Have you ever…
Lived with a person who the human version of a volcano, and you didn’t know if this person was the dormant kind of volcano, or the other kind?
Loved this person beyond all reason, but spent much of your time in fear of them, eventually fearing for your life?
Been isolated, through no fault of your own, with nowhere to turn?
Felt conflicted, not knowing whether to protect yourself, or devote yet more energy and resources to protect your loved one, from his or herself, in the hopes that this person would not self destruct, so that you guys could attempt to build a life together?
Spent untold hours blaming yourself for the awful situation, even though you were actually the reason for anything good in that situation, although you could not see it, because you were too mired in guilt, defending yourself from the attacks that you were sure that you caused?
Still felt sad, and even guilty, even after you escaped your situation? Not knowing how you would go on without this person who you loved so much, but somehow finding a way?
So, why are we talking about a domestic abuse situation?
After all, that’s what I just described right?
Someone who was in an abusive relationship, but somehow managed to escape, but still have survivor’s guilt?
Well, you would be correct. But as always, there is more to meet the eye…
And it is one of his most famous, maybe even his most famous, with a movie that is perhaps even more notorious?
Yes, in case you haven’t guessed, I am referring to The Shining.
And let’s take a moment to acknowledge the red-headed stepchild of the family, otherwise known as The Shinning. As we all know, all work and no play makes Homer something, something…
But yes, that The Shining. The same one that is such a huge part of our culture now.
The same one that is the subject of some pretty entertaining memes.
Admit, you have muttered “redrum” in *that voice.*
Or been petrified by blood coming out of the walls.
Or freaked out by people in animal costumes.
I could go on and on. The Shining is a frightening book and movie.
But The Shining is so much more than just being scary.
The Shining is about family, and just what we will do to protect the ones we love the most.
The Shining is also about addiction and abuse, and how those can destroy a family from the inside out, even without the help of a haunted hotel.
In other words, for most of us, family is central. And losing family is devastating, no matter the circumstances. Over and over, King drives this theme home in The Shining.
So, welcome to this month’s read and review, and as always:
The book begins with an introduction to the Torrance family, which consists of Jack, his wife Wendy and their five year old son Danny. It is revealed that Jack has recently become unemployed from his job as a schoolteacher, and is interviewing for a position as the caretaker at a hotel called The Overlook Hotel, in Sidewinder, Colorado.
It turns out that the interview is just a formality, and Jack is hired for the position, although the hotel’s manager, Stuart Ullman, is reluctant to hire Jack, as Jack has had past problems with alcoholism and controlling his temper. Jack assures Ullman that the alcoholism is no longer an issues, and that he and his family can handle the isolation that will come with the job, which will require Jack and his family to live at the hotel during the winter and be cut off from all civilization.
During a tour of the hotel, the maintenance man, Watson, shows Jack how to adjust the pressure of the boiler so that the hotel does not catch fire. Jack also learns that the previous caretaker, Delbert Grady, murdered his family during his stint as a caretaker. Watson also tells Jack that the hotel has had a few deaths, and one of those occurred during the previous summer. An older woman, Mrs. Massey, stayed at the hotel with her much younger suitor. When her suitor abandoned her, Mrs. Massey committed suicide in room 217, in the bathtub.
In the meantime, Danny and Wendy await Jack’s return. The Torrance family has relocated from Vermont to Colorado, due to Jack’s job loss, and Wendy has some concern that the move has not been easy for Danny. We also learn that Danny has been a victim of Jack’s temper, as Jack accidentally broke Danny’s arm a few years prior, due to Danny spilling beer on his school papers.
We also learn that Danny is gifted with some unusual abilities: he sometimes has knowledge of future events, or events in the present that he would otherwise have no knowledge. Danny sees these visions through his friend Tony, another boy only visible to Danny, and referred to as his “imaginary friend” by Jack and Wendy. We learn through Danny that Jack and Wendy’s marriage has been troubled, due to Jack’s alcoholism, and that Danny has feared that his parents will divorce.
Danny has another frightening vision brought to him by Tony as he is outside waiting for his father to get home: he sees himself in an unfamiliar place being chased by someone, and also sees the phrase “REDRUM.” Danny becomes frightened and has no idea what this vision could mean.
