Book Review: The Shining

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There was no one to see the autumn leaves steal across the grass but the three of them. It gave Jack a curious shrinking feeling, as if his life force had dwindled to a mere spark while the hotel and the grounds had suddenly doubled in size and become sinister, dwarfing them with sullen, inanimate power.

The Shining, by Stephen King

There are some books that are simply impossible to read without any preconceptions. I tend to read a lot of classics (both in and outside of class), and certain books lose much of the author’s intended meaning simply because of how popular they’ve become since publication. While reading Dracula, I couldn’t sympathize with the horrified surprise the characters feel when they learn of Count Dracula’s true identity. Dracula is such a huge part of the canon and of pop culture that it would be impossible for someone to read the book with no preconceptions.

To a lesser extent, I felt the same about The Shining. Although I’d never watched it, Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the book is such an integral part of pop culture that I found myself anticipating key moments from the film while reading. Happily enough, though, I found out that the novel and the film differ in significant ways, so much so that key scenes from the film don’t exist in the novel.

What I personally found most interesting about The Shining wasn’t the horror and thrills, even though this is arguably what Stephen King is best known for. In fact, earlier this year, when I read my first Stephen King book, The Stand, I was pleased to find that I found much to delve into in addition to the horror: the depiction of women, social and political commentary, and the fragility of society in general. The Shining is definitely an exciting read full of thrills (and much shorter than The Stand!), but it also contains considerable food for thought.

One problem I had with The Stand is its depiction of female characters, especially Frannie, an initially independent young woman who becomes increasingly dependent on her partner and overly emotional, bursting into tears at every little thing. Wendy, the only female character of any significance, is financially dependent on her husband, Jack, but I found her troubles to be instantly relatable. Wendy seriously contemplates leaving Jack over his alcoholism and his verbal and physical abuse of herself and Danny, but is forced to face the reality of starting on her own with limited finances and struggling to provide for her young son. I found the novel to be realistic and relatable in its depiction of the tensions that exist between a young married couple with strained finances, especially under the conditions that the Torrances find themselves in.

I also found the novel’s depiction of the inheritance of abuse fascinating. Wendy, like Frannie, has a strained relationship with her mother, who is verbally abusive and jealous of Wendy’s close relationship with her father. Despite Wendy’s disdain for her mother, she finds herself feeling similarly about Jack’s close relationship with Danny. Similarly, Jack’s alcoholism and rage can be linked to his own abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father, showing the unshakable power of a history of abuse.

YES OR NO?: YES. Although The Shining is often simplified to a story about a family taking care of an abandoned hotel, I found it to be a nuanced read, with more to offer than the scary elements. And to be honest, it wasn’t even that scary, in the end.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Shining

  1. I find this to be true with a majority of King’s work. It’s rarely a simple horror story. Often way more complexed. I first learned this when I read Carrie for a feminism class. I think a lot of his deeper meanings often go unnoticed.

    1. I haven’t read Carrie yet, but it’s on my list! I suppose if his works were simple horror fiction, they probably wouldn’t have enjoyed as much popularity. Many people are probably more familiar with the movie adaptations, which I think is a reason why the other themes are often ignored.

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