Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Stephen King's Books Ranked, 1-62

Gilbert Cruz of Vulture offers a ranking of Stephen King's 62 books.

I'm just finishing up The Stand in my chronological reading project and would rank what I have read so far, based purely on personal enjoyment:
1. 'Salem's Lot
2. The Stand
3. The Shining
4. Rage
5. Night Shift
6. Carrie

Friday, April 20, 2012

US Presidental Candidates In Fealty To The Austerity-Imposing, Tax-Dodging 1%

Written for the upcoming issue of Socialist Worker (Canada):

Presidential campaigns in the United States are a quadrennial farce that would qualify as great absurdist theatre if not for the fact that the political theatre destroys so many lives.

All of the candidates – and President Barack Obama – feign at least some interest in the working class while their policies and occasional public gaffes reveal their true feelings and agenda: strengthening corporate rule of the country, stealing money out of the ever-shrinking wallets of working people to give to the 1% in the form of tax breaks, committing war crimes against several Middle East nations while stoking a fear of terrorism among their own people, and continuing their crusade to crush the working class through decreased wages and austerity cuts to essential social programs.

Obama and Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee for President, are proud members of the 1%. Both men attained their positions of political power by catering to the 1% and everything they do is (and will be) in fealty to the 1%.

But while Romney very clearly represents his own class interests (his net worth is approximately $250 million), it's less obvious that Obama does the same. He was elected on a groundswell of opposition to war, racism, and poverty, but has demonstrated the unshakable loyalty of the Democrats to corporate America.

Obama has been successful at continuing and expanding the inhumane policies of George W. Bush. A partial list of his betrayals and crimes include supporting $23 trillion in bank and corporate bailouts, extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, instituting the most aggressive policy against whistleblowers in US history, beginning three additional wars of aggression against Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya, continuing the US policy of torture and illegal domestic surveillance, and authorizing the indefinite imprisonment of terrorism suspects even after they are acquitted.

Obama has touted an economic "recovery", but steadfastly refuses to note who is benefiting. According to a recent analysis of tax returns, the top 1% pocketed 93% of the economic gains in 2010, and 37% of those gains went to the top one-tenth of one percent. No one below the richest 10 percent saw any gain at all; instead, most of the bottom 90% have lost ground.

Citizens for Tax Justice reported recently that more than two dozen major corporations – including General Electric, Boeing, Mattel, and Verizon – paid no federal taxes between 2008 and 2011. Five corporations – AT&T, Boeing, Citigroup, Duke Energy and Ford – reported a total of more than $20 billion of pre-tax income in 2011, yet paid absolutely nothing in taxes. In fact, they claimed refunds of more than $1.3 billion, thanks to generous policies supported by both Republicans and Democrats.

Over the last decade, General Electric paid an effective tax rate of only 2.3% on more than $81 billion of income. Boeing's tax rate over the same period was -7.8% (that's a negative tax rate!) during this period.

In 2011, US corporations paid an effective tax rate of just 12.1%, the lowest level in forty years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Sixty years ago, during the Eisenhower administration, corporations paid 32% of the federal government's tax receipts; in 2011, they paid 9%.

Meanwhile, as the November presidential election nears, Republicans are attempting to suppress voter turnout by any means necessary. At least thirty-three states have introduced voter ID laws this year, and it's no secret what these anti-democracy bills are designed to do. In New Hampshire, the Republican House speaker admitted the law would make it harder for "liberal" students to cast ballots. The Democratic governor of New Hampshire vetoed the bill.

Boycotts have been called against corporations that support these laws – and they are working. Coca-Cola pulled its support for one vote-suppression group only five hours after a possible boycott was announced. Additional pressure from watchdog groups, civil rights organizations, and thousands of concerned citizens has led the American Legislative Exchange Council to disband its task force responsible for pushing the Voter ID laws. Undeterred, the ALEC is now working to limit the ability of citizens to petition for referendums and constitutional changes in favour of workers, the environment, and public education.

