15 October 2011

Stephen King's "The Shining"

The 2002 cover edition. 
Roque. Stroke. Good shot!

Ah, The Shining. My favorite Stephen King novel of all time. Probably my favorite horror novel of all time. The last time I read it was in 1997, right after watching the miniseries King scripted for ABC.

It was one of the few moments where everyone in our house piled in front of the television in silence. The miniseries scared the crap out of us and we were obsessed with it! Given that all the kids in the house were teens (me and my brother were 13 and my sister 16), obsessiveness is usually a simple thing to fall into at that age.

Picking up the actual novel was the next logical step. So at age 13, I read the book, which was the scariest thing I'd ever read, and reread, and reread...and then that summer, right when me and my brother turned 14, we actually got our great aunt and uncle to take us to The Stanley hotel, where King stayed and where the miniseries was filmed.

The obsession continued. We watched the Stanley Kubrick film and idolized the The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror version (The Shinning). We quoted from the novel randomly at awkward points in real conversations (Roque, stroke!!) and I even wore an elaborately decorated REDRUM tee shirt as much as I could at the time. I recited the little snippets of songs King included in the novel (Roll me over in the clo-oh-over, lay me down and do it again) even when I didn't know the actual song or what the lyrics meant. We even defaced one of the unfinished walls in the basement laundry room...if you look closely you can see in kiddie pencil scribbles quotes from the book. And yes, "redrum" appears again on the walls.

I guess we were special children growing up.

Anyway, The Shining  became the official Ambassador of Horror for me...I'd read the genre before, but this was the first book I loved, and it set the standard for me. Every horror novel I read after The Shining always got quickly compared to it, no matter how hard I tried not to.

And then for some reason, I took a very long break from reading horror altogether. I'm not sure what happened. I just stopped wanting to read them one day...and I don't remember which book I read that helped me into that decision (yet oddly enough I knew that I wanted to write horror even after giving up on it). Aside from the occasional short story, the next time I read horror regularly was in 2010, for my first Readings in the Genre class at Seton Hill. I'd say it was about a ten-year break from the genre altogether, if I'm recalling it correctly.

When we were assigned the book for this term's Horror Genre class, I felt a tiny twinge of fear: I love The Shining, but it's been forever since I read it! Would I still love this book? We've heard about looking at the past with rosy-hued glasses, or absence making the heart grow fonder...so I guess I was afraid that I'd read it this time around and end up calling my past self a moron for liking it so much. I wanted it to scare me still, and I wanted it to be good, and I wanted it to be effective.

Verdict: Still holds up. Still creeps me out. And The Shining is still my Knight carrying the Banner for Horror Fiction. Huzzah!

But I've read it with new eyes...obviously they're older, but they're more open this time around. I've been educated as a fiction writer, so I viewed the text as a writing student or novelist would. And this time around, things that got on my nerves when I was a young teen made far more sense to me now.

For example, when I was 13
(I had just gotten pointe shoes for ballet the first time and they made me six feet tall when I'd go up, tallest girl in the class on or off tiptoe and now taller than my sister, ha ha she won't beat me up now)
I couldn't understand TELL THE TRUTH, YOU JUST SKIPPED OVER IT, YOU DIDN'T TRY TO UNDERSTAND why King did these quirky little things in the narrative when all I wanted to get to was the story
--not the story, who cares about the story, I just want to see the ghosts--
and see what happened next. But now that I'm older and learning about writing fiction I hope this MFA is worth it add the thousands of dollars I borrowed from the government to the twenty-thousand I borrowed for undergrad oh my god my books better be turned into movies that make stupid amounts of money or I will be a slave to debt forever I can see how this method of showing multiple POVS
--I'm still learning about POV by the way (Tim Esaias, yeah) oh crap did I spell his name right-- and intimate trains of thought really are an expert way of putting the reader inside the minds of the characters, and considering how easily distracted human beings are (I forgot to put the milk back in the fridge, hold on) and how a single image, sound, or sense of smell
I can't seem to forget you
The first time I ever met you
Your Windsong stays on my mind
can make the attention span change course, the format of the narrative reflects the human mind rather well. I hated this at first (I can make allowances, though) and hate it when other authors do it;
(And it sure seemed like this style came up in Straub's writing in Ghost Story)
I don't forgive them for it or have the patience to read it
(if you're still here with me, great)
 so either I have an extreme bias towards King (plausible) or other writers just don't pull it off with the same finesse (also plausible).

