"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Sunday, March 6, 2011

This Childe's Memories Enhanced 'The Shining'

The ShiningThe Shining by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It didn’t help that I started reading The Shining just as the biggest storm of winter was hitting. Nor did it help that I live alone and it often gets quiet. And it certainly did not help that, like the character Jack, I’m a moody writer. Or, as author Stephen King might suggest, these factors helped immensely! Suffice it to say that by 200 pages into The Shining, I was thoroughly spooked and sweating emotion.

The central character of The Shining is Danny, a little boy surrounded by the haunting Rocky Mountains. In this colossal setting, Danny is utterly dependent on parents who themselves navigate a precarious existence. When I was Danny’s age, I lived in Colorado and spent a good deal of time in the mountains with my mom and dad. Like Danny, I was intensely close to my parents. For these reasons, I found the first third of The Shining spellbinding.

Novels are at their best when you just sink into them. And I did with this one. It isn’t that King’s writing is especially masterful. Though, I do find him far better at characterization than some give him credit for. Rather, with The Shining King just happened to press all the right buttons with me. When Jack, Wendy and Danny stood alone on the porch of the Overlook Hotel, watching the last car drive off down the mountain, I was right there with them. In fact, I found it quite emotional.

King succeeds marvelously in the first act of this book, depicting stark human weakness as it appears to the mind of a thoughtful little boy. Happily, one of the dividends I received from reading The Shining was a renewed gratitude for my parents. Only in my 30s have I begun to comprehend how hard they must have worked to provide me an early childhood that truly was charmed.

Still, once the forlorn trio is confined to the highly fictional Overlook Hotel, the story becomes mostly about spooky horror devices. Here I felt my infatuation with The Shining wane. The novel began to feel unnecessarily drawn out. Passages of introspection increasingly seemed overstated and redundant in the context of a conventional horror mill. It remained entertaining but seemed far less special than the first third of the book.

If you are considering trying Stephen King out, I wouldn’t start with The Shining. But if you’ve read other King novels and enjoyed them, I wouldn’t miss this one. As King states in his Introduction, this novel represented a critical point in his career—the moment when he decided to take his writing beyond mere “funhouse” fiction. As he puts it, the “truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.”

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