Both parties in the US are bereft of ideas – and have no desire to come up with any ideas – when it comes to addressing what working people truly need. Indeed, they are being pushed by their corporate masters in the opposite direction. Only replacing the capitalist system through mass movements of working class people can lead to meaningful and necessary changes being made within society. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street, which was inspired by both the Arab Spring and the Wisconsin uprising, have revitalized broader movements against war, climate chaos, racism, and attacks on workers.

With the Occupy movement gaining strength, it is no surprise that Obama recently announced that the upcoming G8 conference (May 18-19) would be moved from Chicago to Camp David, the private presidential compound located about 60 miles (100 km) north of Washington. No reason was given for the move, but the switch of venue means the G8 delegates will be hidden away from the tens of thousands of protesters expected in Chicago.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Robogate" Reveals Weakness Of Tory Majority

Voters in more than 90 ridings across Canada have reported irregularities, suspicious activity, and harassing and misleading phone calls in the run-up to the May 2011 federal election. In nearly every case, the calls and irregularities favoured the Conservatives.

What is already being called the largest election scandal in Canadian history has raised serious doubts about the legitimacy of the Conservatives’ majority of seats in Parliament. Election Canada has received over 31,000 complaints related to the 2011 election.

As the evidence piles up, it is looking extremely likely that the Conservatives–and/or operatives working on their behalf—did all they could to fix the election: illegally suppressing voter turnout in key ridings, directing voters to non-existent polling stations, and harassing voters while impersonating one of opposition parties, to insure that Stephen Harper and his Conservative party received the majority government it had desired for years.

Far from being the work of one “rogue” staffer, honest “mistakes”, or a “smear campaign” cooked up by the opposition, what the media has dubbed Robogate or the Robocall scandal is actually an intricate, highly-organized effort across the entire country to fix the May 2011 election. “Robo-” is a misnomer, however, because live people made many of these suspicious calls.

In February 2012, four employees of Responsive Marketing Group Inc.’s call centre in Thunder Bay, Ontario, admitted they used a Tory-created script to tell prospective voters to go to non-existent or incorrect polling locations. According to data compiled by, in at least seven ridings across the country—Mississauga-Streestville, St. Paul’s, Victoria, Vancouver Island North, Willowdale, Nipissing Timiskaming, and Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Coquitlam—voters were directed to bogus polling stations after telling a Conservative surveyor that they planned to vote for an opposition party. In one of those ridings (Nipissing Timiskaming), the Conservatives won by only 18 votes.

Back in November 2011, the Conservatives admitted they had made illegal, false, and misleading phone calls to voter before a byelection.

Section 281(g) of the Canada Elections Act is clear: “No person shall, inside or outside Canada, wilfully prevent or endeavour to prevent an elector from voting at an election”. There must be a full investigation of these allegations of fraud, with byelections held in any riding in which illegal calls were made. If necessary, the Governor General should dissolve Parliament and call for a new election.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Stephen King: Night Shift (1978)

"Let's talk, you and I. Let's talk about fear."

So begins Stephen King's foreword to Night Shift (February 1978), his first collection of short stories. Most of the 20 stories were published between 1970 and 1975 in Cavalier, a men's magazine; four of them are previously unpublished.

Night Shift is the first book for which King wrote a foreword. It's written in a friendly, conversational tone, as though King is sitting on the bar stool next to you. (The introduction was written by one of King's favorite authors, John D. MacDonald. He repeats one of King's credos: "If you want to be a writer, you write. The only way to learn to write is by writing.")

After publishing three novels, this is the first chance King has had to introduce himself to his audience. Over 5,000 words. he talks broadly about the horror genre and why he writes about the things he does. "Why do you assume I have a choice?"

