Thoughts

The Shining

I’ll start with a bit of personal history regarding Stephen King’s The Shining. Growing up in the 80’s, the movie was rumored to be one of the scariest things around. It was even taboo in my family. So when my friends and I finally got our hands on the VHS we were ready to be paralyzed with fear. Well… we weren’t. We were used to the hack and slash horror of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, not a psychological drama with fifteen minutes of action. It took me until high school before I could actually appreciate the movie.

Soon after I graduated, I picked up the book because my aunt always told me that the book was way better. I’ll confess, it was one of the first few “serious books” that I’d read for pleasure. By serious I mean thick with lots of words I hadn’t cared to learn yet. When I read it the first time, Jack Nicholson’s face was that of Jack Torrance. And even though the real Wendy is a blond, Shelley Duvall took center stage in my mind. At that time, the book’s ending had a reverse effect on me. I kept expecting Hallorann to die, but instead I got an explosion and a fire monster. The hedge animals were also an added plus.

A decade or so after my first experience with the novel, I picked up Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining. It follows Danny, now just Dan Torrance, as he deals with the psychological problems the same way his father did… drinking. The difference between the two is that Dan was smart enough to know he couldn’t handle a family. The sequel is terrific book if you haven’t read it, and the most accurate book I’ve read on the subject of addiction. I’m only bringing this up because it severely altered my second reading of The Shining.

Now, I guess I’m technically an adult. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and drank my share of alcohol. I’m also divorced and can relate to the family dynamics at the Overlook much more than I could during high school. But during this second read something strange happened. I found myself hating Jack Torrance. When I read it as a kid, my perception of him was colored by inexperience and the charm of Jack Nicholson, in the past I actually thought he was a fun, although misunderstood, character. But now when I view his behavior with the knowledge of the lasting effect it will have on Danny I find myself reading him with utter distain.

I know King was trying to create a flawed character that the Overlook could influence, something we see all the time in haunted stories, but during this read Jack Torrance felt over the top right off the bat. No chance for redemption. Granted, this reading is colored by the sequel. But it was interesting to read this story again and get such a different take on it.

But this has me curious. Did anyone read the book before they saw the movie? And if so what was your opinion of Jack Torrance?