“The Shining” by Stephen King

Maan!! This book.

I forgot why I picked it up to read a couple months ago, but gosh, it was so good I was hooked the entire time. My plan is to read King’s books in publication order so since I’ve already read Carrie (sucks) and ‘Salem’s Lot (pretty good), this was next and I was blown away.

I did a stupid thing after reading this, though. I went to a hotel. WHY did I do that? It was for work, but I was so creeped out when walking down corridors and going into the bathroom. I should have waited until after the work trip to read this book.

“This inhuman place makes human monsters.”

Quick summary:

The Shining is a horror novel about a clairvoyant 5-year-old boy named Danny who moves with his mom and dad to a hotel high in the mountains of Colorado for the winter season. His father, Jack, was fired from his teaching job at a prep school after a violent encounter with a student so, in desperate need of a job, he takes a caretaker position at the Overlook hotel, which his friend and drinking buddy, Al Shockley, procured for him. Danny has a bad feeling about going to the hotel and his imaginary friend, Tony, warns him to stay away, but Danny knows that his father needs the job and doesn’t alert his parents about his concerns.

When the little family arrive at the hotel, they meet the general manager, Stuart Ullman, who gives them a tour of the hotel. Danny gets a sinister feeling from the hotel and later learns from Hallorann, a black man who works as the cook, that there is indeed something sinister about the hotel but it won’t hurt Danny or his family. Danny is eased by Hallorann’s assurance and further by finding someone who has abilities similar to his own, which Hallorann calls the Shining.

The hotel closes for the season and the family are left alone in it. Soon odd things begin to happen as the hotel seems to prey upon the family’s fears and tear the family apart. Jack becomes obsessed with the hotel’s history and Danny becomes increasingly fearful of what will become of him and his family and what the hotel wants. The more time the family spend at the hotel, the more they begin to unravel until the snow comes and they are trapped and the hotel comes alive.

My thoughts:

I have many and I don’t know where to start.

I often hear people say that The Shining, the book and the movie, is really good, but since I’d never sampled it and didn’t plan to back then, I didn’t pay much attention to the details that followed such praise. So I went into this book not knowing what it was about. Now that I’ve read the book, I agree it’s really good.

Reasons why I liked it and other stuff that stood out to me (in categories because I’m feeling overwhelmed):

(Also, spoilers below. Just know it was good and go read it if you haven’t already.)

Pacing

Unlike Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot, which were both slow to the point of annoyance, I didn’t mind the slow pace in The Shining. In fact, I think it was needed to build and maintain the suspense. The story is all about tension and pressure and how too much of it is strenuous and can cause a person to break, lose control. The pace exemplifies this by working the tension and pressure of the plot upon the reader. The story’s tension slowly builds and the reader (or just me) becomes increasingly anxious as she wonders what will happen next. At it’s height, the tension is almost unbearable, until it breaks and we see characters devolve and become insane because of the pressure on them; meanwhile, the reader feels relief and release and excitement and horror at what becomes of the characters and the hotel.

Fear

Friggin awesome, the way fear is used in the story. Fear is a tricky bastard. It creeps up on you. It’s stealthy, so sometimes you don’t even know it’s there or you mistake it for something else, anger or self-righteousness or love. Fear causes your body to react in odd ways and can play tricks on the mind, which one could say happens in this story.

The Shining can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on what you want to believe: that the supernatural occurrences in the story are real or that they are hallucinations brought on by fear. What makes both interpretations possible to believe is the characters’ perception of reality. Danny is a kid and believes what he sees and experiences is real. Though he debates this with himself sometimes, it’s hard for him to deny what he sees and feels as truth. And since we read from his perspective, we are compelled to agree with his perception of reality.

Jack is reluctant to believe the supernatural occurrences at the Overlook, at first, and calls them “hallucinations.” But as he unravels, he stops questioning whether what he sees and experiences is real or not. Wendy is the only person at the hotel who doesn’t experience anything supernatural, though she has an inkling that there is something wrong about the hotel and that it negatively affects her son and husband. Later, it’s possible to interpret the supernatural occurrences she sees and hears as a “shared hallucination” she is compelled to partake of since the only time she experiences them is when she’s with Jack or Danny.

So that’s one character who believes the supernatural stuff, one who tries to deny it, and another who’s unable to see it. With that setup, whether or not the supernatural is real is highly debatable. I, however, believe it’s all real because that made the story more fun; but I’d like to reread it thinking that there’s nothing supernatural about it to see what that experience is like.

