“He would write it for the reason he felt that all great literature, fiction and nonfiction, was written: truth comes out, in the end it always comes out. He would write it because he felt he had to.”
― Stephen King, “The Shining”
When I was little, I used to climb out of bed after I had been tucked in for the night. I’d tiptoe my way down the hallway, across the kitchen floor and crouch down behind the sofa in the family room of my parents’ house, where they would sit and watch movies.
Most of the time I would get caught and immediately be sent back to bed. Occasionally, though, I’d luck out and have a chance to stick around for awhile, feel like a real adult. Peering out of this hiding place, I had a knack for catching a movie’s most unforgettably terrifying scenes.
There’s that moment in “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991) when the T-1000 Terminator skewered young John Connor’s foster parent with his newly transformed sword arm. Or in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) when Khan inserts his hungry alien worms into the ears of two terrified Star Fleet crewman.
Most notable of these traumatizing moments was when six-year-old me managed to catch that unforgettably famous moment in “The Shining” (1980): While a similarly aged boy named Danny rides his tricycle around the hallways of The Overlook Hotel, he comes upon the ghosts of murdered twin girls. His mind receives flashes of their horrific, bloody murder as they beckon him to play with them “forever and ever and ever.”
I can’t specifically recall this moment giving me nightmares, but it definitely scared me and stayed with me for years. It scared me so much, in fact, that I didn’t end up watching “The Shining” in its entirety until I was about 20 years old. With it’s impossibly high ceilings and labyrinth-like corridors, The Overlook Hotel feels infinite. I realized somewhat recently that the movie feels like it’s shot from the perspective of a six-year-old boy and it puts me in the mindset of a child. It’s still, at this point in my life, a very scary movie.
My “Shining” tee
I recently fell down something of a rabbit hole and have consumed as much “Shining” related material as I can get my hands on: we went to the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the LACMA, we watched the subjective documentary “Room 237” and I actually read Stephen King’s “The Shining.”
I really enjoyed the Kubrick exhibit: looking at his photos (I didn’t know that he was a photographer before he was a filmmaker), reading letters he had received/written, learning more about reaction to his more controversial films (”Lolita,” “A Clockwork Orange”) and even seeing some of the props from his films.
Actual prop from “The Shining” on display at the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the LACMA
Actual “The Shining” costumes, on display at the Stanley Kubrick exhibit at the LACMA
“Room 237” explores different theories by different authors, professors, filmmakers and other “experts” about the hidden meanings within the film “The Shining.”
The majority of these theories were, in my opinion, embarrassingly far-fetched. Without totally ruining for anyone who hasn’t seen it, here are two example theories: 1.) The movie is actually about the Nazi Holocaust 2.) “The Shining” is about the “true story” of the moon landing. (Some conspiracy theorists believe the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon was faked and the televised event that the world saw was actually created on a sound stage by Stanley Kubrick in collusion with the U.S. government.) The doc made a few interesting points that intrigued me, but I overall didn’t exactly walk away from “Room 237” feeling especially enlightened.
The book was an all-together different experience. Just as I was beginning to read “The Shining,” a handful of different people had given me their own opinions on the book vs. the movie. “Oh the movie’s much better.” Or “The book is wayyy better.” As I finished reading it last night and when I snapped it shut, I had a feeling that I had just consumed a completely different piece of art. I knew this would be the case—but this particular instance of a book vs. movie was especially profound: In few ways are King’s “The Shining” and Kubrick’s “The Shining” actually alike.
That being said: This book was very scary. It was well-written. I really enjoyed it.
I do have some comments, though. What really stuck out at me as I read was how startling it was picking up on the strange differences in attitude in 1970’s era King (who I understand when he wrote this was suffering from severe alcoholism)– he’s blatantly sexist/racist in his third person omniscient descriptions. I’ve read a few more recent King books in the last few years and I feel that he doesn’t come across the way in his later, more modern works.
What I got out of “The Shining” was something very different than I anticipated: This book isn’t really about a haunted hotel and a little boy with psychic abilities. At its core it’s a very dark comment on domestic violence and the impact it has on families. On a surface level I can break it down like this: 1.) Wendy is a victim the entire book and the only time she exhibits any kind of strength is when she has to be there for her son, Danny. 2.) Jack just “isn’t himself” when he’s intoxicated by the power of the hotel—similar to how he “isn’t himself” when he’s intoxicated by alcohol. 3.) Danny has a sixth sense ability—he’s not clueless to the problems his parents are having and suffers as he foresees the destruction of his family.
I’m glad I finally felt brave enough to read it. Very dark, interesting and inspiring stuff.