This was my first time reading this book as the movie scared the living daylights out of me when I was in high school. I have no idea if the movie is actually as scary as I recall, because I don't actually remember much beyond "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," Jack Nicholson doing the homicidal maniac thing, and some incredibly creepy ghosts. So I also can't compare the movie to the book that much, other than that "All work and no play" isn't in the book and Jack being a writer isn't as important as I recall it being in the movie. My recollection is that the movie was essentially about a haunted hotel. The book is essentially about a family.

I mostly read the book because I wanted to read the sequel, Doctor Sleep, which several people recced. I had thought the book was pure horror, which is not really my thing, so I didn't expect to like it that much. I liked it a lot. It is horror, but it's got great characterization and is mostly the slow build, psychological type of horror rather than a cascade of jump-scares and gross-outs. Though it does have some very scary bits.

It takes a classic horror theme, a person with a flaw or weakness amplified by an evil or just powerful place until they crack, which is generally (in this case too) ambiguous about how much supernatural forces had to do with it and how much was the person making a choice to let their worst side run amuck. The Shining is weighted toward the side of choice, and is largely about choice and temptation.

Moderate spoilers.

Jack Torrance is an alcoholic who sobered up after a string of increasingly bad incidents culminating in him breaking his toddler son's arm; he takes the job as manager of a snowed-in hotel after beating a teenager... while he was still sober. The temptation the ghosts offer is analogous to the temptation to drink. But it's also literally a temptation to drink. The ghosts don't offer Jack anything good, they just offer him the chance to stop the constant struggle to do right, stay sober, be a good father and husband, and keep a leash on his misogyny and rage. It's a really believable portrayal of addiction, which is something King knows from experience. If I recall correctly, he wrote the book while he was an alcoholic but before it had completely taken over his life. It feels very real. Jack is a much more interesting character than I expected. He's done awful things that are not excused in the slightest, but he's not a 2-D villain. He could have turned his life around. But he didn't.

Wendy, his wife, and Danny, his son, are also really interesting characters. Danny has "the shining" (psychic abilities) and is extremely precocious to boot. I'm not sure I'm totally convinced by him as a five-year-old, but I was convinced as a character and as a young kid. He has the disjunct of being bright beyond his years, but also not understanding a whole lot of things that would be obvious to an adult, just because he's never encountered them before or missed the context. Wendy has reasons for staying with Jack, which might not be the best reasons but are convincing and plausible. She's much more heroic than I expected. The entire final sequence, with Halloran (the psychic hotel cook) desperately trying to get to the snowed-in Overlook while Wendy and Danny try to evade the now-homicidal Jack is an amazing piece of suspense, benefiting from me having no idea if Wendy and Halloran were going to survive.

The book was really engrossing, with a very classic Gothic/ghost story feel to it. It's long but doesn't feel bloated; everything is there to build character, theme, and atmosphere. I also found the ending very satisfying, which is not always the case with King.
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