I think King does a great job in his stories at showing how fear affects his characters. An example of this in The Shining is the scene with Danny and the fire hose. It’s my favorite part of the story because it shows how debilitating fear can be and how a major part of what makes us fearful of something is the mind imagining what could be, not what is.

I love the pacing in this scene because it’s slow and fraught with tension and puts the reader on edge as she anticipates what could happen and flip-flops between believing the hotel is supernatural and the hose will attack Danny to thinking it’s all in Danny’s head and mentally urging him to go on pass the very normal hose. I really like the slowness of the pace here. At the close of the scene, I realized that the scene could have been wrapped up in a sentence rather than a few pages because all Danny has to do is walk by the hose, but his fear and anxiety causes the pace to slow and the scene to lengthen, quite like what happens when a person dreads something: things that would take mere seconds to do seem to take hours, or pages, to accomplish.

I also like this scene because it reminds me of my childhood (and my adulthood) when I’d go to bed after watching a scary movie and burrow down under the covers fearful of the ghosts I imagine lurking beyond my sheets in the dark. At those times, it takes forever for me to fall asleep or for morning to arrive. And I like how this scene ends with Danny temporarily relieved and realizing that there’s nothing odd or threatening about the hose, yet refusing to go back and check or put the cover back on it.

Characters

I don’t like characters, except Danny because he’s a sweet kid who wants to do good by his parents, and Hallorann isn’t too bad either. But the more I read, the more I disliked the parents — Jack and Wendy.

I think the whole point of setting the story at the Overlook hotel, a place removed from society, is to isolate the characters so that their weaknesses can be exploited. It allows the supernatural to easily play with them and later take possession. In this isolated setting, we see how the pressure of society affects the characters. Jack is unable to bear the pressure of the responsibilities expected of him as husband and father and though Wendy fully embraces her role as mother and wife, she hates that such roles have made her like her own mother, a nag. Danny is unfortunately casted into a harsh, cruel place, an adult space, that he’s unable to fully understand because of his youth and innocence but is able to intuit much about. He realizes that his youth and inexperience is a shortcoming that makes it hard to survive the struggle between his mother and father. Hallorann, being a black man, isn’t invited into this space until he is called upon to act as the “magic negro” to save the white family.

…I guess it’s not that I don’t like the characters and more that I don’t like how they function (act) in the story.

I don’t like that Jack increasingly blames his wife and her nagging for his inability to measure up to society’s expectations of him as a husband and father. One could say that it’s the hotel that drives Jack to increasingly blame Wendy for this as the story progresses, but I think the hotel (if its supernatural abilities are to be believed) acts upon elements of a person’s character that are already present though maybe hidden. Supernatural stuff aside, being sequestered with only his wife and kid drives Jack to fully entertain thoughts that might have been fleeting otherwise.

“And that’s when you realize what the Wagon really is, Lloyd. It’s a church with bars on the windows, a church for women and a prison for you.”

I don’t like that Wendy agrees with Jack that she is a nag, calls herself a bitch for calling attention to things that threaten their safety (also, I haven’t seen any evidence in the story of her being a bitch and personally, I see that as a derogatory term and do not see any positivity in it (contrary to what many women say these days) so I was pissed that Wendy used it to describe herself), and agrees with her husband’s negative perception of her before submitting to him sexually. I was so pissed. (FYI, this happens at the part when she tells Jack to fix the snowmobile so they can leave the hotel.) I also don’t like that Wendy is constantly mistreated and abused throughout the entire story. She is constantly ignored or shoved aside by her husband and son.

Also, since Danny and Jack are the prominent characters in the story, I believe the narrative asks of us to pity or sympathize or whatever them more: Danny because he’s sweet and innocent and lonely, and Jack because he’s tortured and stressed and isolated. However, I believe the person who is truly lonely and isolated is Wendy because she’s the only woman in the whole damn story. All others are reflected upon or don’t add much to the plot. Most are of the story’s past. In this obviously male world then, Wendy is alone and must suffer being portrayed as cold and logical or dramatic and silly. (rolls eyes)

I do like how King writes Danny’s character and scenes from his POV. I think it was well done because we get a sense of how smart and perceptive Danny is yet never lose sight of how young and innocent he is too. This is seen in little things like him referring to alcohol as “the Bad Thing” or unable to understand what “Redrum” is (BTW, that Redrum chapter was one of my favs. I spend through the book to get to it), but the skill in his character construction is seen when we compare his experiences to his father’s because their experiences at the Overlook are paralleled. The story hints that both Danny and Jack could be experiencing hallucinations but while Jack is outright compared to a lunatic, Danny’s experience is instead infused with an allusion to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland to hint that Danny’s handle on reality has wavered.

