Here’s the thing: I read at night. I mean, not only at night – also on the train, and on weekend mornings, during commercials, and during superfluous portions of TV shows (read: all of X Factor). But I do a lot of reading at night, in bed, acting as a human Berlin Wall between my cats and further damaging my grandma eyes with the light of a propped-up iPad mini. (I actually have a book holder/travel pillow that, for the record, is dope.) I like to read in the (extremely relative) quiet of Bushwick-After-Dark, when the 18-wheelers stop rolling by for long enough that you might catch the sound of a bump in the night.
Which is all to say that The Shining is most definitely not a night book.
Everyone and their mother has been pointing me to Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining, which came out in 1977. But it irks me to read sequels without reading their predecessors, and so even though I’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s famous Shining film adaptation about 65 times, I wanted to check out the original material.
For the pop-culturally bereft — or anyone whose parents had strict rules about scary-movie watching — The Shining is about a family who moves to a remote Colorado hotel so that father Jack can serve as its caretaker during the closed — and snowed in — winter months. Wife Wendy and son Danny are along for the ride, the latter a precocious kid with telepathic powers (but like, way more elegantly done than Sookie Stackhouse. No offense, Charlaine) who knows even before they set off that the Overlook Hotel is a bad place, or can be. Since I think the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired here, it would be fair to say that the haunted-esque hotel drives Jack insane until he tries to kill Wendy and Danny, but then they escape and he dies, the end.
I’d always heard that Stephen King didn’t care for the Kubrick adaptation, which is ironic since King books have produced far, far worse movie iterations. But after reading the book — maybe one of my favorite of King’s — I kind of get it. While the movie’s initial third feels a little choppy – Kubrick uses a series of short explanatory scenes to set the stage for all the crazy – as a novel The Shining is leisurely and fluid; relative to other King books, it feels almost pleasantly simplistic. Sure, there’s some pertinent character back story (Jack is a two-months-sober alcoholic who broke Danny’s arm during a drunken rage the year before) and “simple” for King means sentient hedge animals, a malevolent fire hose and some kind of break in the space-time continuum – but compared with a Dark Tower book, or 11/22/63, The Shining almost feels like a really long campfire story.
Of course, there were plenty of other editorial liberties taken in the film, including Danny’s creepy manifestation of his invisible friend Tony. But mostly the book just clarifies many things left up to speculation or assumption in the Kubrick version. Why this caretaker job? Why is Jack such an asshole? What is the deal with this hotel?
And I don’t know if it’s the nighttime quiet or the fact that my cats sometimes stare attentively at the same empty corner of the room for over a minute (like WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT???) but I found myself scared. Of the creaky hotel elevator that runs by itself, of the empty wasps’ nest that replenishes its population overnight, of the topiary animals that move but only when you aren’t looking. The Shining is scary the way serial killers aren’t, because being a Wendy in this situation — somehow the least likable but most relatable character — means coming to grips with one of two things: Either you’re living in an extremely haunted hotel with the capacity and will to drive your husband to into a murderous rampage ….or you’re going insane.
I’m halfway through Doctor Sleep now (it tracks Danny up through adulthood as he continues to cope with his “gift”) and even though I could have gotten by without it, I’m glad I read The Shining. Stanley Kubrick may have turned the Overlook Hotel into a cultural icon, but Stephen King dreamed it up in that J.J.Abrams meets Guillermo del Toro meets Tom Wolfe brain of his. That’s gotta be worth something.
TITLE: The Shining
AUTHOR: Stephen King
ALSO WROTE: I mean, come on….
SORTA LIKE: Misery, family-style
FIRST LINE: “Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.”