The Shining begins with Jack Torrance being interviewed for the caretaker's job at the Overlook Hotel. The hotel will soon close for the winter, but can't be left unattended. The Overlook's manager, Ullman, is concerned about giving Jack the job. He wants to be sure Jack knows that he and his family (his wife, Wendy, and his five-year-old son, Danny) will be completely isolated at the hotel once the snow begins to fall. Jack explains that he'll be working on his play and that Wendy and Danny have plenty to keep them occupied.
Ullman details some of the Overlook's history since it was completed in 1909, but Jack impatiently cuts him off. Ullman reveals that the winter 1970-71 caretaker, Delbert Grady, murdered his wife and two young daughters in a drunken rage and then killed himself. Ullman knows Jack was fired from his teaching job at a Vermont Prep school, after losing his temper, and that he's a recovering alcoholic. Jack assures him that both problems are under control. Ullman says he has the job, but only because Jack's friend Al Shockley, who has lots of power where the Overlook is concerned, insists.
Meanwhile Wendy and Danny Torrance are waiting for Jack at their crummy apartment in Boulder, Colorado. Wendy is worried about her husband and her son. She remembers when Jack accidentally broke Danny's arm a few years back. She hopes her husband can keep a lid on his temper.
While Wendy worries, Jack takes the tour of the hotel's boiler room with Watson, the grandson of the man who originally built the Overlook. Watson warns Jack repeatedly to check the boiler frequently. Otherwise, the pressure will build up inside it and it'll explode, taking the Overlook with it. Watson also tells Jack that a woman died in a room at the hotel this very season, after her much younger lover abandoned her for the evening.
As Jack is driving home, Danny, who totally adores Jack, waits on the curb outside the apartment. Danny knows that Jack isn't thinking about drinking as Wendy fears. The main reason Danny is afraid of Jack's drinking is because it might lead to his parent's getting a divorce, which is the worst thing he can imagine. Sometimes when Danny focuses hard on reading thoughts, his friend Tony comes. Danny concentrates hard right now, and he soon sees Tony in the distance. Tony takes Danny (who's slumped on the curb) on a horrible journey to a dark and snowy place with a big building. Inside the building a horrible thing is chasing Danny with a mallet, and the word REDRUM (4.39) flashes in a mirror. In another room, Danny sees a dead woman rotting in a bathtub.
Finally, Tony leaves, just as Jack is getting home from his interview at the Overlook. Danny is overjoyed to see his dad. He and Jack go into town so Jack can call Al Shockley in Vermont and thank him for setting him up with the job. Al is Jack's old drinking buddy. They both stopped drinking after they crashed into a child's bike, but never found a dead child. After Jack stopped drinking, things got much better for the Torrances. Then Jack lost his temper, and his job, when he hit a student after finding the kid slashing his tires.
The second section of the novel is titled "Closing Day" On the last day of the Overlook's season (September 30, 1975), the Torrances arrive at their new home, the Overlook. Ullman is there to meet them. The hotel is in the process of closing down, and the last customers are departing.
The Torrances meet Dick Halloran, the Overlook's chef. He shows them the kitchen and all the food. All the alcohol at the Overlook was consumed the night before at the closing eve party. Halloran recognizes that Danny can read minds. When they talk privately, he tells Danny the ability is called "shining." Halloran has the ability, too, but not as strong as Danny. Halloran tells Danny that there are bad things at the Overlook that only people who shine can see. He tells Danny that none of the things he might see are real, and can't hurt him. He tells Danny to give him a psychic call if he needs him and he'll come and help him. Afterwards, Ullman gives the Torrances a tour. In the Presidential Suite, Danny sees blood and gore on one of the walls.
The novel's third section is called "The Wasps' Nest." When Jack is on the roof doing some work, he's stung by wasps. While considering how to get off the roof to look for bug killer, Jack slips into memory. He thinks of his abusive father and worries about his temper. He thinks about breaking Danny's arm, and of the incident with George Hatfield. After some time has passed, he goes down to get the bug killer. He kills the wasps and thinks that their nest will make a neat decoration for Danny's room. When Jack gives it to him later, Danny is elated.
That night, Danny sees Tony and "Redrum" while he's in the bathroom brushing his teeth. Wendy realizes his been in the bathroom too long. She tries to go in, but finds the door locked. On the verge of losing his temper because his writing has been interrupted, Jack forces the door. Danny looks to be in some kind of trance, but his parents rouse him. They calm him down. Later that night, while Danny is having more visions of Redrum, he feels something crawling on him. Wasps! He screams and Jack and Wendy go to him. The wasps' nest is totally swarming and Jack can't understand it. He and Wendy calm Danny, and then Jack takes the nest outside after enclosing it in a glass dish.
