As you may or may not know, this past Tuesday marked a momentous day in literary history. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen – thirty-six years after The Shining first hit bookstores, we have finally been presented with its long-awaited sequel, Doctor Sleep. You can expect a review of this novel in upcoming weeks, but in the meantime, I thought that a re-read of the 1977 classic was in order.
Jack Torrance is in quite a pickle. The recovering alcoholic was just fired from his prep-school teaching gig, only adding more stress to his already strained marriage. His luck seems to be changing, however, when he gets a job as a winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. The weather does not permit guests for the winter season, so Jack, his wife, Wendy, and his five-year-old son, Danny, will be the hotel’s only occupants until the spring. This is just perfect for Jack, who feels that the isolation will finally prompt him to finish his long-suffering play, while also allowing him to mend the bond with his long-suffering family. Of course, things don’t work out quite as planned.
For one thing, the Overlook has a rather sordid past, and many of its previous occupants continue to reside within the hotel. Then there’s the fact that young Danny Torrance has a psychic ability that enables him to see and know things that others cannot, and nothing that he witnesses in the Overlook is very pleasant. Danny knows that the malevolent forces of the Overlook are after his father, but there seems to be little he can do to help. Finally, Jack is very susceptible to outside forces, particularly spirits of any variety (mwa-ha-ha I am so clever). Add this to his increasing cabin fever and nasty temper, and things are not looking so good for the Torrance family.
The hedge animals are still dumb, even the second time around. Otherwise, this is one hell of a book. The Shining fully captured my attention from beginning to end, and Dick Hallorann remains one of my favorite characters to ever grace King’s pages. Jack is delightfully creepy as time progresses at the Overlook. He constantly wipes his lips when he is craving a drink, and this little detail never fails to disturb and frighten me, as it always is an indication of bad things to come.
However, what truly makes The Shining so awesome is that it remains the perfect showcase for what King does best: subjecting mortals to evil forces beyond their control. King exhibits this notion brilliantly in Pet Sematary – once that cemetery grabs ahold of someone, there is little that person can do to escape its grasp. In fact, Hallorann’s plane situation is eerily paralleled by Rachel Creed, although the outcomes ultimately differ. The forces surrounding the cemetery do everything possible to keep Louis isoloated, thus Rachel is directly prevented from making her flight back to Ludlow. Hallorann faces some similar airline struggles, although he ultimately makes it back to Colorado. Dick doesn’t threaten the powers of the Overlook; they seem almost anxious to take him on along with the Torrances.
Not to keep dwelling on Pet Sematary, similarities, but a final comparison must be made regarding King’s treatment of free will. Like Louis Creed, Jack is ultimately unable to resist the Overlook’s evil forces. Is this a personal choice? An inability due to internal weakness? Is free will involved at all? Interestingly, King neatly aligns Jack’s struggles with alcohol to his struggles with the Overlook, foreshadowing his susceptibility to outside forces. In King’s world, willpower turns up in unlikely places, and young Danny possesses far more strength than his beaten-down father.
I apologize for rambling, but I get all gushy and nerdtastic when it comes to my favorite author. I can only hope that Doctor Sleep will live up to the sheer awesomeness of its predecessor.