The Shining is one of the scariest books I have ever read; well, it’s tied for first with The Exorcist. I consumed the novel within two days and have recently reread it, and it still scares the crap out of me. While many are familiar with the Stanley Kubrick film adaption, I am here to say that the book is 100% better.
The story follows Jack Torrance, a father figure with good intentions and alcoholic tendencies, as he procures a new job at the Overlook Hotel. Jack packs up the family—his wife Wendy and young son Danny—so they can all stay together in the hotel while Jack acts as the winter caretaker. Danny has a special gift, known as the Shining, with which he senses something unusual about the Overlook. Jack seems to have a touch of the Shining as well, but King remains ambiguous about how in touch with the Shining Jack is. The rest of the book details Jack’s process of dealing with his past demons while remaining unaware of the new ones rising up within him while Wendy wonders how to protect her son and Danny wants nothing more than his old father back.
While the novel does include typical horror tropes such as children being more intuitive than adults, ghostly images and voices edging the characters more into madness, King is also keenly aware that he is telling a rather untraditional story of a disintegrating family. From the first chapter, King makes readers aware that Jack is not the best father and his relationship with Wendy is strained and nearly broken. As the book progresses, Jack repeatedly makes bad decisions, but because of his rationale and love for his son, I found myself sympathizing with him more than hating him. To be honest, my least favorite character in the novel is Wendy. King portrays Wendy as a weak woman who only tries to leave Jack once the Overlook has completely possessed him. However, though I despised Wendy while reading, she is crucial to the plot, as she, like the readers, can’t exactly see if Jack is going completely mad or just having one of his “episodes.”
King’s descriptions of the Overlook Hotel are magnificent. You can hear Danny echoing through the hallways or Jack clicking away on his typewriter while Wendy watches TV. My favorite part of the book is a scene with some not-so-friendly hedge animals in the topiary that both Jack and Danny encounter. King’s steady pacing as well as Jack’s reaction to Danny encountering the animals makes it the most suspenseful chapter in the book. Ultimately, this Stephen King novel sets the standard for how horror books should be written.