I will open this review by saying that I don’t like Stephen King’s novel The Shining (1977). It is held in very high regard, and I can understand to a certain extent, why that is. But to compare it to Salem’s Lot (1975) the novel that preceded it and The Stand (1978) the novel that followed it is like comparing horse manure to ice cream. I think even at this point it was possible to see through the pop culture murk to what lay beneath - in this case a pretty standard haunted house narrative. The key difference here is a lack of restraint in plot construction and an over-reliance on generic tropes. Although King’s novels have always suffered from this, I feel The Shining suffers more than most - it is King’s most accessible novel, and as a result his least adventurous. ESP, ghosts, and haunted buildings are the clichéd pegs King chooses to hang his principal themes of parental/patriarchal failure, family, and alcoholism on. The family unit in King’s novel is challenged, but it essentially survives the threat. It emerges at the end redeemed, but not without a note of caution. In other words this is essentially a tale of familial conservatism. By contrast Stanley Kubrick (who along with co screenwriter Diane Johnson improve upon the novel immeasurably) constructs a vision that is far more bitter and cynical. The family doesn’t survive the events of The Overlook Hotel. Instead a broken family wearily trudge through the snow to an uncertain future. Kubrick and Johnson offer a more radical take on the material and use the iconography and conventions of the horror genre to subvert and challenge one of our most scared ideological institutions.
© Shaun Anderson 2010