Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Re-Visiting Stephen King's The Shining #2 - Part One: Prefatory Matters

This entry is one I meant to post last week. Oops... 

You know, I think that part one could easily have been titled "Main characters think about stuff... plus one of them just happens to get a job at the Overlook Hotel" because that's what really happens. It's fascinating reading really, but it is a little bit of a curiosity when you think about how many writers these days, not necessarily horror writers (but a majority of them are guilty of this, too), try to keep the pedal to the metal from the very start. I forgot what a slow-burner The Shining was. I don't mean that in a bad way, but I think that it signifies the stark contrast between how Stephen King wrote this classic versus how maybe a writer like Brian Keene wrote his modern classic The Rising. And how King himself wrote a few later novels like Under the Dome and Cell

Of course, there's always been a certain hypnotic quality about Stephen King's writing. However, I haven't felt a real "edge of my seat" thrill when reading Stephen King... at least not usually from the get-go. No, what always attracted me to Stephen King's writing was his sense of what I like to think of as "trap-setting." Instead of putting you immediately in the action he just sort of puts you in a place that's relatively secure and then slowly embeds certain elements in his story that take you out of that comfort zone. And by the time you are out of that comfort zone you realize that you are in the thick of it and can't escape. 

I mean, I can't say I've ever read a Stephen King book that started off with someone getting mangled Edward Lee-style. No, that's something King would do much later after the traps have been set and you can't escape the story. Although nowhere near as graphically depicted as any number of horror authors would depict. 

What Stephen King does when he is at his best is establish a sense of empathy with his characters. Of course, sometimes this means sacrificing a faster pace, but as long as Stephen King keeps weaving his spell we aren't quite aware of how little actually happens in Prefatory Matters.

We are shown much about Wendy, Danny, and Jack. We learn about Jack's alcohol problem's, Wendy's poor relationship with her mother, Danny's peculiar abilities, and a lot of other details that really are the strength of this first part. Characterization clearly came first with this tale. Which is true of a lot of King's works, too. I don't think I can accuse many of King's work of being lacking in the characterization department. 

Jack getting a job as the caretaker of the Overlook almost seems like an afterthought. It's something that just hovers in the background while we are being told what the characters are thinking and feeling. Later on it will prove to be important, but right now it's just one of those things that just happens. A little bit of good fortune for a guy and his family down on their luck, right?  

Trying to view this through the eyes of someone who has maybe never read this or seen the movie (are there still people like that?) it might seem to be *gasp* a little bit of a boring read. But it is not. This book is like an old car engine in that it just takes a little bit for it to get warmed up. That's all. I mean, it's not considered a landmark of modern horror just for kicks and giggles. 

I will start part two momentarily, but I have a few things I am reading right now so this will take a while. So I am in no real hurry.

1 comment:

  1. Another thing that SK does that can keep you off balance is that he is not afraid too kill or grotesquely injure an important and likeable character. I think that is important because after you have read him a few times, you can never be sure who is going to survive and that keeps things interesting.