Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Shining by Stephen King

Just the other day I got around to reading Rolling Stone's interview with Stephen King. Two things jumped out at me that seemed worth discussing here on Guys Lit Wire. First, King states that he sees no separation between YA books and books for adults, and that he considers all of his work suitable for teen readers. In his early days as an author, he had more teen readers, and his response to questions about whether he has fewer now struck me.

I'm seen as somebody who writes for adults because I'm an older man myself. Some of them find me, and a lot of them don't. But I came along at a fortunate time, in that I was a paperback success before I was a hardcover success. That's because paperbacks were cheap, so a lot of readers that I had were younger people.
And another thing that I found vastly entertaining was his discussion of the movie version of The Shining, which has become a bit of a cult classic. King isn't a fan of the film version, and here's what he said about Stanley Kubrick's film of The Shining, and the depiction of the main character, Jack Torrance, and his wife:

The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice. In the book, there's an actual arc where you see this guy, Jack Torrance, trying to be good, and little by little he moves over to this place where he's crazy. And as far as I was concerned, when I saw the movie, Jack was crazy from the first scene. I had to keep my mouth shut at the time. It was a screening, and Nicholson was there. But I'm thinking to myself the minute he's on the screen, "Oh, I know this guy. I've seen him in five motorcycle movies, where Jack Nicholson played the same part." And it's so misogynistic. I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag. But that's just me, that's the way I am.

All this together is why I'm here today to talk about the book, The Shining.

The book was published in 1977, and was a huge success. It tells the story of Jack Torrance, a man much like Stephen King: an aspiring writer who is an alcoholic, and whose anger issues have led to his unemployment. He has a wife, Wendy, and a son, Danny, who has telepathic abilities (identified as "the shining" later in the book, by the chef at the Overlook hotel, Dick Halloran, who bonds with Danny).

Jack takes a job as winter caretaker at a resort hotel called The Overlook, figuring it's just the sort of seclusion he needs to complete his latest manuscript. Trouble, of course, follows. The isolation of the winter causes Jack to start to lose it. Further, the Overlook is a haunted sort of place, with apparitions and weird things manifesting themselves to Danny, in part because of his telepathic gift.

Danny's presence in the hotel may be partly to blame for the increase in manifestations, which become strong enough for Jack to see and experience. Under the influence of the hotel, he becomes homicidal, wanting to kill his wife and son, although some part of his essential self remains even until the end.

If you have seen the movie, you've undoubtedly enjoyed Jack Nicholson's over-the-top performance, although it is possible that, like me, you laughed your way through some of the more dangerous scenes in the movie. Trust me when I say that the book is both quieter and more twisty, and that the scenes that provide a modicum of comedy in the book (e.g., "Here's Johnny!") are decidedly unfunny within the pages of the book, which is all about struggling with inner (and possibly outer) demons.

I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of The Shining if you are interested in reading a masterful work of horror. And if you remain concerned about young Danny, then you can pick up its much-later sequel, Doctor Sleep, which King published last year.

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