The Shining Essay - Critical Evaluation

Stephen King

Critical Evaluation

Stephen King’s The Shining fits neatly in the tradition of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and Richard Matheson’s Hell House (1971): In all three novels, psychically sensitive individuals are placed in malefic houses with histories of horrors. King’s novel is at once a haunted-house story, a ghost story, and a psychological horror story. It is also a rich study of the effects of alcoholism, rage, and child abuse, for the Torrances bring a history of family dysfunction with them to the Overlook. The novel could almost have been written without the supernatural elements; indeed, the reality of much of these elements is left to the characters’ (and the readers’) imaginations.

The Shining is generally considered by critics and King enthusiasts to be one of his best novels, along with Carrie (1974), ’Salem’s Lot (1975), and The Stand (1978). This recognition is ironic given that his early work was dismissed by critics and scholars when it was published; only in late mid-life did King gain literary acknowledgment (for example, he was invited to edit an edition of the annual publication Best American Short Stories). The novel has remained enduringly popular in part because of its strong characterization. While children with Danny’s “shining” abilities are not exactly common, Wendy and Jack are solid, three-dimensional characters to whom readers can relate and with whom they can empathize. Thus, the terror that engulfs readers as the plot develops is a terror on behalf of the novel’s characters.

King based Jack Torrance’s alcoholic character on his own firsthand experiences. In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), King reveals his own battles with alcoholism and other addictions, explaining that, in depicting Jack the alcoholic writer, he was writing about himself without realizing it. That is not to say that King depended on personal experience for his authorial voice, for the characters of Wendy, Danny, and Hallorann are just as well realized as Jack—and as characters in novels written during King’s time of sobriety.

Emphasizing the character-driven nature of the novel should not...

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