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Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Shining (Stephen King)


I have a very special place in my heart for this particular book.  I first read it at my Aunt's isolated ranch in Vanderhoof, British Columbia.  Her and my Uncle lived about ten kilometers past the last hydro pole on a dirt road.  The house was essentially a log cabin at the base of a mountain.  I remember her giving me the book one night since she knew I enjoyed reading... and it introduced me to the world of horror.

For that, I am forever thankful.

Other than the fact that it was my primary experience with the horror genre, there are other reasons I liked it.

Jack Torrence, his wife Wendy, and son Danny move into the Overlook Hotel as winter caretakers.  Having lost his job due to alcoholism, Jack hopes to start rebuilding his family's life- and to write a novel during the winter.  Soon, however, Danny and Jack learn that the hotel has a sinister past... and plans for them both...

The characters in "The Shining" are very well crafted.  You came to care about them as the story progressed.  You actually grew to like Jack Torrence, and were distressed by his growing obsession and eventual possession by the negative energy of the hotel.  You actually worried about the son and the mother.  You even came to like the cook that shares the same gift as Danny.  They were written as human- with strengths and flaws that we all could relate to.  They weren't simply cookie cutter characters that could be inserted into any story.  Rather, they are unique and fully grown personalities- which helped to add depth to the story.

The story itself is one of depth- one of the themes reflecting parts of the author's life at the time.  When he wrote "The Shinging," King was dealing with alcohol and drug problems.  The emotions he went through are mirrored to some extent by Jack Torrence in the book.  Like many alcoholics, Torrence exchanged one addiction for another, leading to his downfall.  The exploration of this theme is a big part of the appeal this book had for me.  It turned a simple, cabin fever story into something with more complexity and thought.

Of course, there are just some phenomenal imagery in the book as well.  King uses words to paint a world in which his characters then live in and have to deal with.  His words have a rythm and flow to them that is almost musical in nature at times and creates a real mood... it pulls each an every emotion out of you and puts it on display in your brain.  Two scenes in particular from the book that really stick in my memory involve Danny and Jack.

In the first, Danny is by himself outside playing in the playground area near some hedge animals.  As he's playing, he is convinced that the hedge animals are changing positions and stalking him.  To escape them, he goes into a little tunnel that happens to be blocked at one end- causing it to be filled with darkness.  Not only does he have to contend with the hedge animals moving around just outside the open end of the tunnel, but something else is in the tunnel with him... something that wants to play with him for eternity...

The second scene is near the end of the book.  Jack has been stalking Danny through the halls of the Overlook Hotel. As he does so, Jack swings a roque mallet back and forth- striking the walls as he moves along the hallways.  The booming sound echoes through the air like a heartbeat getting closer and closer to Danny.  Just as he's about to strike Danny with the mallet, Jack manages to stop himself and warn Danny to run away.  The evil in the hotel then forces Jack to smash in his own face with the mallet...

These two scenes are so well written, that when I read them, I could almost see and feel everything being described.  The whole book is skillfully written.

In closing, "The Shining" is one of those books that I will definately be inclined to re-read by flicking candle light in my darkened corner.  It's got a firm and solid place in "The Good".

Special Notice!
Make sure you tune into CFBX (92.5 FM) Friday night (07 Oct 2011) at 10:00 pm Pacific Standard Time for "Film Reviews From the Basement," and catch my thoughts on Stanley Kubrick's version of "The Shining"!  If you can't get it on the radio, listen to it live online at www.thex.ca!

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