Here’s a look at the real-life inspiration that prodded Stephen King to pen his best novel ever, The Shining, on the 30th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film version of the story.
Built in 1909 by the high-rolling F. O. Stanley, co-inventor (with his twin brother, F. E.) of a steam-powered car known as the Stanley Steamer, the Stanley sits in lucid splendor, in Georgian incongruity, on the eastern rise of the Colorado Rockies. The hotel is welcoming and comfortable; the mountain air is thrilling. King stayed at the Stanley in 1974, the night before it shut down for the winter, and his muse was tickled. Old World fixtures and furnishings; a vibe of vanished gaiety, of cigar-chewing autocrats and good-time gals, parties and their orchestras, all sliding down into darkness, like the Titanic … And then the hauntings, for which the Stanley was already famous: paranormal poppings-in by domestics and scampering children, and also by the scandalous Lord Dunraven, who likes to goose ladies in the closet of Room 401.
In the hands of Stanley Kubrick, The Shining became the finest film adaptation of any of King’s works. I don’t care what King says; Kubrick drilled down to the dark essence of the characters and created something that, when tried by lesser filmmakers, doesn’t always work – an almost personal riff on someone else’s creation – but which in this case worked fantastically. I was a huge fan of the book (I first read it when I was 14) when Kubrick’s film was released in 1980, and I hated the movie. Thirteen years later I rented the video to give Kubrick another chance, and I discovered what a masterpiece it is. (The less said about the King-scripted TV remake, the better.)
How powerful is King’s book? A few years ago I was re-reading The Shining for the umpteenth time during my lunch break. I was on the Plaza in Kansas City at the Penguin Court on a brilliant, sunny spring day. People were enjoying their lunch, shoppers were strolling happily about, and children ran around the bronze penguin sculptures that give the court its name. In the book, little Danny Torrance, all by himself in the Overlook’s playground, crawls into those concrete rings buried in the snow. The snow falls in, blocking the open ends. And Danny realizes…there’s something in the rings with him!
A beautiful, sunny spring day, and my skin crawled right up my body with a shiver. I’d read that scene many times, but god, how well it still worked! If I ever write anything that brings a reader an emotional response half that enduring, I’ll be happy. The Shining is only one of two books that contained a moment which, when I first read it, made me almost literally crawl up the wall behind me with fear (the other was The Silence of the Lambs). I can’t tell you which scene it was; you’ll just have to find out for yourself. But it took place in room 217.
Kubrick’s film is a different animal and is great in different ways. In a book about Kubrick, I once read an excellent analysis that convincingly proposed Kubrick’s The Shining as a literal anti-thesis of his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a remarkable discussion of how the use of mirrors and mirror-images in The Shining (think of that lake in the opening shot, or what you see reflected in the mirrors along the hallway outside the ballroom) differentiates between the worlds of Jack Torrance’s sanity and insanity. The story of The Shining has become so well-known that I would love to see, like Shakespeare, many different directors tackle the material and give us their personal take on it. King needn’t fear, for his original novel will always retain its terrifying brilliance.
"A Killer Vacation" (The Atlantic)