Finally, Jack arrives home. Danny is overjoyed to see his father and glad that his father got the job at The Overlook Hotel. However, Danny thinks that he sees a bloody mallet in the front seat of his father’s car. When he looks at the front seat again, Danny realizes that is just a bag of groceries.
Jack makes a trip with Danny to a pay phone, so that he call his friend Al Shockley, who helped him get the job at the Overlook Hotel. Jack recalls how, during one drunken night, Al hit a bicycle that was left in the middle of the road while driving himself and Jack home. It is this incident that prompted Wendy to ask for a divorce, but Jack is able to stop drinking, and Wendy decides to stay, as she loves her husband and son.
That night, Danny has yet another, and Tony warns him not to go to the Overlook for the winter. Danny is frightened, but does not say anything to his parents, as he knows how important this opportunity is for his family.
The Torrance family then arrives at The Overlook Hotel. Danny is still feeling uneasy, but does not tell his parents, as he is still aware how important this opportunity is for his family.
After his family arrives at The Overlook, Danny is introduced to the hotel’s chef, Dick Halloran. Danny and Halloran take a liking to each other immediately.
Halloran is able to ascertain that Danny possesses psychic abilities, to which he refers to as “the shining.” Halloran tells Danny that he is not alone in possessing this gift, as Halloran also possesses it, although his ability is not as strong as Danny’s. Before Halloran bids Danny goodbye for the winter, he warns Danny that he may see things in the hotel, as the Overlook is an old hotel and several unpleasant events have occurred there. Halloran tells Danny that what he sees are akin to pictures in a book, and that nothing should be able to harm him. Halloran warns Danny to stay out of room 217, as he may experience something unpleasant in that room.
Ullman gives the Torrance family a tour of the hotel shortly after Halloran and the other employees leave for the winter. True to Halloran’s statement, Danny sees what appears to be blood and brains on a wall. However, Danny looks away, and the vision soon vanishes.
Several weeks pass uneventfully for the Torrance family. Jack is finally able to work on his writing, and thinks that he may be able to finish the play he is working on. Jack and Wendy notice that Danny is a little withdrawn, but think nothing of it. Danny continues to push himself to learn how to read, so that he may be able to communicate with his friend Tony, who has shown him signs with written words in the past.
One day, Jack finds a wasp nest on the roof of the hotel. He kills the wasps with a bug bomb, and gives the nest to Danny as sort of a souvenir. Danny is thrilled with the nest, and puts it in his bedroom.
That night, Danny is getting ready for bed in the bathroom. When he does not come out of the bathroom, Jack and Wendy become anxious, and Jack breaks down the door. They find Danny in a trance, but are able to rouse him. Danny does not remember what happened, so Jack and Wendy put him to bed.
Later on, in the middle of the night, Jack and Wendy are awakened by Danny. Danny is being attacked by the wasps from the nest given to him by Jack earlier. Jack is able to kill the wasps, but cannot understand why the poison he used earlier did not work.
The next day, Wendy and Jack take Danny to see a doctor in town. The doctor examines Danny and is able to find nothing physically wrong with Danny.
The doctor asks Danny to try and summon Tony. Danny falls into a trance again, but is unable remember anything when he comes to. However, Danny tells the doctor that his mother had a sister who passed away as a child, which is information he did not previously have. Danny also tells the doctor that his parents had previously contemplated a divorce, but have since changed their minds. The doctor refuses to believe that there is anything unusual about Danny. and reassures Jack and Wendy that Danny is simply an imaginative child, and that he will eventually grow out of his unusual behavior.
While he is setting rat traps in the basement, Jack finds a scrapbook of sorts. When he opens up the scrapbook, Jack finds much information in regards to the history of the Overlook. It turns out that the Overlook has seen many changes in ownership and has also been the scene of some violent crimes. Jack becomes absorbed in this history, and also begins to exhibit behaviors that he exhibited when he was drinking, such as wiping his lips and dry swallowing Excedrin.
Danny also begins exploring the hotel, without the knowledge of his parents. He is again tempted by Room 217, despite Halloran’s warnings. Danny is able to resist the temptation, but thinks that he sees a fire extinguisher come to life, turning into a snake. However, once again, he does not tell his parents about this incident, as he understands how important the job at the hotel is for his family.
