The Shining

Release Date: January 28, 1977

Synopsis (from Goodreads) – “Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.”

Welcome to Part 5 of A King’s Ransom, where I travel through time and visit all Stephen King novels and the movies and TV shows based on these works. Click here to find links to my past Stephen King review articles for this series, including Carrie and Salem’s Lot.

Click here to buy The Shining from Amazon

The Shining Review

Stephen King fans know one thing about his attitude towards The Shining. King hates the Stanley Kubrick movie version. Movie fans who love that horror movie – possibly one of the best of all-time – often find that attitude puzzling. However, anyone who has read the novel on which it is based can easily see why King dislikes the movie so much.

The Shining was King’s third novel, following Carrie and Salem’s Lot. That first novel was a pretty straightforward tale of a girl drove to madness and the second was a sprawling novel about many people in a small town infested by vampires. With The Shining, King moved in a different direction.

After writing a novel that might have had too many characters in Salem’s Lot, King decided to push himself to write a book where there were only three characters for 80 percent of the novel and one more that played an essential role at the beginning and end of the book.

The novel starts out with Jack Torrance getting a job at the Overlook Hotel. He will serve as the caretaker over the Colorado winter months, he and his family secluded there and almost unreachable thanks to the snow. He brings his wife Wendy and son Danny with him and will try to complete writing a play while there over the summer.

The novel then takes us through his descent into madness, with back history explained through the thoughts mostly of Jack. So, what makes this different than the movie? In the novel, Jack is not crazy when he comes to the Overlook, but he does have a history of losing his temper, including losing his job for attacking a student who slashed his tires and breaking Danny’s arm when the boy was a toddler.

However, despite these anger issues, Jack is a good father and a good husband. He is trying to make things up to his family by taking this job and has the best intentions.

However, the Overlook Hotel has other plans for Jack Torrance – or more specifically for Danny Torrance. See, Danny has “The Shining,” a psychic ability to see things from the past and to communicate with spirits. While this is dealt with further in the sequel Doctor Sleep, in The Shining, Danny can see the horrors that happened at The Overlook through the years.

See, in the movie, Jack was a man who went insane due possibly to cabin fever – with hints of a ghostly presence pushing him. In the book, this is all about the haunted hotel, and it possesses Jack – who is not responsible for the horrors he inflicts on his family later in the book.

Jack is not a bad man or a good man, but instead, Jack is a weapon used by The Overlook to get to Danny. It is the child that the hotel needs and wants to use his powers to increase its own ability to control people and make them do what they want.

One thing that is fascinating about the novel that never appears in the movie is Jack learning more and more about the history of the hotel. A lot of bad things happened there, and a lot of horrible people frequented it over the years. King himself said writing this novel was his attempt to create something like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Stanley Kubrick created a movie about a man losing his sanity. Stephen King wrote a haunted house book, and his version of Jack was redeemable and was slightly heroic at the end. That is a vast difference between the two (as well as the horrible portrayal of Wendy Torrance in the movie – which I will get to in my look at the film).

For the book, this was a great read by King, who at this point in his career was now three-for-three in quality horror novels – with all three efforts very different types of horror. Unlike the movie, this was a story where you feared for all three family members and saw the evil that was The Overlook above all else. It quite possibly surpasses King’s first two novels and proved that the best was still yet to come for the Master of Horror.