Tuesday, May 12, 2009

27. The Shining – Steven King.

History: Published in 1977, this horror novel was inspired by the John Lennon song "Instant Karma!", which contained the line "We all shine on…". It was King's third published novel, and first hardback bestseller, and the success of the book firmly established King as a preeminent author in the horror genre.
After writing his first two books, both of which are set in small towns in King's home state of Maine, King was looking for a change of pace for the next book. "I wanted to spend a year away from Maine so that my next novel would have a different sort of background." King opened an atlas of the US on the kitchen table and randomly pointed to a location, which turned out to be Boulder, Colorado. So in early 1974, King and his family moved across the country to Colorado. Around Halloween, they vacationed at a resort hotel near Estes Park, Colorado called the Stanley Hotel. Stephen and Tabitha were the only two guests in the hotel that night. "When we arrived, they were just getting ready to close for the season, and we found ourselves the only guests in the place — with all those long, empty corridors . . .” They checked into room 217 which they found out was said to be haunted. This is where room 217 comes from in the book. They had dinner that evening in the grand dining room, totally alone. They were offered one choice for dinner, the only meal still available. Taped orchestral music played in the room and theirs was the only table set for dining. "Except for our table all the chairs were up on the tables. So the music is echoing down the hall, and, I mean, it was like God had put me there to hear that and see those things. And by the time I went to bed that night, I had the whole book in my mind".
"That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind."
Originally conceived as a five-act tragedy play, the story evolved into a five-act novel that also included a lot of King's own personal demons. "I was able to invest a lot of my unhappy aggressive impulses in Jack Torrance, and it was safe." King himself has said that The Shining includes an exploration of alcohol dependence and relationships with parents and children in the life of an individual. Others have speculated that every supernatural episode that occurs is merely an exaggeration to show how alcoholism can so easily destroy the nuclear family unit.
Bill Thompson, King's editor at Doubleday, tried to talk King out of The Shining as he felt after Carrie and 'Salem's Lot, King would get 'typed' as a horror writer. King considered that a compliment.
The characters and settings sometimes occur in later books: Dick Hallorann makes a brief appearance in King's later book It; A reference to the Overlook is made in King's later novel Misery, where Annie speaks of an artist named Andrew Pomeroy, her ex-lover, who was sent by a magazine to sketch the ruins of the hotel, but Annie considered his drawings "terrible" and, believing he had cheated on her, killed him shortly thereafter; A character in King's The Stand, Mother Abagail, has clairvoyant and telepathic abilities; at one point she tells another character that this talent runs in her family, adding, "My own grandmother used to call it the shining lamp of God, sometimes just the shine."; Eddie Dean in King's The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three mentions having watched the film adaptation of The Shining; At the beginning of Chapter 44 in Part 5, "Conversations at the Party," a line of poetry is quoted — "The arguments against insanity fall through with a soft shurring sound…" This line of poetry, from a poem King wrote in college, also appears in a dominant role in Lisey's Story. (Jack Torrance ponders who wrote it — "Some undergraduate poet who was now selling washers in Wausau or insurance in Indianapolis?")
Plot: Jack Torrance is a temperamental writer who is trying to rebuild his life after his alcoholism causes him to break the arm of his (then) three-year-old son, and after he later assaults a pupil, thus losing his teaching job. Having given up drinking, he accepts a job as a winter caretaker at a large, isolated, Colorado resort hotel with a gory history. Hoping to prove that he has recovered from his alcoholism, and is now a responsible person, Jack moves into the Overlook Hotel with his wife, Wendy, and young son, Danny, who is sensitive to supernatural forces.
Shortly after the family's arrival at the hotel, Danny and the hotel chef, Dick Hallorann, have a brief private talk before Dick departs to warmer climates for the winter. They discuss Danny's talent and the hotel's sinister nature. Dick informs Danny that he also shares Danny's abilities as did Dick's grandmother, who called it "shining." Danny, who has had premonitions of the hotel's danger to his family, begins seeing ghosts and frightening visions from the hotel's past, but puts up with them in the hope that they are not dangerous in the present. He does not tell his parents about his visions because he senses how important the job of caretaker is to his father and his family's future. The hotel has difficulty possessing Danny, so it begins to possess Jack, frustrating his need and desire to work. As Jack becomes increasingly unstable, the sinister ghosts of the hotel gradually begin to overtake him. One day he goes to the bar of the hotel (which had been emptied before it shut down for the season) and finds it fully stocked with alcohol. He quickly gets drunk, allowing the hotel to possess him more fully. The hotel attempts to use Jack to kill Wendy and Danny in order to absorb Danny's psychic abilities. Wendy has discovered that they are completely isolated at the Overlook, as Jack has sabotaged the hotel's snowmobile. A battle occurs between Wendy and Jack. Jack beats her up with a croquet mallet. She stabs him in the small of his back with a large butcher knife. Wendy escapes, locking herself in the bathroom, with Jack in pursuit.
Dick Hallorann, whom Danny has summoned to the hotel through the use of the shining, has come all the way to the Overlook to investigate. Jack leaves Wendy in the bathroom and attempts to kill Hallorann with the mallet. Jack then pursues Danny. Danny escapes by reminding Jack that the unstable boiler in the basement is about to burst and destroy the hotel. Jack rushes to the basement while Danny, Wendy, and Hallorann flee the hotel as it explodes. The novel ends with Danny and Wendy summering at a resort in Maine where Dick is the head chef.
Review: The movie and book are very different, and I get them mixed up in writing this review. The "horror" genre, or "dark fantasy" genre, or whatever you want to call it, is all too often the redheaded stepchild of literature: rarely acknowledged, and never with grace. This book is slowly but surely changing that perception. It is regarded in some quarters as King's best book. Let us just say that this is an incredibly strong, well-constructed novel, with King using all of the wonderful little literary tools and bricks and mortar we love him for.
Opening Line: “Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.”
Closing Line: “Wendy sat down on Danny’s other side and the three of them sat on the end of the dock in the afternoon sun.”
Quotes: “He gets bored. When the snow comes and there's nothing to do but watch TV or play solitaire and cheat when he can't get all the aces out. Nothing to do but bitch at his wife and nag at the kids and drink."
"Your daddy . . . sometimes he does things he's sorry for later. Sometimes he doesn't think the way he should. That doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it does."
Rating: Very Good

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