Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Written Word Review: The Shining

     Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of The Shining is well known as one of the greatest horror movies of any generation, hinging on a haunting performance by an all-out-crazy Jack Nicholson and showcasing how well the director's nuances worked with terrifying imagery and incredible POV camera tracking shots. It's easily one of my favorite (horror) films of all time. I was a huge fan of the book too, years ago (so I thought) when I read it. So, about a week ago, in preparation of King's upcoming sequel to his third book, called Doctor Sleep (released in September), I flipped open the cover of my copy and poured myself into the first few pages. Butterflies formed in my stomach. I started to sweat. My nerves jumped to the furthest edge of existence. I realized that--after all of these years of being a so-called Stephen King fan and absolutely loving the film version--I had never even read The Shining, one of King's most famous and treasured novels.
     I always knew that Stephen King was never big fan of his novel's portrayal on the big screen, but that clearly had nothing to do with the talent involved. You couldn't ask for a better Jack Torrance than Mr. Nicholson. So I went into the book version of The Shining with an eye for differences, an eye for determining why King was unhappy and what made the book better than the film. Now, don't get me wrong: both versions of The Shining clearly have plenty of room to coexist on the same landscape--they are both pinnacles in horror writing and horror film-making. But after blowing through the book extremely quickly (frankly, I could barely put it down), I realized that--like the majority of text to cinema adaptations--the book actually is even better.
     We all know (at least I hope) the basic plot lines that are common threads between both creations: there's a hotel, called The Overlook, out in Colorado that shuts down for the Winter. In order to maintain the establishment's basic needs (heating the pipes, general repair, emergencies), a caretaker is hired. Jack Torrance accepts the job, deciding that it's just what he needs to finish some important writing that he hasn't had the time to finish. He brings along his wife, Wendy, and his son, Danny, who has a special gift called "The Shining", a kind of telepathic power. He connects with a black cook named Hallorann, who also has the ability, but not nearly as powerful.  Once everyone leaves for the season, they are snowed in for months, and the hotel's horrific powers start becoming more and more evident.
     A few reasons the book is even better (feel free to skip this paragraph if you're planning on reading it): it really shows the struggle that Jack goes through with his alcoholism, self-pity and self-hatred. In the film version, Jack is never particularly a sympathetic character. As soon as the hotel begins showing its malicious power, Jack succumbs and the change is swift and brutal. In the novel version, we get much more time, and we get many more looks into Jack's psyche to show his slow, downward spiral into an abyss of alcohol and violence. And in the film, Jack is the main villain, other than the casual ghost-like being or hallucination that causes Jack to do something. In the novel, the hotel is a malevolent presence in itself. The Hotel is another character: a living, breathing entity that has a power that far exceeds any normal human being, and especially one full of previous violent episodes and someone filled with self-pity.
       As I stated before, King's newest book is titled Doctor Sleep, and it's a sequel to The Shining. This might worry some fans: a sequel to one of King's most cherished and mentioned novels, released almost 40 (40!) years after the original. But me, I'm not worried. I'm confident that King wouldn't take on a story dealing with a key character in The Shining unless he had a really damn good story, and a really damn good reason to deal with all of the criticism of just deciding to do it in the first place.

The tagline is certainly intriguing:

"With Doctor Sleep, Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his previous novels, The Shining. The novel features the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the twelve-year-old girl, Abra Stone, that he must save from The True Knot. The True Knot are a group of almost immortal travelers who cross the country feeding on children with the gift of "the shining." Dan drifted for decades in an attempt to escape his father's legacy, but eventually settled in a New Hampshire town and works in a nursing home, where his remnant mental abilities provide comfort to the dying. With the aid of a cat that can foresee the future, Dan becomes "Doctor Sleep." After meeting Abra Stone, an epic war between good and evil ensues."

King calls it a return to a "Balls to the Walls" horror novel. After reading The Shining (not to mention his last few books--he's still a great writer), I know I'll be stopping by the book store on its release date, ready to pick up my copy and dive in head first.

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