Jack makes a trip to the library to do more research on The Overlook Hotel. He places a phone call to Stuart Ullman, goading Ullman in regards to the history of the hotel, stating that he will one day write a book about the hotel. This angers Ullman, and Jack regrets his actions as well.
After speaking with Ullman, Jack receives a call from his friend Al Shockley. It turns out that Al owns part of the hotel, and is angry at Jack for making that phone call. Al forces Jack to promise not to call Ullman again, and to not write any books about the hotel. Jack is angered, but agrees, in order to keep his job.
Both Wendy and Danny become worried about Jack. They sense that Jack is having trouble coping with his alcoholism, but are unsure of how to help him. Wendy asks Danny if he would like to leave The Overlook, and Danny agrees that he would. However, Danny is not happy with the alternative option: staying with Wendy’s mother, as Wendy and her mother do not get along. Wendy agrees to stay at the hotel with Jack for the winter, and hopes that things will get better.
One day, as Jack is trimming the hedge animals in front of the hotel, he is badly frightened. He thinks that the hedge animals have moved. He tells himself that this is impossible, and likely a hallucination caused by his struggles to remain sober.
The weather worsens in Sidewinder, and the Torrance family begins to feel the hotel closing in on them. The only means of communication is a CB radio. They are otherwise cut off from the world, unable to leave the hotel.
One day, Danny finally gives in to temptation and visits room 217. When he opens the bathroom door, he encounters the ghost of Mrs. Massey. The ghost then attempts to strangle Danny.
While Danny is being attacked in Room 217, Jack and Wendy have dozed off in their quarters. However, Jack awakens to the voice of his dead father on the CB radio, warning him that Danny has broken the rules and visited room 217.
Once Wendy and Jack come to their senses, Danny appears at the top of the stairs. Danny is bruised and bleeding from his encounter with the ghost in room 217.
Almost immediately, Wendy blames Jack for Danny’s injuries, convinced that Jack tried to hurt Danny in his sleep. She chases Jack off and locks herself and Danny in the bedroom.
Jack is angered by Wendy’s treatment of him, and retreats to the empty bar at the hotel. Jack then begins to fantasize about drinking again.
The fantasies about drinking seem to become real as Jack strikes up a conversation with the bartender he believes would have been serving the hotel back in its prime. Jack refers to this man as Lloyd, and requests that Lloyd serve him 20 martinis. Lloyd also appears to commiserate with Jack over his troubles.
Finally, Jack realizes what he is doing and snaps out of his trance. Wendy appears with Danny at the bar, and Danny begins to have convulsions. Jack is able to bring Danny out of his catatonic state, and tries to find out what happened to Danny.
Danny tells his parents about what happened in room 2017, along with the other incidents that he has experienced during the family’s stay at the hotel. Wendy also tells Jack how worried she and Danny have been about him, as he appears to be struggling with his alcoholism. Jack heads to Room 217, to see if he can find anyone or anything there.
When Jack arrives at Room 217, he investigates it and does not find anything. However, when he leaves the room, he notices that someone or something is watching him. However, he tells his family that he did not find anything in the room.
Later that night, Jack and Wendy begin to argue over their situation. Jack reminds Wendy that they are snowed in, and that an escape attempt may kill them. However, Wendy remembers that the hotel has snow mobiles, and Jack reluctantly promises to test them out the next day, so that they may possibly escape the hotel.
That night, Jack struggles with his anger at his family, as he feels that he will have no other options if they leave the hotel. He dreams that he sees a ghost of one his students in Room 217, and that he attacks that ghost. However, the ghost then turns into his son. Jack awakens to find himself standing over Danny’s bed, and shocked by his behavior.
In the morning, Jack takes a look at the snow mobile and finds it in working order. However, he is unable to bear the idea of leaving the hotel for a fate unknown, and deliberately sabotages the snow mobile, so that his family will remain stranded at The Overlook.
The weeks pass without incident. Danny tells his mother that he still afraid of the hotel, but that he understands that his family has no other options.
One day, Danny is outside playing on the hotel’s playground. He is playing in the miniature version of the hotel when he begins to feel trapped inside, and very frightened. Danny makes his way out of the playhouse, and heads back to the hotel.
