Author Todd Keisling Rips Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’?!

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My Thoughts on Stephen King’s The Shining

Written by Todd Keisling

I have a confession to make that may color your opinion of me. I may be taking a blowtorch to my reputation as a horror author.

Are you sitting down? Okay.

I re-read Stephen King’s The Shining last month in preparation for the sequel . . . and I didn’t enjoy it.

Now hold on a minute. Let me explain why before you set fire to my home. Put your pitchforks away.

Full disclosure: This was not my first time reading the book. In fact, it was my third: I also read it when I was a teenager and again when I was in college. I’ve seen Kubrick’s adaptation more times than I can count and I’ve also seen King’s mini-series adaptation as well. I’m also a huge fan of King’s work, despite what James Keen thinks about it (I’m sorry, Keen: I still think Cell is the worst thing King has ever written).

“But Todd,” you’re saying, “how can you possibly call yourself a King fan, let alone a horror fan and a horror writer, if you didn’t enjoy this much-loved, legendary tome?”

Honestly, I’ve been trying to figure that out myself, folks. I want to say it’s because my tastes have changed—I am almost twenty years older than when I first read the book—but that doesn’t quite explain it when you consider The Shining laid the groundwork for the entire genre over the next thirty years. The premise is classic: a caretaker’s family spends their winter snowed in at a very haunted hotel. Every horror writer wishes he or she thought of that. It’s simple yet effective, a veritable playground in which anything could happen.

And things do happen. Slowly.

As I read the book, I found myself conflicted over memories of my first time reading the story. Weren’t there more instances of ghostly manifestations? Didn’t the hotel seem far more sinister before? And wasn’t there more to do with the hotel’s history?

I found these things to be strangely absent during my third reading, and over the course of the novel I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading an earlier draft. Had someone at the publishing house screwed up and formatted the wrong draft for Kindle? Not impossible, but unlikely (even if the book is full of adverbs—something King himself railed against in On Writing).

I understand that King was building the atmosphere and dread while exploring his characters’ motivations. I get that, and it works to a degree, but I feel like it wasn’t enough. The tragedy of Jack’s alcoholism and how it’s slowly tearing his family apart despite his desire to overcome the affliction is the real centerpiece to the story, a tool used by King to create empathy so when shit hits the fan, the reader is supposed to feel their horror and helplessness. That’s how the scares are supposed to work—and they do.

But by the time the book finally took off in the last hundred pages or so (from the moment when the hotel begins coming to life around them, streamers and balloons in the elevator, voices in the hallways, etc.), I felt as though the payoff wasn’t worth the build-up. By the end I was left wondering why there weren’t more “creepy lady in the tub” moments. That was an excellent way to finish off a section of the book. Why didn’t we see more of her? Or more like her? Sure, we get the topiary and we get the ballroom and we get Grady, the old caretaker, but we never get any more real “set pieces” like that lady in the tub.

For most readers, these things would probably be enough. Please don’t misunderstand me: The Shining is definitely not a bad book. Not by any stretch. First-time readers will probably find it just as scary as I did the first two times I read it.

So why did all of these issues crop up on my third outing?

After some time to reflect, I think it has to do with oversaturation. The Shining paved the way for a lot of horror tropes; just as Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House was the foundation for the classic “haunted house” story, I believe The Shining took that formula and turned it up to eleven—in 1977.

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Then came Kubrick’s vision of the story—in 1980.

And then we got King’s own faithful mini-series adaptation—in 1997.

My point here is that people have been following its path for over thirty years. It’s become a part of our pop culture, often referenced any time King’s name shows up in the media. It’s the go-to material when someone wants to parody King’s work (Remember that Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons?). We’ve seen the Overlook hotel a hundred times. We’ve lived there, we’ve walked its haunted halls, and we’ve been chased by its ghosts ad nauseam.

Obviously I’m referring to the book’s legacy. The influence this story had on horror is daunting, propelling the genre into the collective mainstream consciousness. The bar of what to expect out of a horror novel rose with this book, and it gave aspiring horror writers something to strive for in their own work. Who wouldn’t want to write the next Shining? Who wouldn’t want to be “the next Stephen King?”

