Title: The Shining
Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Campbell Scott
Audiobook Length: 15 hours, 49 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine. #shineon
Bottom Line: Fantastic horror story that builds slowly towards an amazing finish. Unfortunately, the movie version ruined some of the suspense for me, even though the two versions are very different.
“Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.”
Thoughts: The Overlook Hotel is a special place – a playground for the fabulously wealthy with a lively past, its location in the Colorado mountains makes it impossible to visit in the winter, thereby requiring a caretaker to maintain the property, monitor the heating system, and prevent the winter months from destroying this beautiful castle in the sky. Jack Torrance and his family are this year’s caretakers. Without any forthcoming job opportunities and still working through his sobriety, Jack sees this as a chance to improve his struggling relationship with his wife and spend even more quality time with his adored son, Danny. However, in the Overlook Hotel, things are not what they seem, and Jack’s plans are quickly hijacked for something more sinister. Stephen King’s The Shining is the quintessential haunted house tale, and while the story itself may be familiar, Mr. King adds his own twists to make it uniquely his own.
One has to admire the Torrances. It takes a special soul to even attempt to spend an entire winter snowed into an empty hotel. Even though Wendy and Danny are not overly excited about the prospect, they still recognize the importance of Jack’s caretaker role for their family’s future. Perhaps the Overlook Hotel has infused the collective consciousness with the potential dangers of abandoned hotels, but the idea of spending even one night in one, let alone eight months, is akin to going outside when there is a serial killer on the loose. The fact that they not only consider the role but move forward with it is a testament to their love for each other and their willingness to work through their problems, making what occurs that much more tragic.
The book version of Jack Torrance is nothing like those iconic images of Jack Nicholson breaking through the door. Those who have grown up seeing those posters and watching those snippets of the Stanley Kubrick movie will be quite surprised at how likable Jack is. He has his faults – namely a horrible temper and a drinking problem – but he adores his son, loves his wife, and would do anything to avoid hurting them. In the beginning, he is fun, nurturing, and incredibly sweet in his interactions with Danny. His past behaviors are behind him now that he is sober, and the future really does look bright. The subsequent descent into madness that follows after a few months in an evil hotel is all the more upsetting. He is as much a victim as Danny and Wendy, if not more so because his future is lost.
The Shining is not just a novel about an evil hotel, but it is almost a parable about the sins of the father visiting the son. Jack’s past, told in flashbacks and dream sequences brought on by the hotel’s possession, unveils a highly abusive and alcoholic father. While Jack does not intend to mirror his father’s behavior and has taken steps to avoid doing so, the hotel has other plans. Similarly, Wendy’s relationship with her mother is just as fractured, and many of her actions are in direct response to her mother’s imagined reaction to her family situation. Had Jack’s father been less abusive, would Jack have ended up at the Overlook Hotel? Had Wendy’s mother been more supportive and less full of indignant blame, would Wendy have chosen to leave Jack before they ever got to the hotel? This raises the question of whether one can ever truly avoid passing along the lessons learned from parents, no matter how traumatic they were.
Campbell Scott is an adequate narrator right up until Jack starts feeling the effects of his isolation at the Overlook. Before then, he is quiet with a sing-song quality to his narration that makes it easy for a listener to zone out the story altogether. His performance of the different characters, from five-year-old Danny to the much older and culturally diverse Dick Hallorann, is subtle but distinct, and while he does not move into a falsetto to portray Wendy, the higher pitch he does use is simultaneously pleasant and appropriate. However, when the tension becomes intense, and the drama is at its highest peak, Mr. Scott comes into his element. His vocalization of evil and anger is downright disturbing, made even more so by his mildness in prior, happier scenes. This anger and malevolence that Mr. Scott articulates make the story even more horrific and intense, as it is all too easy for a listener to envision that anger directed to her. Mr. King’s novels are known for their excellent audiobook narrators, and while it may not seem that way in the beginning, Mr. Scott is another one that fits the bill. He captures perfectly the atmosphere of the story, and his performance is so realistic that it might be some time before one is willing to listen to another novel narrated by him.
The Shining is an intensely creepy novel that succeeds in both charming and scaring readers with its gradual build towards its exciting and horrifying climax. Jack Torrance is surprisingly sympathetic, as his love for his wife and especially for his son is the motivating factor for taking the job and staying on the wagon. Danny’s struggle to understand things beyond his years is heartbreaking, while his innocence stands out as a direct counterpoint to the insidious evil permeating the hotel. The menacing feel of the novel makes even the most benign of scenes unnerving. It is a novel that is unsettling from the very first page, and one that makes those dark, stormy nights that much darker and eerier. It is further proof of why Mr. King is the King of Horror.