The Shining (book) by Stephen King

the_shiningTo bring the topic back to reading/writing after a couple days of gaming posts, I just put down The Shining. I realize this book is decades old, but I’m just working my way along my bookshelf, overflowing with many books both new and old that I haven’t gotten to yet.

This was my first time reading this book. It’s the story about Jack, an author who takes a job as a winter caretaker at a hotel in Colorado called The Overlook. he brings his wife Wendy and his 5 year old son Danny there to live with him during this time. They know they’ll be isolated over the winter, but what they don’t know is that the hotel seems to have a life of its own. Especially to son Danny, who has “the shining” which is a pretty word for some degree of psychic powers. Danny is especially sensitive to the dark manifestations of the building. Over the course of the winter, the hotel turns them against each other and they’re faced with ever-more terrifying ghosts of the building.

This story is one of those rare cases where I liked the movie better than the book. Not the original Jack Nicholson movie, but the miniseries starring Steven Weber in the 90s. I’ve yet to see a Nicholson movie I liked (to be fair, I haven’t seen some of his more famous ones like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest).

For one thing, the head-hopping really drives me nuts. Just when I’m getting close into one character’s head, the viewpoint jumps into another character’s head, then another and another. It keeps me from feeling really close to any of them (perhaps that was the intent so I don’t have to feel too close to Jack the psycho).

SPOILERS ahead for anyone, though I’m sure most people have seen some version of this already.

I couldn’t even finish the book. I had 180 pages left and I realized that reading it had become a chore, so I just put it down. From what I remember of the Weber series, I thought Jack was portrayed as being a pretty sympathetic character at the beginning of the movie. So his gradual descent into psychosis is a major change, and is quite frightening. But in the book, it’s made very clear very early on that Jack is going to snap sooner or later. Two years ago before the book started he broke Danny’s arm in drunken anger. He’s since quit drinking, but he has a history of manic violence even when sober. The reason he was looking for the caretaking job is that he lost his job as a professor because he was he assaulted a student, beating him bloody in the parking lot of the school.

Since the student incident, he has a tight reign on his temper. He’s still an angry person, but he balls all the anger up inside. Like a tightly wound spring, it’s only a matter of time before something snaps. He would’ve snapped eventually, regardless of circumstances. The Overlook may have accelerated the process, but even without that, he would have totally snapped in a year or two anyway. Especially since he has a knack for self-sabotage–any time things are looking hopeful in his life he ruins the chance in a completely avoidable way (the assault on the student being just one of these).

Maybe 1/3 of the book is spent in his head, which was a mistake–I can’t relate to his character in the slightest between the self-sabotage, the anger issues, the abuse, and the developing psychosis.

Then there’s Wendy, who is quite frankly, TSTL (too stupid to live). She knows about Jack’s history, and his mental instability even when he was sober. Her first mistake was staying with him for so long. If it had only been her own life at stake, I might forgive that–love can make a person do stupid things. But her son’s life is at stake here. But the much larger mistake is for her to agree to live with them at the hotel for that whole winter. She’s aware it will be stressful–she worries about “cabin fever” several times, but she knows Jack well enough that she should be able to predict his snapping a long time ahead of time and she should have run like hell. But either she’s just unbelievably dense or is just a tool of the author and nothing more.

Another 1/3 of the book spent with her, who gets herself and Danny into this mess, I can’t relate to her at all.

The remaining 1/3 is spent with Danny, who I can relate to and who I really liked. He can read minds to some extent, so he gets glimpses of his parents’ thoughts and intentions. He’s the first to see manifestations of the hotel, because of the shining, and his viewpoint is at once terrifying and reminiscent of any kid’s childhood fears of the monsters under the bed. If the whole story were told from his point of view, I might have stuck with it the whole way, but since he’s only 5, he doesn’t understand the full complexities of his parents’ marriage, so it probably wouldn’t have worked.

I wouldn’t mind renting the Weber mini-series and watching it again to see if I still like it. I haven’t seen it since I started writing and my criteria for what I like are totally different now.

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David Steffen

David Steffen is an editor, publisher, and writer. If you like what he does you can visit the Support page or buy him a coffee! He is probably best known for being co-founder and administrator of The Submission Grinder, a donation-supported tool to help writers track their submissions and find publishers for their work . David is also the editor-in-chief here at Diabolical Plots. He is also the editor and publisher of The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List series. David also (sometimes) writes fiction, and you can follow on BlueSky for updates on cross-stitch projects and occasionally other things.

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