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Saturday, February 28, 2009


The true horror of Stephen King’s The Shining is not in the supernatural he presents in minute and exquisite detail until we cannot help but see it. The horror of The Shining is in the recognition of the way we are. The supernatural brings out repressed aspects of our nature, leaving us open to its suggestions and coaxing and cajoling us to wander its horrific hallways and dark paths.

That is the strength of The Shining. Take something we can believe in—a little extra personal perception, a kind of intuitive understanding and insight, an openness to suggestion—and extend its boundaries, push the envelope, and set us up to look at the possible extremes of our own weaknesses.

King does this unveiling masterfully. His main character, Jack Torrance, takes a caretaker’s job in The Overlook Hotel, high in the Colorado Rockies—a place that winter isolates and toys with as it pleases. With him are his wife, Wendy, and their son Danny. Neither one wants to be there, but they stay with Jack. Every one of these characters has a history that will be key to the response to The Overlook.

Jack, an aspiring playwright, is a recovering alcoholic fresh from being fired from a private high school for some sociopathic behavior involving a student. He never seems to work on all cylinders. He is easy prey at the hotel.

Wendy is simply trying to keep the marriage together. Her history involves a family history that makes one shudder. She’s a sufferer. She needs to protect her son.

Six year old Danny, adored by both, is a love bond between them. He also lives in the eye of their storm. Jack, in an alcoholic stupor, once broke Danny’s arm, and everyone is wary of a repeat performance. That’s one part of Danny’s history. The other is that he possesses The Shine, something he doesn’t really understand but something that bonds him to the Overlook’s cook who heads South for the winter. The Shine allows Danny to be privy to things he is too young to understand intellectually. He deals with these things intuitively.

The Overlook, isolated and solitary for six stormy, snowy, wintery months, is alcohol-free, and it is a place for Jack to rebuild and begin anew. The winter should be a symbolic spring for the Torrances.

The Overlook, however, also has a history. It is full of restless spirits, evil, partying, and hungry for control. It can seduce the weak, and it does.

King is masterful at description. Every inch of the Overlook comes alive—literally and figuratively! I felt the characters’ fear and pain. I saw the results of unleashed passions and horror. I experienced the transformations that occurred. I felt this book. You will too. Pack this book and take it with you. It will travel well—unless you’re going to an isolated, old hotel in Colorado.

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