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The Shining ()

Jack Torrance thought: Officious lttle prick.
Stephen King notoriously hated Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of this novel because Jack Torrance had no character arc and Jack Nicholson's real-life and on-screen persona was objectionable. But, from that first sentence of the novel above, Jack is unlikable and his wife's decision to go to an isolated hotel with him and their vulnerable child is unfathomable. Essentially, the story is about a violent drunk of a father, a wife too meek to resist him and a psychically gifted little boy who yearns to keep his family together even though he knows his father is evil. Like much of Steven Spielberg's ouevre, it's a desperate cry from the broken-familied 1970's.

Mr. King seems to believe that he wrote a far deeper novel, where the evil actually resides in the Overlook Hotel, which Jack has agreed to take care of for the winter, and that it works its corruption on him, aided by alcohol. But Jack's back story reveals him to be a violence prone bully, self-pitying, resentful of his wife and child and, most likely, deluded about his own talents as a writer. When flashbacks to his own childhood reveal his father too to have been drunken and abusive, with an acquiescent wife, it only seems to explain how Jack was shaped into a monster, not to excuse anything.

The novel is readable, because the Overlook and events there are genuinely creepy and there's some mystery about the ownership and past goings on of the hotel. Young Danny is fascinating because of his powers, his "Shining", and the immediate bond he forms with the likewise gifted Dick Halloran, the black cook, which will serve him well later. But the wife/mother, Winnifred, is far too passive to compel interest or even much sympathy. The reader does not hope to see her killed, but comes over-close to sympathizing with Jack for finding her annoying.

If anything, the director got closer to the text's story than the author understands. The reason is apparently to be found in Mr. King's own story as related in this review, by Grady Hendrix:
Few books cut as close to the bone as The Shining: an alcoholic schoolteacher with a family to support writes his way to financial security, then turns around and writes a book about an alcoholic schoolteacher with a family to support who fails to make good on his talent and tries to murder his family. “I was the guy who had written The Shining without even realizing that I was writing about myself,” he says in On Writing. King has talked before about the rage he felt in his years of struggle, commenting that there were times when he felt real anger towards his children.

It all comes pouring out in Jack Torrance, a bad dad who breaks his son’s arm while drunk (a condition King was later to admit he was in most of the time). All those years of guilt, of fearing that he couldn’t support his family, of feeling like they were a millstone around his neck, he finally shakes it off thanks to his success, and then he puts on a fiction suit and dives right back in again. He even gives Torrance his own bad habits, like chewing aspirin when hung over.

Consciously, King was writing Jack Torrance as a kind of exorcism, coping with his fears that he might lose control and lash out at his kids by expressing them on paper, but it’s what he unconsciously inserted into the book, the silent passengers, that are even more resonant. King has talked about feeling like there’s a component of automatic writing to his work, of getting into a flow where he’s a vessel and the story comes through him, not from him, and the conditions under which he wrote The Shining are optimal for this kind of subconscious dumping. He couldn’t work in the house his family had rented in Boulder, so he rented a room from a woman he never saw, leaving a check for $17.50 under the coffee pot in the kitchen every week. There, he wrote the book over a period of four to six weeks. The Shining is roughly 200,000 words long, which means that he was writing close to 5,000 words a day, every day. That’s a speed at which you’re writing on instinct, and it doesn’t matter how many revisions you make later, the stuff on the page, the material you’re working with, is primal. King was writing from his gut about alcoholism, a perverse urge to self-destruction and, most importantly, about a fear that he might turn into his father.

King wasn’t just abandoned by his father when he was two years old, he was abandoned by his father who was a failed horror writer. To judge by his books, it hangs heavy on him. In an unused prologue to The Shining called “Before the Play,” Jack Torrance, who will grow up to abuse his son, is abused in turn by his own father while a voice whispers to him, “What you see is what you’ll be.” It’s the ultimate soul-crushing motto for any parent trying to do a better job raising their kids than their own parents did, and it seems to eternally echo in King’s head. From Randal Flagg in The Stand to Bob Anderson in “A Good Marriage,” monstrous men ruin their families and/or kill their children all over King’s books, but the one bad daddy to rule them all is The Shining’s Jack Torrance.
Okay, we can see why he needs to envision Jack as a good man who is warped by external evil. We just can't agree. If anything, the isolation of the setting appears to force Jack in on himself and what he finds there is his own internal evil. It is a horror story, for sure, but it is not about the tragic fall of a decent man, but a classic story about the way bad men take out their own faults on pliant women and children. It's brutal and ugly and not much fun to read.


