family.
The Overlook isn’t the paradise that they’d hoped though. Danny begins to see ghosts, Wendy notices some of Jack’s old habits beginning to surface, and Jack becomes obsessed with the history of the hotel. Things get crazier as topiary animals come to life, ghosts appear in bathtubs, alcohol appears in a dry bar, and the hotel begins to possess the family in various ways. The stress inside and outside of the Torrance family comes to life throughout the pages of the novel in surprising ways.
This is definitely one of King’s more successful novels for good reasons. It’s the classic haunted house narrative on a grander scale—a hotel. How many people in the United States pay good money to purposely stay in haunted hotels on a weekly basis? (I’d love to see the stats for real though). It’s one of his richer settings and he has plenty to play with here. The topiary animals terrify me on every read because they totally hit my inanimate-objects-getting-closer-when-you-look-away fear. I honestly think Kubrick’s adaptation can never measure up to the novel simply because it didn’t include the scenes with the topiary animals.
The Torrance family make for interesting characters and carry the novel well on their own. There’s been plenty of analysis written on The Shining that’s dealt with domestic violence, family values, gender roles, etc. Most of our time is spent with Jack, Wendy, and Danny, and while we experience some of the same cabin fever that they do it doesn’t feel like enough to put the book down and walk away—you keep reading, hoping that there’s a way out at the end. Mr. Hallorann, Delbert Grady, and the various other supporting characters that flit through the narrative are entertaining, but the best supporting character is the Overlook Hotel itself. She’s a looming, tempting figure throughout the whole novel, and her everlasting hallways set the tone for future novels like House of Leaves while paying tribute to past work like The Haunting of Hill House.
King’s writing, as usual, is sparse, straight to the point, but beautiful and lurid in equal terms. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for the Stephen King drinking game here, but you’d miss out on a lot of the lovely subtext (that could lead to more shots). If you’re looking for a good scare (but don’t want to read the 1,000+ page IT) then The Shining has plenty in store for you. It was and is a big book in the horror genre, and I’m not afraid to mark it as a must-read. There are quiet moments for people who like suspense, plenty of scenes that play with psychological elements, and ghosts and gore for people who want monsters in their closets.
The Shining is one of King’s definitive horror novels, and may be an easier concept for introductory readers to grasp onto than, say, a possessed car or a killer mist. I recommend it to all Stephen King fans, people who live for haunted house narratives, and for readers who need a “classic” horror story to read before Halloween. If you’re planning on making your way through Stephen King novels, then why not start with this one? Pick up a copy and keep the darkness away with some shining.