Thursday, December 5, 2013

In which I will not talk about The Shining the way I thought I was going to

Last year when I was about to embark on my -- hang on a second -- FOURTH NaBloPoMo (I was about to say 'third or fourth' and then I remembered that a couple of weeks ago I asked my friend if her husband's law practice had been open for more than a year and she told me it was FOUR, so I counted), a friend warned me that NaBloPoMo had killed her blog. I always think it kind of resurrects mine - the fact that I'm obligated (however artificially) to post every day removes a lot of the pressure to post only weighty or worthy or thrice-polished material, and it gets me back in the habit of writing, after a fall season where school and activites have started and my resolve is often flagging.

When NaBloPoMo ends, I usually post again the day after or the second day after, and I think "yeah! I've GOT this! I'm going to keep posting every day! Or almost every day!" And then another day or two goes by, and I've got an idea of what my next post will be, but it's not NaBloPoMo any more, so I don't HAVE to post, so I think, I'll wait until I have a little more time to work on it. Because I have to go in to the library today. And then I have to take the van in to the shop. And then Eve and I have to get flu shots.

And then it becomes apparent how quickly I can fall into the habit of very much not posting every day again.

So I won't be presenting a carefully-marshaled discourse on The Shining, or goodness knows when we'll all be meeting here again. I'll just throw some thoughts down and not let the Cement of Endless Deferral harden on here any longer.

I can't remember how old I was the first time I read The Shining, but I think I was too young to understand a lot of the subtleties. I do remember being kind of confused and a little grossed out by the sex stuff - which is really tame and between married consenting adults, so I must have been pretty young. There was a bit about a bisexual movie producer or something and a gay man in a dog suit where the sexual subtext COMPLETELY escaped me last time. A lot of it felt like I was reading it for the first time - it wasn't even like I didn't remember it but then rereading it brought back the echo, it was like new stuff was there.

Like I always think about the best horror, this book isn't about the surface scariness of monsters or ghosts or dark places. It's about the kind of sadness that comes welded to any kind of love. It's about being afraid, not just that you'll lose the people you love, but that it will somehow be your fault - that you won't have been strong or selfless enough, and that the loss and grief will be deserved.

While I was reading, I kept thinking about how back in elementary school we used to study "themes" in literature, and I saw "MAN vs. NATURE" and "MAN vs. HIMSELF" on a blackboard in big block letters. The struggle within Jack Torrance, against his weaknesses, against alcoholism, against the fear that he'd never live up to his early promise, against the fear that he'd lost his wife and son - is illustrated masterfully.
Woman against herself too, which is another thing I didn't remember from the first reading - Wendy's fear that she'll turn out like her mother and destroy her son, or at the very least her relationship with him.

There's a dreadful inevitability about it all too, which is a huge part of the claustrophobic atmosphere. They all sort of "know" that if they stay something terrible will happen, but it's something completely inexplicable and undemonstrable, and the consequences of leaving are so tangible and horrible, that they CAN'T leave until the terrible thing actually happens, so they stay and HOPE it won't actually happen, although they KNOW... endless loop.

I remembered again how much I adored Dick Hallorann, the cook at The Overlook who pegs Danny for a Super Mind-Power Ninja instantly and moves heaven and earth to help him when things go south. It reminded me of King's gift for sketching a character you can love as much as someone in your own family in the space of a page or two. Hallorann's character is one of the principal reasons for my loathing of the movie.

The device of the topiary animals that went into attack mode at certain times didn't really work for me. I wondered if King was just trying not to confine all of the action to the hotel. It seemed kind of silly, although I might have not been able to envision it properly - it's the kind of thing that would probably be scary in real life, but in writing it was just Hedge Animals Gone Bad, and it didn't work for me.

That's all I can think of at the moment. Steph has taught this book - I wish she'd teach it to me. I feel like I could benefit from a lecture or two on it.

I still have to watch the movie again. I did read an article that said Stephen King didn't like Shelley Duvall's part in the movie either (or any of the movie)  - he said she was basically there to "scream and be stupid". I also found this movie on Netflix - "an exploration of various theories of Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining", so clearly I'm going to have to watch that.

On the whole, I think the book was really good. But I don't think it's one of my all-time King favourites. It might be interesting to rank them. Maybe I'll do a post on it.

Probably not tomorrow, though.






6 comments:

Steph Lovelady said...

I used to focus a lot on reading and writing symbolism. How Jack's a failed writer, how what enrages him the most is when as a toddler Danny spills beer on his papers and grabs his writing implements (at which point I always used to have to explain what a typewriter eraser is to the young-uns), how Wendy's seen in an early scene with an unread book on her lap (but reading a book at the very end), how Danny is learning to read and how that saves his life when he can finally read REDRUM because he can finally read the situation properly.

I also find the character of Jack so moving, because he wants to do the right thing but he's slowly losing control of himself to possession (alcohol). It was the first book I read (and I read it very young) that made me realize you can have good intentions and still go terribly wrong. That wanting to be good is not always enough. Possibly the fact that my Dad was an alcoholic (and a writer) could have something to do with all this.

Nicole said...

Okay, I *guess* I should really read this, hmm?

Hannah said...

Yes. YES. I read this book kind of young - around 11 or 12, I think? And I keep coming back to it over and over again. The dreadful inevitability of it is the scariest part for me, too - and especially once I had kids of my own. Jack loves Danny, but his own fears of his inadequacies are able to stifle that love right up to the end. That is terrifying and powerful stuff.

I read once that the difference between King and Kubrick is that King's original version still leaves open the possibility for hope. Kubrick's is bleak and horrible, with no redemption anywhere, for anyone.

Amy said...

I re-watched The Shining and then watched Room 237 and it proved to me that there are people who will think too much about anything.

Rachel Cotterill said...

Can you believe I haven't read (or watched) The Shining? I'm not really into horror stories, although from your description, this sounds like the sort I might actually enjoy.

Maggie said...

The Shining was the second Stephen King book I read after stumbling across Carrie at my cousin's house when I was 13. I loved it so much but I don't think I've read it since. Will have to go back and reread it because I'm certain that at 44, it's going to carry more sadness over the relationships in it than it did at 13 ;-)