As a character, I liked Hallorann, but I’m conflicted about his function. I like that he is the hero, but don’t like that he’s the magic negro there to save the white folks. The story may not be about race (though it’s referred to), but this is an American book written by an American writer and being read by a black woman, so yea, I see race in it.

“…it was better than riding alone through this white madness.”

Other stuff

I liked the story because of the supernatural element and because it is a horror novel and does a great job in its portrayal of fear — how it infects and affects people. However, I do not like its negative portrayal of women, or rather woman. Despite what Jack says and what Wendy believes, I do not think Wendy is silly, a nag, or a bitch. And despite what the narrative wants us to believe, I do not think she’s overdramatic. I think she did good trying to protect her son and survive her raging husband.

I also didn’t like that Jack, the father and husband, believes that he needs to reassert his position and control in his family by harshly disciplining both his wife and child. Of course, it’s the Overlook that drives him to this conclusion, but supernatural stuff aside, the Overlook works upon Jack’s mind and perception, so his own beliefs must be mixed into it somehow.

Anyway, I think I’ll stop here since this is quite long and the other stuff I want to say will take forever. Wish I’d buddy read this or something.

Overall: ★★★★★

Because it was a damn good reading experience and I liked the story and was creeped out and loved the pace and all the other stuff.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

Yea, I think it’s worth owning a copy. I read it on my iPad, but I’d like to get myself a physical copy.

27 thoughts on ““The Shining” by Stephen King

  1. Fantastic review! You’re so brave for going to a hotel soon after – I was scared enough just walking around my flat whilst I was reading it. I also found it interesting that you don’t recommend “Carrie”, as I had planned on this being my next read. Maybe I’ll avoid it now!

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    1. Lol! I thought I wouldn’t be affected but I was so wrong. I had to keep a light on while sleeping.
      Yea, Carrie didn’t work out for me. I didn’t find it appealing at all. I think it’s good to read it if you want to see where/how King’s writing progressed, but otherwise I recommend the movies. I thought they were better. But some folks do like the Carrie books, so maybe I’m just an oddball here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah okay, that makes sense. You’re not actually the first person I’ve seen who didn’t exactly get on with “Carrie”, so I’ll believe you haha!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I really liked this book and also your review. I felt the same way about the tension factor, it is something very King’s. Actually is happening to me again while i´m reading Apocalipsis. I strongly recomend it to you. Keep working on reviews! xo

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  3. I’ve only read Stephen King’s On Writing but love how he wrote that. I’m not good with scaring myself, which is why I’ve never really got around to reading his other books. It sounds like this is quite the read though…Very tempting.

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  4. I love Stephen King! It’s amazing how often I’ll see or hear something that reminds me of one of his books. I think that’s what is so great about his writing — he takes every day things and makes them really scary. This wasn’t even one of my favorites (that would be The Stand), but I read this one quite a while ago. He recently wrote a sequel that was quite good.

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    1. This was so good that I was tempted to immediately start reading Doctor Sleep. But I want to stick to my publication plan, so I’ll read the Stand next. I’m kinda anxious about it because the movie scared me a little.

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  5. I’ve only seen the movie and it was creeeepy! Haven’t really read his books, perhaps i’ll be brave one of these days 🙂 Though like you it takes me ages to fall asleep after.

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    1. Well of the 3 I’ve read so far, only ‘Salem’s Lot was scary…actually, it’s a short story that I read after the story that was scary. I think the short story is Jerusalem’s Lot. It’s a prequel to the novel, I think. That was scary!

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    1. Aye, aye cap’n! But, ah, but only at high noon when there’s lots of hustling and bustling about this ship.
      Wouldn’t mind checking out that documentary. What’s the name of it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The documentary is called Room 237 and it was available on Netflix when I watched it. I would love a review of the movie once ye see it. Ye going to watch it at high noon? Hornswoggle! Can ye still get the delightful creepy crawlies and correct amount of tension that way? Well I guess it doesn’t matter as long as ye watch the delightfully good movie. Arrrr!
        x The Captain

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks! It’s not on Netflix anymore, but I found it on Amazon Video.
          Uhh…it will be really creepy and really crawly for me and leave me shivering in mi boots for days. Nope, high noon it is.
          Lol! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

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