Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Shining

The ShiningThe Shining / Stephen King
New York : Pocket Books, 2001
xviii, 683 p.
Originally published: 1977

The Overlook Hotel is more than just a home-away-from-home for the Torrance family. For Jack, Wendy, and their young son, Danny, it is a place where past horrors come to life. And where those gifted with the shining do battle with the darkest evils..

Just finished this one a few minutes ago on the train, and it was pretty engrossing, though after reading it I can unequivocally say that it's definitely not 1977 anymore.

The problem with setting the standard in a genre is that your ideas become tropes. Then the tropes become clich├ęs. Suddenly your book doesn't fare the same in a contemporary reading.

When you approach The Shining, you have to keep two things in mind:

  1. You already know what's going to happen. Even though the movie is drastically different from the book, the basic elements are all there: hotel, hinterlands, "Here's Johnny!"
  2. Even if you don't know what's going to happen, you will a third of the way through the book. This is because of what I said before. This story has been told 1,000 times since.

That said, The Shining is pretty much not that great anymore. Now I've only read Stephen King's older works so far, but from what I know, though he's a good storyteller, he wasn't a great writer in his early years. There are awkward moments in this novel where the writing does something so ridiculous it takes away from the tension. One example that stands out is when Wendy (the mom) was creeping down (or possibly up) the stairs terrified. I don't remember why; who cares? Anyway, King was counting steps: "ten steps, a dozen, a baker's dozen..." ...really? A baker's dozen? You portray the chillingly slow passage of time and suspense with a cutesy phrase like that?

That's symptomatic of the main problem I had with this novel. Oh, this is the **SPOLER ALERT** paragraph. I never liked the Kubrick movie, so I was excited when I read that in this book King was trying to move on from the naked evil of his previous novels to a sort of psychological horror that comes from more fleshed-out characters, particularly Jack. But then Jack's problems were all "father issues" this and "alcoholic" that, and it wasn't a particularly stirring portrayal of alcoholism at that. So King had moved from one form of unsophistication to another. And this was all made moot at the end when it's not even Jack's complex past that pushes him over the edge. They may have set him up for it, but it was the evil hotel's fault.

The Overlook Hotel as a character suffers from a similar contradiction. Years of history and memories have accumulated in this place, and like with Jack, the reader is never sure whether the place's evil history has built up into this manifestation or whether the manifestation was there all along and caused the evil history. This would have been a great question to play with, but at the end it's basically clear that the hotel was evil all along and collecting people through insanity and murder. So much for complexity.

I criticize because I care, though. Were this book not so universally (and if I may say uncritically) praised, I wouldn't have to much to say. This is by no means a bad book. But some amateurish moves, poorly-chosen imagery, and thirty-five years of horror media make it not that great either. To its credit, it did prove to me how miserable that movie adaptation was.

Anyway, I've probably pissed enough people off. Until next time!

Oh, P.S. I'd like to request that none of you ever bring up those asinine hedge animals ever again.

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