I missed the phase in elementary school where everyone seemed to be reading Stephen King. I was busy with other books – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights to be exact. I have never been a fan of horror movies and so I wasn’t too interested in pursuing a genre when it came to reading either. I have often played with tackling The Shining because it features so wonderfully in my favorite episode of Friends (it’s not technically the title of the episode but I always think of it as The One Where Rachel Reads The Shining and Joey Reads Little Women). So when I noticed that The Shining was on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, it quickly became one of the ones I pushed myself to read sooner rather than later (though the prospect was still intimidating) and I am so glad I did.
Jack Torrance reluctantly accepts a job as winter caretaker at the Overlook, a remote luxury hotel in the mountains of Colorado, because it’s the best he can get while he works to finish the play that will restore the promising career that’s been slowly slipping away. His struggle with alcoholism and anger issues contributed to him getting fired from his job as an English teacher at a prestigious prep school and nearly destroyed his marriage. But he’s determined to make the new job a turning point for him and his family. Though he knows the hotel has a mysterious past, it isn’t until he and his family arrive that ghosts from their pasts mingle and clash with the Overlook’s. Danny, Jack’s son with his wife, Wendy, has always been gifted. Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s cook spots Danny’s telepathic gift, which he refers to as a “shining,” right away and does what he can to prepare and reassure the young boy. But nothing could prepare any of them for what the hotel has planned for Danny and his family.
It didn’t take long for the style and characters to draw me in. The way King uses perspective and distinguishes the characters’ internal monologues gives a wonderful roundness to each of them. One of the hardest things to accomplish is a distinctive and true voice for young children but five-year-old Danny – despite having a gift that has forced him to a maturity greater than most five-year-olds – still processes things in a recognizably childish way (my niece is almost six and Danny’s sections rang eerily true-to-life).
I was relieved to find the book to be so psychological. Beyond the psychic forces at work once they get to the Overlook, each of the characters is already dealing with the emotional struggles of the family’s recent financial and marital difficulties. For Jack and Wendy, the legacy of their childhoods and their relationships with their parents come into play as well and the how and why of the Overlook’s manipulations becomes clearer; their struggles against those influences as they become more and more isolated become more compelling.
King’s use of telepathy – the shining – in Danny is well developed and complicated. In the recent tend of novels with supernatural creatures and elements, it was refreshing to read a book where the characters don’t take such ‘powers’ for granted; where understanding, belief, and acceptance of such forces are still treated as rare and something to treat with caution and respect (I think this is partially because supernatural creatures in the last decade or two their use as metaphor for the way minority groups are treated in society has been resurrected and reclaimed in favor of minorities as opposed to a propaganda/fear-mongering tool used against them, but I’ll leave that discussion to the academics).
Having finished The Shining, I’m going to re-watch that episode of Friends and lament the fact that it’s the only Stephen King novel on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list (then go and add my name to the waitlist for Doctor Sleep at my library).