The Shining Introduction
In a Nutshell
The Shining, first published in 1977, is American author Stephen King's third novel. This supernatural and psychological thriller stars the Torrance family, Jack, Wendy, and five-year-old Danny. It details their tragic experience at an isolated and haunted hotel, the now famous Overlook. In The Shining, King pushes the supernatural envelope, while interrogating the nature of family, love, abuse, and father-son relationships.
The novel began in a real-life haunted hotel, the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park Colorado. If you're ever in that neck of the woods, be sure to take the hotel's tour. Pop into Room 217 (King's room when he stayed there) and say hi to the naked lady in the bathtub for us. If you can't make it to the Stanley, check out King's own 1997 TV adaptation of his novel, filmed on location, for the next best thing. It presents an interesting counterpoint to Stanley Kubrick's wildly popular 1980 adaptation, which diverges from the novel on many important points.
In 1977 King was an uncertainty, a rising star on the bestseller scene, but yet to reveal the extent of his powers. To this day, critics don't know what to make of King, though they all, like most people on the planet, know his name. Guilty pleasure? Pop sensation? Genius? Hack? He's been nominated for some awards, and even won a few, but remains a literary outlaw, producing mass quantities of work at breakneck speed – churning it out for the voracious fans. He's passed over for serious awards like the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and critics love taking digs at his inimitable, highly accessible, and highly flexible writing style.
This critical neglect is partly because King's carrying on unique communion with mass numbers of people. King's stories, chock full of working-class characters, speak the language of these people (us!) in a way that will probably only be acknowledged fully after his death. Said death will doubtless provoke a Michael Jackson-esque frenzy of King criticism, posthumous awards, and his formal admittance into academia and "the canon."
To be sure, some visionaries see his genius, and the social relevancy of his work, but like his literary forebear, Edgar Allan Poe, he'll probably always be a little misunderstood. Meanwhile, King rakes in the dough and continues living a life charged with creative energy, literary daring, and innovation. King uses his keen analytical powers to explore the human condition. He taps into deep societal anxieties, often centering on abusive relationships, and is famous for his often supernaturally endowed children. To the dreadful delight of readers, King leaves no aspect of the supernatural untouched by his magic pen.
On top of the novels written under his own name, he's also written nearly a dozen under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. In addition, he's written screenplays, teleplays, short stories, memoirs, literary criticism, and nonfiction. King and film go together like hot fudge and ice cream. His name is associated with, oh, only a couple hundred movies, mostly in the horror genre. Many of his novels and short stories have been turned into highly successful films. For his running take on pop-culture, check out King's column in Entertainment Weekly.
In his introduction to a 2001 edition of the novel, King describes The Shining as his "breakthrough novel." King says the breakthrough was in his decision "to admit Jack's love of his father in spite of (perhaps even because of) his father's unpredictable and often brutal behavior." This brave move lends the story depth and takes it beyond surface conventions of horror. It imbues the novel with complexity and tenderness that keep readers interested some thirty years after its emergence.
Why Should I Care?
The man or woman who insists there are no ghosts is only ignoring the whispers of his or her own heart, and how cruel that seems to me. Surely even the most malignant ghost is a lonely thing, desperate to be heard.
– Stephen King
It's hard not to care about Stephen King. Love him or leave him, he's everywhere – on screens (big and small), our book shelves, and just maybe, inside our hearts. He knows our deepest fears, desires, the skeletons in our trunks, and the nightmares that push us to the very brink of madness – or over it. He knows how deeply we love and how deeply we fear. He knows, above all, that we are lonely and that we are struggling through life, trying desperately to connect with others.
So, why wouldn't we care about King's third novel, The Shining? The quote up top is from King's 2001 introduction to the novel. It hits on a big reason to care about it, beyond the spine-tingling thrills, over-the-top dialogue, moving hedge animals, and steady stream of violence that makes it a horror classic. That reason is loneliness, a common thread that ironically links all of humanity. Sounds kind of sad, doesn't it? Well, it is. This book explores the loneliness of individuals isolated by their inner demons and even by their talents. It explores human life on the outer fringes of loneliness, and even (as the quote alludes) makes us feel a little sorry for its hideous ghosts.
Reading The Shining pushes us toward an expanded understanding of empathy, and can even give us hope. Loneliness without hope would just be a downer. As King readers know, he's all about taking us on that emotional rollercoaster ride, and usually brings a balance of highs and lows. The Shining reminds us that connections with other people, and striving to make the world a less lonely place through these connections, are endeavors worth fighting for, even when the obstacles seem impossible to overcome.