Here it is, horror classic The Shining. Published in 1977, it was Stephen King’s third novel and his first hardback bestseller.
The success of the work pretty much secured his literary legend there and then, with a film adaptation following in 1980 to much acclaim (although King didn’t think much of Stanley Kubrick’s movie).
The Shining is a slow burner, following the gradual supernatural takeover of a mysterious hotel on a hapless family. It’s an unsettling read and one handled by King with masterly aplomb.
Supernatural Tumult and Hauntings in The Shining
Having read Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption recently, we decided to try out arguably King’s most famous work.
We’re not huge horror fans and would say this is probably the first proper horror book we’ve ever read (philistines, we know). Although Michael Crichton’s Congo (1980) scared the bejeezus out of us when we read it as teenagers.
But at nearly 500 pages (no pictures or anything), The Shining is essentially the Bible of horror books. Domineering in its status and impact, viewed by many critics as a masterpiece, and gripping many a reader who dared go near the thing.
It came to be following King’s stay at The Stanley Hotel in 1974. It’s in Estes Park, Colorado, and remains open to this day. He used the hotel’s design for his inspiration.
He checked in with his wife, Tabitha, on October 30th 1974 and the couple found themselves to be the only guests staying there. This was because staff were getting ready to close up for the winter.
King adapted that isolated, claustrophobic setting with other themes he’d wanted to pursue since his earlier novels. One being dreams that come to life. Inspired also by Edgar Allan Poe and Shirley Jackson, he took a line from John Lennon’s song Instant Karma! (“We all shine on”) and he was all set to write the novel. Which he did in four months.
The Shining follows Jack Torrance, an aspiring novelist. He’s a recovering alcoholic recently fired from his teaching job for punching a student.
To recuperate and work on his book, he takes up a winter caretaker job at the isolated Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. He’s joined by his wife Wendy, who’d been in two minds about divorcing him, and their son Danny (who had his arm broken, accidentally, by his father).
Danny has unusual intellectual powers, which are revealed to be psychic abilities known as “shining”. He can read minds, gets premonitions, and is clairvoyant.
His parents are somewhat aware of this, but otherwise treat him as a normal kid. Jack tells him stuff like this:
“The world’s a hard place, Danny. It don’t care. It don’t hate you and me, but it don’t love us, either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they’re things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it’s only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper. The world don’t love you, but your momma does and so do I.”
As the Torrance family settles into the empty hotel, Danny begins seeing unsettling visions around the Overlook. He’s soon aware his presence is bringing supernatural forces out of the hotel’s long, dark history.
Echoes of old tragedies come to life, with ghostly apparitions taking on tangible form.
As The Shining progresses, it becomes apparent The Overlook is willing certain insidious scenarios onto the Torrance family. At first with Danny, but then its attention turns to Jack Torrance.
It entices him with scrapbooks to distract him from working (and promoting the desire to drink). Jack develops cabin fever and grows increasingly paranoid. But when his son is throttled by a “dead lady” in Room 217 (Room 237 in the film), things really take a turn for the worse.
“Jack put his hands solemnly on his son’s shoulders. ‘Danny, do you think you can tell us exactly what happened to you? It’s very important.’
Danny looked from Jack to Wendy, then back again. In the silent pause, their setting and situation made themselves known: the whoop of the wind outside, driving fresh snow down from the northwest; the creaking and groaning of the old hotel as it settled into another storm. The fact of their disconnect came to Wendy with unexpected force as it sometimes did, like a blow under the heart.”
That’s at the mid-point of The Shining, pretty much bang on 250 pages in. Again, the work is a real slow burner and its opening few hundred pages let you settle into the swing of things (although this pacing may leave some readers a bit bored).
But then it really kicks in from page 250, with King’s masterly, unsettling ability to set forth alarming scenes.
Jack Torrance is at the centre of this, gradually being overwhelmed by The Overlook as it essentially takes over his psyche. And he loses his mind, destroying the bonds of family in the process as he becomes (through the hotel) the work’s key antagonist.
Although in a 2001 retrospective King admitted he didn’t like some aspects of The Shining, it’s still a gripping account of parenthood, addiction, isolation, and how it can all spiral out of control.
You can view The Shining in all manner of ways and study it to the point of madness—conceptualising what The Overlook is up to… and why! Or you can regard the book simply as a compelling psychological horror story, as told by a master of his genre.
At its best, it’s chilling and disturbing.
And at this point, as it approaches its 50th anniversary, we can only say of it… shine on, you crazy bastard.
Stanley Kubrick’s Film Adaptation of The Shining Film
Okay, we’ve got the full review of Kubrick’s The Shining film to check out. But we’ll briefly cover here what was going on, primarily as King remains dissatisfied with the production.
On the whole, we’d say it’s a celebrated film and one most people reading this will probably know.
Legendary director Stanley Kubrick headed the project. Jack Nicholson took the lead role of Jack Torrance, with Shelley Duvall as his long-suffering wife Wendy. Danny Lloyd played their son. The film’s poster tagline read:
“The tide of terror that swept America IS HERE.”
King had a great deal of animosity towards Kubrick’s adaptation. He didn’t like how the film downplays the supernatural elements, with Kubrick essentially making Jack Torrance out to be the antagonist. Whereas King portrayed him as a victim to the hotel. In 2008 King said:
“Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror, but others fall flat. Not that religion has to be involved in horror, but a visceral sceptic such as Kubrick just couldn’t grasp the sheer inhuman evil of The Overlook Hotel. So he looked, instead, for evil in the characters and made the film into a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones. That was the basic flaw: because he couldn’t believe, he couldn’t make the film believable to others. What’s basically wrong with Kubrick’s version of The Shining is that it’s a film by a man who thinks too much and feels too little; and that’s why, for all its virtuoso effects, it never gets you by the throat and hangs on the way real horror should.”
Whilst it generally has a status as a cinematic classic (ranked the 75th best film ever in a Sight & Sound poll), it definitely does has its critics (other than King). We can’t say we were bowled over by the film on its first viewing, as it takes a quite a plodding affair.
However, there’s no denying some of the cinematography remains outstanding. There are some genuinely horrifying, memorable moments as well.
And we think the cast did a terrific job. Plus, Kubrick’s directing style was so very distinctive.
King eventually got some form of retribution for Kubrick’s adaptation.
In 2019, the sequel Doctor Sleep launched in cinemas. The screenplay was written and directed by Mike Flanagan, with this production leaving King much more satisfied.