Fear and Loathing in Colorado: The Shining, Stephen King
Hodder & Stoughton, 1977
ISBN 0450040186 (ISBN13: 9780450040184)
I can’t believe it took me so long to read this book, especially because I love the movie so much. However, no matter how much I like Kubrick, the book is much better. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a HUGE Stephen King fan. His book, On Writing changed the way I work as a writer and certainly changed the way I feel about Mr. King.
First, I love how King creates the perfect atmosphere, making the reader feel the isolation of the Overlook in winter, cut off from civilization and the rest of the world. I love how it takes absolutely no effort, as a reader, to become completely absorbed in the world the writer has created.
Second, the complexity of the characters was something that the movie did not accomplish nearly as well as the book does. In the movie Jack Torrance is just a crazy alcoholic who loses his already-tenuous grip on reality after being locked up in a huge hotel with his wife and son for a few months. The book goes much deeper, explaining why jack drinks, why he lost his previous job and is forced to take on the job as winter caretaker at the Overlook. In the movie, Jack just goes nuts; in the book, the reader understands how the hotel plays on Jack’s weaknesses to drive him to insanity.
The same complexity is also found in Danny, Wendy and Halloran. Flat characters in the movie, they really come to life in the book. Wendy is not the wishy-washy, disjointed Shelley Duval, running around flailing her arms with a huge knife in her hand. In the book, Wendy is a totally different character, not a victim, but an active participant in saving her and her son’s life. The same goes for Dick Halloran, who is a charming character in the movie, but even more delightful in the book.
Third, nobody weaves in back-story like Stephen King does. I love all the back-stories that the movie completely missed or just glossed over. I especially liked the back-story of the Overlook. In the movie, the only thing we learn about the Overlook is that Grady, the former caretaker, has killed his wife and daughters one winter in the hotel. However, the Overlook has a deeper and much more bloody history in the book.
Fourth, the dialogue and inner monologues are fantastic. King is really a master at getting the reader inside the head of each character, leading to a better understanding of exactly what is going on inside each person’s head.
I loved the description of the mountains, and the feeling of isolation in the long, brutal Colorado winters. Setting was fundamental in this novel and perfect for getting the feel of what it was like to take care of a place like the Overlook, disconnected from the rest of the world for months, in a time before cell phones and the Internet.
If you liked the movie, you have to read the book!