Danny also has a bad scare when he heads back to the hotel: he sees the hedge animals move, and they begin to chase him. However, Danny is able to make it back to the hotel, where he collapses on the porch from fright and exhaustion.
Danny tells his parents what happened. However, Jack does not believe him and tries to convince his son that the movement of the hedge animals was a figment of his imagination. Danny realizes that Jack is lying and that Jack has also seen the animals move. When he tries to tell his father this, Jack slaps him across the face, angering Wendy.
Jack and his family are awakened later that night by the sound of the elevator running. The elevator had not previously been in use. Jack gets up to investigate the noise, with Wendy and Danny in tow.
When he investigates the elevator, Jack does not find anyone or anything there. However, the Torrance family finds evidence of a party, which includes streamers and balloons. Wendy and Danny also hear noises associated with a party, such as people talking and music. Jack denies that anything unusual is happening, and chalks up the issues with the elevator to a short circuit.
A few days later, Danny comes across an old clock that no longer appears to be working. However, the clock comes to life, and the figures in it commit lewd acts. The clock then stops, and Danny has another vision. He sees the word REDRUM again, and realizes that it is murder spelled backwards. Danny is terrified, and sends a telepathic plea to Dick Halloran for help.
Hallorann is in Florida, working at his winter job. He receives Danny’s message, and realizes that the situation at The Overlook Hotel is serious, and that he must return to Colorado as soon as he can.
As Hallorann is looking for a flight to take him to Colorado, Wendy and Danny sense that the hotel is closing in on them.. The hotel is working through Jack, in order to get to Danny. When Danny tries to leave his quarters, he is accosted by a man in a dog costume, who tries to attack him. Danny continues to call to Hallorann for help, but the hotel senses what Danny is doing and puts a stop to it.
Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and heads to the hotel, hoping that he will not be too late.
Jack becomes convinced that the hotel wants him, and not Wendy or Danny. Jack encounters the ghosts of the hotel’s previous employees and guests, and is able to get drunk. One of the ghosts, the ghost of Delbert Grady (the previous caretaker of the hotel), alerts Jack to the fact that Danny is trying to escape from The Overlook, and tells Jack that he must do whatever he needs to do to correct Danny. Jack is also shown a vision in the clock: a man beating a little boy with a roque mallet. The clock then fills with blood, much to Jack’s disbelief.
Finally, Hallorann is able to find a flight to Colorado, and begins the trek to Sidewinder.
Wendy and Danny stay sequestered in their quarters, and are able to hear Jack in his drunken rage. Wendy ventures out of their quarters to find food for her and Danny, and finds Jack passed out at the bar. She realizes that Jack is somehow drunk, even though there is no alcohol anywhere in the hotel.
Jack regains consciousness, and begins to attack Wendy. Wendy realizes that he intends to kill her and Danny. Danny comes to the defense of his mother, and Jack also attacks Danny. Wendy is able to finally subdue Jack by hitting him on the head with a glass.
Wendy and Danny drag Jack to the pantry, intending to lock him in there, for his safety and theirs. Jack regains consciousness and fights them, but they are able to shut the door on him in the nick of time.
Even though they retreat to the their quarters, Wendy and Danny are still able to hear Jack’s protests, along with the elevator and other sounds that indicate that the hotel is coming to life.
The ghost of Delbert Grady finds Jack in the pantry. Jack promises to kill Wendy and Danny, in exchange for his freedom. The door is somehow unlocked, and Jack picks up a roque mallet, and looks to find his wife and son.
In the meantime, Hallorann continues to make his trek to The Overlook. The hotel realizes what he is doing, and sends him a message, in an attempt to scare him off. Hallorann fights it, and is determined to make his way to The Overlook.
Wendy begins to suspect that Jack has somehow escaped the pantry. She heads downstairs, but this proves to be a mistake, as Jack is waiting for her. Jack attacks her with the mallet, but Wendy defends herself with a knife. She heads back upstairs, but an angry, inhuman Jack follows her, determined to kill her.
Finally, Hallorann arrives at the hotel, but is attacked by one of the hedge animals.
Wendy is able to flee from Jack, and hides in the bathroom. She defends herself with a razor blade she finds in the medicine cabinet, all the while wondering where Danny is hiding, as she has been unable to find him. She also realizes that the hotel has completely possessed her husband, and that Jack is no longer in control of himself.
