Brad, The Werd’s resident horror maestro, is doing something a little bit different today and taking us on a tour round one of his most beloved classics, Stephen King’s The Shining, read on as he waxes enthusiastic…
Just to be totally clear, this about Stephen King’s The Shining, NOT Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The movie is good, and I do really like both versions in and of themselves, even though the book is better; as per usual.
This distinction is necessary because while Kubrick’s adaptation and King’s original novel may be superficially similar, at their core they are very different, focusing on different themes. The film is a great horror movie, directed and acted very well, albeit with a crowbarred in “ooh-isn’t-that-super-fucking-clever-and-spooky” ending. Anyway, I’m not talking about the movie any more that I have already.
The Shining is the story of the Torrance family, Jack, Wendy and Danny. Jack is teacher and aspiring playwright, trying to recover from an alcohol addiction. Following an issue with a pupil at his school, he takes a break and gets a job as a overwinter caretaker at a massive Colorado hotel: The Overlook. Taking his wife and kid with him, he looks forward to getting to grips with his sobriety, and his play.
Throwing a supernatural spanner in the works is Danny, who often has prophetic visions, and can read people’s minds; something that is picked up upon by Dick Hallorann, the cook at The Overlook who has a similar ability that he refers to as “The Shining”. Hallorann warns Danny about the ghosts and evil vibe of The Overlook, and tries his best to reassure him, while also telling him to stay clear of an especially haunted room – Room 237.
The Shining is one of those books where you pick up more and more each time you revisit it. What on its surface appears to be a story about a strung-out Dad going nuts in a haunted hotel is actually about so much more than that. What helps in this regard is how little of the backstory of the hotel and the ghosts that reside there are ever really explained or explored. You may think you’ve pieced together all of it, but there are just too many gaps and half-glimpsed explanations to be totally confident that you’ve grokked it. The woman in Room 237, the genuinely terrifying guy in the dog costume…their ghosts shine the brighter for the mystery that surrounds them.
But back with the living. Jack is a strung-out, regret filled, emotional disaster and ball of anger waiting to explode, and yet somehow sympathetic. There are so many moments through the story where you feel he could still become the hero, and do the right thing, but it never comes to pass. Wendy is perhaps the most complicated character in the story, torn by her feelings for Jack, and her fear of him. Jack and Wendy begin the story on the edge of divorce, and her faith and feelings for him are constantly swinging and shaken as the story progresses. Danny – the possessor of the titular Shining – is a quintessential good guy; even to the point of being a little bit annoying sometimes, but he is still likable, and you want him to survive the winter in The Overlook.
Many themes are brought up through The Shining – the relationship between father and son, the perils of addiction and the trials of recovery, why you should never give a wasp nest as a present to your son, and the fear and pressure of maintaining respectability. Of course, you can ignore all of these things, and enjoy it as a quick read horror story about a dad going mad in the mountains and trying to kill people with a mallet, but you’re missing what makes it a truly great novel.
At this point, I’m aware that I look like this:
And so I should really stop. Read The Shining, it’s like…loads better that what you think it is. And certainly loads better than the movie. Don’t think you’ve experienced it if you’ve just seen the movie, with it’s stupid fucking hedge maze, and stupid twin girl ghosts, and stupid, stupid, stupid ending.
Brad Harmer-Barnes is a writer for Miniature Wargames, Fortress Ameritrash, and other publications, as well as The Werd. He likes Gatorade, fish and chips and Twinkies. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @realbradhb.