Finished Stephen King’s new novel, Doctor Sleep (the sequel to The Shining) about a week ago. Really excellent, genuinely scary. As he often does, to great horror effect, King puts a kid in danger — and this time, it’s up to Dan Torrance to rescue her. The scary people, those who are after little kids, especially little kids who have the shining, are villainous indeed — a marauding and quite large band of something-like-vampires-but-not-exactly. They conceal themselves behind the guise of ordinary folks driving from spot to spot in motor homes, and they’re powerfully deadly.
I’m not a giant King fan, but I came to him after the movie version of The Shining was released in the 90’s. I was fascinated by the movie (it’s a Stanley Kubrick movie, as you well know), fascinated by the ideas, the subject. I wanted to write about it, and indeed I did. (And btw, I became a King fan — don’t camp out to be the first to get his latest, but I’ve read widely in his books, taught the occasional story of his that shows up in the lit anthologies, etc., but most of all, eagerly sought out his latest.)
As I wrote 3 weeks ago on Doctor Sleep, King is an old pro who knows exactly what he’s doing, re-introducing us to a slightly-older Dan Torrance (11 when the book begins but mainly an adult throughout it), his mother Wendy, also slightly older and considerably more experienced. And especially to Dick Halloran, one of the most-vivid characters in the first book and movie, still fully alive and fascinating. And the technical way that King handles the both voiced and also “shined” conversations between Dick and Dan is most clever. King knows very well how to do dialogue, develop characters, and move the plot along. It’s a page-turner that got better and better as I got closer to the end.
First, let’s review some of the fascinating points in Kubrick’s movie.
The Overlook Hotel, where Jack, Wendy, and Danny Torrance will be spending the winter all alone (Jack is the winter caretaker) is haunted. It’s haunted by all the guests who’ve died in the usual course of business, and those who’ve died in strange ways, or in horrid ways — Delbert Grady’s daughters, above. Grady, we learn, was once the winter caretaker, and he went insane, like Jack. Cabin fever? No, the Overlook is a malevolent force, driving the winter caretakers, along with many of the summer guests (apparently) insane.
King objected to the way (in his view) Kubrick downplayed how Jack’s alcoholism was the malevolent force behind his descent into madness and violence; I don’t agree. Kubrick imagined the director of a movie, in fact the camera itself, as a trapping, malevolent force that snatched young Danny’s freedom. It’s the force of over-intellectualism, of over-control. Mix these forces with alcohol and you have a volatile cocktail: Delbert Grady chopped his daughters top pieces with an ax because “they tried to burn the hotel down. I had to correct them, I had to correct them most severely.” So what was most likely a couple of 8-year-olds playing with matches led to a horrific murder.
So it is with Jack. Under the evil eyes of over-control, over-intellectualism, alcohol, and the Overlook Hotel, he tries to murder his 6-year-old son and his wife. Fortunately, Danny and Wendy have some real resources of their own (including Dick Halloran), make their escape (after leading Jack into the Overlook Maze that is probably his own controlling brain), and live to be in Doctor Sleep.
The Overlook Hotel, and its evil, reappear in Doctor Sleep. And once again, Dan Torrance must not only overcome his heritage of alcoholism but also fight against another kind of evil. (BTW, Dan is called “Dr. Sleep” at the hospice where he works because of his unique talent, a part of his shining, to help patients transition to death. Makes for a couple of fascinating scenes.)