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While the film adaptation may be a horror classic, King’s novel “The Shining” is even better — a masterclass about the nature of evil.

The Shining

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“This inhuman place makes human monsters” – Stephen King

The book and the movie adaptation of The Shining are considered synonymous, but anyone who has actually read the book will realize the two are quite different.

Stephen King actually hated the movie version, and after reading it, I understand why. Though the movie is iconic in horror, the book is a much better study of the way evil that is outside of us can make us crazy from proximity.

The Overlook Hotel is possessed by something very dark. It is a haunted, sick place that has absorbed the darkness of its inhabitants; every bad thing that ever happened there lingered, and now its evil claims people. It wants the new inhabitants dead so it can absorb their energy into itself.

Book Summary

The Shining

PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD

The Overlook Hotel has stood since 1909, isolated from the world. In the winter months, it is impossible to reach the snowed-in, secluded property. This prompts the need for a winter caretaker, and we meet Jack Torrance, a man trying to outrun his demons.

Delbert Grady was the previous caretaker who killed his two little girls with a hatchet and his wife with a shotgun — and then killed himself after drinking.

Jack is trying to start again for the sake of his marriage to Wendy and his young son, Danny. His drinking got out of control, and he accidentally broke Danny’s arm. He was fired for hurting a student, and now his only chance is the Overlook, which his former drinking buddy, Al Shockley, procured for him.

Danny is a very powerful psychic. He divines things he shouldn’t just by being nearby, like his mother’s fears and how his father wants to drink; Danny calls his abilities ‘Tony’ — thinking it is something outside of himself when Tony is really his psychic subconscious.

Danny knows the Overlook is a very bad place upon arrival; he is continually plagued with dark warning dreams, and Tony keeps telling him that this is where REDRUM is, though he doesn’t know what it means.

Danny meets Dick Halloran, the Overlook chef, who explains to Danny that he has what he calls “the shining” — a term for psychic ability, which Halloran also has. Danny’s shine is the most powerful he’s ever seen. Wendy shines a small amount because Halloran theorizes that all mothers do, but Jack doesn’t shine at all.

Even without shining, Jack still understands somehow that the Overlook is not good for him, his wife, or his son.

However, he finds himself obsessed with the hotel’s history from a scrapbook he found.

The Overlook has changed hands many, many times; with the transient nature of the hotel along with scandals and murders, it became literally and figuratively haunted by its ghosts.

It magnifies energy, especially psychic energy, and uses it against the living. The hotel is like a hungry monster that feeds on shine; it wants Danny to power itself but appeals to Jack’s ego, telling him it wants him.

As winter wears on, Jack begins to lose his mind with thoughts of drinking, then giving him real alcohol it produces out of thin air. He hears the voice of his abusive father telling him to kill Wendy and Danny so it can absorb Danny.

Ultimately, it is Grady’s voice that pushes him to try to hurt his family because though Jack doesn’t shine, he is the most psychologically vulnerable for the hotel to possess him.

Wendy increasingly understands that Danny is in danger and tries to reason with Jack, who is beyond reason.

Redrum

Danny has multiple terrible experiences with the spirits of the hotel trying to intimidate and/or hurt him. Wendy starts to hear voices and music that isn’t there herself like the place is coming alive because Danny is unconsciously powering the place just by being there.

The hotel possesses Jack, and he comes after Wendy and Danny with a roque mallet, ranting and raving.

Danny and Wendy know this isn’t Jack anymore, but are forced to run from him because the hotel wants to harm them. Danny stands up to the hotel, and for a second, his dad comes back. He tells Danny to run and to remember how much he loves him.

In all the madness, the boiler was forgotten, which needs constant maintenance, and it blows the Overlook sky-high when it explodes. Danny and Wendy make it out just in time as Dick Halloran gets there (who Danny called for psychically). For a second, after picking up a roque mallet himself, the hotel tries to kill them again through Halloran, but he resists the impulse.

The Hotel as a Demon

What I love about The Shining is that it perfectly describes a possession taking place, a process I’m very familiar with in my work as a demonic folklorist.

Possession means to take over completely, to control one’s actions by inhabiting a person’s body. In horror and real possessions, it is a process; first, the person who is weakest (or most susceptible in another way) out of a group is chosen, broken down, controlled, and ultimately absorbed into the entity.

We see this process happening within the Overlook, which is now a demon created from all the tragedy and darkness the hotel has experienced. That negative energy stayed within the walls and either attracted or created its own hungry demon.

First, the hotel begins to come alive by feeding on the energy of the people living there, which aligns with the infestation stage of a demonic presence (when a demon begins to feed off of and mess with people by producing strange phenomena).

Second, the hotel isolates Jack, who is the most psychologically vulnerable of the family, which is the exact same as the oppression stage with demons. It brings out the darkest parts of Jack that drive him crazy so that it can get inside him for the fourth stage: possession.

Though the hotel truly wants Danny, it either cannot possess him or simply wants to absorb him into itself when he is dead. To accomplish this, it possesses Jack.

Problematic Language

My only major issue with the book was the use of language in the book using racist, homophobic, and quasi-pedophilic terms. The language he was using to describe other people’s prejudices was inflammatory. Why are we preserving this, even if it’s to condemn those behaviors?

I understand that King was going for reality, but this book is going to exist long after those terms are considered normal.

Jack Torrance was written to be sympathetic to a child molester character (that Torrance wrote) for reasons that feel hollow and incorrect: a homosexual experience as a child, public humiliation, and more bad experiences in high school and college, which culminated in him exposing himself to two young girls. These experiences excuse nothing, in my opinion, because homosexuality doesn’t translate to pedophilia. Trauma can, but it was very uncomfortable to read him sympathizing with someone who would prey on children, even if it was through a character’s fiction.

That and the language the Dog Man uses when chasing Danny that is pedophilic as well. There are other ways to communicate evil, in my opinion.

Conclusion

A brilliant look at the way demons infest places as well as hurt people, The Shining is a masterclass of horror fiction that examines insanity from the point of view of the possessed.

I feel Stephen King truly captures the isolation of a place like the mountainous, snowy Overlook and what it can do to us even without an evil entity possessing an entire hotel.

The Shining is a favorite of mine in King’s panoply of work and will endure because such a place continues to fascinate and intrigue people long after its publication in 1977.

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