Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Logo designed by the wonderful KMont
Twenty hand-picked reviewers. Twelve carefully-selected books.
Here’s how it works: On the first of every month (or the Friday before, if it falls on a weekend), we’ll announce our Review Project title for the month, and talk a little about why we’ve chosen it. The book may be an undisputed classic. It may be something you’ve never heard of. It may (or may not) be a Hodder publication.
Over the course of the month, we’ll feature reviews of the book from our Review Project participants. Each participant has been chosen because of the honest, thoughtful, critical consideration they bring to the reviews they publish elsewhere.
I (Thea) was ecstatic when I learned that The Shining – Stephen King’s classic horror novel – was picked as our second book for the project. (This, of course, is in preparation for the release of sequel Doctor Sleep, coming out this September!)
Title: The Shining
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday (original US) / Hodder (UK)
Publication date: Originally Published in 1977
Paperback: 688 pages
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.
Standalone or series: Book 1 in The Shining duology
How did we get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Ebook
Revisiting childhood favorite books is an ominous, terrible, but occasionally wonderful thing. The Shining (1977) is one of Stephen King’s most iconic books, and was transformed into one of the most lauded horror movies of all time (Stanley Kubrick’s eponymous film in 1980, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall).
It’s impossible to talk about The Shining, the book, without also talking about
It was only after watching the movie that I decided to read the book and, as thirteen year old Thea can attest, the differences between Kubrick’s take versus King’s source material was and remains staggering. I remember being terrified of Jack Nicholson – thinking, why would you ever trust that guy, he looks and acts like a psychopath from the start of the movie – and then reading the book and seeing a completely different – sympathetic – side of the unfortunate Jack Torrance. Re-reading this book for the Hodderscape project, the difference between film and book becomes even more glaring: for as much as I love Kubrick’s coldly frightening, paralyzing film, I love Stephen King’s supernatural, emotional take an a truly evil place.
To me, this is the heart of the difference between the two versions: the raw emotional resonance of the book, versus the cool detachment (yet undeniably magnetic) style of the film. Most importantly, King’s The Shining paints an entirely different picture of its tragic hero-cum-villain, Jack Torrance. The Jack in the book is a struggling writer and a family man whose career is in shambles and whose marriage dangles by a frayed, worn thread. The threat of divorce is always a menacing presence underlying every interaction between Jack and Wendy, just as Jack’s desire for a drink is always there. Really, it’s Jack’s hair-trigger temper, his quiet white rage, that is the character’s downfall – this, plus the demons of his own past, with Jack’s own abusive father. Always bubbling beneath the surface, Jack’s anger has cost him his job and almost has cost him his family. For the Torrances, the Overlook is their last hope at staying together as a family.
And yet, there’s another very important part of Jack that never surfaces in the film, but comes across loud and clear in the book – he loves his family. He loves his wife, Wendy, and he loves his son, Danny, very much. Similarly, Danny’s love for his father never comes across in the film; in the book, the boy refuses to leave the hotel despite the increasing supernatural occurrences and his mother’s growing unease, all because Danny knows that this is their last chance, and because he loves his father very much. While there’s no redemptive arc or sympathy for Nicholson’s Torrance, the Jack in the book – even at his most deranged and possessed by the hotel – manages to break free of the possession and give his family a chance to survive. Beyond Jack, the book is also more charitable to Wendy, giving her more texture and depth as a character and defining her outside of her status as Danny’s Mother.
This is to say nothing of the other important difference between the film and book: that is, the focus on the supernatural. In the film, Jack Torrance is a disturbed character who becomes – very quickly – the movie’s villain. The hotel is spooky (no denying that!), but it’s more about Jack as the aggressor than it is about the hotel exerting its will upon him. In the book, the Overlook is a very, very bad place; the kind of place that evokes the terror of Shirley Jackson’s Hill House, a place, not sane, holding darkness within. And, since we’re gearing up for the release of sequel book Doctor Sleep, it’s worth also worth talking about Danny’s abilities, his shine, in this book. Danny is not just a precocious young boy, he’s one with a shine to him stronger than anyone else (or so we’re told by Overlook chef, Dick Hallorann) – and the Overlook, hungry for life, knows it.
The real horror in The Shining is not of Danny’s bloodied father, wielding a
roque mallet and hollering at Danny to take his medicine (although that is, admittedly, very scary); it’s of that evil hotel, with its black soul and hungry spirits. At least, that’s my opinion.
(But I will say that a hedge maze is infinitely more scary than topiary lions that come to life.)
To answer the question of whether or not The Shining stands the test of time? The answer is clear: yes, yes it does. The Shining remains one of my favorite Stephen King novels, and I cannot wait to revisit Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep (hopefully he fares better than young Jack Sawyer in Black House).
“Good boy,” Hallorann said. He produced a large key ring from the pocket of his blue serge jacket and unlocked the trunk. As he lifted the bags in he said: “You shine on, boy. Harder than anyone I ever met in my life. And I’m sixty years old this January.”
“You got a knack,” Hallorann said, turning to him. “Me, I’ve always called it my shining. That’s what my grandmother called it, too. She had it. We used to sit in the kitchen when I was a boy no older than you and have long talks without even openin our mouths.”
Hallorann smiled at Danny’s openmouthed, almost hungry expression and said, “Come on up and sit in the car with me for a few minutes. Want to talk to you.” He slammed the trunk.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Once We Were by Kat Zhang
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