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Friday, 14 February 2014

The Shining = Revisting The Overlook Hotel

Stephen King

I first read THE SHINING 17 years ago, when I was nineteen, and
it was among the first of King’s works that I read. Recently, and with its belated sequel DOCTOR SLEEP sitting by my bed, I picked it up for a revisit, to check back into The Overlook Hotel.

THE SHINING is among King’s most famous and iconic works; if you’re reading this, you’ll know what its about. Everything shines; six-year-old Danny shines, he is psychic, and gets visions from his imaginary friend, he can get hints of the future, or of possible futures, he can see dead things, things from long ago that linger. His parents, Jack and Wendy, like many characters in the book, also shine, but to a much lesser extent. King postulates that THE SHINING is a clairvoyance, a psychic sixth-sense that is latent in everyone, but not active; many people shine to a greater or lesser extent; some people have just a touch – intuition – but a few really shine on, doc, much like Danny Torrance here, and the Hotel’s cook, Halloran, who also has it big.  

The Overlook is a huge luxury hotel, high in the Colorado mountains, with a long, dark, history: it too shines, like a beacon, it shines it’s past to sensitive folk, the hotel is alive, it is The Overlook, it watches. When it gets a hint of the raw shining power in young Danny, it wants him, it lures him, casts its trap, and uses the old ghosts within Jack, ghosts of failure, and alcoholism, of despair and guilt, to make its catch. Jack, and Wendy, are haunted themselves, long before they get to the hotel, and once the Overlook has got its claws in, and the snows have closed around them, in their freezing isolation, the hotel strikes; through Jack’s ambition to succeed, it uses him, plays him like a marionette, to get what it wants. Had the hotel been successful, only King’s imagination knows how terrible the Overlook could have become.

So, then, THE SHINING, King’s 3rd novel, is a ghost-story with as many floors as the Overlook itself. It is largely about character, and about Jack’s journey from a problematic but loving husband and father, to a psychotic puppet of evil. Jack’s descent into madness is described at length; for me, some of it worked, and some didn’t quite, but I believed totally in Jack’s alcoholism, and family background, his character. Character is King’s best attribute; had he been writing successfully for 40 years in a genre other than horror, he would long ago have been widely recognised for his skills with character.

The story is a classic one, a gem of a story, iconic; the isolation, the background, the hedge animals, the shining, all great stuff, skilfully put together. I thought generally the writing was good here, although not as time-polished as some other novels, and occasionally I lost the pace in a few places. Conversely, though, in some places the writing shines. I loved the moment when Jack, locked in a bolted pantry by his wife, has been pounding on the metal door for hours; it is definitely locked, he is secure. Then Jack begins to talk to the hotel, to an ex-caretaker on the other side of the door, a ghost that slides along the bolt...   Prose-wise, and particularly, I loved this bit, some fine evocative writing:

Danny was still awake long after his parents’ false sleep had become the real thing. He rolled in his bed, twisting the sheets, grappling with a problem years too big for him, awake in the night like a single sentinel on picket. And sometime after midnight, he slept too and then only the wind was awake, prying at the hotel and hooting in its gables under the bright gimlet gaze of the stars.

The novel has pace, increasingly so, and I waited until I had a spare two hours to read the final quarter or so in one sitting. If you have only ever seen the film [ok but different] or the miniseries [more faithful], and you like that sort of thing, then you certainly should read, or re-read, THE SHINING. It is a fabulous idea, fabulous story, well-written, but for me personally doesn’t quite top some later works like THE DEAD ZONE, DOLORES CLAIBORNE, THE GREEN MILE, or DIFFERENT SEASONS. 8/10

This book cover above [right] makes the book look like a Barbara Cartland type family saga. There is more blog to follow, my waffling about the film and the miniseries versions, and later DOCTOR SLEEP. But for now, I leave you with Toy Shining below. What a long shadow the Overlook has left...


  1. That Barbara Cartland cover is the one we have, decorating an old '77 Book Club edition of the book. I grabbed it for about fifty cents at a library sell-off a few years ago, but I've yet to get around to reading it, so I've just gone and grabbed it and stuck it on my desk. Usually I get round to reading the books I put here, though I failed to get far into "The Bonfire of the Vanities", which was my last attempt. I also lost track of one of the books I was reading (Bad Radio) after a reshuffle of my work area...I was enjoying that one, too. I really should find it again.

  2. Did you ever get round to reading The Shining, Rob?