Horror in Prose: Stephen King’s The Shining

The Shining is an excellent book. King is an excellent writer and though the Shining was only his third published novel (which would be a lot for most people however King has 64 published novels at the time of writing) it exemplifies the horror genre in an expert manner. The first thing we are introduced to is sympathetic characters, a recovering alcoholic a father, a mother who is struggling to keep her family together, and their son.

The book itself deals with strong themes but includes excellent examples of the Fears that I spoke about in my first post. In the first chapter, we are introduced to the setting and two of these key fears. Jack is being forced, through what he believes to be out of his control, to take a job in a hotel that will force their isolation.

In the second chapter, we are then further confronted with a fear of the inevitable with the line “In grief and loss for the past, and terror of the future” by Wendy, who feels she has lost agency in her life.

The Fourth chapter is where we finally get an inkling that something is up with Danny, but when first introduced it is unknown if his visions are a power he has or a hallucination. It being supernatural isn’t fully confirmed until he later converses telepathically with Dick Halloran.

As we get further into the story the feeling of isolation increases. Danny feels unable to talk to his parents about the problems and all the members of the family turn inwards and start withholding things from each other. This exposes the weakness in Jack that the hotel exploits.

The hotel is the main example of the Numinous throughout the novel, though interestingly the Supernatural is presented as an ambivalent force rather than an evil one. Even the sides of the Numinous that we see in Danny are terrifying, with him locking the doors on his parents and with ‘Tony’ not fully helping to make his situation better. Tony is an interesting subversion of expectation because when first introduced most readers would assume that if he is not a hallucination then he is a ghost. Right up until the end of the book we assume this to be true. The twist at the end is, in my opinion, far more entertaining than the REDRUM reveal which is both obvious and now unfortunately spoiled by pop culture references before a child is old enough to have access to The Shining.

It is King’s use of the fears, combined with his sympathetic, though flawed, characters that really create the dread you feel while reading the book. The book keeps you up at night not afraid of the ghosts or the murderer but instead, the fear that you could, given the right circumstances and situation, stumble down the same path of wrong turns and weakness that Jack does.