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(Old-Timey) Pop Culture: Stephen King’s The Shining April 9, 2009

Posted by Onely in book review, film review, Pop Culture: Scourge of the Onelys, Reviews, We like. . ..
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mv5bmtuzmta5otcwm15bml5banbnxkftztywndexmdq5_v1_cr00281281_ss90_My sister and I recently ghost-toured The Stanley Hotel. The building inspired Stephen King‘s The Shining, his classic novel about a classic nuclear family–father, mother, and psychic son–who move to an isolated hotel in the mountains of Colorado to care for it during the snowed-in winter.  After our tour, Caroline and I watched the The Shining miniseries, for the thrill of seeing good-looking actor types walk around the same places we commoners had just tread.

While watching, I got to thinking about whether the story is King’s commentary (conscious or not) on the Western world’s  view of couplehood (and, by extension, the nuclear family) as the core unit of society, around which our lives should preferably be built. I’m interested to know what our Copious Readership thinks the plot “means”. Here’s what happens when our three fresh-faced heroes (Jack, Wendy, and little Danny) arrive at the hotel in October:

1) The cook and summer maintenance man give them a startlingly brief tour of the giant hotel. The cook, who is psychic like Danny, warns Danny that the hotel is haunted. The staff leave and the family is alone.

2) Jack, a writer and recovering alchoholic, is excited to spend the winter snowed in with no distractions from his writing, except for his caretaker maintenance duties. And his family.

3) As time passes, Jack becomes more and more irritable with Wendy and Danny, easily upset when they interrupt his work. A bad energy in the hotel is gradually taking over his mind, trying to make him kill Wendy and Danny–just as a previous caretaker killed his own family during one long, isolated winter.

4) After weeks of being snowed in with Wendy and Danny, Jack finally succumbs to the evil that has colonized his mind.

5) However, although he chases his wife and son around the hotel with murderous intent, they (if you need a spoiler alert on a thirty-year-old story, that’s a problem) both escape, and Jack dies.

So I kept wondering, is this a pro-Onely plot or an anti-Onely plot, or even better, a plot that can go either way?

Is the story about the dangers of relying too much on the (evolutionarily, culturally, and historically) contrived construct of the couple-plus-kids normative? That it’s too restrictive and smothering and inherently needs outside influences to sustain it?

Or is the story vilifying Jack for wanting the (impossible) freedom to work on his writing and not be disturbed by his son’s toy soldiers and his wife’s comments about lunch or the weather?

Or what?



1. Singlutionary - April 10, 2009

Christina, you are so nerdilicious! I love the way your mind works.

I think this ties in well with your post about insignificant others and people wanting to find a mate JUST cause they want kids.

My take is this: The nuclear family (which is worshiped in our culture) is not enough, in and of itself, to support stability, sanity and all around mental and physical health. The nuclear family as an ideal separate unit is a bogus concept. We all depend on relationships and connections outside our spouse and/or child for social and emotional sanity. Basically, we need a larger world and the nuclear family in isolation is a totally wacked concept. But its still one we idealize: “Wouldn’t it be nice to go live in the woods, just us.” We think that getting away from society and community will solve all our problems.

Well, I don’t think that but it seems like a lot of people do.

Even people in couples need relationships outside of coupledom. Oh gasp. What did I just say? Blasphemy. Love/Romance is EVERYTHING. How could anyone want anything more than being snowed in with dear husband/wife and their precious prodigy.

onely - April 12, 2009

Well put, Singlutionary. (Also, I just got business cards made. I did not know the word “nerdilicious” at the time, but if I had, I would have put it on my cards. Or maybe not. But I would have considered it.) I think that there’s also a common trope of “couple stranded on desert island” which is a similar concept. King just made the desert island snowy and showed us what happens after those first few rolls in the sand get old.

2. professor what if - April 12, 2009

I read the book and saw the movie ages ago, but I agree that there is a definite negative representation of marriage/family. I can’t recall a lot of positive female representations in King’s work. In fact, women are often HORRIBLE – as in Misery and Dolores Claiborne. Yet, in DC, it is husband’s/men that drive women to their horribleness. In The Shining, the wife and son seem to thwart Jack and drive him mad. Hmmm, so much to think about. Can I suggest a Onley book analyzing King’s representations of coupledom/family/gender?

onely - April 12, 2009

Hmmm, it definitely might make an interesting essay or post. In fact, just the other weekend I read a collection of short stories by Joe Hill, King’s son–a brilliant writer with a great imagination, whose finely-hewn stories ALSO have many moments where the protagonist (always male in my recollection) witnesses acts of horribleness against women. The incidents are usually integral to the plot, but still, I did notice a pattern that made me ucomfortable. I’m going to reserve judgement and see if HIll comes out with some more stories and perhaps branches into female protagonists. I really don’t want him to be a sexist sadist, because his stories are astounding in many ways.


3. Singlutionary - April 12, 2009

Onely should totally write a book! I think its destined!

onely - April 12, 2009

Thanks for your faith, Singlutionary. Maybe it should be a horror novel about Singlism? = )

4. singleshot1 - April 19, 2009

Love your observations re the wife character being limited to perky comments on meals and weather and Professor’s observations re Stephen King’s stock female characters. What IS it about fully-realized women that scares the guy so much? The only powerful/likable female character I can think of is the little girl in Firestarter. Although his later books might have more oomph; I admit, I stopped reading him 250 pages into The Tommyknockers. Got sick of all the senseless grue.

As for King’s commentary on coupledom – to me, the story’s much more about alcoholism and the relationship between Jack and his bottle (which I suppose represents the other woman here). Love your insights, though. And REALLY love the fact you and your sis did a ghost tour of The Stanley Hotel. Single girl adventures rock!

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