King touches on a topic over which he will ruminate (and, at times, obsess) for the next 35 years: the poor reputation that the horror genre - and by extension, King himself - has been saddled with by "literary" readers and critics. Despite whatever King may say about making peace with the idea of his fiction as a "guilty pleasure", or something not to be taken seriously, it continues to bother him after nearly four decades.
In civilized society, we have an unspoken agreement to call our obsessions "hobbies". ... My obsession is with the macabre. ... I am not a great artist, but I have always felt impelled to write.
Other people have written that in King's stories and novels, the true horror is always other human beings. King says: "Great horror fiction is almost always allegorical" and gives a few examples like Orwell and Tolkien.
When you read horror, you don't really believe what you read. You don't believe in vampires, werewolves, trucks that suddenly start up and drive themselves. The horrors that we all do believe in are of the sort that Dostoyevsky and Albee and MacDonald write about: hate, alienation, growing lovelessly old, tottering out into a hostile world on the unsteady legs of adolescence.
That final example may be why King, in his early years, was so popular with teenagers. Many of his characters in his initial books were either teenagers or children, and he always portrayed them as full human beings.
When [the horror writer] is at his best we often have that weird sensation of being not quite asleep or awake, when time stretches and skews, when we can hear voices but cannot make out the words or the intent, when the dream seems real and the reality dreamlike. ...
I am firmly convinced that [the horror story] must do one more thing, this above all others: It must tell a tale that holds the reader or the listener spellbound for a little while, lost in a world that never was, never could be. ... All my life as a writer I have been committed to the idea that in fiction the story value holds dominance Over every other facet of the writer's craft; characterization, theme, mood, none of those things is anything if the story is dull. And if the story does hold you, all else can be forgiven.
Some of the better stories in this collection:

Graveyard Shift: Hall, a drifter working the overnight shift at a textile plant in Maine, is part of a crew assigned to clean out the long-neglected basement of the rat-infested factory building. Days into the project, the workers discover a wooden trap door to a previously unknown sub-basement, where rats and bats have mutated into large  creatures. When Hall and Warwick, the plant foreman, descend into the darkness with flashlights and a powerful water hose, Hall decides to get some revenge on his ball-busting boss. (Note: The "Grey Matter" that grows on the reclusive Richie Grenadine after he drinks a bad can of beer is, like the descriptions of the sub-basement rats, truly disgusting. As King once said, first he tries to terrorize his readers. If that doesn't work, he horrifies them. And if he fails at that, "I try at least to gross 'em out".)

I Am the Doorway: A disabled former astronaut is exposed to an extraterrestrial mutagen during a space mission to Venus. He complains of terrible itching on his hands and fingers; blisters grow and pop, revealing tiny eyeballs, which act as a "doorway" for an alien species to see into this world. The alien presence soon takes over his body. In an attempt to kill the aliens, he douses his hands with gasoline and sets them on fire, necessitating amputation. When the eyes soon reappear, on his chest, he begins to contemplate suicide.

Battleground: John Renshaw, a professional assassin, receives a package from the mother of his latest victim, the owner of a toy corporation. The gift is a G.I. Joe Vietnam Footlocker, complete with 20 tiny soldiers who come to life in Renshaw's apartment, armed with guns and a rocket launcher, helicopters, and a mini thermonuclear weapon.

The Boogeyman: Lester Billings tells Dr. Harper, a psychiatrist, that he is responsible for the deaths of his three children. Billings says he did not actually murder then, but believes  he ignored their worries and cries and allowed the boogeyman in their bedroom closet to kill them. Since boogeymen in closets do not actually exist, we are left wondering if Billings is perhaps schizophrenic or weaving an elaborate fiction to hide his own culpability. The ending of this story is somewhat similar to that of Strawberry Spring, which details the terror a serial killer inflicts on a college campus.

Sometimes They Come Back: Jim Norman is a teacher haunted by the memory of his brother's murder at the hands of three neighbourhood hoodlums 16 years earlier. When he believes that three new students in his class bear a striking resemblance to those murderers, and that they have returned to kill him, he conjures up the spirit of his dead brother in an attempt to save his life.

