By Heidi Simmons
By Stephen King
Done well, a draped white sheet covering your head and limbs can be a simple, mysterious and spooky Halloween costume. However, ghosts, apparitions and spirits are not only unique to this season, but are a year round phenomenon. Some ghosts can be benign and some can be intrusive. In Stephen King’s The Shining (Knopf Doubleday, 688 pages), ghosts not only inhabit a physical place, but also haunt the minds of the inhabitants.
Writer Jack Torrance is struggling with sobriety. He has lost his teaching position, has problems with anger, a divorce is a looming possibility and he hasn’t written a thing in years. The only option for him and his family’s survival, is to take a job as a winter caretaker at the Overlook, an established hotel high in the Colorado Rockies. Snowed in for six months, he hopes the isolation and time will help him get back into writing and improve his family’s situation.
Jack’s five-year-old son Danny has a gift. He is clairvoyant and is especially skilled at reading minds. Winifred — Wendy, Danny’s mother — believes his gift came from birth. He was born with a caul, the amniotic membrane covering his face.
Danny is acutely aware of his parent’s problems and considers himself responsible. When the desperate family arrives at the Overlook, they meet the cook, Dick Hollorann, who immediately connects with Danny – psychically. He tells the boy he too has the “shine” — the ability to read people and see the future. Only Danny is far more powerful than any other person with the “shining” he has ever met in his 60 plus years.
Hollorann warns Danny to not enter the hotel’s room 217 and to stay away from the playground. If he “sees” something in or around the hotel, Hollorann advises Danny to just look away and it will disappear. Although Hollorann will be in Florida for the winter, he instructs Danny to “call” him mentally if he needs his help.
As the winter sets in and the snow piles up, so do the horrors of the hotel. Jack is especially vulnerable to the hotel’s supernatural “guests.” He is insecure about his future, his sobriety is getting the worse of him, his writing is not working out and his anger is growing. He cannot see the hotel as the “problem”; rather, there is only his son and wife to blame.
The Overlook is riddled with ghosts from every decade since the hotel opened in the early 1900s. The apparitions become manifest and even party together, drawing Jack into their fold. Wendy knows the “things” are around, and of course so does Danny. Unfortunately for Danny, looking away from the ghosts does not always work. The entities physically engage him.
The “hotel” wants Danny! And Jack is recruited to kill him and his wife to make them forever a part of the Overlook. Perhaps Danny’s abilities will enhance the supernatural power of the hotel and its supernatural guests.
In a horrific showdown, Danny and his mom must battle the man they most love – Jack. But Jack is long gone, possessed by the hotel and its ghosts. Danny psychically calls for Hollorann, who receives the message in Florida and comes in the nick of time to join the fight and finish the Overlook.
Stephen King delves into the haunting of the hotel by its dead guests, but he also spends time showing the reader the ghosts of Jack and Wendy’s past. Both are haunted by memories of their own bad parents. They cannot help but question their ability to parent Danny. He is a special child with special needs. What’s really scary is their uncertainty if they are equipped to deal with his condition, his burden, his gift.
King pushes the pathology of Jack, Wendy and Danny to their psychological limits and then tosses them into a sentient hotel where the only guests are deadly apparitions wanting to devour them.
Wendy is heroic as she puts herself in harms way to protect her son. She must overcome her fear of Jack and the unknown. She must choose to believe Danny’s visions and trust his abilities.
Although The Shining leaves questions unanswered about how the hotel became such an evil place and does not address the manifestation of the topiary animals, neither affects the overall story. There are many things we don’t understand about ghosts and hauntings. And how do you fight or destroy things that are already dead?
This is why ghosts are frightening. Maybe some places and some people are more susceptible to their presence. Ghostly entities exist in a realm beyond our control and outside our reality, and occasionally we bump into them.
King’s novel, The Shining is not Kubrick’s film. The two are very different. Danny’s story continues in Stephen King’s new novel Doctor Sleep.