Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Doppelgangers - Volume 01: The Shining



Hello Gothic People!

It is a new term of the gleefully grotesque and the magnificently macabre, Gothic Reading Group and the theme this year is ‘Adaptation’. To celebrate, I intend to start a new series where I talk a little bit about the background to the original, the adaptation and discuss some of the differences between the two. I hope you enjoy the ride.

(The Simpsons does The Shining)
I assume the erudite, cultured, and extremely good-looking readers of this blog are familiar with the general plot of The Shining (see the Simpson Treehouse of Horror V), but just in case here is a quick recap to bring you up to speed. The Shining (the book) is a horror novel by Stephen King published in 1977, chronicling alcoholic, failed author Jack Torrance’s slow descent into madness and family-murder, aided and abetted by the assorted spooks lurking round the Overlook Hotel. The inspiration for the story can be traced back to a break King made with his wife in 1974, to the Stanley Hotel, Colorado where they were the only guest and by all accounts, the whole affair was not lacking in both the heebee and the jeebee department. King already had the successes of Carrie and Salem’s Lot under his belt by the time he began working on The Shining and, freed from the pressing need to create something that would sell (King worked as a school teacher and as a laundry worker on top of writing in the evenings) King made the decision to dig a little a deeper and reach for something beyond the spooks (King discusses this levelling up in the introduction to the 2001 edition of the novel). The book was aa runaway hit and became King’s first hardback bestseller.

The Shining (the film) is a 1980 film adaptation directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick had been interested in making a horror film for some time before getting The Shining gig (he was in the running to direct The Exorcist) and aimed to create ‘the world’s scariest movie, involving a series of episodes that would play upon the nightmare fears of the audience’. The film took five years to complete, including one grueling year of shooting (Kubrick, notoriously hard on actors, made poor Shelly Duvall repeat the ‘fending of Jack with a baseball bat of on the staircase’ scene 127 times) and by the end much of the set had burnt down after a large fire broke out in Elmtree studios. King has major issues with the film; the treatment he wrote about it was ignored by Kubrick, he disagreed with the casting of Jack Nicholson and thought Kubrick interpretation of the material turned Wendy into a borderline misogynistic stereotype. However, King grumbles aside, The Shining was showering in critical acclaim and is now regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all time.  


(The Torrence family on their way to the Overlook Hotel: What could go wrong?)
The novel was conceived and written in the early 70s while King was overcoming a major bout of alcoholism (but slightly before the diet of pills and cocaine he would feed himself in the 80’s) and the theme of addiction and the struggle to overcome that addiction and find some kind of redemption form the book’s emotional core. 

This deviance from the central theme of the book is one of the main reasons why King is not a fan of the Kubrick version; King put a lot of himself into Jack Torrance. In King’s On Writing he says, “I was the guy who had written The Shining without even realizing that I was writing about myself’. He took pains to documents ever one of Jack’s painful tussles with his own set of demons (alcohol, familiar violence, a complicated relationship to his own father, not achieving his goals, poverty) and to show that it is through human weakness, the poor moral choices a person can make, as well as the malevolent evil of the hotel, that slowly turns Jack into a monster. This nuance disappears in film version. Film Jack is very much at the behest of entities in the hotel which is not helped by the casting of Jack Nicholson who, while giving an absolutely fantastic performance, screams cray cray from the get go. We lose the overarching narrative of a good man (or a man trying to be good) turn bad and much of the tragedy and pathos of the situation disappears too.

(Jack and Danny)
The family dynamics become obscured in the film version too. Jack loves his son and the two are close; this make the fact that Jack’s temper gets the better of him and he lashes out violently at Danny all the more disturbing. In the movie, Film Jack doesn’t seem particularly bothered about his son, and while it is made known to the audience that Jack probably broke Danny’s arm during a bout of drinking, the novel really gets into the awful details of Jack’s lapses of control. These are grounded in the author’s reality; King has spoken frankly about his own feelings of anger towards his children, how bouts of drinking, compounded by a dire financial situation and poor living condition, created genuine antagonism towards them. Writing The Shining acted as a sort of exorcism of those feelings.

