Quarantine Find: “The Shining” Book Review

Madeline Tiedt, Features Editor

The whole reason that I started to read “The Shining” was because I had read in an article about how much Stephen King had disliked its movie adaptation. Since it is one of my favorite movies, I knew I had to read the book because if he didn’t like the movie then the book must really be something. Right away it starts with aspiring writer and former alcoholic Jack Torrance as he’s being interviewed for a caretaking job at The Overlook Hotel. He gets the job and on closing day, when the hotel is shut down for the winter until it opens back up in May, Jack packs up his wife, Wendy, and five-year-old son, Danny, and takes them to the hotel. It’s a relatively slow start to the story, but I understand it takes time to get acquainted with the characters. 

Things start to pick up a little once they get to the hotel. Danny, who had had visions about what lurked in The Overlook, was very reluctant to live there, but he didn’t say anything because he knew that his dad needed this job. Soon after they arrive and are given a grand tour of the place, Danny meets the hotel’s cook Dick Hallorann, who quickly discovers that Danny has an ability which he dubs ‘shining’. According to Dick, Danny being able to read thoughts, have visions, and even communicate telepathically were all attributes of ‘shining.’ He serves as a mentor to Danny as he teaches him all about his own experiences with this ‘gift.’ He is also quick to warn Danny to be careful in the hotel as it’s not nice to those who ‘shine’  and also instructs him to stay out of room 237. Out of everyone in the entire book, Dick is my absolute favorite character because he is the most down to Earth. Once he learns about Danny’s ‘shine,’ he worries about the boy and what the hotel could do to him even though he had only known Danny for a little while. Dick leaves the hotel as he winters in Florida and tells Danny to use his ‘shine’ to call him if there’s any trouble.

Once they are settled in, nothing really crazy happens right away. I get it. Stephen King has to set the stage and make things look like they’re really looking up for the Torrance family, but I think at this point we all know what’s really going to happen. We are waiting for Jack Torrance to go insane. At first, Jack does a pretty good job of keeping up with the maintenance of the hotel by day while working on his play by night. He establishes a rhythm and is even coping better with his pledge to sobriety; however, everything starts to go downhill when Jack finds a scrapbook in the basement detailing all of the unsavory secrets The Overlook holds. He gets an idea to write a book on the hotel’s colorful history which he unwisely tells his boss about. His boss is less excited about the idea of a book being written about everything that has happened in the hotel. The last thing that his boss wants is for the secrets of the hotel to be broadcasted after they had been kept quiet for so long and he threatens to fire Jack. I found this part of the book to be long and almost unnecessary because while it’s important to learn some of what has happened inside the hotel to understand why some of the ghosts show up, I didn’t need to read a newspaper clipping about every single incident. Seriously, a lot of tragedy happened in this hotel, but I really did not care to read an in-depth article about each disaster.

Things really start to escalate though once the first heavy snowfall comes, leaving the roads unusable and the Torrances stuck at The Overlook. Since they aren’t able to go into town anymore, they are stuck with only one another as company and cabin fever begins to set in. Having been through quarantine earlier this year, I understand some of their restlessness, but I truly can’t imagine what it would be like to spend six months stuck on a snowy mountain with very little communication to the outside world. While they really become stuck at the hotel, it starts to come alive. 

One of the first objects to come alive is the hedges. At first, it might not sound very scary, but they are no ordinary hedges. They are shaped into different animals like lions and dogs and they slowly try to block Jack’s path back inside so they can attack him. I would compare this whole scene to the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” game and I would say it’s equally as terrifying. The hedge animals slowly sneak up on Jack when he’s not looking, but the second he does look at them they freeze, slowly inching closer and closer just as the creepy animatronics do to the player in the game. The hedges get more and more aggressive as the book progresses and they also go after Danny when he’s on the playground a little later on. I didn’t think it was possible to be scared of bushes, but I think that after reading this part I’m definitely a little more wary around hedges.

After Jack’s altercation with the hedges, Danny gets bored and decides to explore room 237, the room that Dick told him explicitly not to go into. This part of the book stresses me out as well. Not because of what he finds in room 237 (spoiler alert, it’s a dead lady in a bathtub who tries to strangle him), but because both Jack and Wendy leave their five-year-old son completely unattended in this big hotel that’s trying to harm him. This part of the book is also included in the movie, so I knew what was going to happen when Danny goes wandering around in room 237, but it was still a pretty creepy scene because of how much detail Stephen King puts into describing the dead bathtub lady. 

