The Shining by Stephen King

Years ago I read a few of Stephen King’s books, including Carrie and Christine but I didn’t read The Shining. I saw the film with Jack Nicolson, which is terrifying. I remember his crazed face as he rampaged through the hotel, the sense of evil and terror, and I decided that was enough – I wouldn’t read the book.

Recently I changed my mind and bought a copy on Kindle and began reading – it’s an ideal book to read for Carl’s R.I.P. challenge. It has a fascinating introduction by Stephen King, in which he writes about writing horror stories and how he came to write The Shining, which was a ‘crossroads novel’ for him. He wanted to go deeper than he had in his earlier books (The Shining was his third novel) and make his characters more realistic and therefore more frightening. In my opinion he succeeded.

The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance and his family as they move into the Overlook Hotel in the Colorada Rockies. The Overlook is closed for the winter and Jack, a recovering alcoholic is the caretaker. Just what impels him towards murder is horrifyingly revealed as the winter weather closes in on the hotel and they are cut off from the rest of the world. For terrible things had taken place at the hotel and as psychic forces gather strength ghosts begin to surface and both Jack and his five year old son, Danny are their targets. There are hints right from the start that the Overlook is not a good place to be and Jack is told that there have been scandals and suspicious deaths, and he soon discovers from records down in the basement just what has been going on. Also down in the basement is the boiler – that seems to have a life of its own – Jack has to control it, release the pressure to let off its steam.

Danny too, who has the gift of ‘shining’ was warned by Dick Hallorann, the hotel’s cook, as he was leaving, that bad things had happened in the hotel and if he should see something he should just look the other way and it would be gone. ‘Shining’ is a psychic ability – both Danny and Hallorann can hear people’s thoughts, and see visions of the past and of the future. He tells Danny to ‘call’ him if there’s trouble and he’ll come to help. Danny tries looking the other way, but it doesn’t work and he desperately needs Hallorann’s help. I didn’t remember this part in the film and as the tension built, just as the pressure in the boiler inexorably rose, I just couldn’t foresee how the book would end.

In fact there’s an awful lot of the film I don’t remember. I didn’t remember the hedge animals. These are blood-chilling as they come to life and move when you’re not looking – like the stone angels in Doctor Who! Truly terrifying. And the carpet in the hotel corridor with its deep jungle of blue and black woven vines and creepers, the light blue silk wallpaper with the embossed pattern of wavy lines and the wasps crawling and stinging again and again. Oh, no I probably couldn’t have watched that – and I couldn’t stand to watch the film again to see if these scenes were in it!

The characters are so well-drawn and so distinct. Their vulnerability, coupled with the way King gets inside each person’s head, increases the element of fear. There’s the horror of the father who has monsters inside his head, who still loves his son, but demands he should ‘take his medicine’; the evil is palpable. Then, the powerlessness of the mother to help either her husband or son makes it even more frightening. Even when it seems to have ended there is a further twist in the tale and it’s not the end. I read on breathless, almost.

It was only when I’d nearly finished read The Shining that I discovered that Stephen King has written a sequel, Doctor Sleep – I just have to read that!

12 thoughts on “The Shining by Stephen King”

  1. I too thought that seeing the movie was enough, although it’s the one I most enjoyed. I’m tempted by Dr. Sleep too. I’ll wait to see if you think it’s too scary.

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  2. I just read Doctor Sleep and loved it (Danny is all grownup, and now there’s another child with the shining). It’s terrific! King’s got an interesting new spin on vampires in this one. I now have to go back and reread The Shining, which I haven’t read since I was a teenager. BTW, the reason you didn’t remember the moving hedges in the movie is that they weren’t in it. I love the movie, but that was one of the things that disappointed me about it when I saw it.

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    1. Thanks, Emily – that’s good to know, although I’m not sure about the vampires – I’m not keen on vampire stories!

      I can’t imagine why the hedges weren’t in the film as I would have thought that would have been a given – so scary.

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  3. Until recently The Shining was only King novel I’d read (I’m reading Joyland now, and read 11/23/63 last year), and it is terrific for all the reasons you cite. I’ve seen the movie, and it is terrifying. Now that Dr. Sleep is out, I want to reread The Shining and then launch in that…when I get the nerve.

    I always found the topiary animals to be one of the most memorable parts of the book. That and that carpet. I’ve stayed in the Stanley Hotel, the model King used for the hotel in book, and the carpet was exactly as described. While walking down the halls, it’s hard not to imagine it writhing!

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  4. Margaret, the movie is different from the book in a couple of ways, as the others have said. The hedge animals is the biggest, as well as the little girls appearing in the movie but not in the book. I just reread the Shining last month, and loved it as much as I did when I read it many years ago. I’m getting ready to read Doctor Sleep on Saturday, I’m so excited, a new Stephen King and it features Danny Torrance all grown up! More Shining!! I’m delighted you enjoyed The Shining so much. It’s always been underrated as a classic horror/haunted house ghost story, and I think it is one of the best ghost stories written.

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    1. Susan, film producers often make changes that I think they shouldn’t – adding in something that isn’t in a book is awful, especially when they’ve left out parts. I’m glad I saw the film years ago as I have forgotten most of it and could read the book unspoilt.

      I’m looking forward to reading Doctor Sleep too!

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  5. Margaret – I’m glad you enjoyed this novel. It’s such a good example in my opinion of a really well-done horror novel. And one of the things that make it such a good example is that the horror is psychological and the tension builds so effectively. Excellent review!

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  6. Stephen King books are of course wildly popular but after reading one of his early ones I stopped. Horror just isn’t my thing, and I particularly don’t like psychological horror. Just envisioning Jack Nicholson’s “crazy” face in a movie is enough to give me nightmares for several nights. I’m sure King is a great writer, I just wish he wrote different books.

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