This series is about one of the scariest, most famous horror stories of all time. The post first ran in 2016.
A while back I wrote a post titled, “A Jack Nicholson Snow Globe?” Inside the globe Jack’s dead eyes stare out through the snow in a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic, The Shining, based on the bestselling novel by Stephen King. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen the film in a long time, so I easily rectified that. But in doing so I vaguely recalled that King did not care for Kubrick’s opus, which many consider one of the best horror films of all time. I decided to find out why.
Step two: I re-read the novel for the first time in over three decades. An excellent story, and yes, there were quite a few glaring differences from the film. I could see why King might have been pissed. Although authors are happy to take the money and run when they land a film deal, many are displeased with the end result.
But unlike many, King managed to do something about it. Not being a fan of television programming, I barely remembered that a mini-series titled, Stephen King’s The Shining, had been aired many years ago. King wrote the teleplay and held dominion over all aspects of the production, so I figured that he must have gotten it right. I watched all four-and-a-half hours of the series, and you know what? He did.
But my immersion into The Shining didn’t end there. My business, and my own writing, had kept me busy for many years and mostly “out of it” when it came to new book releases. I did not even know that, in 2013, King published a sequel to The Shining! Titled Doctor Sleep, it follows the life of little Danny Torrance, now Dan Torrance, as a forty-something adult.
In Part One I’ll take a look at the original novel. Part Two will cover the Kubrick film. The mini-series and the sequel to the novel (and its film version) will be addressed in Part Three.
THE REAL OVERLOOK HOTEL
In 1974 I owned and operated a small bookstore in San Diego called Sir Books. As a horror fan I carried just about everything in that genre, including a slim paperback titled Carrie, by an unknown author named Stephen King. The book did well, as did a second paperback, Salem’s Lot. His third published book, The Shining, would be his first bestseller in hardcover following its release in 1977.
King’s inspiration for the spooky Overlook Hotel, the setting for The Shining, came about when he and his wife spent a night in the venerable, 140-room Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The hotel was about to close for the winter, and they were the only guests. They stayed in room 217, where one of the creepiest scenes in the story takes place. As King wandered around the empty hotel, the “what ifs” kept on coming. Years later, the Stanley would become the Overlook in King’s mini-series. Kubrick chose other locations for his film.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
King has long since admitted to various addictions in the past, including drugs and alcohol, as well as an occasional, inexplicable rage toward his family and others. It is no surprise that Jack Torrance, the main protagonist in The Shining, is an alcoholic. Though a few months sober as the story opens, he has lost his teaching position at a New England school after severely injuring a student who had been vandalizing his car. During prior drunken binges he has been verbally abusive to Wendy, his wife, and on one occasion he accidently broke the arm of his son, Danny. The boy, now five, fiercely loves his dad, while Wendy clings to the hope that things will get better.
With the family nearly destitute, Jack has managed to land a job as winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel in the Rockies. An aspiring writer, Jack hopes that the many months of seclusion will enable him to write a play, and more importantly to reconnect with Wendy and Danny.
THE HAUNTED HOTEL
Danny has strong telepathic abilities; he can read minds and see visions of both past and future. When he meets Dick Hallorann, the cook at the Overlook, he finds a kindred spirit in what Dick calls “the shining,” though Danny’s abilities are much stronger. Dick is already aware that the Overlook has a checkered history that includes a number of gruesome murders, and he tries to help Danny cope with what he’ll experience there. Although he lives in Florida, he tells the boy to reach out to him with his mind if his help is needed.
Jack initially thrives in his role as caretaker, and he begins to write again. Wendy, a strong woman, also seems to adjust well to their isolation. But the haunted hotel, feeding off Danny’s presence, shows him frightening, bloody visions from the past. Even sculptured hedge animals in a topiary out front seem to come alive. The poor kid, though freaked, does not tell his parents. He wants his dad to succeed, and he wants his parents to love each other and be happy.
Despite his age, Danny is able to resist the hotel’s efforts to possess him. The ghosts then go after Jack, hoping to get to Danny through him, and they meet with greater success. The isolation is already causing Jack to lose it, and now the ghosts lure him with a fully stocked bar. They urge him to kill his family, as a previous caretaker had done, but at first he resists them.
Ultimately, Jack becomes a monster, and during one attack Wendy knocks him senseless and locks him in the hotel pantry. He is let out by one of the ghosts and now stalks Wendy and Danny through the hotel with a roque (croquet) mallet. At one point, while cornering Danny, he regains some semblance of control and tells the boy to run, and also that he loves him.
Earlier, Danny had sent out a psychic distress call to Dick Hallorann, who has made the final portion of the arduous trek up the mountain in a snowmobile. He reaches the Overlook, where he is badly injured by the hedge animals in the topiary.
One of Jack’s daily duties had been venting the pressure in the hotel’s huge boiler. As he once again corners his son, Danny warns him that the boiler is about to explode. He hurries to the basement, while Danny escapes with Dick and Wendy, the latter also badly hurt. The three of them escape as the Overlook Hotel explodes and burns to the ground. An epilogue has the three of them recovering at a resort in Maine, where Dick has taken a job.
So how did the 1980 film version of The Shining differ from King’s vision in his excellent novel? In Part Two next week I’ll talk about the Kubrick classic, which has its own interesting history.