Such as myself. I hope you appreciate (or at least recognize) that the above was a lame attempt at a King impersonation. And I didn't mean it in a snarky way...I actually admire that King can do this. If King made himself into a brand (he kind of is, to be honest), the style above is certainly one of his trademarks. I hated reading it when I was younger but I appreciate it much more now, and I can understand how difficult it is to pull off. Hats off.

I even caught onto things that are obvious now that I overlooked in the past. For example, Part Three of the novel is called The Wasp's Nest. When I was younger, I thought the title was selected because the next scene had Jack Torrance on the roof fixing shingles when he finds the nest. My brain went, "title of section" = "chapter event." But now I see that the entire event of the wasps nest foreshadows (or is a metaphor for) the nastiness of the Overlook Hotel itself.

Quickie rundown: Jack is the caretaker for the hotel. He finds the wasp's nest hidden underneath the roof and the bugs sting him. Jack thinks he's wiped it out with the bug bomb but when his son Danny gets a hold of the nest by keeping it in his room, the wasps not only reappear but in a huge swarm. They sting everyone, of course, and Jack is horrified: "They had come back. He had killed the wasps but they had come back [...] And suddenly he found he didn't like the Overlook so well anymore, as if it wasn't wasps that had stung his son, wasps that had miraculously lived through the bug bomb assault, but the hotel itself" (King, 149-150).

Good call on Jack's part, and a great setup on King's part. Think of it like this: the wasp's nest is the hotel's evil. People think it's dormant because they can't see it, but it's alive and humming beneath the surface. Jack is the caretaker (and the Caretaker), so he finds the nest while doing work on the hotel itself. Jack thinks he's done his job (using the bug bomb) but when Danny, who has the shining, is brought in the picture, things get crazy. Danny's shine is powerful, and when it comes in contact with the hotel, it enables the ghosts and evil things to manifest...more than the dead brought to life, and more than "pictures in a book" (King 100). So...the fact that about 50-100 wasps explode out of the seemingly "dead" nest when Danny's around is a good clue as to what Danny's power can do to the hotel's.

It's been a pleasure rereading The Shining. I could go on with examples (which would probably help make this post a bit more academic and critically sound) as to how this time, the book seems richer to me than before, but I'm done waxing euphoric. Instead, I'll leave you with a picture from the vault:

Image (cc) KEB
This is my photo collage from the trip to The Stanley. For most of my time growing up I ridiculously over-documented everything with photos and albums. Thought you guys would get a kick out of this.

I am so happy that my handwriting doesn't look like that anymore. :)

Work Cited:

King, Stephen. The Shining. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977. Print.


  1. I was oblivious/apathetic to Stephen King's work for the majority of my life. I didn't look down on it, it just didn't register. I was a fantasy novel kind of kid in high school. However, I read On Writing in 2009 after hearing about it from several people whose writing I hold in high regard, and I've been a voracious King reader ever since.

    Earlier this year, I read the entire Dark Tower series, and before that I devoured The Stand. I've never read The Shining, but I fully intend to do so soon.

    Also, I'm happy to have stumbled upon your blog/portfolio.

  2. Kole: On Writing is a fantastic book. Glad it got you into reading King!

    Kristina: I am very jealous that you've stayed at the Stanley. And your impersonation of King's writing is hilarious. He's been such an influence on me (I started reading him at 10, that's 25 years of him in my brain!) that every now and then I slip into that stream-of-consciousness style. I love the way he uses it to reflect the internal chaos of his characters. Great analysis of the wasps as well.

  3. Another enjoyable post, Kristina. I, too, enjoyed your King-esque riff, but what I most love are the stories of your childhood and the EXCELLENT panoramic shot of the Stanley Hotel, which is all the better for its crazy sewn-together-ness.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I LOVED your King impersonation! This was my first time to read the book, so that stuff was driving me nuts at first. Then I just decided to let go and follow the story. I think Steven King can do whatever he wants; it seems to be working okay for him.

  5. I'm so green with envy of you and your stay at the Stanley. Anyway, nice post. I never read this book until now, but I think that if I had read it before - I probably would not have appreciated it at all, let alone the skill that King possesses. I do tend to read books differently now than before, and as I stated on my blog I only read two King books - I mainly read them because of the reputation of King.


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