An aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic provides the backdrop for one of the most gripping THRILLERS EVER WRITTEN. mANDY wAN REVIEWS…
By Mandy Wan: Literature Columnist
The Shining by Stephen King is termed as one of the most renowned horror stories ever written. This is something the majority of us can agree on. However, many are oblivious to the fact that it can also partly be viewed as an autobiography.
The Shining focuses on the haunted Overlook Hotel’s influence upon Jack Torrance, his wife, Wendy, and their son, Danny. Being a struggling writer and former alcoholic, Jack accepts the role of seasonal caretaker of the hotel to make ends meet. In an attempt to reconcile his turbulent relationship with his family, he also brings them to the hotel to stay for the winter. Unbeknownst to his parents, Danny possesses what is known as “the shining” – a set of psychic abilities that allow him to read minds and see into the future. This poses many challenges to the young boy and causes him to experience many horrifying visions in the Overlook. At the same time, the malicious supernatural forces gradually possess Jack and compel him to kill his family.
Whilst King was not possessed by the hotel he stayed at which inspired this setting, there remain several similarities between him and the titular character of his legendary novel. Primarily, their backgrounds: both were alcoholic schoolteachers and aspiring writers with families to support. The key variance in their stories is that King succeeded in writing his way out of poverty and Torrance was driven insane by the paranormal.
The Shining is written in a way that confesses King’s secrets to the world. In other words, he is embodied in Jack’s character.
For instance, King has spoken about how he used to be tempted to hurt his children in fits of rage. In particular, these thoughts would intensify tenfold under the influence of alcohol which was a state he was often in at this troublesome period of his life. Similarly, in the novel, it is noted that whilst Jack is a well-meaning individual, he has trouble controlling his violent outbursts. The incident of interest here is when he breaks his son’s arm whilst immersed in a drunken fury.
Writing for Stephen King was a source of therapy – his calm within the seemingly never-ending addiction-fuelled storm.
However, it is known that King wrote The Shining, roughly 200,000 words, at an incredible pace – producing up to 5000 words a day.
This implies he was writing instinctively about his darkest thoughts as if on a time trial where once the clock ticks down to zero, anything not solidified on the page would come true.
His confession is underlined by the horrific turning point where Jack begins to hunt his wife and son – essentially aiming to tear down his own life and happiness. This is representative of King’s self-destructive tendencies as in reality, his cocaine and alcohol addictions were threatening the livelihood of his family.
The most prominent difference between Torrance and King is highlighted in Chapter 32 which serves to be the final breaking point for the suffering family.
After trying to work on his play again, Jack realises he despises the characters he has created and wants them to suffer. Instead, he wishes to write about the hotel. Not only does this scene reinforce the power the Overlook has over Jack, but it also distinguishes him from his creator.
For King, falling in love with his characters and finding sympathy for them is an indication of top-notch storytelling. After all, poorly written backstories and bland dialogue do nothing to sway the audience in the favour of the protagonists. Arguably, there is no excitement regarding whether or not someone overcomes their adversities if you do not already support them. Hence, this is the one rule that he never breaks – regardless of how heinous his creations are, he will always focus on their positives. By specifying that Jack has lost the ability to care for those in his writing, this could be King’s plea to himself that in the end, they are not one-and-the-same.
Writing about your fears and adversities removes them from the abysses of your mind and plants them onto a piece of paper. Typically, our thoughts are rushed and jumbled as they are controlled by our everchanging emotions. However, the act of condensing them into a certain number of words and taking the time to physically scribble them out forces you to address the core of the problem rather than your reaction. The key point of this coping technique is that our thoughts are often not reality.
In a way, King took this method to the extreme when he created his deepest and darkest nightmare on paper to ensure that his life would not take the same path of self-destruction that Jack was led down.