Absolute Ply: The Shining

Release date: King, S. (1978) New York: Signet Books

Stephen King isn’t even a good writer.
It’s not even his best story.
I hated the movie.

People can say what they want about The Shining, but that won’t make it any less conspicuous in our culture. Perhaps one of the most famous horror novels, The Shining is also inextricably linked with Colorado. Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic without a job and with too many cares, takes a position at the Overlook Hotel, a resort high in the Rocky Mountains that has its analogue allegedly in the Stanley Hotel, as a caretaker in the offseason. Jack brings his wife and son along with him. His wife, Wendy, is trying to mend her troubled marriage, while his son, Danny, is coming to terms with a peculiar gift of his. The Overlook’s chef, Dick Hallorann, calls this gift “the shining.” He describes it as telepathy, giving Danny the ability to look into people’s thoughts, as well as to see across time. As Jack and his family hole up in the hotel for winter, they realize that there is something in the hotel inhuman, an evil that led one of the previous caretakers, a man named Grady, to murder his wife and two children. As Danny sees glimpses of the future, he also catches pieces of the past, including Grady’s two daughters, who acquaint him with a chilling word.

(I kind of thought this scene from one of my favorite video games was how the bathroom scene was going to go down. I was kind of right. Watch out, it’s pretty scary.)

Yeah yeah, just flip it backwards, whatever. Even though I knew a little bit about the book, I was still scared shitless through most of it. The reader doesn’t necessarily need to behold the book with virgin eyes to get something out of it. King does a fabulous job of setting the events up, so that innocuous images like the hedges in the topiary, a roque mallet, and a bathtub carry immense meaning as the book unfolds. There is not one definite point of view, so the reader gets the events from all three characters, Jack, Wendy, and Danny. This is frightening because at any point King might switch from Jack’s descent into madness to Danny’s perceptions of true horror. The reader is never safe. Add to this that Danny is powerless over his own ability, so he might accidentally invade the wrong part of the hotel with his mind and watch in helplessness as it consumes him. Say what you will about King’s control over his own prose, but the fear in this book is so palpable one could engrave his name in whispers along its edge.

It is a bit long for a high school class, being about 500 pages. Yet, they fly extremely quickly, and once the students get past Watson’s swearing, the sexual imagery, and the gruesomeness, it is an instantly engaging book. However, many students will not get past this, which is why The Shining should be a purely optional book, and perhaps the teacher might be better off sending the student home with a permission slip, since the subject matter is not exactly standard high school fare. Besides these points, there are few novels like this one, and if adolescents are acquainted with how powerful writing can be, perhaps they will yearn for that power someday.

This entry was published on March 10, 2012 at 6:40 am and is filed under Absolute Ply. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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