I wanted to pick something sufficiently creepy for my last October Throwback Thursday post, and I landed on one of the creepiest books I’ve read: The Shining by Stephen King. Even though this book was published 40 years ago in 1977, it still feels like a bit of an odd topic because it still feels like a relevant and recent story because it has become so ingrained into American culture.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Stephen King is having a freaking moment right now in regards to film adaptations of his work, including It, Gerald’s Game, 1922, Mr. Mercedes, and more. What’s remarkable about The Shining is that it still holds a frightening power over readers decades after its initial publication. As I said, King’s third (yes, third) novel was published in 1977 and it was all the result of a random page of an atlas and one night in a creepy hotel.
After setting his first two novels, Carrie and Salem’s Lot, in Maine, King wanted to branch out a bit in regards to the setting. So, he sat down with an atlas, pointed to a random spot, and ended up with Boulder, Colorado. Like any good writer who does his research, King decided to visit Colorado, so he and his wife set off and booked a night at the Stanley Hotel. As timing would have it, it was the end of the season just before the hotel closed for the winter and King and his wife, Tabitha, were the only two guests in the entire hotel and they stayed in room 217 (if you’ve read the book, you’ll understand the significance). That night at dinner, they dined alone in the massive dining room while taped orchestral music was piped in. All around them, the chairs were up on the tables. As they ate, the book started to form in King’s mind. Years earlier, he’d read a story by Ray Bradbury called “The Veldt”, which had inspired him to write a story about dreams becoming real (which if you haven’t read, please do so immediately! Right here! It’s great for the Halloween season), and the story came back to him while he ate.
That night, when Tabitha went to bed, King couldn’t sleep so he wandered down to the hotel bar where he was served by a bartender named Grady (this Grady probably didn’t murder his wife and kids with an ax). Later still, when King finally went to bed, he had a dream about his three-year-old son, Joe, being chased down a hallway by a fire hose. King woke up in a cold sweat from the nightmare with the book fully formed in his mind, thus leading to the creation of one of the most enduringly scary books of all time.
This book has, of course, inspired the famous Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation as well as a TV miniseries adaptation, the latter of which more closely follows the book’s story line. The sequel, Doctor Sleep, was released in 2013 and follows Danny Torrence as an adult and an antagonistic group of psychic vampires (to be fair, I’m not sure psychic vampires are capable of being anything but antagonistic).
For some interesting behind the scenes information on The Shining and Doctor Sleep, I highly recommend reading Neil Gaiman’s interview of Stephen King for the UK’s Sunday Times. You can read it on Gaiman’s website here or in Gaiman’s book, The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction (currently on $6.99 for Kindle on Amazon). Even better, if you have The View from the Cheap Seats on audiobook, you can listen to Gaiman’s very entertaining impersonation of King’s American accent. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Happy Throwback Thursday!