Almost half a year into the quarantine, there is perhaps no better novel that fits the theme of 2020 than The Shining by Stephen King. Maybe his follow-up The Stand is another alternative, but that’s way more of an extreme scenario, so this year seems better suited to the story of the Overlook and the Torrance family. When recovering alcoholic and barren writer Jack Torrance needs work, he’s hired as the caretaker of the infamous Overlook hotel in Colorado during the winter months. Wendy, his wife, and 5-year-old son Danny, join along and take a family trip together to Colorado where they are set to stay in the hotel for the closed winter season. It’s just the Torrance family, the Overlook, and obviously since it’s a King novel, whatever evils may be lurking in the shadows.
So yes, this is a story about isolation and what it does to the fragile mind. Considering the intense cabin fever many of us have been facing, having it explained very early on was quite frightening. It nailed the essence of what these months have felt like almost to the tee, which made the whole experience reading it that much scarier. However, it should be pointed out that while this novel has many gruesome moments that will make you wince and have you worried about what happened in the next hotel room you go to, it has much more going for it than pure horror. The true essence of this book lies in the tragedy of Jack Torrance, the crumbling of a family, and the importance of an uplifting connection in times of isolation.
King has been very vocal about his dislike for the Kubrick film of the same name, and it’s pretty apparent as to why. Where Kubrick crafted a more supernatural horror film, King’s novel is much more psychological than anything. Obviously, there is serious overlap once the climaxes are reached in both sources, but the novel delves much deeper into the fragmented psyche of Jack and how it has affected the family dynamic. Nevertheless, both stories are incredible and deserve their own dissection. Jack is a recovering alcoholic who once broke Danny’s arm, was fired from his teaching position for beating a child, and has been stuck on a play he’s attempted writing for years. Make no mistake, Jack Torrance is no saint, but he’s not necessarily evil until the Overlook gets a hold of him. He’s simply a man who has been truly broken down. And this is where King crafts his best characters. Even if they commit heinous acts, such as Carrie in Carrie, Annie in Misery, and Jack in The Shining, they are all inherently tragic characters. They’re people that the world bullied, beat, and cast aside. King never justifies their actions, but instead, condemns the world that created them while taking them down.
As the Torrance family crumbles, young Danny “shines” for his friend Dick Halloran, the cook that helped him discover just what it meant to have “the shining”. As dark as King can get in his novels, there’s always at least a bit of optimism that shines out of them. Dick is on the other side of the country and comes to the aid of young Danny, and it’s questioned whether he goes out of guilt, or out of fear of losing connection. Dick knows Danny is powerful, and he hasn’t met many with his ability, so he feels obligated to protect the young boy. And out of it, they both create a bond with each other that cannot be broken. The novel jumps between the terror within the Overlook, and thrill of Dick doing whatever he can to get to Danny in time to marvelous effect.
The Shining shows that even when you’re alone, stranded in a snowed in hotel, or in the case of 2020, isolated in your own home, don’t be afraid to reach out. Rather, it should be encouraged and promoted. With all the technology at our fingertips, it seems a waste to not use it to its full advantage. Being together in person will surely never be replaced, and in time it will return, but until then; we aren’t alone. Connections can live on not only through technology, but through each other. The best part is, no shining is required to do it. And within all the ugliness displayed in The Shining, that notion is something truly beautiful.