When Danny eventually makes his way back to his parents with all the scratches and bruises on his neck, Wendy automatically assumes that Jack had done that to their son because they’re the only other people in the hotel with Danny and once Jack had broken Danny’s arm, so it wasn’t hard for her to believe that he had hurt him once again. At this point in the book, everything starts to really fall apart. The already weakened trust between Jack and Wendy begins to deteriorate as The Overlook takes hold of Jack.  

Jack really loses sanity once he enters the ballroom. Inside of the ballroom is a full-fledged party that the hotel had created itself. No one can see it but Jack; Wendy and Danny only hear Jack talking to himself. The shelves behind the bar in the ballroom, which had been completely devoid of liquor since the day the hotel was shut down for the season, were fully stocked and Jack knocked back several martinis, breaking his sobriety streak. The Overlook gets him ‘drunk’ enough to cloud his judgment and flare his temper and then it convinces him that he needs to punish his wife and son. It convinces Jack that Wendy turned Danny against him and that Jack needs to teach them both a lesson. He needs to kill them. Jack has been completely possessed by the hotel. I can’t help but feeling the slightest bit of pity for Jack. Yes, he’s plotting to murder his family, but his mind has been so warped by the evil forces of the hotel that I don’t really think he has any control over himself.

Danny gets another vision of what’s to come the next day and uses his ‘shine’ to call Dick to come and save them. As I said, Dick is my favorite character. He doesn’t question whether or not Danny really needs help, he just drops everything and hops on a plane to Colorado. Dick genuinely wants to help that little boy. While Dick is in a race to get back to the hotel from where he was wintering in Florida, Jack attacks Wendy but she is able to stop him and locks him in the pantry, which he escapes from later when the hotel decides to set him free.  

Dick arrives at the hotel on a snowmobile and is almost mauled by the hedge animals just to find Wendy almost bleeding out on the floor while Danny has been cornered by Jack on a different level of the hotel. Danny doesn’t acknowledge that the monster The Overlook had turned Jack into was his father and stands off to the monster. For a moment, Jack is able to fight off whatever has hold of him to tell his son that he loves him as well as to run. Danny escapes and rejoins his mom and Dick and warns them that they need to get out of the hotel immediately. 

The second they make it out the front doors, the whole hotel goes up in flames because the boiler exploded due to neglect; it had been part of Jack’s job to cool it off twice a day because otherwise it would creep towards the point of explosion. As the climax of the book, this part had me the most stressed, even though I didn’t think that could be possible. The fact that the ending to the book is entirely different from the ending to the movie is part of what made this so nerve-racking because I really didn’t know what was going to happen. Nothing was happening as it had in the movie, so I really felt that at this point anything could be possible. I wasn’t even confident that everyone (except for Jack, I knew he was a goner) would survive. 

Out of the two, I definitely liked the book ending better. I feel like there’s more closure to it because The Overlook burns to the ground, rendering it unable to torture anyone ever again. In the movie ending, Jack chases Wendy and Danny into a hedge maze (they’re just ordinary hedges though not the killer ones) and Wendy and Danny manage to find their way out and make their way to the nearest town, leaving Jack to die in the maze. Also, before any of this even happens, Jack murders Dick with a hatchet which was quite tragic. You can imagine that I was quite pleased to learn that Dick makes it out alive in the book, with him being my favorite character and all.

I really enjoyed reading this book for so many reasons. For starters, I loved that it wasn’t just from one perspective. Throughout the course of the book, I got to see things through Jack’s, Wendy’s, Danny’s, and even Dick’s perspective and it was so cool because it gave the story multiple sides. It gave me the ability to see the internal struggle that Jack was having every single day while also being able to see how Danny could sense his parent’s moods and even sometimes read their thoughts. I really thought it was cool that Stephen King decided to tell this story using narrative from most of the characters involved. I also really like King’s writing style. He includes a lot of internal dialogue by using parentheses, and he is extremely detailed. Because his writing is so detailed, this book was about forty pages shy of being seven hundred pages long, but it is definitely worth every description. 

I can see why Stephen King isn’t crazy about the movie version of his masterpiece that is “The Shining” because it leaves out a lot of bigger details that tie everything together, not to mention that the ending of the book and the ending of the movie are completely different. It would probably take much longer than two hours to cram even half of this book into an adequate movie. Even so, I still have a love for this movie; I just think the book is even better. If you’re ever looking for something to read that’s somewhat lengthy but also well written and downright creepy, then “The Shining” is your book.