No, not the movie
By Stephen King
I’ve read The Shining before, but I had the privilege of reading it for the first time before I saw the Kubrick film. That, of course, was a long time ago and since then, I have watched the movie so many times since that the two were irrevocably mixed in my head. Thus, when I came back to the book this time as a critical reader, I often found myself comparing the two. I’m going to try to stick to my critique of the book, but I warn you, there is bound to be some cross referencing.
Stephen King makes no secret that he modeled much of the character Jack Torrance after himself. A struggling alcoholic writer who often resents the weight of his family responsibilities which adds to his stress creating a vicious cycle that has left him on the verge of ruin.
It’s no surprise then, that King lets us spend a long time inside the head of Jack. He’s not a bad guy; he just has a small problem with alcohol that tends to cause him crushing defeats just when he is about to succeed. I would argue that although the title of the book is The Shining (alluding to Danny’s psychic powers), it is Jack’s assimilation into the darkness of the Overlook which is the real horror of the story.
King is a master of story-telling, and yes, he is long winded at times, and yes, the scrapbook was probably a failed attempt to avoid the dreaded info dump, still his use of symbolism and mirroring in this book is excellent.
Let’s start with The Overlook Hotel in general. A massive structure that has survived many a near catastrophe, much like Jack. Both have dark pasts and ‘skeletons” in their closets and those evils can easily be released under the perfect storm of circumstances. The Overlook in winter is the epitome of isolation, much as Jack’s alcoholism has isolated his own family.
Jack is overall, a good man. He loves his wife and son, but just beneath the surface there is something waiting to be released. Something not quite right. I think of the blue plush carpet with its jungle-like vine pattern. Why would there be vines on a blue carpet. Danny noted it for its oddity and felt unease. Jack too is not quite put together right, likely a result of his own skewed upbringing, and in the Overlook, he too seems menacing. Jack, the loving father is like the empty wasp nest that he gives to Danny, assuring both Wendy and his son that it is harmless. Just an empty shell. Like he, himself, and The Overlook, we discover it is not at all harmless and oh yes, there are still dangers lurking within, ready to attack.
Deep inside himself, Jack Torrance has a boiler that must be kept in check at all times, if left unattended, it could blow. The Overlook knows this, senses it, just as it does Danny’s powers and like a Venus flytrap it waits. Jack and the hotel are speeding along together, catalyzed by his son’s extraordinary powers to a climax that will surely leave some victims in its wake. We the reader are along for the ride, wondering who will walk away still in the flesh. That is King’s mastery. We follow along because we are in this now, and we are feeling both Jack’s inner turmoil and his family’s fear at the same time.
And now, I told you I would mention the movie. Kubrick’s film, which professes to be not paranormal but psychological shows more horror and terror then it hides, while King uses minimal imagery and allows us to imagine the horror thus creating a feeling of dread. Both are successful in their own, unique ways and although King has never been a fan of the Kubrick film, I think it’s fair to say that they are their own entity and both are worth exploring. Just don’t expect to find any of the iconic images/quotes that everyone associates with The Shining in the book. No maze, no twins, no ax, no tricycle rides, no Brady Bunch inspired color scheme, No Jack and Tub lady make out session in room 217/237, no Tony the talking finger, no “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”, No “Here’s Johnny”, No “come play with us”. Sorry to burst your bubble….or blow up your hotel as the case may be.