By Stephen King
Oh boy, oh boy, was this book nothing like I expected. I’ll start by saying I’d never seen the movie and that I knew . . . well, essentially nothing about the book. Actually, the only thing I knew about The Shining was the few seconds of it shown at the drive-in theater in the movie Twister. And that was only after my mom said, “Hey, look, it’s The Shining.”
I’ve never been a horror connoisseur. Probably the opposite. I was the kid that jumped and yelped when tapped on the shoulder, and the scariest thing I’d seen was Alien through my fingers at age fifteen. But after meeting my significant other and his love of most things dark and spooky, I found myself at the tip of a compromise to watch more horror so long as I got to watch something cute after—though my love of movie romances died very quickly upon the re-watch and analysis of a few old favorites. But we’re not here to discuss that.
We’re here for Jack Torrance and his family. This isn’t a book review. Really. I don’t have enough exposure to the horror genre of books (this was the first of its kind I’ve picked up) to give an actual review. But I can tell you what I thought was neat and (probably the biggest reason this blog post might make someone argue with me) why I really disliked the movie.
So let’s jump in! I’ll do my best not to be super spoiler-y, but take this as your warning, just in case.
As far as horror goes, The Shining had a surprisingly sedate pace. This isn’t a bad thing; it was just the exact opposite of the “BOO! AH!” I had been expecting. Instead, The Shining takes on the slow, steady feel of something approaching you from behind. Which . . . okay, that might be worse. I freely admit I had to put the book down at least twice from getting so creeped out. Anytime Danny was alone, I braced for impact.
Jack’s rather rapid descent (that’s not a spoiler, right?) into the realm of those-that-are-very-mentally-unsound wasn’t a surprise. Even if I wasn’t sure who exactly had that axe when I saw the snippet of film, it wasn’t hard to figure out from about page—and here’s a laugh for you—thirteen.
Unfortunately, I’ve discovered I’m one of those people that once they know what the source of “the scary” is, they’re not really that scared anymore. Fun facts about Anna. The scariest part of the book, for me, was well before the climax of the story. That’s not a critique in any way. Quite a few instances after the spoiler-y part I’m talking about—think outside with snow and, if you’ve read it, you’ll get it—were pretty unsettling.
I definitely preferred reading the sections that were from Danny’s point of view. King does a nice job letting us into the child’s head without making him seem too much like an adult. That’s a hard balance to strike.
Now . . . the movie. I was well on my way to strongly disliking The Shining in movie format long before a friend told me that Stephen King hated it. I know. I know. It’s a “classic.” But it really shouldn’t even be called The Shining as there is very little to do with King’s book within that screenplay. I was, and continue to be, disappointed. Most of my major complaints are complaints King had about the movie himself, so let’s get into a few of those.
Problem #1? Jack Torrance’s character. In the movie, you know immediately that Jack is out of his mind. There’s no mystery. No saying to yourself, “Hey, this guy is genuinely trying to be better, even if he’s sorta failing at it. He’s owned up to his mistakes (mostly) and a begrudging try is better than none at all.” Trying is a huge part of redemption arcs, and King’s novel gives Jack tons and tons of chances to be better. Jack not taking every opportunity to be better is a part of Jack being human. It allows for a rounded and character-driven story.
Problem #2? The movie made Wendy look like a terrible mother. If you’ve read the book, you know she showed care and love for her son and would do anything to protect him even if she was frightened too. Movie-Wendy may as well have been a cardboard cutout placed on set.
Problem #3? Danny has almost nothing to do with the plot of the movie besides a few takeaways adjacent to the novel’s content. As I said for #1, The Shining is a character-driven novel. You have nothing without those characters and their flaws and feelings and fears. This is the main reason the movie flopped for me. It was just a two and a half hour calliope loop of incoherence with no character development anywhere in sight.
Now, before someone comes after me, unlike Stephen King, I didn’t hate the movie with a passion. I can appreciate the cinematography and Jack Nicholson’s unhinged performance along with the creep factor, but the movie credits really should have said “inspired by” rather than “based upon” Stephen King’s novel.