Book Review: The Shining by Stephen King

The Shining HeaderWhen I was younger I remember being too scared to watch The Shining with my sister and mom thanks to that terrifying cover image of Nicholson bludgeoning his way through the door.  I eventually grew to love horror, but for some reason that childhood avoidance never left me until this year when Stephen King released a sequel to this novel that piqued my interest in what I spent so long avoiding.  Then I realized that I was a grown up, and if I can survive watching E.T. again after all these years of trauma then I can more than handle a haunted hotel.

For those of you who don’t know, The Shining tells the story of a family who agrees to live in desertion during the winter months as the caretakers of The Overlook hotel while it is shut down for the season.  All of the guests have checked out, but that is not to say that this family is alone during this time as the hotel’s storied past, as well as the father’s history of alcoholism and anger management problems, refuse to remain tucked away.

Seeing as Jack Nicholson, redrum, and those two creeper little girls were all I ever really knew to associate with The Shining, I was quite surprised when I realized that the young son of the family plays such a pivotal role in the story.  Matter of fact, the title is based on an ability that he has that makes him more attuned to what is going on around him, whether it’s shadows of events that took place before, hints at what is to come, or the emotions of those around him.  He is far from a peripheral character, but instead actually propels much of the story forward because he is our connection to the horror elements of the story long before the rest of the characters are as aware of what is happening.

With a character like Danny, King is allowed to stretch out the story in a way that slowly builds up the tension that culminates in quite a dramatic climax, but that is far from saying that the rest of the book is without its terror.  Matter of fact, I think this was the most creeped out I have ever been while reading a book.  It probably didn’t help that I was reading about these haunted hotel rooms late at night in my pitch black bedroom, but there is just something about Stephen King’s writing that always manages to move past the basic elements of storytelling as he takes the time away from focusing on the characters and plot to set up a tactile aura that both feeds into our deeper understanding of what is happening and leads the reader into feeling a certain way.

One technique that I really loved and King favored during writing this story was to bounce around between perspectives.  Sometimes he would move between first and third, and as the mental stability of the characters began to crack he integrated these internal conversations of normal narrative and a different layer of character thought.  The best way I can describe it is that these characters were admitting truths within truths to themselves with these often contradicting thoughts, and these scenes would play out like the Gollum vs. Smeagol moments in The Lord of the Rings.

Now that I have made it through the original telling of this story with my big girl pants on, it is time to tackle Nicholson’s terrifying face in the film adaptation.  I’ll have to wait and see how well King’s writing translates to the visual medium, but I’m going to go ahead and recommend reading the story for all of those who are just familiar with the film.  And then we can all read the sequel together!

Final Grade: 4.5/5     

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