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The Shining

The Shining (The Shining, #1)The Shining by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard to believe THE SHINING was published only a little more than a year after ‘SALEM’S LOT. ‘SALEM’S LOT is an old-fashioned horror novel in all sorts of ways, but THE SHINING is a thoroughly modern one. For all King’s repeated references to Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” throughout the novel, there’s far more of Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and Richard Matheson’s HELL HOUSE in its DNA. King does an excellent job of situating us deep in the heads of the Torrance family — particularly Jack, whose history of alcoholism and proclivity for losing his temper are explored in a way that gives the reader far more empathy for him than I expected. (I had only the Jack Nicholson interpretation from the film for my base line, and we’re never given a chance to empathize with him there before he turns into a boogeyman.)

One pleasant thing I’m noticing while reading these old King novels is that there’s a lot more going on in them than I thought. That’s what I get for only being familiar with their film adaptations, I suppose. THE SHINING offers many surprises I didn’t expect, mostly in character development, in the details of the hotel and the spirits who haunt it, and in the way the pace takes its time. However, I will admit to having a few small problems with it. I was surprised how little of a role the main characters play in the climax of the novel, including one character who spends significant time, effort, and risk of life and limb to get to the hotel. Ultimately, the end of the horror comes from something outside them rather than something they do. It makes sense plot wise, all the seeds are certainly planted in advance, but it didn’t pack the emotional wallop I was hoping for. I also wanted a little more clarity on why finding the scrapbook of Overlook history in the basement fascinated Jack so much that it allowed the hotel into his mind. Lastly, I have to admit to being a little confused by the “rules” of the Overlook. It seems to be that if you died in the hotel, your spirit would become part of it, as it did with Grady and the woman in the bathtub in Room 217. But there were other spirits present that I’m pretty sure didn’t die there, such as the partygoers and Horace Derwent. Is any connection to the hotel enough for it to trap your spirit, no matter where and when you die?

But these are just nitpicks, examples of my mind trying to find the logic in something as inherently illogical as the supernatural. THE SHINING is a phenomenal and frightening novel that’s well worth the praise it has received over the decades. I’m so glad I finally read it. And now I know why Joey wanted to keep it in the freezer.

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