Book of the Month: The Shining (1977)

by Stephen King

Critical Evaluation

” In the novel, as in so many of King’s early classics, location is all. The Overlook Hotel itself is alive; huge and vacant, with secrets hidden everywhere. Haunted bathrooms, the echoing memories of debauched parties, a topiary animal garden that seems to come to life, wasps’ nests that feature a never-ending stream of hostile insects. The hotel wears its malevolence on its sleeve. It has a history of bringing power towards it, and of trying to grow by consuming that power. Jack hears the voice of the Overlook as the novel progresses – his own touch of the shining – and it gnaws at him, turning him away from his family. It wants Danny, because of his special ability and whether it gets him or not is down to Jack. As Wendy explains to her son, “It wasn’t your daddy trying to hurt me … the Overlook has gotten into your daddy!” Jack’s misdemeanours – his failings as a father and husband – aren’t even his own. The primal thing that makes him who he is, which he’s so desperate to supress, is what the hotel thrives on.”

Smythe, James, ‘Rereading Stephen King: week three – The Shining,’ The Guardian, June 22, 2012.

First Excerpt

“Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.

Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would
mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker.

As he listened to Ullman speak, Jack admitted to himself that he probably could not have liked any man on that side of the desk—under the circumstances.

Ullman had asked a question he hadn’t caught. That was bad; Ullman was the type of man who would file such lapses away in a mental Rolodex for later consideration.

‘I’m sorry?’

‘I asked if your wife fully understood what you would be taking on here. And there’s your son, of course.’ He glanced down at the application in front of him. ‘Daniel. Your wife isn’t a bit intimidated by the idea?’

‘Wendy is an extraordinary woman.’

‘And your son is also extraordinary?’

Jack smiled, a big wide PR smile. ‘We like to think so, I suppose. He’s quite self-reliant for a five-year-old.’ ”

Second Excerpt

“They had resumed their original positions, Ullman behind the desk and Jack in front of it, interviewer and interviewee, supplicant and reluctant patron. Ullman folded his neat little hands on the desk blotter and looked directly at Jack, a small, balding man in a banker’s suit and a quiet gray tie. The flower in his lapel was balanced off by a small lapel pin on the other side. It read simply STAFF  in small gold letters.

‘I’ll be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Torrance. Albert Shockley is a powerful man with a large interest in the Overlook, which showed a profit this season for the first time in its history. Mr. Shockley also sits on the Board of Directors, but he is not a hotel man and he would be the first to admit this. But he has made his wishes in this caretaking matter quite obvious. He wants you hired. I will do so. But if I had been given a free hand in this matter, I would not have taken you on.’

Jack’s hands were clenched tightly in his lap, working against each other, sweating. Officious little prick, officious little prick, officious—

‘I don’t believe you care much for me, Mr. Torrance. I don’t care. Certainly your feelings toward me play no part in my own belief that you are not right for the job. During the season that runs from May fifteenth to September thirtieth, the Overlook employs one hun- dred and ten people full-time; one for every room in the hotel, you might say. I don’t think many of them like me and I suspect that some of them think I’m a bit of a bastard. They would be correct in their judgment of my character. I have to be a bit of a bastard to run this hotel in the manner it deserves.’

He looked at Jack for comment, and Jack flashed the PR smile again, large and insultingly toothy.”