Hallorann is able to fend off the hedge animal by lighting it on fire and makes his way into the hotel. However, he is then attacked by Jack and loses consciousness.
Danny is in some kind of catatonic state. He is visited by Tony, and realizes that Tony is a future version of himself, Daniel Anthony Torrance. Tony tells Danny that his mother and Hallorann may be killed by Jack, unless Danny does something about it. Tony then reminds Danny that he will remember what his father forgot, and vanishes. Danny then returns to consciousness.
Finding himself in the attic on the third floor, Danny hears his father calling for him. Resisting the urge to obey his father, Danny attempts to hide from Jack.
Wendy regains consciousness, and finds Hallorann. She rouses him, and both hear the sounds of Jack on the prowl for his son.
Danny confronts the creature that had once been his father. He tells his father that the hotel is using him, and will discard him once he has served its purpose. Jack briefly makes an appearance, and tells Danny to run.
Danny then realizes that his father has not maintained the boiler, and that the hotel will go up in flames. He runs, searching for his mother and Hallorann, so that they may escape before it is too late.
Wendy, Hallorann and Danny are reunited. Halloran senses the urgency, and the three make their escape. The hotel catches on fire shortly aftewards and is completely destroyed.
Even after they escape, the hotel tries to urge Hallorann to hurt Danny. Hallorann fights the urge, and escapes with Wendy and Danny by using the snow mobile. Soon, they reach civilization, away from the hotel and the haunted grounds.
Several months later, Hallorann has found work at lodge in Maine. Danny and Wendy also stay at the lodge for the summer, but Wendy plans on relocating to Maryland, in favor of a new job and fresh start. Danny is still saddened over the death of his father, but Hallorann reassures him that he will always be there for him, and that Danny will eventually recover from his ordeal.
I have said it once, and I will say it again: I appear to be incapable of reading anything that does not make me its emotional bitch in the end.
And The Shining is no different.
Well, now I can add The Shining to that list.
And I would not be alone in that sentiment. Out of all of King’s work, it seems like The Shining is the one that has had the biggest grip on popular culture.
Even non horror and non King fans get what “redrum” means.
Jack Torrance, you have failed your hotel!
(OK, that one was admittedly bad. Maybe Jack should have tried harder to save his
city hotel. OK, I will stop now before someone sends the ghosts of the Overlook or perhaps Damien Darhk after me for making these bad jokes!)
And there is a good reason why The Shining (both the book and movie) has the grip that it has on popular culture. Actually, there are a few good reasons.
The Shining is scary. Really scary. Really fucking scary. Fucking scary as hell, as a matter of fact.
OK, Captain Obvious is on board…
Stephen King wrote The Shining. He is the King of scary. So of course his books are scary, right?
Well, many times, King’s books are scary. King does a lot of things besides scary (which he also does in The Shining, and which we will talk about later), but if you mention his name, the first word that comes up is scary. That is what he is primarily known for: writing books that will scare his Constant Constant Readers into a change of pants.
(Or is that just me? OK, just checking, no judgement, right?)
Well, add The Shining to that list. And believe me, it has earned that spot on the list.
First of all, there is the setting. We have an isolated, abandoned hotel in the dead of winter. Forget about the ghosts for a minute, and think about that instead. Being trapped in the middle of nowhere is a real fear. And The Shining plays upon that fear almost right from the opening pages, before we even have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of those lovely, hospitable creatures that call The Overlook Hotel home.
In fact, I could even rightfully argue that the hotel is a character, in and of itself, in much the same way that Danny, Wendy, Jack and Dick Hallorann are characters.
I find this utterly fascinating: only King has the ability to turn an inanimate object, like an isolated hotel, into a compelling, fleshed out character. Much love for The Master!
But, I don’t want to forget about the ghosts. No, let’s not do that!
Now, the build up to the ghosts is a nice, slow burn. There are a couple of flashes here and there, like the blood and brains Danny sees in the one room on his first tour, along with the incident with the wasps. But King spends the first half of the book getting us invested in Danny and his parents, and even the hotel. So the ghosts take a back burner, at least at first.
But then King unleashes them. And good things (or is it really scary things?) come to those who wait. And the payoff is grand.
It had been many years since I read this book. And a few details may have escaped me. But lucky me, they came back to me on my re-read.