Taking a note from interplay of real life domestic violence, the novel touches on the cycle of abuse. Book Jack had been abused by his own father, was also a failed writer, and continually struggles with the feelings of love towards the man who hurt him, while at the same time harbouring a hatred for him too. Without a model to learn how to be a father from, Jack passes this abuse onto his own child. Danny in turn struggles with that potent cocktail of contradictory emotions and despite his Shining ability giving him advance warning of all the horrible things his father will try to do, wants to stay at the hotel, in danger, because he believes it will be best for his Dad. It’s heavy stuff, that doesn’t get a chance to breathe in the film.

Despite this hideousness, the novel remains ultimately hopefully about human nature. Book Torrance is given a moment of redemption, towards the end he recovers enough of himself to let the Overlook’s dodgy boiler exploded, burning the hotel to the grounds and giving his family time to escape. This is denied his film counterpart who has gone full on Jason Voorhees by the end, and gets an inglorious farewell of freezing to death in a hedge maze. It turns Kubrick’s film into a much bleaker experience. Jack had always been part of the hotel and the hotel within it has always been a part of him; there is no getting away from the darkness inside.

(Jack becoming part of the Overlook?)
If it seems like this has devolved into a bout of Bash-the-Adaptation, I apologise. I am not trying to rag on Kubrick. I loves me some movie Shining. The film is a deeply unsettling masterpiece of creep; watching it at night, on my own, still gives me some serious spine shudders. But the heart of the film lies entirely elsewhere (mostly into not running into Jack Nicholson on a dark night) and, to my mind, the removal of the central emotional conflict is the most significant alteration.

So, rapid fire round, some of the film’s other biggest changes are:

  • Book Danny’s imaginary friend didn’t live inside Danny’s little finger; Danny’s manifestation on his Shining ability presented itself as an entity outside himself who appeared to him in his dreams. Book Danny is also much brighter. And his parents know about his Shining.
  • Book hotel wants to absorb Danny’s power in the book and uses Jack to get to him (baiting him with talk of the manager); Film Hotel seems to be just a bad egg, a spot of negative energy where tragic incidents are doomed to happed over and over again.
  • Book Wendy is less damsel in distress; she spends less time flailing and more time getting stuff done.
  • Book Dick Hallorann does not get axed to death; the getting a whack from a croquet mallet but lives to snowmobile the family out of danger. Go Hallorann!
  • Oh, and the book has killer hedge maze animals.
(Danny exploring the halls of the Overlook)

Further Reading:
Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959) – An inspiration for The Shining and considered by many to be the finest haunted house story ever written.
Stephen King, Doctor Sleep (2013) – The sequel to The Shining following an adult Danny battling with his own demons. And vampires. Who ride around in camper vans. Highly recommended.
The Shining (1997) – An ABC mini-series penned by King himself. This three part minis series is more faithful to the novel but a wee bit less . . . artful than the Kubrick film. Worth a watch if you are a mega King fan but, like room 217, probably a door best left unopened for the more casual viewer.
The Making of the Shining (1980) – A behind the scenes documentary shot by the BBC giving a rare glimpse into Kubrick’s directing methods. You can watch it for free online.
Room 237 (2012) – This film has generated a ton of theories about its hidden meaning (some more fringe interpretations consider The Shining to be a coded confession about the part Kubrick played in faking the moon landing). This documentary will take you through a selection of them.
The Dom, Lost in Adaption: The Shining (2015) – A YouTube series specialising in picking apart adaptations and their source material, presenter The Dom breaks down the two Shining’s differences and similarities in far greater detail than is possible here. It’s a great watch. If you have any interest at all about how an adaptations stacks up to its mother-work, his channel is an absolute must see.


Claire Healey is a huge Stephen King fan and lover of all things dark, moody, and eye-liner-y. Her favourite time of year is October where she has fun decorating for Halloween and showing off her amazing craft skills - also ensuring that she gets the right balance of 'work' and 'play' and cannot be considered 'dull' at all. 

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