Another of my reading assignments for my Readings in the Genre: The Haunted for my Master of Fine Arts from Seton Hill University in Writing Popular Fiction is The Shining by Stephen King (Horror 683 pages).
I have to say, I’m actually seriously enjoying the reading material for this class. A lot of the books so far have been “classic” horror novels or movies that I’ve never read or seen. I’m really glad that this class is motivating me to expand my repertoire of horror novels.
I had never read, nor had I ever seen, The Shining before I read it for this class, but I saw the previews for the Jack Nicolson movie with him attacking a door with an axe. I think I also remember seeing previews for one of the movies with a little boy in a hallway with two creepy looking girls. The reason I mention my viewings of previews for the different movies was because it provided my brain with pre-conceived notions as to potential scenes from the book. As it turns out, those pre-conceived notions in my head were completely incorrect. So if you have not read the book, know that I will include a number of spoilers and that if you don’t want the story and ending to be ruined for you, you might want to stop reading here.
I think the best part of this book for me was the constant foreshadowing. I marked a variety of passages throughout the book that all deal with the scene with Jack chasing Danny in the hotel while Danny attempts to hide. I think this foreshadowing worked because it was never the exact same scene copied and pasted throughout the novel, but rather sections that have many similarities and are not exactly the same. In each section, Danny is hiding and afraid and something (or someone) is hunting him.
The first time that Danny sees something bad happening at the Overlook Hotel is in Chapter 4: Shadowland (around page 47 in the version I read): “Now he was in a room filled with strange furniture, a room that was dark. Snow spattered against the windows like thrown sand. His mouth was dry, his eyes like hot marbles, his heart triphammering in his chest. Outside there was a hollow booming noise, like a dreadful door being thrown wide. Footfalls. … The room faded. Another room. He knew (would know) this one. An overturned chair. A broken window with snow swirling in; already it had frosted the edge of the rug. The drapes had been pulled free and hung on their broken rod at an angle. A low cabinet lying in his face.” Danny dreams or sees several instances of this scene throughout the novel, each time providing him with a greater sense of dread and also a greater sense of certainty that this was a true and upcoming future.
Some of the other instances of foreshadowing that I marked were sort of related to the final showdown and sort of not related to the final showdown. These were the scenes where characters other than Danny, usually Jack, where you start to get a feeling for what kind of manipulation the Overlook will use in order to convince Jack to take the action the Overlook desires, which is to kill Wendy and Danny. I saw examples of this in Chapter 22: In the Truck (around page 301) where Danny is talking to Wendy about how Jack views their current situation. “But grownups were always in turmoil, every possible action muddied over by thoughts of the consequences, by self-doubt, by selfimage, by feelings of love and responsibility. Every possible choice seemed to have drawbacks, and sometimes he didn’t understand why the drawbacks were drawbacks.” Not only does that passage give a sense of foreshadowing for Jack’s thoughts, but it’s also a solid paragraph about what it means to be an adult. Passages like this throughout the novel provided me with the logic and reasoning behind future actions that wouldn’t make sense to a rational person and really provided the sense that sometime during their stay at the Overlook, rational logic would be suspect and characters would continue to look for ways to justify illogical actions.
The Overlook’s manipulation of Jack continues in Chapter 26: Dreamland (around page 337) where Jack discusses the beating of his mother with the cane, how little Jacky counts every blow of the cane against his mother. This part of Jack’s past is violent and frightening and provides the Overlook with more fodder to continue to warp Jack’s perspectives. The foreshadowing continues for Jack when he finds the roque mallets in the equipment shed in Chapter 33: The Snowmobile (around page 415): “He frowned a little, then smiled. Yes, it was a schizo sort of game at that. The mallet expressed that perfectly. A soft end and a hard end. A game of finesse and aim, and a game of raw bludgeoning power.” Having seen Danny’s repeated nightmares of the roque mallet and the destruction and fear it causes, this is a perfect setting for the reader to get that sense of foreboding where the stage is now fully set for really bad things to happen.
Chapter 33: The Snowmobile had one other really amusing part for me (around page 424): “The Overlook was having one hell of a good time. There was a little boy to terrorize, a man and his woman to set one against the other, and if it played its cards right they could end up flitting through the Overlook’s halls like insubstantial shades in a Shirley Jackson novel, whatever walked in Hill House walked alone, but you wouldn’t be alone in the Overlook, oh no, there would be plenty of company here.” This was amusing to me because I just finished reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson a few weeks ago and some of the recent discussions on the Readings in the Genre: The Haunted discussion board involved using the setting as a character.
Overall, I would probably rate this book as a high two or low three on my rating scale. I’m absolutely glad that I read it and I think I can learn a lot about how to do good foreshadowing and how to build tension, but I’m not entirely certain that it’s a book I would need to read repeatedly.