THE SHINING by Stephen King
Goodness knows, the institution that is Stephen King does not need humble me to write a review of THE SHINING. But I loved this book, so I want to write about it anyway. Rather than a review, I’m going to give you guys my reaction to this book—no plot synopsis or rating here: this is just an honest, no-frills recap of my experience entering the world of Stephen King and the Overlook Hotel. No spoilers below, so if you haven’t read THE SHINING yet, you’re safe to keep reading! I won’t ruin the many surprises Stephen King has in store for you in your Overlook Hotel adventure.
Believe it or not, this was my first Stephen King read. I’ve pretty much always been a reader with a singular focus, and I have always felt my leisure reading time is best spent with my beloved crime fiction. (This remains true, but I have a newfound appreciation of the horror genre after THE SHINING.) This Halloween season felt like the perfect time to try out my first Stephen King horror read. I’m a huge fan of Kubrick’s movie adaptation of THE SHINING, so where better to start with King’s works? (More on my movie vs. book thoughts later.)
To me, the genius of this book is how slowly and thoroughly it envelops you. About 200 pages into this read, I found myself wondering what all the fuss was about. “This isn’t that scary,” I thought to myself, “I could totally read this at night when I’m home alone. No blankets required.” A great read, sure, but not scary.
At 450 pages in, I texted my boyfriend: “remember when I said this book wasn’t scary? I take it all back.” He thought this was hilarious; I was busy wondering if I should go outside and check the hedges for signs of movement. (I didn’t, I’m no fool.)
By the book’s end, I was reading as compulsively as Jack wipes his mouth. I’m thoroughly impressed with how inexorably King draws you into his twisted world. Threads of the story are laid out for the reader, and the reader is given glimpses of horror, but King shows serious self-restraint. King ratchets up the tension bit by bit, and before you know it, all those threads have formed a tangled, thoroughly terrifying web. The last 70 pages of this book were some of the most addictive pages I’ve ever read, and I can now totally understand why King is such a massively popular author.
So now the big question: what’s better, the movie or the book? As I mentioned earlier, I absolutely love the movie adaptation of THE SHINING. It was one of the first movies to introduce me to the horror genre, and I don’t think anything could spoil my love of that movie. In that spirit, I’m going to take a bit of an alternative way out with this question. The book and movie of THE SHINING might as well be totally unrelated as far as I’m concerned. The film version of THE SHINING is probably one of the worst movie adaptations I’ve ever seen in terms of fidelity to the original book, but it’s also one of the best movies I’ve ever seen when considered on its own. Potentially contradictory, but I can’t think of a better way for me personally to compare the two than to just not compare them.
Stanley Kubrick taps into something primal in his film. Nothing will give me goosebumps quite like Jack Nicholson typing away on his typewriter, the echoes clacking through the expanse of the Overlook. At the same time, King’s novel develops each character far more than the movie ever does. The novel also incorporates elements of horror that the movie doesn’t use, my favorite of which is Danny’s adventure on the playground in the snow. (I promised no spoilers, so I won’t say any more about that.) On the one hand, this is always to be expected with book to movie adaptations—there just isn’t time to put every detail of the book on the big screen. There are just so many inconsistencies between the book and the movie, I have a hard time drawing any real comparison between the two. I will always love the movie, and I will now always love the book, and sometimes it’s okay not to choose between the two.
Have you read THE SHINING? Have you seen the film version? I’d love to know your stance on the book vs. movie debate! Comment below with your thoughts, musings, and further Stephen King reading recommendations!