Grade: (C-)


See also:

Stephen King (7 books reviewed)
Stephen King Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Stephen King
    -ENTRY: Stephen King (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Shining (novel)
    -ENTRY: The Shining (Haley Bracken, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Dr. Sleep
    -SHORT STORY: THe Cookie Jar (Stephen King, Spring 2016, VQR)
    -EXCERPT: from The Shining
    -SHORT STORY: Cookie Jar (Stephen King, Spring 2016, VQR)
    -PODCAST: A guide to Stephen King (Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, Barrie Hardymon, Tasha Robinson, Jessica Reedy, 4/08/24, NPR: Pop Culture Happy Hour)
-PROFILE: What I’ve Learned: Stephen King: “I’ve been in recovery a day at a time for a long time now.” (Adrienne Westenfeld, MAY 21, 2024, Esquire)
    -INTERVIEW: The Blue-Collar King: An Interview with Stephen King (Angela S. Allan interviews Stephen King, OCTOBER 25, 2015, LA Review of Books)
    -ESSAY: Stephen King’s Darker Half: The prolific novelist is at his best when he leans into his more remorseless tendencies. (BILL RYAN OCTOBER 14, 2021, The Bulwark)
    -ESSAY: Stephen King’s Carrie and the horror of girlhood: The triumph of the writer’s debut novel, published 50 years ago, is its understanding of a teenage girl’s destructive anger (Megan Nolan, 3/20/24, New Statesman)
    -ESSAY: STEPHEN KING IS QUIETLY ENTHRALLED BY "THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK": The poem that seems to hold a secret to the Stephen King multiverse (BRENNA EHRLICH, 10/04/19, Crime Reads)
    -ESSAY: Bakhtin's Carnival Reversed: King's The Shining as Dark Carnival (Linda J. Holland?Toll, 05 March 2004, Journal of Popular Culture)
    -ESSAY: THE DEPTHS OF STEPHEN KING’S MISERY: Misery doesn't play with the supernatural, but it may just be King's best, most profound, and most spiritual story (MICHAEL LEDWIDGE, 2/04/21, Crime Reads)
    -ESSAY: Deadlights and Shine: Connecting Later to the Stephen King Multiverse (Marie Cummings, March 5, 2021, B&N Reads)
    -ESSAY: Childhood Myth-Making and Horror in the works of Stephen King (Nathaniel Birzer, November 30, 2023, Online Library of Liberty)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: Stephen King (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining by Stephen King (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Julie Parsons, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Grady Hendrix, Tor)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (James Smythe, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Anthony Wolk, Science Fiction Foundation)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Hanan, The Doodeh Life)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Dine, SFF Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Colin D. Smith)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Glass Typewriter)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Little Man Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Greg Jameson, Entertainment Focus)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Inverarity is not a Scottish village)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Emily Weatherburn, A Literary Life)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (West Chester Public Library)
    -REVIEW: of The Shining (Wayne C. Rogers, Horror Novel Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep by Stephen King (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Ian Thomson, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Steven Poole, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Margaret Atwood, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Alan Cheuse, NPR)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Roger Luckhurst, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Lisa LaDouceur, Macleans)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Colette Bancroft, Tampa Bay Times)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Sam Coale, Prrovidence Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (James Kidd, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Alan Johnson, The Columbus Dispatch)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Matthew J. Trafford, National Post)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (MICHAEL ROBBINS, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep ( Joelle Herr, BookPage)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Grady Hendrix, Tor)
    -REVIEW: of Dr. Sleep (Jake Kerridge, The Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of BLACK HOUSE by Stephen King and Peter Straub (Sam Phipps, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of Later by Stephen King (Darragh McManus, Independent ie)
    -REVIEW: of
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Stanley Kubrick (IMDB)
    -TRIBUTE SITE: The Shining: an analysis of the Stanley Kubrick classic
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: The Shining (Metacritic)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Shining (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Shining (1980) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Shining (1997)(tv) (IMDB)
    -FILM TRIBUTE SITE: Overlook Hotel
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Dr. Sleep (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Dr. Sleep (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Room 237
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Room 237 (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Room 237 (IMDB)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Room 237 (Metacritic)
    -ESSAY: Inside Stanley Kubrick’s annotated copy of Stephen King’s novel ‘The Shining' (Far Out, 5/23/20)
    -INTERVIEW: Kubrick on The Shining (An interview with Michel Ciment, Visual Memory)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Shelley Duvall (Roger Ebert, December 14, 1980, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -ESSAY: The Real Reason Stephen King Despises the Movie Version of ‘The Shining’ (Amanda Harding, October 31, 2019, showbiz Cheatsheet)
