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.┬áchallenge. 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!