And there’s the root of my problem, I think. I’ve been exposed to this same sort of story countless times over the last twenty years. Hell, I’ve even written stories that follow the same formula. Everyone knows how the story goes now, and in this respect, I think the book’s legacy is a victim of its own success.

In other words, I think I didn’t enjoy it as much this time around because I’ve been beaten over the head with it for years. I think looked for things in the story that weren’t there because the genre has matured over the decades. Writers have expanded upon the book’s legacy, following the same tropes while inventing new ones, until we’ve arrived at a place where the old tropes (and even some of the new ones) seem like old hat.

Where do we go from here? Well, there’s a reason I re-read The Shining: Doctor Sleep will be released later this month. King has promised a return to “balls to the wall horror,” and I personally can’t wait to see what that looks like. The prospect of a man who made horror mainstream returning to his roots is something I find exciting. Given his recent renaissance of sorts with Under The Dome, 11/22/63, and Joyland, I’m hopeful that he won’t let us down.

So there you have it, friends. That’s why I didn’t like The Shining on our third date. Greet me with your cries of hate.

TK

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About Matt Molgaard (1070 Articles)
Writer for Dread Central, Best Horror Movies and Starburst Magazine. Owner, operator and contributor of Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies. Obviously, hooked on all things horror, for a great number of years now!

16 Comments on Author Todd Keisling Rips Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’?!

  1. I certainly know what you mean. I only read it for the first time a few months ago for precisely the same reason you were re-reading it. I can’t wait to read Doctor Sleep. I probably liked it a lot more than you simply because it was the first reading for me, but even so, it wasn’t a roller-coaster ride by any stretch. I did enjoy it, but it wouldn’t be my favourite horror novel either, not by a very long shot.

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  2. Okay…no pitchforks coming from here …But I don’t think your issue is actually with The Shining but rather with the fact that over thirty years ago or so it reigned supreme and exposed readers to a new place to journey through. And that we have …time and time again…as you yourself mentioned. OVER EXPOSURE to stories that run along side and may even go beyond that first fascinating tale. The book hasn’t changed it was and is still a very good story, what has changed is the readers expectations. We have matured (hopefully) and find ourselves perhaps more critical about what we are reading. I believe a first time reader will still find the horror in this book worthy of calling it a very good story…someone who hasn’t read books such as you have mentioned above. A good book remains a good book ….it is us who does the changing. I like The Shining ,while not my favorite King tale ,I feel it withstands the test of time….just me …the old hippie…vitina

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  3. Shane , How much reading of other horror stories that run along this line have you done ? If this is something you like to read regularly do you think maybe you have come to expect more from your authors ? I know I have become more critical with time that is what happens ,especially if we read a lot. Just curious if you agree with any of the points I tried to make in my last comment …vitina

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  4. I’ve been very lacks in my horror novel reading over the years and decided to attempt to put that right this year. I just finished reading a novel called ‘The Safety of Unknown Cities’ by Lucy Taylor which has to be the single most horrific(and sordid) novel I’ve ever read, and I’ve been reading some Edward Lee(The Bighead) and Jack Ketchum(Off Season) recently too, so it may be that things were a little more on the subtle side of horror all those decades ago and that The Shining, as good as it is, simply can’t be compared to what seems to be becoming the norm in horror fiction these days.

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  5. Out of interest, I just looked up my review(such as it is) of The Shining on goodreads,

    ‘I read this because of the sequel that’s due out later this year. Very much the same as the film except the ending which I won’t tell you about, you’ll just have to go read the book, it’s actually entirely different and a much more satisfying ending in my view.

    The slow creep of madness and ratcheting up of desperation and terror is felt much more deeply over the course of the novel than the film I thought. I really enjoyed this.

    Excellent stuff. Can’t wait for Doctor Sleep.’

    The slow creep and build up of terror certainly seems to have worked big time for me anyway.

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  6. Thanks for sharing this, I found this an interesting read as someone who is fairly unfamiliar with the horror novel landscape and “The Shining’s” impact on literature.

    One thing I will say that has always bothered me is King’s distaste for Kubrick’s version. I guess its an ego thing, and its fine for King to not enjoy the film, but he’s always seem to be unwilling to at least agree that its well-crafted, despite the fact that it takes great liberties with the source material.

