The Shining was my first foray into the dark, charming, inescapable world of Stephen King, back when I was about fourteen. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was outgrowing the James Herbert and Shaun Hutson schlock horror that had titillated me. The Shining was something different; scary but in far subtler and more sinister ways. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the Kubrick movie (I know, don’t tell Big Steve), and for many years my memory of the story, the hotel and the Torrances has been overshadowed by that. So, with the hardback Doctor Sleep burning a hole on my bookshelf, I decided to go back to The Overlook to see what I’d make of it as an adult.
For the seven of you out there who don’t already know, the book tells the tale of the Torrance family. Jack is a dry drunk who, having lost his job at a New England boys’ school, takes wife Wendy, son Danny and play-writing aspirations to a resort hotel in the Rockies where he has snared a job as the winter caretaker. The three of them will be snow-bound from October till May, and Jack sees the Overlook as a chance to get his life back on track; perhaps the last chance he and his family will get. Needless to say, things go very very badly wrong.
This time, I read an edition that had an introduction written by King in 2001. A quarter of a century older (and no doubt wiser), he said ‘there is a cocky quality to some of The Shining’s prose that has come to grate on me in later years’, and he’s right. While all the signs are there, King wasn’t yet the master story teller and wordsmith he has become. But adverbs and overblown phrases aside, the book is a terrifying study in addiction, the collapse of sanity, and the nature of evil. In the relationship between Danny and Dick Halloran (chef at the Overlook, and fellow ‘shiner’), King really hits his groove, and I can’t think when I’ve been touched by an on-page relationship more. It is Dick who helps Danny get through his trials that winter, although they barely make it out in one piece. Danny Torrance learns how to live in constant fear, and if the reviews of Doctor Sleep are anything to go by, The Overlook is still casting its long shadow over him. Bring it on.