There is the ghost of Mrs. Massey. Now, thanks to Kubrik and his movie, I have never really forgotten about her. But she deserves mention here. I may make jokes and kid around with all The Shining references, but here is my confession: I do that to hide the fact that she still scares me into a change of pants, even to this day.
(Again, we cool and no judgement, right? Whew!)
Although Mrs. Massey scared me, and the guy in the dog costume scared me (who does that? Who wears a dog costume and makes the rounds at a party, greeting people by barking? Ew much?), along with the ghosts of Grady and Lloyd, I think the honor goes to…
You got it, the clock!
I know that a wind up clock is not what most people associate with this “redrum” of a book. However, that is one seriously scary scene. And it would actually be two scenes, as Danny sees the figures in the clock do some unspeakable things to each other after it comes to life, and then Jack also sees the same clock come to life, showing him a guy murder a kid with a roque mallet. And then the clock fills with blood. Nice touch, Sai King!
Okay, we have paid the ghosts their due.
So let’s take away the ghosts now. Let’s take away the spooky hotel. Let’s take away a little boy’s mysterious, PSI powers.
We are doing away with anything and everything supernatural.
With most horror stories, if you took away all the supernatural elements, you would not have a story. You would have the equivalent of a car with no engines, no tires, probably even no stereo to listen to the music on.
But this is where King separates himself from the pack, and shows us why he has earned the moniker “The Master.”
You can take away anything and everything supernatural in The Shining.
And you are not left with an empty vehicle that won’t go anywhere or play any music.
Rather, you have a vehicle that is functional. It may have no “extras”, like the fancy tires and state of the art stereo system.
But this vehicle will run. We can drive it, and it can still take us places and can be counted on for a journey.
In other words, The Shining is not just about ghosts.
The ghosts make the story fun, and provide some great scares (again, Mrs. Massey). But they are not what makes this story so memorable and so effective on so many levels.
At its core, The Shining explores familiar territory. Or familiar to anyone who has had to “adult” for more than thirty seconds of his/her life.
The Shining is about family.
The Shining is about addiction and the devastating effects it has on the addict and the addict’s loved ones.
The Shining is about unemployment, and how devastating it can be to lose one’s job and place in the world.
In fact, the Torrance family’s stay at The Overlook Hotel could be seen as metaphor for being trapped in an abusive relationship.
In an abusive relationship, the abuser will use isolation as a tactic. This is what my ex did to me: he cut me off from everyone and everything that I loved. And then the monsters were unleashed.
Like Danny, I lived in fear. I also constantly questioned myself and blamed myself, as Danny did, when his father and the hotel would do terrible things. I believed, like Danny, that I had caused those things.
Like Danny, I believed that there was something I could do to keep the monsters at bay, and prevent the terrible things from happening. I shouldered much responsibility for what happened, and looked for ways to prevent (like Danny avoiding certain parts of the hotel.)
But, like Danny, it became too much, and escape became necessary to save my life. Danny agonized over the escape, and so did I. Escaping from an abuser is never easy, as you are running from someone you love, sometimes a person you love beyond all reason.
And the recovery is not easy, as evidenced by the end of the book. Like Danny, I spent much time crying.
But, again, like Danny, I found the light. Light is never so beautiful as when you escape that darkness.
Well, that’s it for the roller coaster otherwise known as The Shining. Join me next month for a reunion of sorts, when we review and dissect the follow up to The Shining, aka Doctor Sleep!
Tune in next month…same bat time, same bat channel!
Even though The Shining is an early King work, it is still set squarely in the King universe, and shares some notable connections with other King books. Here are the connections I found:
-The most obvious connection to another book is to Doctor Sleep, which follows the adventures of Danny Torrance in adulthood.
-The town of Sidewinder is mentioned in the novel The Talisman.
-In the book The Drawing of the Three, Eddie recalls a movie that he has seen, titled The Shining. Even if Stephen King does not exist in every reality (or even most of them), apparently some version of The Shining does exist on more than one level of The Tower, and may even exist on all levels of The Tower.
-In the novel It, Dick Halloran makes a brief appearance in a story in a flashback regards to Derry’s history. Hallorann saves the life of Wil Hanlon, who would later go on to father Mike Hanlon, one of the members of the Losers Club.