Book Reviews

Book Review: The Shining By Stephen King

Book Review: The Shining By Stephen KingThe Shining was first published in 1977. It was Stephen King’s third published novel and the central characters are Jack and Wendy Torrance and their young son, Danny. Jack Torrance is an ex-schoolteacher and sometime writer. He is also an alcoholic, but Jack has managed to get his drinking under control; his temper is, however, another matter. In fact, the reader does not have to get too many pages into the book before they find out that Jack lost his school teaching job for assaulting one of his students. The only work he can find now is the winter caretaker’s job at the Overlook Hotel and he only manages to get that because he has a friend who is on the hotel’s board of directors.

The Torrances will have the hotel to themselves all winter. It is located in a remote location, up in the mountains, and is snowed in for most of the winter period and so cannot possibly function as a hotel. Left empty though, the Overlook would be at the mercy of the elements, hence the need for a caretaker. Jack’s job will involve keeping the place heated and performing general maintenance tasks in and around the premises. Overall the job will not be too demanding on his time though, so he hopes to have plenty of opportunity to work on the play he is writing. That might be Jack’s plan, but the Overlook is no ordinary hotel and Jack’s son Danny is no ordinary child so, one way or another, things do not turn out as expected

When the Torrances arrive at the hotel the head Chef, Dick Hallorann, is waiting to show them around the kitchen. Dick is a nice, old guy and obviously a great cook, but some of Dicks other abilities are not so apparent and, like his grandmother before him, Dick has psychic abilities. His grandmother had a name for these abilities. She called them ‘the shine’.

When Dick meets Danny he can tell straight away that Danny shines as well, in fact Danny shines stronger than anyone Dick has ever met. This worries Dick, so he takes Danny aside and warns him that places can shine too. The overlook is one of those places. Dick has seen some strange things in the hotel—some scary things—but he assures Danny that nothing at the hotel can hurt him and that it is just like pictures in a book. If Danny sees anything that scares him he should just look the other way and when he looks back it will be gone.

Deep down though, Dick is still troubled, so he tells Danny that if he ever needs him, he should call out to him, in his head, and Dick will come back to the Overlook on the run. The Shining is a horror novel and so, needless to say, in the end Danny does have to call to Dick, and Dick, who is working in Florida at the time, does hear him and he does come running, but the hotel is aware that Dick is coming and it is ready for him.

The Shining is a very dark story and, with every turn of the page, things get worse and worse in that spooky, old hotel. Fire hoses take on a life of their own; the lift runs by itself, while invisible guests party in the ballroom; and the lady in room 217 languishes in her bath and concentrates on the long and arduous task of decomposing. Judging by the scene in chapter twenty-five—where Danny meets her for the first time—it sounds like she has been doing a good job of it as well. Nasty! So it is little wonder that Danny goes into shock when she climbs out of the bath and comes after him.

The Shining is 416 pages long. It is a great story and the book has a lot more depth to it than Stanley Kubrick’s film version of the story; so if you have seen the film—most people have—don’t think that gives you an excuse not to read the book. There are a lot of differences.

For one thing there is no maze in the book and, for another, when he is under the control of the hotel Jack goes after his family with a roque mallet, not an axe. The book ends very differently as well and, without a maze to get lost in, Jack never gets the chance to become the world’s biggest Popsicle. Jack does die in the book, but the way he dies, although it is as unique as it is horrid, paints a different picture of the man; and it could be argued that he is the real victim in this story—a used up man who is who used and abused and then discarded when his love for his son gets in the way of the hotel’s agenda. It is all rather sad. And scary. Very scary! This is a book that deserves a place on the bookshelf of all horror fans because they don’t come much better than this.