Books were my first entry into the world of horror. At some point in grade school I started reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books and then graduated to his more mature Fear Street series as well as Christopher Pike’s myriad of young adult offerings. At around 16 or 17, I moved from those into the seemingly more grown up world of horror movies, but somewhere in the transition phase, I read Stephen King’s The Shining. I can’t remember the exact timing, but sometime in high school I gave this book a read, saw parts of Stanley Kubrick’s film and viewed all or most of the 1997 TV adaptation starring Steven Weber from Wings.
So, when I decided to give the book another read as part of my Ambitious Halloween Reading List, I thought I’d have a pretty good idea of what was going on in the book. But, as I read I realized that my brain had a jumble of previously seen and read elements thanks to the above experiences — and the “Treehouse Of Horror” spoof from The Simpsons — and couldn’t remember what source the elements I remembered came from (as many of you probably know, Kubrick’s film took several departures from King’s original story). As it turned out, I actually remembered very little (possibly nothing) from my previous reading, which made the experience a lot more intense.
The story itself finds disgraced prep school teacher, former alcoholic and struggling writer Jack Torrance taking a winter caretaker job at a big hotel in Colorado called The Overlook. He’s had a rough go of things lately — partially because he beat the crap out of a student named George who slashed his tires — and feels like this is a last resort career-wise. He brings his wife Wendy and their 5-year-old son Danny along for the experience.
As it turns out, the hotel has a mysterious and dark past the includes a good deal of murder, death and other nefarious dealings. None of that would be so bad if Danny didn’t have the shining, an ability that allows him to read others’ minds, see parts of the future and communicate wordlessly with other people possessing the same ability like the hotel’s outgoing cook Dick Hallorann who explains some of the abilities and hotel-based creepiness to the young boy. The longer they stay in the place, the more it gets to Jack in an effort to absorb Danny’s powers. Danny sees gruesome phantoms of past violence, some of which start attacking him physically. But none of that compares to the fear that comes from his father Jack as he struggles to keep his sanity.
I’ve mentioned this on the past two episodes of my parenting podcast The Pop Poppa Nap Cast, but reading this book as a father really added to the sense of dread that builds up. Anyone can relate to the idea of being penned in by an impending blizzard that will strand you on a mountain and how potentially scary that could be. But, I felt like I was able to tap into this story more for a few reasons now that I’m a dad. First, much as I hate to admit it, I can relate in some small way to some of the anger that comes from being a parent. Jack takes that to a whole different, awful level, but the best horror stories are the ones you can understand the basis of in your heart. Second, my love for my own kid makes it all the worse when Jack does start losing his cool, lets the hotel get into his brain and start going nuts. Seeing him devolve from a man on the mend to a beast-thing is a tough thing because I think many of us have the potential to fall from grace like that. And third, having a young child who is just starting to fear things, I can only image what it would be like for a person her or Danny’s age to try and process all of this insanity and the damage that might cause.
King did a great job of drawing a complicated, sympathetic and awful character in Jack Torrance. He’s a creative guy who came from a bad home and eventually created a solid life for himself. But, be it genetic, predestination or whatever, he gave in to the temptation of booze and his fiery temper which lead to several different problems for him. You want to simply write the character off, but it soon becomes clear that he could have had a fair shot if he hadn’t taken a job in a place filled with demons just waiting to wake his own up. He’s a beautifully composed tragic figure who you root for, but don’t let yourself believe he’ll fully overcome the Overlook.
I did have one question for fellow Shining readers. Are we to assume that Jack and Al, while on their last drunken joyride, hit George Hatfield’s bike? The night’s events are recounted to us, but then when Jack remembers coming upon George slashing his tires, the young man mentions something about a bike before Jack wails on him. Am I grasping at straws here or is this something that people have talked about before?
Anyway, I thought this was a great work of suspense and horror, though I don’t think I’m blowing any minds with that statement. I really enjoyed the book and feel pretty primed to check out the sequel Doctor Sleep. Also, I wanted to note that this is the first book that I’ve read completely on my Kindle. I’ve got to say, I’m a big fan of the method because it’s pretty light, easy to read (and customize) and you can simply tap a word if you’re not familiar with it. My only complaint is that I don’t know how deep into the book I am. The percentage given is cool, but it doesn’t let know how much you have left and I’m still not sure what the numbers at the bottom of the display mean, so I can’t accurately use that to gauge how much of a book I have left. Ah well, I’m sure I’ll get used to it.