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Monday, November 21, 2016

Book Review: The Shining (1977) by Stephen King

Image result for calumet the shining
Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's film adaption of The Shining by Stephen King.

Book Review:
The Shining (1977)
by Stephen King

  You could argue that Stephen King was the most successful writer of fiction in the 20th century, and sixteen years into the 21st century, he is still a formidable figure both in genre fiction and popular film.  He also figures prominently in almost any serious discussion of the boundaries between "high" literature and "low" fiction.  Certainly, in the mid 1970's the idea of a genre author transcending genre and ascending into "literature" was not entirely foreign.  What is amazing about the extent of Stephen King's popular audience is not simply that he has sold over 350 million copies of his books, but also that more than 30 feature films have been made, and several of those have achieved classic status.  I'm thinking of The Green Mile, Stand By Me, and of course, The Shining.

    Any discussion of The Shining (novel) needs to start with a discussion of The Shining (movie).  I would say that like all Stanley Kubrick films based on literary sources, the movie is better than the book, but only because the movie is world class, and the underlying source material is, at best, above average. The Shining (novel) makes it onto the 1001 Books list as King's only representative.   The Editors probably figure that like The Odyssey and The Bible, enough people are familiar with his work to omit all of his books but for The Shining.  

  Kubrick clearly came to King's source material with his own agenda, and the eye of a film maker, vs. the concerns of a genre novelist, albeit a transcendent genre novelist.   Of course, literally any human being reading The Shining in 2016 will have seen the movie and therefore know the broad outlines and even the details of the book.   People riding the wave of recent interest in the meaning of the Kubrick film can find much to debate in the book.  Specifically, I think the only valid interpretation of the book is that the area on which the hotel is built is occupied by a malevolent spirit, which compelled the initial builder to build the hotel in the first place, and this spirit has maintained the existence of the hotel by manipulating the behavior of the owners and occupants of the hotel.

   This malevolent spirit maintains the souls of it's past victims, and it is interested in new victims.  Kubrick, of course, was interested in expanding on what is essentially a ghost story, and it is he who added the spatial manipulation that fans of the film seem to focus on.   There isn't much.., style... in King's fiction.  It's amazing stuff, but clunky and awkward, with dozens of pages that seem included specifically to manipulate the emotions of the reader, but that is probably why he is so successful. 

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