In praise of older books: The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
Week 11: Julie Parsons on a favourite classic
On the set of The Shining (1980), above, from left, Barry Dennen, Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson. Photograph: © Warner Bros
I read it with the light on and my back pressed against my bedroom wall. I slept fitfully. When I woke I wasn’t sure where I was. In an attic room in Ranelagh or in the snowbound Overlook Hotel, where Jack Torrance roamed the corridors, the roque mallet swinging from one hand, as the elevator creaked and rumbled up and down.
Who can ever forget The Shining? Its characters live on. Tormented, alcoholic Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy, desperately trying to do the right thing and always failing. And Danny, their five-year-old son, whose telepathy, his “shining”, keeps him suspended between the everyday world and the world of what has happened and what will happen next.
It’s Danny’s gift which wakens the Overlook Hotel from its winter slumber. He stirs the terrors of Room 217 where the dead lady lies in the bath behind the mouldy shower curtain. He brings to life the terrifying Grady, who slaughtered his wife and daughters and who, like Jack, roams the hotel with murderous intent.
It’s the quality of writing that gives the most pleasure. King creates a complete world, a living nightmare. The hotel, its bricks and mortar saturated with past horrors; the hedge animals, rabbit, dog, lions, waiting to pounce; the old-fashioned fire extinguisher, a coiled snake ready to strike; the sounds of a riotous party echoing through the empty rooms and corridors; the boiler, unstable, dangerous, the pressure gauge “creeping” upwards.
And Jack; is he insane or possessed by the hotel’s ghosts? As King ratchets up the tension he flashes back to Jack’s childhood. His violent father, beating his mother to a pulp at the dinner table, her glasses flying from her face, landing in the gravy.
Clever, wise Stephen King. Explorer of the human soul, prospector of the human heart. As compassionate as he is savage. The Shining is his most complete creation. How I wish I’d written it.