POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE
I Must Start Here
By Nandy Ekle
Of course, I must do my first book review on The Shining, by Stephen King. I have said all kinds of things about this book from the first time I read it in the 70’s, all the way to where I am now, deep in the trenches of middle age. I have used this book as examples of good writing, good story telling, and good layering. I will once again say that, in my opinion, The Shining is Stephen King’s masterpiece.
Good Writing. This is actually a huge conundrum. If you pay attention to the mechanics and watch for all the rules of good writing, you will see that Mr. King violates every rule known to the written English language and story telling that there is to violate. But the truth is, you don’t notice any such thing because the tricks he plays on his readers in this remarkable tale are so complete that if he HAD followed the rules, the book would not be the masterpiece it is. One thing I remember from school is that in the creative realm, rules are made to be broken, but be sure you can tell why you are breaking them.
All I know is that after reading The Shining for the 40th time, and I get through the scenes where I feel like I’ve swirled around in a water drain, I don’t care one iota about any rule—language, punctuation, point of view, or sentence length. I come out at the end feeling amazed at what I just experienced.
Good Story Telling. The best books are character driven. After all, it’s the characters who tell the story. The narrator should simply be a shadow in the back of the room while the characters do the work. In The Shining, this is most definitely true. You have characters (Jack, Wendy, Danny, Halloran) who each have their own motives and their own problems. And most of the story is internal, taking place inside the heads of each one of them, except the Hotel. The Hotel is also a character with a motive and a problem, but the Hotel is, really and truly, not a main character, but a second place—maybe even a third place—character. The entire role of the Hotel is to stir the four pots which are nearly overflowing with bubbling brew. And I believe that is the real genius of the book.
Good Layering. This is really a sub-folder to Good Story Telling. The four heads I spoke of in the previous paragraph are damaged before the story begins, and the damage is deep. And this is where the layers are. Every single time I re-read the book, I find a layer I had not seen before. In one of Mr. King’s introductions a few years after the first printing of the book, he states that he came to a point in the story where he had to consciously make a decision to stick with the same formula he had used before, or to do away with all boundaries and allow the book to write itself, which meant exploring deeper issues going on with his characters. He chose the deeper issues.
And this, Mr. King, is when my intense like of your writing changed to love. Bravo.
So, if you’ve never read The Shining, do so now. I guarantee you’ll be amazed.