Friday, April 11, 2014

The Shining by Stephen King and Horror Stories

The Shining Me and The Shining have a long history.  I have never seen the whole movie but I’ve seen bits and pieces.  My parents were watching it and I was supposed to be asleep but woke up and saw a few scenes of a movie I was far too young to see.  To this day everything about The Shining has terrified me.  Once I came upon a random still from the movie - the one where crazy Jack Torrance / Nicholson with a sick smile is sticking a head through what appears to be a hole that he presumably made in a door while chasing after his wife and son.  I literally stopped in my tracks when I saw the picture.  A month or so ago the movie came on television and I tried to watch it.  I didn’t make it past the opening credits – even the music was scary.

One of the four reading challenges I’m doing this year is a genre challenge, one of which is horror.  In addition to being terrified of The Shining, I have never been a fan of horror stories in general, whether written or on screen.  There are multiple reasons for shying away from horror.  I don't like being scared. There are enough scary things in real life; artificial terrors are unnecessary.  I don't like gratuitous violent body slashers or religious related horror (involving the devil, demons, and the like).  Both of these only lead to nightmares and me jumping at every shadow.  Then there is what I’ll call psychological horror.  It may involve violence but the really horror is all in the mind.  It takes a very good storyteller to write a convincing a horror story that relies on mind games rather than blood spatter to bring readers to their knees, which brings me to The Shining

The Shining turned out to be neither gratuitously violent nor religious.  There was violence - topiaries just won’t be the same anymore - but it was the Overlook and its effect on Jack, Danny, and the hotel's prior guests that made the story come alive.  There is something about a threat is not entirely tangible or physical, whose uncertain reality makes it nearly impossible to fight against.

I enjoyed - no enjoy doesn’t seem like the right word - I liked The Shining and I am glad I finally read a Stephen King novel.  It wasn’t as scary as I expected but maybe that’s because it had been built up so high in my nightmares.  There are great, and by great I mean terrifying, scenes, where Jack is contemplating how to make his wife and son “take their medicine.”  The craziness rifling through Jack’s mind was a perfect mirror of life with an alcoholic or abuser.

My one minor issue (or one of the issues) I had with the novel was that it was unnecessarily long.  Around page 244 a friend asked what I thought so far and I replied that nothing had really happened yet.  I want to try another Stephen King novel, though I am still a bit intimidated by him and his novels.  Don’t know if I’ll ever watch the movie The Shining.  If I ever do, it will be in the daytime with all the lights on.

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