When I first decided to take a break from blogging, my intention was to recapture some excitement for reading (as in, “just for the hell of it”), with the hope of coming out the other end of my vacation itching to recommend a fantastic book. I am happy to report that, indeed, this has happened.
The Shining is not new, of course, and hardly needs a recommendation from this little blog. It’s a classic of American horror. And yet, I had never read this masterpiece about a haunted and deranged hotel. I’m sure you’re all familiar with The Overlook, made famous by Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film starring Jack Nicholson. But, I must implore you to separate the novel from the movie in your mind, for they are entirely different stories. The characters are completely separate from the actors who portrayed them, and I grew to understand Stephen King’s frustration with the Kubrick adaptation. The ending, for example, is one of many changes made to the original story.
Jack, Wendy, and Danny Torrance are not who you think they are. Wendy is a three dimensional, quality character, with keen instincts. She’s not helpless; actually, Wendy is incredibly well drawn, and her perspective provides the novel with a much needed dose of reality. Her observations, about her husband and child, and their close relationship, add an unexpected jolt of emotional trauma. I’m forever impressed with King’s ability to interpret female characters. In Carrie, he excels at articulating the particular cruelty of high school mean girls, and in The Shining, the anxious internal monologue of a wife in a tense, emotionally abusive situation. According to King, he credits his wife, Tabitha, with providing the insight he needed to turn his female characters into real people, real women of substance.
Jack, on the other hand, is significantly more complex than Nicholson’s portrayal. (I could open myself to criticism on this, but please know that I still appreciate genius of the movie.) He is legitimately struggling with addiction; he wants to be a good father, a good and sober man, with a solid career and a family that can be proud of his accomplishments. Jack has allowed himself to wallow in his failures and miseries for too long. Unfortunately, The Overlook senses his vulnerability, and latches on to his mental instability and creative frustration.
The father/son relationship is the most heartbreaking element of this novel. Jack is very aware that he is being manipulated by the hotel, but he just can’t seem to remove himself from the far-reaching tentacles of The Overlook. It slithers into his mind and molds his thoughts, stokes the fire of his anger, and waits for the blood to flow. The phantom elevator and barbaric, ghostly party guests (who scream “Unmask!” out of nowhere, and throw mists of confetti) are truly creepy. Every time they appeared, they brought with them a sense of overwhelming dread, a distinct and insurmountable insanity.
The Shining also made me cry. It brought to life the disintegration of a once functional family unit. When Danny kisses his father’s bloody hands, in forgiveness and also in hope of healing Jack’s monstrosity, my heart constricted for a moment at the tenderness of such a scene. There is no mending this relationship. Jack has destroyed himself, figuratively and literally, and the damage is beyond repair. King’s tender prose was wonderfully executed, a very pleasant surprise at the end of such a brutal story.
I urge you to read The Shining, if you haven’t already, and try to forget Kubrick’s interpretation for just a moment, and visit The Overlook Hotel without visual, plot, or casting expectations. I think you’ll be genuinely surprised by how differently the story unfolds. With the recent publication of Doctor Sleep, this is perfect timing to (re)familiarize yourself with the Torrance family. I look forward to learning more about Danny’s life beyond the 1977 ending.