Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Flashback Review (2): The Shining by Stephen King ★★★★★

Created by JG, The Introverted Reader,  "Friday Flashback" is a weekly feature of older review from another source (Goodreads, LibraryThing, Amazon, whatever) on the blog. As I've just started my blog, and I have quite a few reviews on Goodreads, this is perfect for me.

This week's review is on another all time favorite book, an icon of the horror genre, really. If you haven't heard of this, well chances are you're not reading this blog either, because you live under a rock and haven't seen the light of day for 30 years. Give or take.

This is a book I've read countless times. I've gone through multiple copies and have read them each ragged. This book helped to make me the reader I am today, by introducing me as a young girl to my very favorite author and hooking me for life to his fiction and his genius. Of course I'm talking about "The Shining" by Stephen King (if you didn't figure that out by the post title, haha!!) And, as an added bonus, my very next post will be an awesome review of this book written by a friend, so you lucky followers will get a double helping of fawning King subjects. :) Here we go!

PS. I've reviewed this book as the horror classic it is, and have assumed that the people reading it know the plot, and are generally familiar with King's work. I discuss a lot of background in this review, so if you have NOT read this book, be forewarned that this review may, if not ruin the book for you, at least alter your experience when or if you read it -- and that is something that I avoid like the plague when it comes to my own reading experiences.

My Review:

This has always been one of my favorite books. I have read it more times than I can count since the first time, when I was about 9 or 10 I think. I've gone through at least three copies, and I am sure that I will go through at least that many, if not more, in the future. The Shining is one of those books that I can re-read over and over. I'm sure that it must bug Stephen King that his older books are the ones that people always feel this way about... but the money I spend in new copies will, I hope, offset that annoyance. ;)

I must say that my reading this time was a bit different from all of the other times that I've read this book. Before, I would read it, and just immerse myself in the story and live it vicariously through the characters. But this time, knowing that I would be reviewing it, it's like I saw the story with new eyes. I saw some things that struck me as false, or strange, but those things pale in comparison to the things that I love about this book. Number one, I just love the FEEL of this book... the dread, the slow collapse of normality and the build-up of sinister homicidal mania. It might make people look at me funny, but when I crack the cover and read the first line, "Officious little prick." I just fall in love with Jack Torrance all over again.

You might say to yourself, "What? LOVE? That guy is a psychopath!" but I disagree. I don't mean that I'm really IN LOVE with him, but I love Jack's character, and I always have. It's not the roque mallet-wielding monster stalking his wife and child through an abandoned hotel that I love, it's JACK that I love. But I do love the Overlook too. It's just a different kind, more of an awe.

Jack has always been one of my favorite characters. He is seriously, seriously flawed, and his flaws are real, and make him a person more than a character to me. He is the product of an abusive home life, with an alcoholic father and a mentally and emotionally checked-out mother. This story is almost as much about the cycle of abuse and dependence as it is about the Overlook. As a child, Jack adored his father, but was wary of his temper, and before that adoration could be ruined forever, his father died. In a way, this adoration cemented itself in his sub-conscious, so that even as he grew and realized how terrible his father really had been, the adoration he had felt for him as a child remained, and gave the Overlook a crack to begin working on.

Jack had a lot of "cracks" for the Overlook to choose from. He followed in his father's alcoholic footsteps, had anger and impulse control issues, felt a misguided sense of entitlement and that life and luck and the world was against him. He failed to realize that his choices define who he is, and instead let things happen to him. The Overlook took all of these small intimate feelings and shoved them right under the microscope and legitimized them, in order to mold Jack to the Hotel's will.

When I've discussed this book with people before, they seem to think that Jack would have gone down the same self-destructive path with or without the hotel's influence. But again, I disagree. Jack is a generally good person, who absolutely needed help, but was the type who couldn't bring himself to seek it. That being said, he had been sober for over a year, and after the incident with George Hatfield, I think that he had hit rock bottom. He knew that from there, he could either give up, or he could improve. His going to the Overlook was his way of trying to give life a second chance, to do things right for himself and his family. Unfortunately, the Overlook had other plans and used his insecurities to manipulate and control him.