The next day Jack and Wendy take Danny to Dr. Edmonds, a psychiatrist in nearby Sidewinder. He examines Danny and determines he's not epileptic. After talking to Danny about Tony, he tells Jack and Wendy that Tony is probably Danny's way of dealing with all the family's stress, and with his discomfort over the recent move.
Ten days later, while in the basement looking at the Overlook's papers, Jack finds a scrapbook detailing the Overlook's history between 1945 and 1967. It was once owned by multi-millionaire Horace Derwent. The first thing in the scrapbook is an invitation to the Overlook's 1945 grand opening masquerade ball. Jack learns that Derwent has organized crime connections. The hotel was a favorite spot for organized crime players. He begins thinking of writing a book about the Overlook. After some time, Wendy comes down to see what he's up to, and they begin to flirt.
Meanwhile Danny is outside of Room 217. He has the passkey and is dying to go in there. His curiosity is really strong, but he remembers promising Halloran he'd stay away from the room and runs away. That night, Wendy worries about Jack and Danny. She thinks something bad is happening them at the hotel and decides that she'll ask Danny what he thinks, the very next day. Danny knows his mother is worried. He's worried, too, but he knows the Overlook is the last chance for his family, and so is afraid to leave. He decides he'll ask Tony to show him how to stop Redrum. The next day, on the way back from the Sidewinder library, Wendy asks Danny what he thinks. He's adamant about wanting to stay at the Overlook with Jack.
While Wendy and Danny are having this conversation, Jack is trimming the hedge animals near the Overlook's playground. When he takes a break in the playground, he thinks about the love he had for his abusive father. Then the hedge animals start moving and seem to threaten him. He gets pretty scared, but chocks the incident up to hallucination.
That night the snow begins. Over a week passes. The phones go out, but the radio still works. Things are peaceful, and Jack is getting deeper into the Overlook's files. Today Danny decides to go back to Room 217. This time his curiosity is too much for him and he goes into the room. In the bathtub, he finds the rotting corpse of a naked woman! He runs to the door but can't get it open. The chapter ends with Danny feeling the corpse's hands on his neck.
While Danny is in 217, Wendy is snoozing, and Jack is in the basement having a really intense dream about his past, including a terrible incident from when he was nine. His father beat his mother brutally with a cane, at the dinner table. Still dreaming, he walks to Ullman's office in his sleep. When he hears his father's voice coming out of the radio, ordering him to kill Wendy and Danny, he smashes it apart. Wendy catches him in the act.
Then they find Danny. He's in a bad state, and has bruises all over his neck. Wendy immediately suspects Jack and locks herself in the bedroom with Danny. Jack goes down to the bar and imagines having drinks in it. Soon, Wendy calls to him. Danny wakes up and tells his parents about the woman in 217. Jack goes to the room to check it out. He doesn't actually see the woman, but he hears her behind the door when he leaves, coming for him. He tells Danny and Wendy that there's nothing at all in the room. Later that night, Wendy begs Jack to take them to Sidewinder on the snowmobile. She's very worried about Danny and wants him to see the doctor again. Jack agrees, but when he's in the equipment shed getting the snowmobile ready, he throws away a part it needs in order to run.
On November 29th, while Jack and Wendy are upstairs, Danny decides to go play in the snowy playground. Very bad idea. First he encounters some kind of ghost while playing in a concrete ring, and then the hedge animals come to life and chase him. One of them even scratches his leg before he makes it to the porch. When Jack and Wendy get him calmed down, he tells them exactly what happened. Jack expresses disbelief. Danny realizes Jack has seen the hedge animals, too The boy almost says so, but Jack slaps him. That night the elevator starts moving on its own, and the Torrances find confetti, party favors, and a mask inside the car.
On December 1, Danny is playing with the clock in the Overlook's ballroom and gets a vision that Redrum will happen tomorrow. He gives Halloran a very strong psychic call for help. Halloran's in Florida shopping for the resort where he works. When he's driving back, he hears Danny's call and almost goes off the road. He convinces his boss to give him some time off, then rushes to the airport.
When Danny wakes up on the morning of December 2, he goes out into the hall and sees a man crawling on the ground, wearing a dog costume. The dogman has a bloody face and he threatens Danny. Danny goes back into the bedroom, and Wendy wakes up. After spending the night at the airport, Halloran finally makes it on the plane early this morning. Jack has spent the night in the basement with the Overlook's papers, and now he's in the lounge. This time, the bar is fully stocked.
