King, Stephen. The Shining. Pocket Books, 2001. 704 pages. Tr., $$8.99. ISBN: 978-0743424424
Plot: Jack Torrance is a writer with a lot of baggage. He can be violent and he’s an alcoholic (which plagued his father, also), and his parallel demons have made him unemployable as a teacher and put him in danger of losing his family, too (he was violent toward his young son, Danny, his only child). In an effort to refresh his marriage to Wendy and to reignite his writing career, he brings his family to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado.
Danny is not like other children, and his paranormal abilities open up a window to Danny as he sees ghosts and witnesses supernatural activity. Jack becomes more and more unstable and it becomes clear that the spirit-possessed hotel is gaining strength through Danny. Seeing Jack’s weaknesses as their way into the family and as a way to take control, they play on Jack’s psychological scars, especially his wounded feelings about his own father. The key scene is one in which ghosts inhabit the dry bar, filling it with booze and working their way into Jack as he gets drunk. It leads to a showdown: Jack and the Overlook Hotel vs. Wendy and Danny. Tough Wendy is determined to protect her son to the explosive end.
Critical Evaluation: King is a master of horror and suspense, but this book reveals a great amount of depth, too. Jack’s psychology is as much at play as the supernatural forces, and there is a strong message here about the cycle of abuse and alcoholism. There are also themes about isolation and civilization, the madness of the artist, the connection between fathers and sons, and the strength that one needs to break the bonds of the past to live a happy life in the present. It is a tough minded, well-wrought story, with eerie yet brilliant sections that are amazingly scary. The fear is cathartic, and so is the ending.
Reader’s Annotation: When a troubled family inhabits an off-season resort hotel that is haunted, they have to face their fears and their weakness to survive.
Author bio: Stephen King is one of the bestselling writers in the world. Born and raised in Maine, his imagination sparked by small-town life and discovering the work of New England horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, King made his debut in 1973 with Carrie, a novel about a psychic high school girl who comes to a tragic end. The novel was made into a celebrated film. His other novels include The Shining, The Stand, The Shining, The Mist and the Dark Tower novels, the most recent of which came out this year. A 1999 car accident almost ended his career.
In recent years, King has become a vocal advocate for genre fiction, especially for the horror genre he works in. In essays and speeches, he’s dismissed the canon of respected and much-taught literary works as the product of snobbery and outdated tastes. His ideas have found some converts. But he’s also been challenged by major critics like Harold Bloom, and the image of a multi-millionaire writer, who sells more books in a week than most novelists do in their lives, insisting he is misunderstood and underrated, has led to a recent, if low-key, backlash.
Curriculum Ties: English suspense.
Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the feeling of isolation, all alone in a wintry resort.
Focus on the family dysfunction and the cycle of alcoholism and abuse.
Reading Level/Interest Age: 16+
Challenge Issues: The paranormal aspect might bother some people. Keep on file articles about the value of scary stories, even going back to the Grimm fairy tales. Keep collection policy on hand and also have handouts of positive reviews that the book received that reveal its depth.
Why Included: It’s a compelling, scary read with psychological undertones. The fact that it was a feature film might hook teens.