I made the mistake of reading The Shining this weekend while staying at the Brush Creek Ranch, a remote, snowy ranch in southern Wyoming. It’s different from the Colorado Overlook of The Shining, but there’s obviously enough similarity to make me insane to read it while there (though not Jack Torrance insane within my two-day stay). To make matters worse, the ranch I was on was known to be haunted. The past owner was a raging alcoholic who drank himself to death in the cabin right next to mine. I had always wanted to read Stephen King though, and never had, so I used this Halloween-themed Cover to Cover to do so. And boy, was it a viscerally terrifying experience.
For those of you who live under a rock, The Shining is about Jack Torrance, an alcoholic ex-teacher who chooses to be the caretaker of an old, historic Colorado hotel that has to be closed October to May due its high altitude, remote location and subsequent heavy snowfall. He mistakenly chooses to bring his wife, Wendy, and his son, Danny, with him. Cabin fever quickly ensues.
Friday night, one section away from finishing the book, I slept fitfully in my own cabin at the ranch, dreaming about the engorged dead body that was probably floating in the bathtub mere feet away from my bed. My heart jumped with every whistle of the wind and every moan of the heater. (Or was it?) I opened and closed my eyes, searching the dark room for the past owner, dead and drunk in a corner, inching towards me. I almost got up and ran out the room, until I realized the ominous shadow of a body was just my coat hanging on a hook.
I was positively scared out of my mind.
And even though The Shining put me through all of this terror, I still don’t regret reading it, because — well, for one, I woke up the next morning just fine, untouched by any raging spirits, and two, Stephen King is a BOSS.
That’s to say, Stephen King is a storyteller, and a damn good one at that. Sure, his writing is not high literature, but it is well-crafted, vibrant and incredibly effective. I recently read an interview with King wherein he mentioned his qualm about being called “a horror writer.” Yeah yeah yeah, I thought, you’ve sold a million trillion books and you get to live in a sweet house in Maine. So you’re pigeonholed. So is everyone else. Cry me a river. But then I read The Shining. And I thought, wow, Stephen. I finally get it. King is not just a horror writer. He doesn’t just scare people. Rather, he creates complex characters, and places them in layered, nicely constructed plotlines. For example, in The Shining, Jack doesn’t just come out of nowhere and try to kill his family. No. King sets us up for it throughout the entire novel, making it even more frightening and engaging. Stephen King is not just a horror writer. He’s a writer, period.
Worth reading: Absolutely, even if you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The book will still chill you to the bone.
Time taken: It’s long, but fast. I would pick a few days where you don’t have much work and read the whole thing — if you start reading it when you’re busy, you’ll end up blowing everything else off. It’s a page-turner.