Jul 5, 2010

The Shining - Stephen King

Like every male with vivid imagination, born after the Seventies, I went through a Stephen King phase in my teens. Luckily, I outgrew that (not before it branded me for life with the nickname you see in the blog's title though), but I'll always have a soft spot for him, and I still read some of his books on occasion.

Reading The Shining was a result of an argument on a message board, about which one is better - the book or the movie. I am a big supporter of the "It is a different medium - don't compare!" school of thought, but I love an online argument as much as the next guy, so I had to check for myself. And checking for myself, I stumbled upon one of the best Stephen King novels I've ever read.

King's greatest strength as a writer has always been, in my opinion, his depiction of "classic" American life. The Shining however shows very little of this, as it quickly plunges into the oppressive claustrophobic setting of an isolated mountain hotel. Jack Torrance - an aspiring writer struggling with the lasting effects alcohol has had over his family and his career - accepts a job as a caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado during the winter months when the building is almost completely unreachable. He moves there with his wife Wendy, and his boy Danny. Although the place has a colorful history, and most of it - unpleasant, Jack feels it nurturing his inspiration to write. However, his son feels differently. Danny has psychic abilities that the hotel chef Dick Hallorann calls "shining". Dick himself possesses this gift, but not nearly as powerful as the boy. Before he leaves for the winter, he warns Danny to stay away from certain places in the Overlook, since the shining could attract things he may not be prepared to see. Of course, the boy couldn't resist the temptation, and the hotel begins to waken. But its first target isn't the clairvoyant Danny, but his father - Jack.

The Shining is an exceptionally well written thriller, and - as most of King's good books - an in-depth look into the psyche of ordinary people and the demons that possess them. Even though the supernatural element is strong, the true villain in this novel is not the entity inhabiting the Overlook, but the monster hiding in a loving father's weaknesses. The book is large in scope, detailing not just the Torrances' life in the few months of winter isolation, but also parts of the history of the hotel - little chunks of intrigue, happiness and drama, painting a vivid picture of the place. Although nowhere near as grand as It, there are some similarities between the two, especially in the way King beautifully captures a child's view of the world through the eyes of little Danny Torrance and his exploration of the haunting building.

King's style of writing is at its best. Exact and to the point, he doesn't waste time with unnecessary details, and no more than ten pages pass before something disquieting occurs. His ability to ascribe horrific qualities to mundane things like going down a dark staircase, avoiding a fire hose in a corridor, or - indeed - taking a drink, is sharpened to the point of cutting, and the book is filled with moments of chilling tension in situations most of us just pass through without ever thinking twice.

In the end, I enjoyed The Shining tremendously, and when I watched Stanley Kubrick's movie, my expectations were proven correct. There was little in common between the two, and little point to even try and make a comparison. But from this message board argument I was left with a great reading experience of a book I might otherwise have missed. So who says that arguing on the Internet is always like winning the Special Olympics?


No comments:

Post a Comment