The Shining

The Shining is one of King's most famous books, mainly due to the controversial film of it by Stanley Kubrick. Many King fans hate the film as it doesn't stick to the book's ideas particularly closely. Most of the actual plot is there, but the its message and emphasis is different. Personally, I still think it's an excellent film, but I can see why some fans feel aggrieved. There has been some talk of another version being made, possibly with a screen-play by King. Watch this space.

The Shining is about a family of three, and a hotel. The family is that of the Torrances : Jack Torrance is a teacher and aspiring playwright who has been fired after hitting a student he found slashing his tyres. He is a recovering alcoholic, who loves his wife and son very much, but is prone to fits of anger. In one such fit, (before the start of the book), he broke his son's arm after discovering him scattering his papers in his office. At the start of the book, however, he gets a new job - winter caretaker of the hotel. He and his family will spend the winter there, performing maintenance tasks, checking the boiler (it has a tendency to "creep", and could blow quite easily if left for too long), and - he hopes - finishing his play. He is warned of the case of Charles Grady, a previous winter caretaker who suffered from cabin fever and ended up killing his family before committing suicide. Jack is not worried - there are plenty of reasons why he is more suitable than Grady ever was... sounds suspicious? You betcha.

Wendy Torrance is Jack's wife - long suffering but loyal. There is not much focus on Wendy until near the end of the book, although we get a sense of her being a basically good person - honest, with a basic desire to keep her family together and happy.

Danny Torrance is Jack and Wendy's son, who is just 5 at the start of the book (in fact all the way through the book until the epilogue). Danny is a very bright boy, but he has an "invisible friend" called Tony, who tells him things - where Daddy put such-and-such, whether the car will break down or not... small cases of precognition. "Tony" worries Jack and Wendy, as Danny tends to have fainting fits when he sees him, and in fact Tony begins to worry Danny from the start of the book - although previously a friend, he is showing Danny more and more unpleasant things, with the recurring word REDRUM often accompanying the visions.

The hotel is The Overlook Hotel, in a remote location on a mountain in Colorado. It has a shadowy past involving suicides, gangland-style murders, orgies, and many changes of ownership. It is an evil place, and Danny feels this instantly... the topiary animals look sinister, he can see blood on the walls of some of the rooms... ghosts of events past. The one good thing about The Overlook as far as Danny is concerned is the cook, Dick Hallorann. Dick takes an instant liking to Danny, and feels the psychic powers in him - what he calls The Shine. He manages to have a quiet word with Danny, tells him to be careful in The Overlook, and never to go in room 217, where a maid once saw something. Dick says that the "things" in The Overlook can't hurt Danny, but if he wants Dick to come back (the hotel will be empty apart from the Torrances) he can shout to him with his mind. (Keen King fans will recognise the name of Dick Hallorann from It - he was in the interlude concerning The Black Spot.)

For a while, all is well at The Overlook - Jack's play is coming along nicely for the first time in ages, and the family are coming back to each other after a lot of heartache. However, The Overlook starts having an effect on Jack - he becomes more and more fascinated in its dark history, and goes back to one of his old habits from his drinking days - not actually drinking itself (there is no alcohol in The Overlook) - but chewing Excedrin dry for the headaches that he begins to get regularly.

A number of strange incidents occur - Jack finds a wasps' nest whilst maintaining the roof, uses an appropriate wasp bomb on it, and puts it in Danny's room. That night, although Jack had checked there were no wasps still in the nest, Danny is stung several times, and when Jack manages to put a bowl over the nest, there are many wasps trapped inside.

In an almost hypnotic fit after spending too much time going through the hotel's papers in the boiler room, Jack smashes the radio, effectively cutting them off from the rest of the world as snow has fallen heavily, and reaching the nearest town has become impossible except by snowmobile.

Danny comes downstairs with bruises on his neck after venturing into room 217. Wendy initially suspects Jack of doing it, especially when Jack reports nothing amiss in the room (despite seeing something himself) but eventually accepts that it wasn't him, and just wants to get Danny out of the hotel. Fortunately, the hotel has a snowmobile, which is in working order - until, that is, Jack removes the spark plug for reasons he doesn't even understand himself.

When Danny goes out to play in the playground just beyond the topiary, he is chased by the hedge animals that move every time he looks away... he is very nearly pounced on by a hedge-lion, and only just escapes. His parents, of course, are more worried by the hallucination they think he's had than by the possibility that it was real...

In the ballroom, Danny is paid another visit by Tony... and this time, Danny works out what REDRUM is when he sees it reflected. At this stage he thinks it's time to call Dick back - he shouts with his mind, and Dick sets out from Florida.

The action really hots up when Jack starts seeing things himself... like the ballroom/bar being filled with people and alcohol. The people he sees are ghosts of the hotel's previous victims, such as Delbert Grady, who has become the bartender, and is more than happy to give Jack a drink or two. He does, however, tell Jack that people are worried that Jack may not be performing his job quite adequately - at least, the part of his job that involves disciplining his wife and son. Danny is very important to The Overlook, of course, as he has high psychic potential... Jack doesn't grasp this for a long time, not until it is far too late does he realise that he is of relatively little importance himself, he is just a tool to kill Danny.

Wendy finds Jack in a drunken stupor, and locks him in the pantry. By this time things have become too strange for Wendy, and she is justly frightened that Jack will try to kill both her and Danny. It is around this stage that things begin to really hot up... Grady (or rather, his ghost) lets Jack out of the pantry, and he comes after Wendy and Danny with a roque mallet. Wendy is on the ball too, however, and is armed with a large knife. A fight ensues on the stairs, and both participants are seriously injured - nearly killed. Danny, however, is unscathed but very frightened. He understands that it is only the hotel that his making his beloved Daddy do what he is doing, but he's only five, and all this is enough to scare the hardiest of souls!

After a dangerous journey, involving being nearly killed by the same hedge animals that went after Danny, Dick arrives at The Overlook, only to be smashed over the head with a roque mallet almost instantly, by a deranged creature that was once called Jack, and who now has a knife sticking out of his back. When Jack has gone after Danny, Wendy finds Hallorann and somehow manages to wake Dick up - apparently he isn't quite as dead as Jack thought.

The final confrontation between Jack (or rather, the hotel) is gripping in the extreme. Danny manages to coax the real Jack out of the creature for a few seconds - he tells Danny to run, but Danny doesn't - after all, The Overlook is everywhere. After those brief seconds, The Overlook destroys what is left of Jack's face with the roque mallet he holds. However, Danny remembers "what his father had forgotten," just as Tony had told him he had to - the boiler. Jack hadn't released the boiler for a long time, and, fortunately for Danny, it is just about to blow. Danny rushes downstairs, and helps Wendy and Dick get out.

Moments later, The Overlook explodes. Dick manages to get Wendy and Danny down the mountain on the snowmobile he came up on. And the rest, as they say, is history...

King referred to The Shining recently when talking about Rose Madder - he said that the ending of RM is to do with anger repeating itself, and that wherever Danny Torrance is now, he's probably beating up his kids. Personally, I disagree, but I'll leave you, Constant Reader, to make up your own mind...

Jon Skeet

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