Revisiting My Old Friend, The Stephen King Novel

“If you can find me, come and get me out of here.” Oingo Boingo, Private Life

From the age of 12 till about 23, Stephen King was my favorite author. During that time, I read nearly every one of his novels and short stories and his plot driven approach to story telling still informs what I like to read today. 

Over the last 15 years, though, I’ve been much more selective with what I’ve read from him. It probably began with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon—a novella I just couldn’t work my way through. The Dark Tower Novels, Duma Key, and interesting experiments like The Colorado Kid and American Vampire, sure, but, for the most part, I’ve passed. Much of his most recent work just didn’t appeal for whatever reason. Even stories I finished and enjoyed hadn’t filled me with that hunger for me that a much younger me felt upon completion. Only Walter Mosley’s work and the occasional exceptional YA series seem to do that for me these days.

Until now. My third reading of The Shining followed by his latest, Doctor Sleep, has me hungry for more.

I first visited The Overlook Hotel when I was 13 or 14 and returned again in my early twenties. I don’t think I really understood the story either time. What I remembered as I began reading again a couple months ago were a few lingering ideas: Danny Torrance seemed awfully smart for a 4/5 year old; Jack Torrance was scary as hell; and, the hotel exploding. 

This time, I still thought Danny was a little too smart but I found many more things that captured my attention that I think I blitzed past previously: the history of the hotel; the hotel as character; how badass Wendy gets when the shit hits the fan.

This poster is way better than the film.This poster is way better than the film.

This poster is way better than the film.

Given these new revelations, I completely get why Stephen King dislikes Kubrick’s film version. He’s right, the movie adaptation of The Shining is terrible. I didn’t get that when I was kid but it really is. Nearly everything that is wonderful and dreadful and terrifying in the book is lost in the film as Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance goes from asshole to evil in a few short steps without any context to who he is and how he got to this point. Dick Hallorann gets incredibly short-changed in the film. And, worst of all, the hotel loses it’s role as the true evil and a character unto itself. In watching the movie for the first time in decades, I was annoyed from the opening moments till the end.

Doctor Sleep felt like a necessary corrective after consuming that dreck Halloween week. It answers the question of what happened to Danny Torrance after that terrible winter in the late seventies and it’s wonderfully scary and modern and mythological and hopeful. There are long sections of terror and awfulness and fleeting moments of dread but you always feel hope and redemption around the edges. And you’re rewarded. It’s a tale of complicated humans and scary monsters and it felt both like the stories I remember from my youth and exactly the kind of thing I want to read now.

I didn’t immediately jump to 11/22/63—a novel that seems perfect for right now, 50 years after that terrible day—as it’s finally time to read Mockingjay (I told you about those infectious YA series). But it’s next. It’s nice to revisit old friends and find you still like them very much.

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