Book Review

The Shining (1977) is a paranormal horror by Stephen King. When Jack Nicholson becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, he moves his wife Wendy and five-year-old son Danny there as well. Although just a small boy, Danny has unusual psychic abilities – known as having a ‘shine’. As winter approaches and numerous blizzards cut the Nicholson family off from the outside world, the hotel appears to have a life of its own, causing dangerously scary visions and voices to play inside their heads. It looks, as The Shining’s book cover says, as if the hotel itself is ‘beginning to shine’.

King himself critiques The Shining – a skill I think all writers should posses – in his introduction, and comments that:

‘The result [of Jack’s character] wasn’t perfect, and there is a cocky quality to some of The Shining’s prose that has come to grate on me in later years, but I still like the book enormously’

I liked The Shining enormously too; Jack became a scarier and scarier antagonistic force, motivated not just by supernatural beings but by the haunting memories of his own abusive upbringing. The animal-shaped hedges seem to come to life, moving behind their backs, hunting the family so they can’t escape.*

*This reminds me of my favourite Dr Who villains, The Weeping Angels.

Whilst the narrative perspective did often change, (in true King style) because the Overlook Hotel is so isolated, the narrative mostly alternated between the only three tangible characters: Jack, Danny and Wendy. I thought these provided a much deeper insight to the thought processes of each character which is especially beneficial in a psychological novel about the powers of the mind as well as problems of the mind.

Although Hallorann’s involvement, particularly at the beginning of the novel, was useful at providing the reader with explanatory information about ‘shining’ abilities, he felt very much like an outsider and at times he felt like just a plot device.

 My one main criticism is a minor one.

In his last few pages, King uses the adverb ‘suddenly’ three times in the space of three sentences. If I recall correctly, he asserted in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000) that ‘suddenly’ is quite a lazy way of describing a given event. Maybe he formed that opinion upon reflection of The Shining, or maybe he included them purposefully for effect. Either way, I had trouble taking that last passage completely seriously, because of the way multiple ‘suddenlys’ were included. It’s quite a petty criticism, but I’m an English student and writer, so I can’t help but notice language or grammar that bothers me.

Overall, I quite liked The Shining, and would definitely recommend.

Film Review

I recently watched the 1980s film adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick – a film, interestingly, King can’t stand! After watching it, I had lots of initial thoughts I just had to write down:

Negatives

1) As an adaptation of the novel, it is seriously lacking. Whilst an adaptation is not limited to religiously following every page of the source material, I would expect the core plot to be as similar as possible. However, Kubrick departs from this; there were multiple blatant changes or omissions from the book, which I felt detracted from the narrative of the film. For example, King’s Jack descends into insanity by mixing the the grisly and ghostly past of the Overlook Hotel with his struggles with alcoholism and abuse, whereas Kubrick’s Jack is introduced to the audience in a way that suggests he is already unhinged.

2) Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) is such a pathetic character. She does nothing but scream or cry, and it was just tiring to watch. King refer to her as ‘one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film […] that’s not the woman that I wrote about’. (IndieWire).

3) The ending left me unsatisfied, mainly because it was so different to King’s ending, and there was no clear resolution. However, this might also have its benefits: it raises lots of questions for the audience, mainly questions about what (and who) is real and what (and who) is purely hallucination. As my friend Florence commented, ‘The fact it raises so many questions is why I love it so much.’*

*Florence’s favourite film happens to be The Shining.

Positives

1) The musical score was brilliant; the tension was consistent throughout, by the raising or lowering of volume and the use of string instruments. The level of tension, even when there were no sudden movements or “jump scares”, was refreshing in comparison to modern horror, where the format seems to be nothing more than building up tension until the next “jump scare”.

2) Although King wasn’t overwhelmed by Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance, I thought he was superb. He looked and sounded like a convincing, raging psychopathic and he was by far the best casting choice.  I may be somewhat biased in this opinion as, before reading The Shining, I had seen a few clips – like the infamous “Here’s Johnny” scene – and so even when reading the book, it was Nicholson I pictured.

3) Some of the cinematography was stunning. One example of this are the tracking shots used to follow Danny’s tricycle around the hotel. The transitions are smoothly executed, and incredible attention to detail is given to the sounds of his tricycle. We hear him cycle over wood flooring noisily, he passes over a rug (suddenly making it eerily quiet), then he cycles back over the flooring. A second example is when (minor spoiler here) Jack is trapped in the pantry. The audience are left looking up at Jack, as he fights against the door; we see his nostrils flare, his eyes widen, and his muscles work to free himself – all while he looms over the camera in a domineering stance. Clever film techniques such as these are a Media Studies student’s dream (a dream I left behind at A Level sadly) and The Shining is certainly a well-crafted film.

My Photo [The Shining]
A still taken from the film.

Approaching the film with an analytical and psychological thriller perspective, I think The Shining is fascinating and for that reason I enjoyed it. However, as an adaptation dubbed the ‘scariest horror film ever’ (The Independent) and based on a fantastic novel, for me, The Shining falls short.

Thank you for reading!

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– Judith

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2 thoughts on “Read and Review [+ Film Review]: The Shining

  1. This is interesting, The Shining is a film I can’t stand. As a lover of horror films, I thought this was without any scares or atmosphere. I love Nicholson usually but think this is a weaker performance. Jack Torrance should have more of a gradual change to madness, I feel that Nicholson is always nuts and so there is not tension. I’ve probably missed out on this, as I know its critically adored, but its not for me. I prefer The Mist!

    Liked by 1 person

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