Friday, April 2, 2010

The Shining by Stephen King

In his preface to the new version of The Shining, Stephen King states that this novel was a “crossroads novel” for him. He decided to go deeper and admit Jack Torrence’s love for his father. It gave Jack more dimension and realism and therefore made him scarier. The fact that the killer would be driven by his childhood abuse is very disturbing and blurs the line between supernatural and psychotic. Is it the ghosts of the hotel that drive his killing spree or his own nature?

I hadn’t read the book before or seen the film all the way through, so I didn’t know how it was going to end. I hadn’t been that much of a fan of King before reading this, but I have to admit, it is an amazing book for the way it sets up all of the problems in the beginning then keeps upping the stakes until the climax of the book when the Overlook blows up. The book pulled me in rather quickly and compelled me to spend many late nights reading through to the end.
How does he do it?

From the very opening page I noticed that King fleshes out even the minor characters in the story, case in point, Ullman, the manager. He will play a role later on in the story, but at the beginning, we don’t know that. Also in the very first chapter King establishes the fact that the former caretaker killed himself, his wife and child while spending a long, isolated winter at the Overlook. That sets up the expectation of trouble. Will Jack follow suit or can he somehow overcome the evil of the hotel? He spends pages and pages fleshing out Watson, the furnace caretaker. The fact that the Overlook could blow at any moment if the furnace isn’t maintained hangs over our heads as a point of tension.

Danny’s sensitivity to psychic phenomenon is also set up. Danny thinks about his father “doing the bad thing…until his brain would be quiet and leave him alone.” We know that Danny has an imaginary friend, Tony, who is a troublemaker. This also sets up expectations of impending trouble.
King eases us into the fact that Jack has an explosive temper and a drinking problem, but he loves his child more than anything and would do anything in the world for him. We are in a very deep character perspective in the Shining. The viewpoints characters change by chapter, and every time we are in a character’s head we experience the stream of consciousness of the character as though we were in the characters’ heads. We know the things that haunt them, the things they obsess about over and over and over again.

I have to ask myself if King is Jack Torrent. He seems so familiar with Jack’s demons of having an abusive childhood, tending toward violence, substance abuse and spousal abuse. How could anyone who hasn’t experienced these things write about them so convincingly? Or is he just a damned good writer?

Level of detail King uses ups the realism of the story. We can see the Overlook as though we were really there. We know the pattern of the carpet, what the sconces of the drapes look like. We know the exact layout of the caretaker’s apartment. All of the details of the concrete things make it much easier to believe the concrete details King provides of the unreal things, the topiary that comes to life, the woman-ghost in the bathtub, the midnight ghost revelers.
I think the scariest part of the book is when they are in the caretaker’s apartment, wake up to the sound of mechanical grinding and realize that it’s the elevator. That would absolutely terrify me, mainly because I’d wonder what or who might be in the elevator. My imagination would carry me away and I’d go crazy with terror.

Kings endings are always his weak point. In his own words, “Keep that door closed as long as possible.” Once the monster is actually revealed, the ending is anticlimactic. Actually, I think that this is one of his better endings. Confrontation between Danny and demon-possessed Jack is spellbinding. Even though we know that Jack is being controlled by something beyond his control, we get to see that the humanity is still there within him. Jack breaks down for a moment when Danny appeals to his human side. I actually thought that Danny and his mom would be killed at the end and was surprised that they weren’t.

1 comment:

  1. King has admitted that Jack Torrence is him. At the time he wrote this, he was battling alcoholsim. Good blog!