The Shining ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Jack Torrence thought: officious little prick
**Note: I chose not to put this review behind a spoiler tag. Below I discuss both the book and the movie assuming if you’re reading this, you’re familiar with both.
Even though Stephen King’s primary reputation has been ‘America’s boogeyman’, I can count on one hand the number of pure horror novels I feel he’s published (and they all come early in his career) — ‘Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, It, Misery and of course, The Shining. King is most famous as master of the macabre, but fans know he is also a keen observer of human behavior and emotions. He knows what makes us tick, and he’s just as likely to make us laugh and cry as he is to scream. These five books? These he wrote to make us scream – and shiver, and look over our shoulder, peek under our bed, bar the closet door, and leave the lights on. He wrote them – to put it bluntly – to scare the shit out of us.
His tale of the doomed Torrence family and the sinister Overlook Hotel is in many ways a classic ghost story with its roots firmly planted in Gothic literature, Anne Radcliffe, Henry James and Edgar Allen Poe. More than these however, King is clearly writing under the influence of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Richard Matheson’s Hell House. The notion of a malevolent house, seething from within with awareness and intent, was far from virgin territory by the time King came to it in the 1970’s. Yet, King brought his own distinct brand of terror to the table and the result has left an indelible mark on not just the genre, but on contemporary literature.
Is The Shining scary? You’re goddamn right it is. And I think I never really thought about how scary until I listened to the audiobook. Actor Campbell Scott does an outstanding job, and like all the best ghost stories going all the way back to caveman times, this one is meant to be told, you kennit? Not merely read – but listened to — surrounded by darkness, hunched around a dwindling fire. There are tropes and themes embedded in The Shining that penetrate to the very lizard part of our brain where fear and anxiety make their home.
In regards to the movie, Stephen King has not been shy over the years voicing his discontent with Kubrick’s cinematic interpretation of his novel. I love the movie for many reasons (even though it’s been around for so long and parodied so often it’s hard to take it seriously anymore). But it pays to remember that Kubrick chose to tell an entirely different story from King.
The beating heart of King’s novel is the sundering of the family unit, the destructive forces of alcoholism, the legacy of domestic violence and the incipient guilt and self-loathing it can bestow. If I have one complaint about the movie is that it fails to show any tragedy. King’s version is not only terrifying, but heartbreaking. It is the story of a flawed but decent man in the process of clawing his way back into the light when all that he loves is ripped away from him. Whereas Kubrick’s film focuses purely on a man losing his shit (in other words, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy).
In the film version, we see Jack Torrence go stark raving mad and viciously turn on his family with homicidal intent. But King’s Jack Torrence doesn’t go crazy, or suffer from the proverbial “cabin fever” alluded to in references to Grady, the Overlook’s infamous previous caretaker. In the novel, it’s the Overlook itself acting with malignant and malicious forethought that uses and abuses hapless Jack Torrence. It manipulates him, it twists his thoughts and controls his behavior. You can look at it as an alien invasion, or an outright demonic possession, but by the end of the novel, Jack Torrence is no longer a who but a what referred to as an it.
It hurried across the basement and into the feeble yellow glow of the furnace room’s only light. It was slobbering with fear. It had been so close, so close to having the boy….It could not lose now.
Jack is lost inside of the monstrosity the Hotel has made him, as it uses his body to hunt down his little boy to murder him. A large part of the story’s inherent tragedy for me, is watching Danny Torrence — who loves his father very much — lose him in such a frightening and grisly manner.
”Doc,” Jack Torrance said. “Run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you.” “No,” Danny said. “Oh Danny, for God’s sake–” “No,” Danny said. He took one of his father’s bloody hands and kissed it. “It’s almost over.”
Now this fall, after a wait of almost four decades, readers will finally discover what kind of a man this little boy with his unique ability to shine has become. That’s a story I didn’t even know I wanted until it became a reality. Now I want it more than I can even put into words. In all of this overlong review where there are still many, many things I could have rambled on about, I failed to find a moment to speak briefly of Dick Halloran. I love this character — his humour, his kindness, his fierceness and strength. I can only hope that catching up with Danny Torrence will mean crossing paths with Mr. Halloran again too.