The bartender, Lloyd, gives Jack all the martinis he can drink. Harry Derwent's 1945 masquerade ball is in full swing, and Jack is happy to be at the party. Delbert Grady, the caretaker who murdered his family, tells Jack he needs to punish Wendy and Danny for their bad behavior by killing them. Jack has a vision of killing Danny with a mallet. Soon, the party disappears, but, to Jack's delight, the bar remains stocked. Since the bartender is gone, he decides to make his own drinks, but hits his head and passes out when he tries to climb over the bar. It's 8:30 in the morning. Halloran has landed at the Denver airport and is trying to get to the Overlook.
Around noon, Wendy, kitchen knife in hand, goes upstairs to make Danny some lunch. She leaves Danny in the quarters with the door locked. On the way back down, she finds Jack passed out behind the bar, totally drunk and reeking of gin. When she wakes him up, he grabs her ankle and starts to threaten her. Danny appears and begs them to stop. Jack begins choking Wendy, and she hits him in the head with a decorative wine bottle. Then, she and Danny take him to the kitchen and lock him in the pantry. At three in the afternoon, Jack is still very audibly trying to get out of the pantry, issuing vile threats in a continuous stream. When these sounds stop almost two hours later, Wendy and Danny wonder if he's gotten out. They hear the elevator start to move, as the Overlook hotel "[comes] to life around them" (47.22).
Meanwhile, Jack is eating Triscuits in the pantry, trying to gather his strength. He'll need it to punish Danny and Wendy for this betrayal. He begins to feel sorry for his father and understands why he beat his mother with a cane. She must have betrayed Jack's father, like Wendy has betrayed Jack. Soon Grady arrives outside the pantry door. Jack agrees to kill Wendy and Danny if Grady will let him out. So, Grady lets him out. In the kitchen, someone has left something for Jack in the kitchen: "a martini glass, a fifth of gin, and a dish of olives" (48.50)…and a mallet. Now Jack is happy.
Halloran is almost to Sidewinder. He gets a threatening message from the Overlook, telling him not to come any closer. He goes off the road, and is rescued by a man driving a snowplow. The man tells him where he can rent a snowmobile in Sidewinder.
At the Overlook, it's close to five in the evening. Wendy is overcome with curiosity, and, knife in hand, leaves Danny in the quarters to find out if Jack is out of the cellar. He is. He hits her in the stomach with the mallet. She runs to the stairs. He hits her again with the mallet, this time in the ribs. Wendy jumps on his back and plunges "the kitchen knife into his lower back up to the handle" (50.89). She's tries to make it up the stairs. She's halfway up now, and Jack is right behind her.
Halloran makes it to the Overlook in his rented snowmobile, and the hedge lions begin attacking him.
Jack is still right behind Wendy. She almost makes it to her room but "a man with a green ghoul mask" (52.7) comes out of one of the rooms and scares her. She falls and then Jack hits her "squarely between the shoulder blades" (52.9). She almost passes out, but manages to crawl and claw her way into the quarters and lock the door. Danny isn't in the room! Jack is trying to get in! Wendy rushes to the bathroom and locks herself in. Jack is in the quarters now, smashing things up. Wendy finds some razor blades in the bathroom. When Jack breaks through with the mallet, she slashes him. Around this time, he hears a sound which he thinks might be Halloran in the snowmobile. He goes to find out. Wendy comes out of the bathroom and collapses on a mattress.
Halloran battles the hedge lions with gas and a lighter. He manages to get on the snowmobile and drive it to the porch. He runs into the hotel and calls for Danny. Jack has been waiting in the elevator. When Halloran goes up the stairs, Jack hits him hard in the head and face with the mallet. Now Jack's going upstairs to give Danny his "medicine" (53.50). Danny is meeting Tony face to face for the first time. It's revealed that Tony is Danny, ten years in the future.
Danny hears Jack coming up in the elevator and runs. He's trapped in a corridor when Jack comes upon him. He tells the Jack-thing that it's not his father. Danny knows the Overlook has completely taken Jack over. A little piece of the former Jack is still there. He tells Danny to run away from him, and that he loves him. Danny refuses to run and kisses Jack's hand. Wendy has discovered Halloran and is trying to wake him. Danny realizes Jack hasn't been releasing the pressure in the boiler, and he tells him so. The Jack-thing panics and leaves to go and take care of that. Danny knows he has to find Wendy and Halloran so they can get out of the Overlook before the boiler explodes. It does, moments after Jack gets down to the cellar.
Halloran carries Wendy and Danny out of the Overlook under his arms. Wendy's in bad shape, but Danny and Halloran get her onto the snowmobile. When Halloran stops by the equipment shed to get blankets for the long ride ahead, the Overlook almost makes him murder Danny. But he resists and the three escape.
The novel ends the following summer. Wendy, Danny, and Halloran are at the Maine resort where Halloran works. Wendy and Danny are moving to Maryland. The novel ends with Wendy and Halloran sitting on either side of Danny while he catches fish beneath "the afternoon sun" (58.83).