I was always fond of the phrase, “the book is always better than the movie.” Then Stephen King wrote The Shining, and Stanley Kubrick made a film by the same name.
Let’s compare and contrast the book and film, shall we?
Book: The Shining
Movie: The Shining
Book: Overlook Hotel in Colorado
Movie: Overlook Hotel in Colorado
Book: a wasp’s nest
Movie: a maze
Book: (literal) Ghosts of hotel seduce father to kill mother and child; (figurative) hive mentality vs bourgeois individualism; addiction vs sobriety.
Movie: (literal) Ghosts of hotel seduce father to kill mother and child; (figurative) White settler colonialism vs. everyone else; industrial capitalism vs. nature; the leisure class vs. the working class; patriarchy vs. women and children.
Book: Jack’s drinking.
Movie: Danny’s ability to ‘shine’.
Jack’s Principle Weapon
Book: a mallet from the lawn game of roque.
Movie: an axe for clearing forests.
The Supernatural vs. Science Cliche
Book: Stock characters are present everywhere in the King universe to support a main conceit indulged by seemingly all purveyors of supernatural horror, and therefore common to all of it: science and rationality are ill equipped to apprehend and control the spirit world. To believe otherwise is folly and brings disaster. This is why a doctor, a cop, a lawyer, a scientist or a government agent always appear in such narratives as well intended, but naive and ineffective, allies to the main character(s). There are many in the book.
Movie: one scene involving a child psychologist establishes Danny’s gift will be misunderstood as pathology.
Supernatural anthropomorphic manifestations
Book: Topiary animals. A firehose. A boiler. A lamp (just kidding).
Movie: None. Only ghosts.
Bullshit Pop Culture Reference Worked Into The Narrative As Though It Was A Postcard Tacked Onto A Refrigerator
Book: Creedence Clearwater’s “Bad Moon Rising” lyrics portend a coming snowstorm?
Movie: none. Kubrick is meticulous and reviles pop culture.
Bullshit Literary Reference Worked Into The Narrative As Though It Was A Postcard Tacked Onto A Refrigerator
Book: Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death.
Movie: none. Unless you count the maze, in which case it is effectively worked in and therefore not bullshit.
Book: Caribou in Colorado. (elk yes, but not caribou).
Jack’s Choice of Liquor
Book: Gin Martini.
Movie: Bourbon, of course.
Book: Underwood–Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Kerouac.
Source of Evil
Book: Bad people who did illegal and immoral things in the hotel, then got trapped there in the afterlife.
Movie: The hotel itself–a monument to the parasitical leisure class that demands everyone become a ‘Jeeves’ to serve them. The worst fucking place on the planet where the spoils of exploitation and war coagulate in shimmering infinity pools of conspicuous consumption. Our hell, their heaven.
Metaphor Used By Dick To Explain the Presence of Ghosts
Book: “Fingernail clippings and boogers” which does not work as a metaphor as both reference the entirely quotidian and therefore not frightening sloughing off that every human being experiences.
Movie: Dick says, “Burnt toast”–the perfect metaphor to represent traces a ghost leaves behind. Burnt, as in something went wrong with the cooking of the toast such that an unpleasant smell would linger. Ghosts are emotional remnants made material in our world because of unfinished business of a nefarious nature.
What Jack Means When He Says, “White man’s burden, Lloyd, my man. White man’s burden.”
Book: The civilizing mission of paint by numbers genre fiction is a heavy burden.
Movie: what a suckup asshole says to impress his bosses.
What the Ghosts Represent
Book: All the ghosts are evil; all desire to continue their evil deeds–marital infidelity, gangsterism, murder, as a manifestation of their “single group intelligence”. The source of this evil is not institutional, structural, historical, political or otherwise outside of the individual. It is located within us, in our denial of the possessive individualism at the heart of the bourgeois family.
Movie: The source of evil is the hotel itself, which cannot be separated from its history, in part erected on the bones of indigenous peoples. It is rabidly racist and demands absolute servility on the part of inferiors, most pointedly workers and their families.
Racist, Homophobic, Classist or Misogynist Scenes That Contribute To Plot Or Character Development.
Movie: Grady calls Dick Hallorran a “nigger” in the all important restroom scene. Elsewhere Jack says, “just a little problem with the old sperm bank upstairs. Nothing I can’t handle, though.” That’s about it. Sparing, short and devastating. But Kubrick doesn’t wallow in it as King does–as a teenager expressing unfiltered repressed emotions.
Gratuitous Racist, Homophobic, Classist or Misogynist Scenes That Don’t Contribute To Plot Or Character Development.
Book: an endless parade of cringe worthy and vicarious bigotries apparently pleasurable for some people to read. Emblematic is where King has a young Dick Hallorran fire a “Nigger Chaser” firework (bottle rocket) at a wasps nest. This makes no sense even on its own terms.
Book: Serve different masters. In Wendy’s case, following escape from the Overlook Hotel, this is made possible by the generosity of Jack’s former alcoholic buddy, Al, who can be distinguished by two things: he’s rich and with his connections can get Wendy a job, and he’s emotionally stable, having defeated the demon of alcoholism. Oh, and he’s part owner of the hotel?! This makes perfect sense if the idea of the hotel is not what the problem is, just its mismanagement. This satisfying ending is a continuation of the real horror unaddressed by the novel.
Movie: Dick is killed by Jack. Wendy and Danny escape by snowcat. Jack then freezes to death in the maze.
Symbol of Eternal Horror
Book: something about August 1945 and “group intelligence”. Almost completely unintelligible, as though King finally, mercifully, tired of typing.
Movie: Jack is immortalized in a framed group photo of rich, white revelers at an eternal Fourth of July celebration, circa 1921.
All of this flaunts two unavoidable truths about the world we live in: first, that the true source of horror in the world is capitalism, a system of private property and markets that is eminently rational in organization, yet bat shit crazy in its unrelenting imposition of the inequality and suffering that are the unavoidable hallmarks of its rule; and, secondly, the only way out of this maze-like house of mirrors horror show is collective struggle and a socialist future. Everything else is a part of that horror show.
Kubrick, brilliant nihilist that he was, ably deconstructed the hypocrisy and hubris at the heart of the capitalist narrative. He acknowledged that horror and identified its sources, but without any exit strategy, (as a nihilist he didn’t believe such a thing could ever exist) he succumbs to the traditional failure of nihilism: cynicism and its doppelgänger, fatalism.
Kubrick is still preferable to King, who misidentifies the true source of horror in the world we live in, then prescribes more of it as a way to escape it.