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The Great Stephen King Reread continues and this time, it’s one of King’s most famous masterpieces: The Shining.
And it is a masterpiece. So far, I’ve found that most (but not all, and we’ll get to that) King’s books get even better with the reader’s age. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed near-crippling anxiety, depression and whatever else (that’s its own horror tale). Seeing Jack Torrance struggle with his own inner demons made the terror for both Jack and Danny more real for me as an older reader. Whereas some horror loses its ability to scare, I’ve found that The Shining has the ability to scare me in a completely different way than it did as a teenager. And I find that utterly remarkable.
As a teen, it was the possibility of the supernatural that terrified me. As an adult, it’s the creeping terror of being at the mercy of your inner demons.
The Shining also reiterates King’s ability to bring locations to life. In Salem’s Lot, the town came to life as did the Marsten House. It made the terror of being trapped in a small town all the more real.
In The Shining, that terror becomes even more claustrophobic as the Overlook Hotel comes to life all around the Torrance family. And whereas Salem’s Lot’s monsters are flesh and bone, The Shining plays fast and loose with the creeping fear. As you dive deeper into the Overlook’s troubled history as well as the troubled mind of Jack Torrance, you begin to wonder what’s real and what isn’t. It’s this aspect of The Shining’s horror that makes it so visceral. The Shining toys with and plays against instinct. Are the hedges really moving? Or are the characters just imagining it? For that matter, am I just imagining that they’re imagining it?
The Shining is, for me, a VR reading experience. I feel as if I’m in the Overlook as I read. I can feel the creeping frost from the outside as the snow begins to entrap our characters inside the Overlook’s tomb, entrapping me as well. As the resort comes to life around both the characters and myself, I’m reminded of that line from Disney’s Haunted Mansion: “Is this haunted room actually stretching? Or is it your imagination?”
As I read the scene where the Torrances hear the elevator running on its own, I was reminded of a scene from a later novel written by King’s son, Joe Hill, Heart Shaped Box. In what was, for me, the creepiest scene in HSB, the protagonist must walk past a sitting apparition. The creep factor is multiplied by the suspense of not knowing if the apparition will make a move as he walks past it. In The Shining, they must determine whether the elevator will reveal the Overlook’s ghostly secrets or if they must wait until later.
It’s the creepiness that brings you to a standstill. It’s the suspense that brings you to your knees.
And the cherry on the top of the masterpiece that is The Shining is the quiet, yet screaming suspense. The terror ramps up with each chapter, but in a way that doesn’t have the narrative screaming like a locomotive toward its final act. For Jack Torrance, there’s no doubt that the tale is a tragedy, but for the other characters, we must wait each turn to see if they will make it out of the Overlook alive.
If you’re a King fan who has yet to read The Shining, it’s one of his that I feel is required reading. My favorite King stories deal with the terror of isolation. Whether it’s a lonely hotel, a small town or the whole world, nobody does fear in isolation like Stephen King.
Have you read The Shining? Was it everything you hoped it would be?