The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Shining was Stephen King’s third pub-lished novel, written as his rise to fame as a horror writer was beginning. The story centers on Jack Torrance, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic with a history of violence. Jack obtains a job as winter caretaker of the magnificent Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains, hoping that the solitude will help him finish the play he is writing. The manager tells Jack about a former caretaker who went insane, murdered his family, and committed suicide. Later, in Boulder, Jack’s five-year-old son Danny has psychic visions of a bloody hand, a menacing figure swinging a mallet, and the word REDRUM.

Jack arrives on closing day at the Overlook, bringing with him his wife, Wendy, and Danny. The hotel’s cook, Dick Hallorann, who has powers similar to Danny’s but weaker, makes psychic contact with the boy. They discuss the power Hallorann calls “the shining,” the ability to read people’s thoughts, send thoughts to others, and see visions of past and future events. Hallorann warns Danny that the Overlook might be a dangerous place for someone with his abilities and tells Danny to call him psychically if he ever needs help.

Hallorann’s fears are soon justified as the hotel begins to exert a malevolent influence over the family. Danny is stung by wasps that spontaneously appear in a nest Jack had poisoned earlier. Jack grows obsessed with the Overlook’s history of violence, which...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

King's basic plotting technique in The Shining is similar to that found in many of his novels: A long, leisurely buildup is used to...

(The entire section is 232 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Shining ranks with 'Salem's Lot, The Stand, and The Dead Zone as the best novels by Stephen King. Remarkably, these...

(The entire section is 370 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Shining, Stephen King's third published novel, avoids the sweeping social concerns manifest in such apocalyptic visions as The...

(The entire section is 185 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

What is generally considered to be the first gothic novel, Horace Walpole's The Caste of Otranto (1764), features at its heart a...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

King has created one other memorable haunted structure — the Marsten House in 'Salem's Lot — and utilizes this convention as a...

(The entire section is 216 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

King's novels and short stories have formed the basis for a large number of film adaptations and have attracted the attention of such...

(The entire section is 247 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Beahm, George. Stephen King: America’s Best-Loved Bogeyman. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews and McMeel, 1998. Beahm provides an intriguing glimpse into Stephen King’s life as a celebrity and publishing phenomenon. An excellent resource that helps readers gain deeper insight into King’s works.

Bloom, Harold. Stephen King. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1998. A collection of critical essays that address various aspects of King’s work. Useful for gaining a comprehensive overview of King’s canon.

Hohne, Karen A. “The Power of the Spoken Word in the Works of Stephen King.” Journal of Popular Culture 28 (Fall, 1994): 93-103. A defense of King’s work against the “snobbery of scholars who look down upon the rustic tradition of popular language.” Hohne gives a solid overview of King’s work and calls for academia to recognize “its potential to mobilize mass support.”

Magistrale, Tony. The Dark Descent: Essays Defining Stephen King’s Horrorscape. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992. A collection of essays that explore King’s works in depth. Includes “Complex, Archetype, and Primal Fear: King’s Use of Fairy Tales in The Shining,” by Ronald T. Curran. Also features a helpful bibliography for further reading.

Russell, Sharon. Stephen King: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Offers a brief biography of King, as well as an overall view of his fiction. Entire chapters are devoted to each of his major novels, including one on The Shining. Discussion includes plot and character development, thematic issues, and a new critical approach to the novel.