The Shining has always been a fixation in my life when it comes to horror — specifically the 1980 Stanley Kubrick adaptation of the famous Stephen King novel. There’s always been a certain je ne sais quoi about it that has cemented it in my mind when I start to think about horror films. Whether it’s the beloved Simpsons short from “Treehouse of Horror V” that first exposed me to the idea or the impact of watching the film itself for the first time, I can’t begin to think about watching Halloween movies without asking someone new “Have you seen The Shining?” There’s something about the whole scenario; the grisly spectres, the oppressive, isolated landscape, and descent into madness that makes the whole thing a tantalizing horror story.
Despite all this interest in The Shining, which includes watching discussions of King’s dislike for Kubrick’s adaptation and comparisons with the subpar but more faithful miniseries, I never actually got around to reading the novel until recently. I’m just shy of 100 pages away from the conclusion of the story now, but the novel has had enough of an impact on me that I am compelled to share.
When it comes to the issue of Kubrick’s adaptation — which is difficult to keep out of mind, since it was my original exposure to the story — I can forgive it for its lack of faith to the novel. The most glaring aspect that differs between the two versions of the story is the bond between Jack Torrance and his son Danny, which is integral to the horror and tragedy of the novel. While the film tells a fantastic horror story, this is largely absent.
The thing about the novel is that I do not think it translates well from the page to the screen. So much time is spent within characters’ heads, giving the reader an in depth glimpse into the minds of each member of the Torrance family, that a disconnection between the novel and an adaptation was a foregone conclusion. Frankly, I just have more respect for Kubrick for managing to create such a great film with much of the original essence in tact, when the source material doesn’t translate well to that medium.
While at first it felt like the story was a little overwritten, I realized soon enough that almost everything that we learned about this family and all the time spent in their heads to build up to the horror was essential. The foundation of the story isn’t rooted in the setting or the threat nearly as much as it is who these people are.
It matters severely that we understand who these people are through and through; why they love each other, what they dislike about each other, the good times, and the bad times. Everything adds up where it counts, giving the reader a great amount of insight into events as they happen to each person. The level of detail we get into individual perspectives also helps to produce a lot of tension, such as seeing the thought processes of Jack, who is being driven mad to the point of sabotaging their escape. We are not simply told he is being influenced, but can follow his train of thought as it goes from wanting what is best for his son to being warped into wanting to stay at all costs.
The psychology of the characters plays a big part in the film and the novel, and Kubrick did a great job of depicting Jack’s descent visually. Having read the novel, I see that as only having scratched the surface of the story it was portraying.
There are many points I was aware of that were cheesy in the miniseries, such as the hedge animals that were poorly rendered in CGI, that I was happy to find effectively creepy in the novel. The story is full of deliciously terrifying moments that really shine thanks to their subtle approach. I quite liked the hedge animals in particular, as they seem to be an early example of an entity that only moves when you’re not looking, a popular modern example being the Weeping Angels of Doctor Who.
Something else about the novel that I’ve really latched onto I discovered when researching what specific genre it falls under. What jumped out at me was that it is a Gothic horror story. Having studied Gothic literature academically, the revelation really excited me. It had never occurred to me before, but the second I saw the label it all became very clear to me. The oppressive yet sublime landscape, the almost tangible character of the setting itself (The Overlook), abusive father figures, isolation, and a strong supernatural element all come together to make something very traditionally Gothic. It is a small thing, but it was staring me right in the face and I never realized it. Now that I have, I have a greater appreciation for the story.
Between the Kubrick film and what I’d heard about the miniseries adaptation, I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting into with the novel. I’m happy to have learned just how phenomenal of a Gothic horror story it is, packed with a lot more character depth and feeling than the film I first watched.