Yes, that’s right. I never read a book by Stephen King until I started The Shining for class. I had a very vague familiarity with it, but I didn’t know most of the details (basically I knew the movie adaptation had Jack Nicholson with an axe, and even then I wasn’t positive I had the right title), and I definitely didn’t know it was a ghost story.
I also had no clue what the title meant, so I found that pretty interesting. I never would have guessed it referred to psychic powers.
So, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this novel, but once I got into it, I liked it a lot. Unlike the last book I read for class, The Shining had genuinely disturbing moments. By the end, I was anxious and distressed, and I finished the rest of the book in a single sitting so I could find out what happened.
The Shining centers in on one of my favorite horror techniques–a character’s gradual descent into insanity. (There’s a reason H.P. Lovecraft is my favorite horror author.) Or… maybe it was about possession. That’s another one of my favorites. It might be a mixture of the two, and it does provide some ambiguity about how much of the madman at the end was Jack Torrance and how much was the Overlook Hotel. If possession, it’s not a rushed takeover, but a gradual, subtle technique… finding his vulnerabilities and picking away and his defenses to bring out his inner darkness.
“The Overlook was having one hell of a good time. There was a little boy to terrorize, a man and his woman to set against one another, and if it played its cards right they could end up flitting through the Overlook’s halls like insubstantial shades in a Shirley Jackson novel, whatever walked in Hill House walked alone, but you wouldn’t be alone in the Overlook, oh no, there would be plenty of company here.” (King 414)
And said “company” drew my thoughts right along to Matheson’s Hell House. Both houses appear to have remnants of their old, corrupt inhabitants lingering around. The ballroom/party where Jack sees Derwent, Grady, and the others reminded me of the scene in Hell House where Edith is tormented by specters of the people who once gathered there. Although we never learn a lot about Derwent, it was easy to imagine him as a Belasco figure.
Of course, if we’re talking about places that are alive, how can I not reference my favorite horror town, Silent Hill? While Silent Hill doesn’t drive its visitors to do terrible things (even Walter Sullivan was twisted by the cult, not the town itself), it digs into their minds and mixes their pasts with the town’s own history.
The Overlook is much more malevolent, but it does just as good a job at mixing Jack’s past with the hotel’s past and even the play he’s working on.
Only two things disappointed me about The Shining. First, I thought the George Hatfield incident was going to have more relevance than just being another dark moment in Jack’s life and the reason he needs a job. Second, there were some scenes where I felt Jack went back and forth a little too much. I enjoyed his struggle between staying true to himself and falling prey to the Overlook, but a few times he switched sides so often in such a short period of time, it felt repetitive.
Otherwise, I enjoyed the novel. It balanced the supernatural and psychological horror aspects quite well, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys those types of stories.
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