Review: The Shining, by Stephen King

The Shining, by Stephen King
This ed: Anchor reprint (2012) 688 pp.
Orig 1977
The Overlook Hotel is nestled in a valley in the remote Colorado rockies. For ages, it's been the summer destination of starlets, millionaires and has-beens. In the off-season, it lies dormant, isolated, covered in snow, mostly-unoccupied, and apparently haunted. Or perhaps the better word would be possessed. It's not the individual spirits that are terrifying, but the hotel itself - something even darker than ghosts, stemming from the site itself. Like Hill House (or even, marginally, like Winward House in "The Uninvited") the possession seems to be manifesting itself in triplicate - like a hellmouth of sorts - calling out to, and trying to absorb, a certain special individual.

Stephen King's The Shining posits the hotel as a well-constructed metaphor for the father figure's alcoholism - haunted by the past, destructive, in disrepair, a ticking time bomb, etc. King, who admittedly didn't sober up until about a decade after The Shining's publication, had a mean grasp on the house that his addiction built. But the term "shining" has little to do with the father figure Jack, and everything to do with the novel's focal character - a little boy named Danny - who possesses nascent skills for telepathy and clairvoyance. Naturally the paranormal elements attempt to draw him in at the expense of everything else. The reader's awareness of Danny's abilities means a blurring of the line between reality and his internalized fears. The movement of the fire hose on the second floor, for example, could be in Danny's head, or it could be part of the hotel's manifestation - the ambiguity makes it more fearsome.

And while Danny's heightened awareness of both the hotel's metaphysical abnormalities and his parents' own delusions and thoughts is sufficiently creepy, there are elements that take this story over the edge and make it a truly excellent work of suspense and horror. Both of these elements were left out of the Kubrick film, so if you've seen it but not yet read the novel: here's what you're missing. First of all, you've got the hedge animals who shift and move on their own, changing their stances and becoming increasingly threatening. At first, you might think that it's a trick of the light, or perhaps just an effect of paranoia. But when they actually begin attacking - that's when you know there's something darker than just ghosts at work here. And if you finish this book without being forever afraid of topiaries, you must have picked up the wrong book.

But more importantly - there's that ticking time bomb of a boiler that only gets a wayward glance in the film. Old boiler rooms are creepy on their own - there's a reason the queue for Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at DHS is fashioned like one - but the root of Jack's eventual psychosis is manifesting right there in the Overlook basement. The old news clippings and photos (and probably some asbestos, who knows?) and finally that boiler that has to be depressurized every twelve hours. King deftly keeps the plot rising and dipping with this routine as tensions waver, and it becomes a countdown clock as Jack slips deeper and deeper into the grotesque masquerade. In the end all parties, save one, have forgotten to mind the building pressure. And the end result is a spectacle greater than anything the film came close to rendering (except maybe the creepy twins).


  1. While I do enjoy an occasional Stephen King book, I have never had an interest in reading the Shining. I never wanted to see the movie and successfully evaded other people's attempts to get me to watch it until I finally saw it two months ago. (I hated it). After seeing the movie my desire to read the book, already at zero, was lowered to never.

    After reading your review I have to admit I am considering reading the book.

    Stephen King should thank you.


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