Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 527

The Shining is considered by many critics and readers to be one of King’s best works. The characters are interesting and well rounded, especially Jack, an essentially decent man battling not only supernatural forces but also inner demons of alcoholism, resentment, and rage. Although Jack becomes dangerous and terrifying, he remains a real, three-dimensional character, capable of love and sacrifice as well as brutality; thus he is a stronger character than some of the menacing male figures in King’s later works, such as Joe St. George in Dolores Claiborne (1992), who is essentially a one-dimensional villain. The narrative moves at a steady pace, not rushed and not excessively drawn out. Many of King’s later novels, such as Insomnia (1994), suffered from literary excess.

King conceived The Shining as a contemporary version of classical tragedy. The novel contains all the traditional tragic elements: a restricted setting, a small cast of characters, a protagonist with a fatal flaw, and an unrelenting sense of impending doom. Ironically, King strays from the classic tragic format in providing a less horrific ending for his work than did such writers as Sophocles and William Shakespeare for theirs. Plays such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606) and Hamlet (c. 1600-1601) end with most of the major characters dead, but everyone except Jack survives The Shining’s climactic disaster. Although Wendy, Danny, and Hallorann are physically and emotionally scarred by their experience, the novel’s optimistic epilogue suggests that they will recover from the nightmare of the Overlook. This restoration of order following horrific chaos is another hallmark of classic tragedy.

The Shining is not King’s only work concerned with ghosts and hauntings. Christine (1983) echoes The Shining with a tale of a haunted automobile that gradually possesses its owner. “Sometimes They Come Back,” published in Night Shift (1978), features a teacher tormented by the ghosts of three violent teenagers from his past. “The Reach,” published in Skeleton Crew (1985), presents a more idyllic vision of the afterlife—loving ghosts coming to escort an elderly, dying woman from this world to the next.

King deals with extrasensory powers in a number of works. In The Dead Zone (1979), Johnny Smith has precognitive abilities similar to those of Danny Torrance, but in his case the fate of the entire world, not only one family, rests with his decisions. Firestarter (1980) focuses on a young girl who can create fire with the force of her mind. Perhaps most famously, King’s breakthrough novel, Carrie (1974), shows an adolescent girl using telekinetic powers to avenge herself on the high school students who torment her. Extrasensory powers appear as secondary plot elements in many other King works, including The Stand (1978; with text restored, 1990), Gerald’s Game (1992), and Dolores Claiborne.

Stanley Kubrick directed a motion picture version of The Shining in 1980. Many critics, including King, consider the film to be interesting in its own right but less than successful as an adaptation of the novel. That one of the best films adapted from King’s fiction should meet such resistance from critics and fans attests to the popularity and power of the source novel, a highlight of King’s career and a classic of horror fantasy.

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Critical Context