Shining On

My friend DeAnna exerts a strange sort of influence over what I read. In a similar manner, so does Bob Spiller.

Because of a remark by DeAnna, I’m rereading The Shining. In fact, I’m rereading the Shining so that I may immediately reread Dr. Sleep after I finish, to see how the books hold up when read in order. (Bonus: The Shining is on the list of top 100 horror novels that DeAnna and Shannon and I are working our way through.)

First of all, King tells you in the first 20 pages or so exactly what’s going to happen in the rest of the book. I can’t figure out if I knew that the first time I read it. But this time? All I could think was, how does he get away with this? Because it works. This is a scary book. Even though I’ve read it more than once, I’m still completely gripped by the story and how it unfolds.

Of course, I’m reading it now as a parent. I’m wondering why the wife didn’t haul her happy ass out the shed herself to see if there was a snowmobile out there. I hate her back story of subordinating her life and her personality to be part of her man’s life, even though it rings so true.

King neatly sets these people up as isolated, without support beyond their little family unit. Then he builds on that from every freaking angle. The isolation of being in the mountains, amplified by the weather. The loss of contact with the outside world, and nobody out there seems to care or want to look in on them.

The demon of alcoholism–you have to wonder how much of King’s own life colored his writing here. I hope for his sake, and the sake of his family, that this is his worst nightmare, that this is his imagination taking him to the sickest, saddest, darkest place he could conjure up, poking it with his writing like your tongue pokes a sore spot on your gum, knowing you can make it worse but at the same time not really wanting to. It makes me wonder–do all alcoholics see their drinking as not their fault?

I also wonder if this novel could be written today. For a large number of people, the answer would be an automatic no, because they’d cite the use of computers and cell phones and internet. And yet, I know there are places in Estes Park, where the Stanley Hotel that inspired this novel sits, where you can’t get cell phone service. Heck, I live in the middle of a city–in a cell phone dead spot. So for me, the bones of the story stand strong.

For me, the story is working on two levels. One, the supernatural side of things, and insidious way the spirit of the hotel is seeping into Jack’s brain and taking it over like mold on a soft, ripe cheese, sending hairy, feathered veins deep into the center. Then there’s the cold and the isolation, physical and mental players that don’t need a single ghost to do their worst and creep me out. The family dynamics are also chilling as you watch these two adults fight against turning into what they hated most about their own parents. It’s never said outright, but you can feel Jack thinking about his drinking in the light of, “Hey, my dad was a drunk and I turned out okay.”

But did you, Jack? Even without the Overlook, could you have stayed the course of sobriety, conquered your temper and finished your play? Sure, the demons outside Jack’s head are worse than the personal demons he carries around with him already, but just barely.

For me, this is a proper horror novel and well deserves its spot on the top 100 list.



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3 responses to “Shining On

  1. Bob sends you all the sales on the FUNNY books.

    I reread Salem’s Lot recently for the list. He basically tells you what’s going down at the beginning there, too, or at least the significant deaths. He also does this nice thing where he sets up the main theme by having the character deny that they’re problems, in that case, moving on versus not really moving on.

    Agatha Christie does this thing in at least some of her books where she lays down a major hint of either who dunnit or how in the first page or two. I feel like King either stole or invented or adapted a similar technique for his novels. I didn’t really notice it when I reread Night Shift the last time, but that was pretty early stuff.

  2. It’s very true that The Shining, like so many of King’s works takes on added layers of creepiness via atmospherics and setting. I wonder also if King’s telling you the basic plot structure right out of the gate is not so much a matter of “getting away with” anything as much as it is creating an additional psychological layer. There is a similar narrativistic move made in the film Gandhi where we see the protagonist’s ultimate fate, and are yet brought somehow further into the, at that point, untold narrative structure that will lead up to that inexorable moment.

  3. All but one of the alcoholics I’ve known have felt they were victims. That is, when they weren’t denying the problem. I’ve read interviews with him on his own personal demons during the time he wrote this, but I think I’m starting to mix up books/interviews in my head, so I’m not sure I can answer correctly as to what it had to do with him. So I won’t. But it’s out there if you want to search.

    The Shining is possibly my favorite King. It’s between that and the first Dark Tower.

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