© 1977 Stephen King
A recovering alcoholic and recently fired schoolteacher has taken a short-term gig as the winter caretaker of a luxury hotel nestled in the Colorado mountains. The hotel is forced to close for the season every fall because of unpassable roads and frequent blizzards, but someone is needed to ensure that the howling winds don’t compromised the building and expose it to the elements. But the real danger of the Overlook Hotel isn’t outside…it’s inside. It is a building with a dark past, with a history of murders and suicides — and even from outside it strikes its three new residents as ominous. Jack, the caretaker, his wife Wendy, and their son Danny are in for a long, harrowing winter. Whatever lurks in the hotel is awakened and strengthed by the presence of the family, and especially by the son Danny who has some ability to read thoughts and receive impressions about the future.
Imagine a haunted house that can’t be escaped from, a house where the haunts are not transparent figures rattling dishes and moaning, but rather persistent voices in your head driving you to madness, and frightening images invading your mind — images of the past, howling laughter and screams, blood and bodies from long-disappeared crime scenes suddenly seeming as if they’ve just happened. When the story begins, Jack and Wendy are optimistic: this will be a way to get back on their feet financially, an easy source of income, and a quiet space for Jack to finish working on his play and continuing his recovery from alcoholism. They can mend the fences in their relationship, and give their troubled boy the attention he needs. But as the winter progresses, both Jack and his son come under increasing mental and emotional stress, one of them losing his mind completely. The long descent into madness ends in horror, bloodshed, and desperate flights from mortal threats both physical and fantastic.
The Shining is an excellent story of creeping terror, allowing readers to experience the unraveling of sanity from multiple perspectives, at least until one character is completely possessed by the hotel and becomes another malignant force. What makes this effective is that the horror is not overt — no ghosts, no wailing. It’s a smothering feeling, a corner turned to see something that shouldn’t be there — like fresh blood from an decades-old crime scene, the shadow of a body in a tub that should not be there. As unsettling things accumulate, the characters are still going through mundane activities — exploring the past of the hotel, working on a play, putting up shingles — until there’s an over-the-edge point and it descends into a more outright thriller.