    -ESSAY: Stephen King Famously Hated Kubrick's The Shining. He Says Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep Redeems It : “All I can say is, Mike took my material, he created a terrific story, people who have seen this movie flip for it, and I flipped for it, too.” (BRADY LANGMANN, NOV 6, 2019, Esquire)
    -ESSAY: Here’s “The Shining” deep dive you need to prep for “Doctor Sleep”: Why Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation is actually a hopeful movie that challenges social issues and death itself (MATTHEW ROZSA, NOVEMBER 6, 2019, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Why does Stephen King hate Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining so much? (Biba Kang, 14 JUNE 2019, The Telegraph)
    -ESSAY: Stephen King says Doctor Sleep film 'redeems' Stanley Kubrick's The Shining: The novelist "flipped" for Mike Flanagan's new movie (Clark Collis, November 05, 2019, Entertainment Weekly)
    -ESSAY: Stephen King's Hatred For Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Explained (Will Ashton, NOV. 5. 2019, Cinema Blend)
    -ESSAY: The Family of Man (Bill Blakemore, 1987, San Francisco Chronicle)
    -ESSAY: Why does Stephen King hate the original movie of ‘The Shining’ but love ‘Doctor Sleep’?: The celebrated author has said that everything he disliked about Stanley Kubrick's iconic horror has been "redeemed" in 'Doctor Sleep' (Sam Moore, 6th November 2019, NME)
    -REVIEW: of Fairy Tale by Stephen King    -PODCAST: ‘The Shining’ With Bill Simmons, Sean Fennessey, and Chris Ryan (Bill Simmons, Sean Fennessey, and Chris Ryan Oct 31, 2019, The Rewatchables)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Pauline Kael, The New Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Roger Ebert)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (James Berardinelli, reel Views)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Gary Arnold, Washington Post)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Kevin Thomas, LA Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Eric Henderson, Slant)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Marjorie Baumgartner, austin Chronicle)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Adam Nayman, The Ringer)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Kevin John Bozelka, Common Sense Media)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (David Sterritt, CS Monitor)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Richard Combs, BFI)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Adrian Turner, Radio Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Killian Fox, The Observer)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Robert Hatch, The Nation)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Practice)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Derek Malcom, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Shining (Lawrence O'Toole, Macleans)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Miles Surrey, The Ringer)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Brian Tallerico,
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Sean Keane, C/Net)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Brian Lowry, CNN)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Brian Truitt, USA Today)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Sam Adams, Slate)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (AP)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (A.O. Scott, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Deangelo Hawkins Clay, Eastern Echo)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Vaneesa Cook, LA Review of Books)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Eric Kohn, Indie Wire)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Owen Gleiberman, Variety)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Sebastian Wurzrainer, The Dartmouth)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (JENNIFER OUELLETTE, Ars Technica)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Film School Rejects)
    -FILM REVIEW: Dr. Sleep (Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Kyle Smith, NY Post)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Jim Emerson,
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Adam Nayman, The Ringer)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Beth Hanna, Indie Wire)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Scott Tobias, NPR)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (David Haglund, Slate)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Manohla Dargis, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Noel Murray, AV Club)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Stephen Marche, Esquire)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Ian Freer, Empire)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Matt Goldberg, Collider)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Andrew O'Hehir, Salon)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Marc Mohan, The Oregonian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Peter Rainer, CS Monitor)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Kenneth Turan, LA Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (David Edelstein, Vulture)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Marc Lee, The Telegraph)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Matt Pais, Chicago Tribune)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Globe & Mail)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Beth Accomando, KPBS)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (John Serba, MLive)
    -FILM REVIEW: Room 237 (Rob Nelson, Variety)
    -TV REVIEW: Firestarter (Alan Zilberman, Spectrum Culture)

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