Read With IBC | The Shining, by Stephen King

Posted By Imaginary Book Club | 34 comments


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Each month our #ReadWithIBC post is the place for a no-holds-barred, spoilers-allowed, debate-encouraged discussion of our latest read.

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The Shining, by Stephen King

Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

34 Comments

    • I mentioned this in one of my weekly brunch posts, but I had to set daily reading goals to actually keep myself reading! I wanted to shut The Shining in a closet. I don’t think that would have worked, but I’m super susceptible to horror, and just couldn’t keep myself going!!

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      • I did the opposite – I just ran through it all at once, so I only had to try to sleep one night during it!

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        • Argh that sounds horrible!!! I really don’t think I could have done that!!

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      • I, too, had to pace my reading. I always read it during the daytime and even if it was getting close to being dark, I would put it away. Horror is not a genre that I would intentionally choose to read. But that’s why I book club.

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  1. One of the things that makes The Shining truly scary is how it passes back and forth between psychological drama and the supernatural. Did you find one side more terrifying, or was it the combination?

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    • To me, it was the blurring between the psychological drama and the supernatural! I thought that The Shining wouldn’t scare me that much because I’ve seen the movie a couple times, but it was the psychological drama and domestic violence that truly terrified me and unnerved me. At the end, when Wendy kept reassuring Danny that it wasn’t his Daddy, it was the hotel, my first reaction was: Really??? Jack already broke his arm once, mocked a student for his stutter and then beat him up, and maybe killed a child while driving drunk! That was WAY more difficult for me to face than a smelly, large dead woman in a bathtub.

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    • I thought it ebbed and flowed, it would be super scary then back to pretty normal then super scary again. The scary times grew greater in intensity, I think this may be what made Stephen King so popular, I would imagine that people who like to be scared would like that kind of build up.

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      • I think the ebb and flow was one of the things that helped me get through it! That way I wasn’t constantly terrified.

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  2. King really explores the difficult relationships between parents and children, and the combination of love and pain that builds and breaks families. How did you see this familial relationship contributing to the horror of the book?

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    • I think that the relationships between Jack, Wendy, and Danny alone – without any of the supernatural interference of The Overlook – could have made a whole book in itself. Someone like Capote could have spent novels exploring the influences of an alcoholic father, the dependency in Wendy that makes her appear so weak, or the perceptive nature of children. I would have had a lot easier time with that book, that’s for sure!

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      • I had seen the movie, so some of the aspects were “spoiled” for me. However, King’s intimate look at families really made it that much more intense. Particularly when Danny could sense how hopeful his father was about the job at the hotel and didn’t want to spoil it for them.

        They actually just did a study about how incredibly perceptive kids are to passive aggression, nonverbal hostility, and even long-held grudges between their parents. It’s fascinating and depressing at the same time:
        http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/10/the-effects-of-a-simmering-parental-grudge/503015/

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      • I agree, that would be kind of an interesting story.

        I didn’t see Wendy as weak, I saw her as a traditional mom who was trying to keep her family together, with a challenging son and an alcoholic husband. You need to remember the timeframe of when this was written, women were still trying to fulfill their traditional role, divorce was less common than it is today and there was still societal stigma attached. In some ways I see myself in her, therefore, not weak. In fact, I can’t imagine Shelly Duvall in that role because she portrays as such a weak character.

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        • I agree – Wendy in the book was WAY better than the Shelly Duvall character in the movie. You saw all of her internal calculations and struggles. I loved the notion about how all moms have “a bit of shine” too.

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  3. Stephen King has stated that ‘there is no horror without love and feeling . . ., because horror is the contrasting emotion to our understanding of all the things that are good and normal. Without a concept of normality, there is no horror.’ What do you think he means?

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    • OK – this might be waayyyy off base, but this quote reminds me of things:

      (1) I think King means that to be horrified, we have to have a sense of the “normal” world as a basically loving and good place. In The Shining, the scariest part of the Overlook is that it can cause a parent to try to murder his child and his spouse; the family is supposed to be a world where love and good feelings are the norm.

      (2) To extend King, the most horrific things to read for me is when horrible things become normal to others. Hannah Arendt wrote in her book on the Nazi leader Eichmann and his trial: “the banality of evil.” To me, the scariest things I’ve read have been based on reality. In undergraduate, the book The History of Torture and other assigned readings for my History of Human Rights course gave me so many nightmares before bed that I had to stop doing my readings for that class in the evening! Hitler’s Furies was also deeply unnerving because of the casual way these women approached systematic murder and genocide. God, Beloved made me want to cry, scream, and throw that book in the corner of the room and my mind and never think of it again!

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      • I think you’re right Anna – the only thing that makes The Shining scary is that it’s the opposite of what we consider good and right in the world. If we didn’t have that basis (which would be horrifying in itself), we might not find the psychological horror quite so overwhelming.

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    • I’m too scared! I think I’m one of the few people that has never seen The Shining, and now, having read the book, I think I’m even more committed to not seeing it. Maybe someday. Not this year. Or next.

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    • I haven’t seen it in awhile, but I think the book is scarier than the movie! I don’t remember the book getting into the backstory with Jack’s abusive behavior and I don’t remember it getting so into Danny, Wendy, and Jack’s heads. Maybe I’m wrong though — anyone seen the movie more recently? I do want to see Room 237 (if I can get the guts up for it) that’s the documentary about obsessive fans of The Shining who think that Kubrick put hidden messages in the movie.

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    • I’m with Whitney, just the previews scared me! There is no way I’m going to watch the movie I did have a friend tell me that the movie was more about Jack’s fall into insanity than the hotel making him act for it. If this is true, I can understand why they played it that way because it would be much more visual.

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      • It was a weirdly beautiful movie (like all Kubrick stuff). The hotel was definitely haunted in the book, but I don’t remember it being so culpable for Jack’s murdery stuff. The ending is WAY different too…

        Another big difference between the movie and the book (if I remember) is that there is no Hallorann. To me, I wish Hallorann’s character was a bit more robust, often I feel like he’s just another magical negro trope (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro)…

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  4. Do you think that horror books, like The Shining, can be considered serious literature? What defines a classic?

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    • Yes – absolutely! To me, the book have been the most “horrific” for me were often “classics” and other “serious literature.” Off the top of my head, the books that terrified me and disturbed my dreams were: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness, American Psycho, Room by Emma Donoghue and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I can’t remember the details, but that book about Sybil also totally terrified me as a teenager. Battle Royale also haunted teenage me pre-Hunger Games…I also recently read Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower — so scary, and even worse, totally human-made, not supernatural at all…

      I think that classics are texts that revolutionalized novels or other types of writing, exemplars of a particular style of writing, or texts that are particularly emblematic of a certain period of time or embraced by contemporaries as reflective of the times it was written. This often I can appreciate classics for what they brought to literature, but that doesn’t mean I always enjoy them.

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    • Definitely! I think that “classics” goes way beyond the Great Books variety. Just like classic movies can include anything from any genre, I think classic books are anything that has true staying power.

      Sure – there are bits in The Shining that date it a bit (like what a bummer life was pre-internet), but the themes and messages that come out in the book are what give it lasting power. People will always be horrified by the creepy power of the supernatural and by the possibilities of the human psyche. There’s always something there, and that’s what makes it stick.

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  5. A lot of discussion focuses on the interplay between Jack and Danny, but we want to know how you feel about Wendy Torrence! She loves and fears Danny, and gives Jack a million chances which he returns with drinking, abuse, and anger.

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  6. Excellent read, thank you.

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