Warning: Contains spoilers for Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, however, it is so iconic I’m sure you’ve watched it without even realising.
The creepy twins in the corridor asking to ‘play‘. Jack freezing to death in the garden. Danny’s talking finger. All well know images associated with ‘The Shining’, none of which happen in the book. Let’s be honest, the novel is barely the foundation of the film at all. Jack doesn’t even say “Here’s Johnny” and that is the most quoted line in association with Steven King’s story! His name isn’t even Johnny, am I the only one always confused by this? I guess “Here’s Jacky” doesn’t have the same ring. The similarities between the novel and the book are so few and far between that it makes them separate entirely. However, even if you take them as completely foreign to each other you should still not read ‘The Shining’ before you watch it and here is why.
The book is brilliant. Hands down as someone who has read a fair amount of King’s work including ‘IT‘ which many would consider his most impressive horror novel, ‘The Shining‘ beats it by a landslide. As someone who is too easily scared to watch horror but enjoys reading them ( right now I am in the middle of ‘Uzumaki’ by Junji Ito) I went into ‘The Shining’ expecting flailing axes, demon possessed kids and some kind of anthropomorphic hotel. However, once I began to read it I found it to surprisingly be a psychological horror. Any gore or violence only ever occurs when necessary at very poignant parts of the book.The protagonist is a ‘recovered’ alcoholic slowly driven mad, becoming bloodthirsty for his own wife and son, all set in an isolated hotel during a blizzard. His son can have premonitions, mind read and is actively spoken to by Tony, a character who never reveals himself but is far more sinister than Kubrick’s squeaky talking finger. The hotel’s size is very well conveyed in the film, the echoing corridors and identical rooms aligned overall creates a grandiose atmosphere. Despite the film getting this spot on it overlooks how the horror of the novel is the unknown. There are many times when Jack will see or hear something and we aren’t sure whether they exist or not. Is he drunk? There are many times when it is possible he is merely hallucinating but as we are only seeing from his point of view are never sure. The same can be said for Tony. What is Tony? Who is he and why can does Danny have’The Shining’? Did Tony lead Danny to the hotel room so he could meet Dick as they are both psychic? There are so many questions that run through your mind while reading the book that it keeps you on the edge of your seat. The truly scary aspect of the story is that it is incredibly domestic. There is a sense of realism that makes it seem plausible. An example being when Danny sees inanimate objects in the corridor and focuses on them to the point they turn into something else, for example, a telephone wire turning into a snake. It could simply be a child’s wild imagination. Nothing is played straight, truly the book could all be in Jack’s head. If you have read the book then you know the scene with the bees is a brilliant one when it comes to confusing the audience. This sort of paranoid is reminiscent of the psychological workings of “Black Swan” ( which is a perfect film about paranoid schizophrenia). Realism and surrealism meet, all we know for certain is that a definitive threat is Jack, whether possessed by the hotel or not. The film, however, plays the violence more directly, the ax, the blood coming out of the elevator doors, the dead twins. These are all aspects that make ‘The Shining’ into a horror film rather than a thriller.
Unknown to most King actually wrote a TV script for a mini series based on ‘The Shining’, which is a true adaptation of his novel. It did not go over well once released. Here is the fundamental difference between the novel and any life action version. ‘The Shining’ simply is not a book that should be made for the screen, whether big or small. It simply does not convey well. This is why you should watch ‘The Shining’ before you read it. The film practically gives away no spoilers when it comes to the book, it glosses over so much it is basically a blurb and not an accurate one.
This being said the film is also brilliant. Completely inaccurate but brilliant.If you are unfamiliar with both the book and the film then the film must come first not because it is better, rather because they are too opposing. If ‘The Shining’ film was renamed say ‘The Hotel’ then it would most likely be just as popular but would refrain from tainting the novel. If you read ‘The Shining’ before you watch it you will be constantly nitpicking. Wendy isn’t blonde, massive chunks of backstory for the family aren’t there, the ending is so far from the books you would believe the scriptwriters never finished it. It will irk you because you would have adored the book.This is how I felt when I finally sat down to watch Kubrick’s masterpiece after reading ‘The Shining’ and falling in love with it and I was so disappointed. Then I watched it again a few years later and truly appreciated the film for what it was away from its source material. It is amazingly well put together, funny, dark, scary and visually a treat. This distinction is necessary for you to enjoy them both equally and fairly. Seeing a book adaptation that doesn’t reflect the book is always upsetting. This is why you should marvel at the gorgeous directing of Kubrick’s film before getting to the meat of the story and devouring it whole. I promise you shall not be disappointed. As long as you follow this order of course, otherwise you definitely will be sorry. That’ll teach you [ insert ominous music].
Let me know below if you prefer the book of the film!
Side photo credit: Flickr/ ‘The Stanley Hotel – Estes Park’ by Robin Kanouse