I’m a big Stephen King fan. I’ve read most his books and loved most of what I’ve read. I’ve had a copy of The Shining for a very long time, but I’d never gotten around to reading it. So I was excited when I saw it on the reading list for the horror genre class (part of the excitement, I admit, was not having to buy a copy!).
King usually writes about the Average Joe and The Shining is no exception. Jack Torrance has more than his fair share of demons, stemming from an abusive childhood. He tries to do good, but sometimes (often?) fails. Jack is just ripe for the picking when the Overlook Hotel gets hold of him.
I really love unreliable narrators. One of the fascinating things about this story is Jack’s descent into unreliability. The reader can actually watch as he becomes more and more unhinged. This is a brilliant from a craft perspective. We can see as Jack tries to fight it, albeit half-heartedly, and the turning point for him is clear. He just can’t fight anymore. He’s driven by his need for acceptance (by the hotel) and his weakness of spirit. It’s tragic.
While I was enthralled with Jack’s descent-into-madness, I was annoyed at Wendy’s reactionary hysteria throughout most of the book. Later in his career, King fleshes out female characters and makes them much less stereotypical, but Wendy pre-dates that time.
Danny, their son and the boy who shines, is typical of King’s child protagonists. He is scared shitless, but driven to protect his family. In the beginning, he is so afraid as to almost be catatonic, but over time, he realizes he must stand up to the evil. There’s just no other choice. And like most heroes who make this realization, he tries to do what he needs to do. I liked Danny a lot as a character.
The thing that bothered me about The Shining was the constant point of view shifts. I tried very hard to ignore it at the beginning, but it became more and more difficult, particularly when the shifts started being so frequent that there was one five line paragraph that began in Wendy’s point of view and ended in Jack’s. But even worse than that, and the deal-breaker for me, was when we were in Danny’s point of view and Danny made references that no seven year old would be able to make. This was not in reference to his shining ability. As an example, when he’s in the ball room, he starts up the old clock:
There was a small, ratcheting series of clicks, and then the clock began to tinkle Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz” (302).
Really? A seven year old boy recognizes a Strauss composition? Bzzzt. Sorry, wrong answer. Thanks for playing.
It’s the point of view issues that really mark the weak points in this book. And I wonder if King ever sits back and cringes over that. His later books don’t have this issue, that I’ve noticed. I do grant that I haven’t read any of his books in the last couple years due to time constraints, so the critical eye I use now might notice things the casual eye didn’t.
The book is still horribly frightening, even with the mechanical issues. One of the scariest things in life is the betrayal of a loved one. It can rock the entire foundation of a person’s life. And in this sort of horror especially, King is still a master.
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