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  7. I have read The Shining as well as watched the movie…and of course I also enjoyed the book over the movie. There is a big problem with the movie alone because of the actors chosen to play the characters …Shelly Duvall was almost intolerable as the wife with her whiny performance and Jack Nicholson did not need to act to bring the build up needed for the tension….a less known actor would have been ideal because we as the viewers knew we did not need worry about the performance presented by Jack . Just my opinion about that, while I enjoy Nicholson and his body of work ,I stand by the belief he was not needed for the movie..I did enjoy and still do The Shining and am looking forward to what Doctor Sleep has in store for me. ….Vitina

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  8. I. Clayton Reynolds // September 7, 2013 at 12:51 am // Reply

    OH SNAP!!

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  9. my honest thoughts, Todd – time and life experience has likely swayed things for you. I’ve experienced it myself with a few different novels, and my change of heart often feels as though it’s simply who I’ve become today versus who I was yesteryear, Either that or you’re a damn lunatic… which is quite possible. :)

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    • toddkeisling // September 8, 2013 at 4:12 pm // Reply

      You and I are going to have to chat about sensationalized headlines and why they’re bad for journalism. :-p

      I look at this situation in the same light as Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I read that when I was a teenager and loved it. Couldn’t put it down, read it a couple of times, and identified with its troubled protagonist. Then I tried to read it in my late-twenties and found its protagonist to be incredibly annoying. And then I realized that 28-year-old me probably wouldn’t stand 17-year-old me.

      So yeah, maybe time and experience have led me down a different path. Or maybe I’m just a lunatic. I must be for writing an article like this and sharing my opinion. :-|

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  10. Awful. You should be strung up by your sack! The Shining is one of my favorite novels ever. Period. What you consider slow, I consider an amazing talents way of drawing you in at his own pace (something that only great talent can do).
    As for Cell…while not his best, is still a lot better than a lot of the newer writers out there.
    I’m sure Doc Sleep will be an adventure, but if I were you, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. You’ll probably just end up taking some more wild and ridiculous shots at the master. Nice way to try to stand out.
    -Mr.Grumpy ;)

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    • Dearest Mr. Grumpy,

      Wow! Sorry to have pissed in your Cheerios, man. This wasn’t an attempt to stand out and it certainly wasn’t a “shot at the master.” I’m sorry you read it that way. If it’s the title that soured your opinion, well, turn to Mr. Molgaard for that one. (See what you’ve done, Matt?)

      Look, I’ve nothing but respect and admiration for Stephen King and what he’s done for horror. I simply didn’t enjoy the book on my third outing and tried to examine why. The Shining isn’t a bad book at all. I just happen to think it’s just old and traveled. I want to see something new, and I hope we’ll get it with Doctor Sleep.

      With nothing but love and respect,

      Mr. Benevolent :-)

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  11. Glenn, Mr Grumpy ? hahaha…Matt, the possibility of lunacy is one choice…I pretty much agree with when we mature we often find differences in what we have come to expect from ourselves as well as our reading material…just me…vitina the old hippie

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  12. Mr. B,
    Glad you didn’t take my grouch-filled response to heart. We can agree to disagree on the brilliance of The Shining. As for reading after we mature…since getting married, and having three amazing children, I find me connected, more invested in novels like The Shining. My father was an alcoholic, so I have some insight on Jack Torrance. I never read any books as a teenager, so I don’t have that perspective of ‘when I was a kid, I thought this was amazing’ thing, but I reckon I’ve had similar experiences with movies.
    I’m sure Matt loves to see these kind of fired up back and forth’s. Great job, Matt!
    Mr. B.
    I hope you’ll at least pay for a new bowl of Cheerios. ;)
    Cheers,
    -Mr. Grumpy

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  13. That was supposed to read, “I find myself more connected, more invested…” :)

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  14. Although I’ve always loved King’s work, I have to admit I’ve always thought the Shining was overrated. I read it back in the early 90’s as a teen and was bored to tears by it up until the last 100 pages or so. I’ve had no desire to revisit it and am glad to see I’m not the only person to find it a bit meh. The only other two books I found duller by King were Gerald’s Game and (I’m gonna be crucified for this one) Cujo.

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