The Shining by Stephen King is one of the author’s best works, if not his best. It tells the story of Jack Torrrance and his winter acting as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. He is joined by his wife, Wendy, and five-year-old son, Danny. Jack wants the job because he is working on a play, and he believes he can finish it during it the winters and he also needs a job. Overlook hotel has its mysteries; if truth be told, the hotel is haunted.
King is a master of writing characterizations, and we see that mastering here. Jack has a drinking problem and a bad temper. In his backstory, he lost his job as a school teacher, and he broke Danny’s arm in a fit of rage. Filling frustrated with himself, he plans to use the position to reconnect with his family. But as the voices of the hotel take over, he turns homicidal.
Wendy divides her time being an enabler and a protector. I wish that I could say that women—or in some cases men—of the type have become obsolete in the fifty years since publishing the novel, but I know that is not the case. What woman wouldn’t leave her husband after the arm-breaking incident? Too many. But Wendy also has a protector urge towards Danny that we see evidence towards the novel’s end.
The title from The Shining comes from Danny and the special gift he has. Did I say gift? I guess it’s how you view it—a gift or a curse. He has telepathic powers. He sees visions of what happened, what is happening, or what will happen. His adult friend, Dick Hallorann, who also has “the shining,” warns him that the hotel is dangerous for people with the gift. It speaks to them. Hallorann teaches Danny how to send a message to him using the shining.
Overlook hotel was inspired by The Stanley Hotel, where King stayed in 1974, but no ghosts haunt their rooms to the best of my knowledge. That said, let me say that the hotel, which was built in 1909 and housed tuberculosis patients, has its legends. King, no doubt, felt inspired by the stories and legends he heard while staying there. Imagine those halls vacant all winter; imagine the weather that cut the hotel from the nearest town. Hotels are scary—take it from me, who worked them my entire life—and an empty hotel would be more frightening than the rest. I never work a completely empty hotel, but during the pandemic, I worked at a hotel that had less than 10 rooms rented. Every sound vibrated through empty halls and filled them with fear and mystery. This was King’s genius to place his characters in an environment where every sound would play with their imagination, where every sight would frighten and stun them. But the Overlook is far from vacant.
Ghosts live here!
There is Lloyd, the Overlook bartender, who is happy to pour Jack a drink. There is the beautiful woman who tries to seduce Jack. There are the twins who stand mysterious in the hallway. But the worst ghost is Delbert Grady, a former caretaker who murdered his entire family and himself. Grady visits Jack often to urge him to do the same. And Jack agrees. I told you he comes homicidal.
Alcoholism is the theme, but the secondary theme is domestic violence. At least that is my take, but another reader could reverse that order. Since alcoholism and domestic violence are closely related, what order you give them doesn’t matter that much. I think Jack fulfills the role of the novel’s protagonist because throughout it he wants. He wants to patch up his family, make a living for his wife and son, and finish his play. But his alcoholism and temper also make him the primary antagonist. That was what alcoholism does to the sufferer, making him work against himself.
King wrote a sequel called Doctor Sleep. I read it, and I found it an enjoyable read, but it lacks the grandeur of The Shining. It follows an adult Danny as he strides to save a girl from a band of vampiric killers. I don’t think King identifies them as vampires, but they drink their victims’ life force, which makes them vampires in my book. King, I suppose, felt that story about Danny and the Overlook Hotel wasn’t over yet. That is fair.
If you know The Shining from the Hollywood movie starring Jack Nicholson, you don’t know it as King envisioned it. Don’t get me wrong: the movie is great. But it isn’t the story King wanted to tell, and I think you deserve to know that story. If I rated books by stars, I would give The Shining nine of ten stars. I would give it ten stars, but I didn’t like the ending. Stephen King doesn’t do endings.