Shine on, you scary diamond: Stephen King’s “The Shining”

Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining

Shine on, you scary diamond: Stephen King’s “The Shining”

When I was younger, I liked to read. Scratch that, I loved to read. If I found a book I loved or a story I adored, I wouldn’t put it down. Seriously, bookworms know of the learned skill of successfully navigating crowded hallways and classrooms with your nose stuck between pages. (Books are great, kids. Support your local library.)

Recently, though, I’ve rediscovered audiobooks. Since I have little time and attention span to physically carry a book with me, this seemed ideal. It was a flashback to the days in school, walking the halls and following the adventures of Martin the Warrior or the Baudelaire orphans. (Also certain TGE members are taking forever getting through a particular piece, but that’s beside the point….)

At a family member’s suggestion, I began listening to Stephen King’s The Shining. I’d dipped my toe into King’s work before, but listening to it performed by a professional voice actor was revelatory. The story was creepy, slow-paced but not sluggish, unsettling whether I listened to it at work or at home. It also helped that the creepiest bits were set in winter and were made more unsettling by the snow outside. It was masterful storytelling with an equally evocative narrator, truly deserving of praise. Not flawless, but still brilliant.

And now that I’ve finished, it’s time to discuss.

Spoilers, obviously.

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When reading a ghost story, setting is crucial when establishing tone and emotional weight. A dilapidated asylum, an abandoned school, a graveyard; these places inherently set a reader on edge.

A posh hotel in the mountains? Sounds like the setting for a lovely getaway, not horrifying ghost encounters. Still, a hotel offers a delicious mix of security and unfamiliarity. Who would ever expect something bad to happen in a hotel?

The Shining Overlook Hotel
The Overlook Hotel

Exactly.

One of the greatest narrative strengths this story has is capturing the idea of isolation and “cabin fever.” The characters are cut off from the outside world, especially as the snow begins to fall. But for a while, everything is fine. Nothing to worry about in this hotel, aside from the words of an employee.

And who listens to employees about their knowledge of the workspace, really?

As the story progresses, the reader is primarily placed in the point of view of Jack, the recovering alcoholic father. Another point that deserves praise is the depiction of recovering alcoholism, persistently tormenting Jack throughout the narrative. It showcases the duality of his wanting to be a better person and his desire to fall back into overindulgence. The return of his drinking habits and his repeated desire to drink are telling and important for his development. His isolation, cabin fever, and susceptibility to influence made him a perfect target for the hotel, and its spirits.

Debate over the true antagonist ranges from Jack to the hotel itself to none at all. There are points to each argument. However, King himself stated that there are supernatural forces at work in the hotel. The hotel has been taken over, and there is more happening behind the scenes than recognizable by the casual observer. The idea of a haunted temporary homestead has been done before, but never on such a scale and with such power.

The story itself is solid and enjoyable, unsettling and entertaining at the same time. However, it isn’t a perfect novel. It’s close, but not quite there. Let me explain.

Yawn of the Dead

Here’s the thing: if you watched the movie first and went in expecting the same story: don’t. The book and the film are two different narratives. Any adaptation will have to distinguish itself from its source material, though not always for the better. In this case, the endings change, interactions and foreshadowing differ, characters are added. Kubrick and King had different ideas for the Overlook, and if you enter one after seeing the other, it might change your perception of the story. There is no iconic “here’s Johnny,” no twin girls, no snowy maze.

Again, if King introduced the story to you, Kubrick added his own twists. Likewise, if Kubrick introduced the story, King had different ideas. Differing leads produce differing product.

The ending as well, while satisfying, may feel to some like a bit of a cop out. The Overlook and Jack are gone, Wendy and Danny are free and safe from both. The usual happy ending is the most commercially successful option, but a little deviation could be beneficial. The horror genre especially thrives on the idea that not everything works out in the end. The ending with the three objectively good characters sitting on a beach is a bit annoying to some, but understandable. The heroes survive, there’s a commercially satisfying ending, whoopdy-doo. It’s a bit of a personal gripe, but one recognizing what sells and what would be more niche.

End of the Road

Bottom line: The Shining is a fantastic piece of fiction. It’s creepy as hell, a great slow burn, tense and unnerving. The audiobook is performed exceptionally well, Campbell Scott lending his voice to a truly haunting narrative. It is a harrowing story and one I would gladly recommend.

Leave your thoughts in the comments if you’ve read The Shining or any of King’s works. Do you have differing thoughts and opinions? Feel free to discuss and leave suggestions for other stories to check out.

As always, this is Crab, and keep on shining.

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