So-Called “Greats”: The Shining

Contemporary horror fiction can be defined by a singular name: Stephen King. With novels like Carrie, Christine, It and Pet Sematary to his name, this influence is understandable. It’s this reason why too I’ve had such a hard time finding only one of his novels that’s a “great” of speculative fiction.

With so many to select from, I had to go with the one, in my opinion, that has the most powerful impact. And this happens to be his third book: The Shining. First published in 1977, not only is this a book that cemented King’s legacy as a horror writer, but it’s one which set the groundwork for his other “great” works of speculative fiction.

The first edition hardback cover of Stephen King’s The Shining

Intense Themes with a Terrifying Plot

Despite its legacy as a terrifying horror novel, The Shining does have some very intense themes which, I feel, make it a “great”. It’s a novel that deals with abuse trauma, alcoholism and fear of failure. These together are part of how we can Jack Torrance devolve in the book, and what makes Danny special.

“What happens in Room 217 with Danny continues to haunt me, even years after reading it.”

The book gives us a glimpse into what turned Jack into a crazed maniac and the terror of the hotel. His battle with alcoholism and what it does to him as well is where a lot of the fear appears in the book. Yet, unlike the Kubrick film adaptation (which I’ll get to shortly), he still holds a sense of his humanity even in the midst of his insane rage.

This novel by far still has one of the scariest plots of any King book, even after over 40 years since its first publication. The Overlook in here is one of the most frightening places in horror fiction, next to Belasco House from Richard Matheson’s Hell House. What happens in Room 217 with Danny continues to haunt me, even years after reading it. What really enhances it is the build-up throughout the book. Even if you know what’s going to happen you can’t still help but feel on the edge of your seat reading it.  

Strong Legacy Both on King and Horror Film

The Shining is, in my opinion, one of King’s most important horror novels. It helped not only establish him as a household name for the genre, but set the groundwork for some of his best works to come. Simply put, there probably have been no It or The Dark Half without The Shining.

The most influenced of his works on this piece is especially his 2013 sequel to the book: Doctor Sleep. This sequel explained more on Danny Torrance’s trauma as he grew up, and gave us an equally frightening storyline with it. With it too came a film adaptation, starring Liam Neeson, which is one of the scariest horror movies I’ve seen in the last few years.

Speaking of film adaptations, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining cannot be forgotten in any discussion of this book. Although disliked by King initially, this film is by far still on of the most haunting films ever made. Its use of Steadicam and uncanny atmosphere are just two of the many reasons why it’s an influential movie.

While a lot of the elements of the novel were changed in this adaptation, it still stands as a frightening movie even over 40 years later. It’s one of the few classic horror films that stands well on its own, not requiring to read the original source material.

The original film poster for Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of The Shining (Warner Brothers)

Is It A “Great”?

The Shining is one of Stephen King’s greatest works and deserves to be called a “great” of speculative fiction. Even if there’s numerous other fantastic King works since The Shining I could’ve discussed, this one is the one. It’s not only one of the scariest novels of the late 20th century, but it’s also one that still holds up today.

It’s also one of the few novels in this series in which its film adaptation too aids it in being a “great”. If you’re new to the world of horror fiction, or the works of Stephen King, then I recommend this book. It’s a fright-fest from start to finish.

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