The Shining | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Shining | 11 Things You Didn't Know


Stephen King's The Shining is widely regarded as a masterpiece of modern horror. First published in 1977, the novel focuses on the psychological effects of isolation on a family looking after an empty, remote hotel during the off-season. Jack Torrance and his wife, Wendy, watch as their son's visions and encounters with the paranormal reveal the dark history of the building. Jack, meanwhile, slowly loses his mind and begins acting violently toward his family.

The Shining has become an iconic staple of the horror genre, spawning numerous parodies and adaptations over the last several decades. The most famous adaptation, director Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film, is now considered one of the greatest horror films ever made. The Shining has terrified audiences around the world with American actor Jack Nicholson's demented portrayal of the protagonist and his notorious threat, "Here's Johnny!"

1. The Shining was the result of King's own stay in a creepy old hotel.

King's eerie descriptions of the Overlook Hotel have terrified readers for decades. King got the idea for setting a horror novel in a gigantic, empty hotel after his own experience in the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. The building's facade is reminiscent of the Overlook, and King spent a night in the Stanley with his family as the only guests, much like in the novel. King recalled his uncanny experience in the Stanley:

We were the only guests as it turned out; the following day they were going to close the place down for the winter. Wandering through its corridors, I thought that it seemed the perfect—maybe the archetypical—setting for a ghost story. That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming.

2. One of the most famous lines in the film version of The Shining never appears in King's novel.

In Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation of The Shining, Jack, played by Jack Nicholson, abandons writing his play and instead types incessantly the phrase, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Though the line is now icon, it does not appear in King's novel.

3. King hated Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation of The Shining.

Many are familiar with The Shining from director Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation starring actor Jack Nicholson as King's troubled protagonist, Jack. However, King stated on several occasions that he was not a fan of Kubrick's final product. King claimed that the director turned his novel into "a domestic tragedy with only vaguely supernatural overtones" and that Jack Nicholson butchered his role, "hamming it up." He was not a fan of Shelley Duvall's portrayal of Wendy, either, stating that her performance was "insulting to women" and calling her a "scream machine." Kubrick was also apparently not fond of King's writing, either. The director refused to use the screenplay that King had already written for The Shining, instead opting to have another, less faithful, script written.

4. King chose the location to write The Shining blindfolded with a road atlas.

Before King had finalized his idea for The Shining, he wanted to pick a location for his family to live where he could write a novel in relative peace. He decided to pick a place at random, and he had his wife, Tabitha, blindfold him and bring him a road atlas. King pointed at random to a spot on the map, which turned out to be just outside of Boulder, Colorado. At first, King couldn't find inspiration in the Boulder area, and he seemed to have a case of writer's block. Finally, the family stayed at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, which became the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.

5. There have been ghost sightings at the hotel that inspired The Shining.

King found the inspiration he'd been seeking at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado due to its grand facade and eerie, abandoned hallways. However, he's not the only one who has had uncanny experiences in the hotel—guests have reported encounters with the supernatural. Guests have even posted pictures of alleged ghostly sightings in the hotel on social media. While a haunting may seem bad for business, the Stanley Hotel has come to terms with its reputation derived from the novel. Each room now features a continuously playing loop of the 1980 film adaptation of The Shining on the televisions, a care package for guests featuring merchandise inspired by the novel, and Shining-themed tours of the hotel and grounds.

6. The child actor who played Danny in the 1980 film didn't see the full movie until 11 years after it came out.

Danny Lloyd, who played Jack's son, Danny, in the 1980 film adaptation of The Shining, was only six when he starred in the film. The director, Stanley Kubrick, was extremely protective of the young actor, particularly since it was his first acting role. Since Kubrick didn't want Lloyd to be traumatized by the film, he demanded that Lloyd be replaced by a life-sized dummy in the scene where Wendy runs from a murderous Jack with the child in her arms. Lloyd reportedly did not even see the film in full until he was 17.

7. Jack Nicholson improvised one of the most iconic lines from The Shining.

In the 1980 film adaptation, Jack Nicholson famously yells, "Here's Johnny," as he's chopping down a door with an ax in a murderous rage. Although it's now one of the most iconic lines from the film, the phrase was improvised by Nicholson. The line is a reference to the comedic opening of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson—an allusion that the British Kubrick did not recognize and almost cut from the film. In addition, Nicholson chopped down the fake set door too quickly during the filming of the scene because he was a trained fire marshal, so they had to replace it with a real door.

8. King was inspired by the works of John Lennon and Edgar Allan Poe.

John Lennon, the famous musician from The Beatles, inspired King's title The Shining with his song Instant Karma!, in which he sings, "We all shine on!"

Much of King's eerie aesthetic for the story is owed to American author Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's 1842 short story "The Masque of the Red Death" heavily influenced The Shining. The story features a spacious—yet nearly deserted—abbey with different rooms painted in different colors, reminiscent in particular of the Overlook Hotel's bar and ballroom.

9. The Shining was banned in school libraries for portraying parents as evil.

In addition to its horrific motifs, The Shining faced resistance from parents and school boards across the United States for another reason: its portrayal of parents. The Shining was King's first novel banned in school libraries, due to its depiction of a neglectful mother and an insane, alcoholic, violent father. When King learned of the bans, he encouraged children to read the book on their own time, explaining:

I think that every kid in the school should know it's been banned and should immediately get to the nearest bookstore or public library to find out what it was that their parents didn't want them to know. Those are the things kids really ought to know, what people don't want them to know.

10. Robert de Niro was almost cast as Jack in the film adaptation, and he is very thankful he wasn't.

Before Jack Nicholson became the iconic face of Jack Torrance in the 1980 film of The Shining, actor Robert de Niro was approached for the role. De Niro was interested, but director Stanley Kubrick changed his mind after watching him in the 1976 film Taxi Driver and concluded that he "wasn't psychotic enough" to portray Jack. De Niro was reportedly glad he never starred in the film, as he recalled watching it and having nightmares about it for months afterward. Comedian and actor Robin Williams was also considered for the role, but Kubrick later deemed him "too psychotic."

11. King's battles with alcoholism and drug addiction influenced The Shining.

Throughout his life, King struggled with addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. The author's mother's death in 1973 triggered a lasting depression, which he self-medicated with substance abuse. In The Shining Jack is intended to be a depiction of King at his worst—an alcoholic father whose inner turmoil manifests as violence against his family. King admitted that during the peak years of his alcoholism, he often felt violent impulses toward his children, much like Jack. He explained:

I wanted to grab them and hit them ... Even though I didn't do it, I felt guilty because of my brutal impulses. I wasn't prepared for the realities of fatherhood.

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