It fascinated me, reading this again, just HOW quickly the Overlook asserted it's influence on Jack. He'd barely even stepped in the door with his wife and child, hadn't even done the grand tour, yet he's described as staring out the window looking "rapt and dreamy". And even before that, using King's method of what I like to call "underthoughts", he inserted a thought into Jack's mind (Come out, you little shit!) when Jack was explaining the game of roque to Danny.

Danny himself is fascinating, but not nearly as fascinating to me as Jack is. Danny has a sort of second sight that allows him to see and know things, things that are going to happen, things that have happened, what people are thinking and feeling, etc. Other than this ability, he is a bright and intuitive 5 year old. He understands that this is Jack's way of picking himself up by his bootstraps and trying to dust himself off. He fears the Overlook, because of his ability, both because it allows him to understand the Overlook and because it why it wants him in the first place.

Part of Danny's ability is a friend who appears as a vision, Tony, who shows him things that Danny needs to know. Tony, who is described as being around 11 years old, is Danny's mind's way of interpreting the things that his mind shows him - and older kid mentoring the younger, perhaps. Danny doesn't yet know how to read, so he isn't able to understand a lot of the images he sees, and Tony acts as a screen to filter and clarify the images for Danny's young mind to understand. Tony is a part of Danny, literally, as he is an older version of Danny himself. I am not sure whether Tony existing in Danny's mind means that on some level, Danny is always meant to survive, but it seems a little paradoxical to me. Can Danny see a future with him in it if he dies between now and then? Or is Tony simply conjured by his mind?

Dick Hallorann, the Overlook's cook, explains Danny's ability to him, as he has a bit of it himself. He is the one Danny mentally calls when things get bad. I loved Dick's character, although sometimes I think that the run of his thoughts (and they way they sound, specifically)doesn't strictly coincide with the way I see him. That's ok though.

Dick reminds me quite a lot of Speedy Parker from another King story (The Talisman), and I wonder if The Shining isn't more related to King's other books than not. I've always seen it as a standalone, kind of off from King's Universe books that have clear links to each other, but on this reading I saw some things that I think do link to other books.
- The Overlook itself is like Rose Red (which came much later, so Rose Red is probably more like the Overlook than vice versa.)
- Several of the Overlook's permanent inhabitants are described as "silvery". Silver eyes, silver costume, etc. This reminds me of IT.
- Speedy Parker, whom I mentioned before, is a Gunslinger, and Dick is a little bit of a gunslinger too, in a way.
- Danny's "Shining" is quite a lot like "the touch" from King's Dark Tower series.

I could really go on and on about this book. There is so much to love, and so much to see in it, that even reading it over and over, I find new things in it. Speaking of which, I should mention the two main things that stuck out.

The first is Danny's inability to read. He's 5 going on 6, and should technically have been in kindergarten already. But even if school started with first grade, Danny, whose parents are both avid readers and college educated adults, one of whom IS an educator, should have at least started learning how to read before hitting almost-six. That just seemed strange to me. I know that it is probably because his not knowing how to read in order to recognize the danger around him is a big point, but King could have easily made him a 4 going on 5 year old, and then it would have seemed ok to me.

The other thing is that when Jack (or the Overlook using Jack) finally finds Danny at the end, and Dick tells Wendy they should go help him, Wendy, Danny's MOTHER, say's "It's too late. He can only help himself." Granted, logically, she may be right, but I can't see how a MOTHER who prior to this swore to fight for her son's life before her own, would not go anyway and do whatever it took, even if it was too late.

Aside from those two things, I love every aspect of this story. I plan on reading it many, many more times in the future. :)


  1. I LOVE this book and I love your review :) I, too, am an avid King fan and count this one among my favorites. I decided this year to read all of his books in publication order, and read this for the first time last month (I know, for shame). I couldn't agree with you more about Jack being an essentially "good" guy. I definitely think it was the Overlook that sent him down this path and I wholeheartedly disagree with people who say otherwise.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say great review and have a good weekend! :)

  2. Thank you so much JessiKay! I'm a member of the Stephen King fan group on Goodreads, and we had a very lengthy discussion on this book last year when we read it.

    It was very interesting and fun.

    I'd had a goal to read a King book in between every other book that I read this year, but that kind of fell apart. But one of these years, maybe when I own them all (getting close) I'll read them straight through in publication order like you're doing. :)

    Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. And now you are the moderator of the Stephen King fan group on goodreads! Perfect for you!