The Ledge: Cressner's wife has been having an affair with her tennis pro, Stan Norris. Cressner (a mob boss of some type) proposes a wager: Norris can have his wife and $20,000 if he successfully navigates the five-inch ledge around Cressner's apartment, which is 43 stories up. The alternative is being set-up on phony drug charges that would jail him for the rest of his life. Norris decides to step out onto the ledge, still unsure if Cressner will honour his side of the bargain if he survives.

Jerusalem's Lot and One for the Road: The former is a sort of prequel to 'Salem's Lot (told in a series of letters (an epistolary style similar to Dracula) that King began writing in college. The later story is an further epilogue to the same novel, in which a family is trapped in their car during a blizzard just outside of the now seemingly deserted town.

Quitters, Inc.: Quitters Inc. guarantees that it can cure anyone's tobacco addiction. Dick Morrison signs up for the program on the advice of an old friend, and soon discovers the punishments for relapsing are far more severe than he could have imagined. (I assume that King's on-going attempts at quitting smoking around this time was at least a partial inspiration for this story.)

The Woman in the Room: The final story in this book concerns a young man debating whether he should give his mother, whose body has been devastated by cancer, a lethal amount of painkillers. She expresses a strong desire to not continue in her current state, but the son still regards his possible actions as murder. However, King, whose own mother died of cancer around the time Carrie was published, makes it clear that this act of matricide could also be a humane kindness.

Next: The Stand.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Stephen King: Rage (as Richard Bachman) (1977)

Charlie Decker is a senior at Placerville High School in Maine. One day, two months after assaulting a teacher with a wrench, he kills two teachers with a pistol and holds a classroom of students hostage for several hours.

Once he takes over the classroom, Charlie "gets it on" - telling his fellow students intimate secrets of his life: a hunting trip he took with his abusive father and some of his father's drunken friends when he was nine - "My dad has hated me for as long as I can remember. ... Life [to him] was like a precious antique car ... and I was the birdshit on his windshield." - being forced to wear an ill-fitting corduroy suit to the birthday party of a girl he had a crush on, and a bout of stoned impotence.

Charlie encourages the other students to speak honestly. Carol Granger tells about a wonderful day Christmas shopping with friends that was utterly destroyed by street harassment. Sandra Cross says she's feels totally empty inside ("like a doll, not really real") and describes having a dangerous, anonymous sexual encounter in an attempt to feel truly alive.

A boy nicknamed Pig Pen expresses a weary fury at his mother, a contest and sweepstakes addict who buys him one new shirt per year, forced him to sell his car, and drowned his sister's kitten.
She grinds and grinds and grinds, and she always beats you. ... And she's so mean and stupid, she drownded the kitty, just a little kitty, and she's so stupid that you know everybody laughs at her behind her back. So what does that make me? Littler and stupider. ... I don't think I'd mind if she snuffed it. I wish I had your stick, Charlie. If I had your stick, I think I'd kill her myself.
The strength of Rage is in the students' recollections, their blunt honesty, their anger at the adult world, and the helplessness at being ground down by the adults around them.

From Bare Bones: Conversations On Terror With Stephen King:
Q: What's the greatest horror that you think high school kids face today?

SK: Not being able to interact, to get along and establish lines of communication. It's the fear I had ... the fear of being afraid and not being able to tell anyone you're afraid. ... There's a constant fear that I am alone.
In reading about King's background as I begin this project, I have noticed several similarities between King and my favourite author, David Foster Wallace. The fear of being alone, the next-to-impossible task of forging an honest connection with another person, and the bedrock importance of fiction to communicate what it means to be a human being. (Wallace taught Carrie in some of his fiction classes and he once listed The Stand as one of his 10 favourite books.)


King, original introduction to The Bachman Books:
Getting It On was begun in 1966, when I was a senior in high school. I later found it moldering away in an old box in the cellar of the house where I'd grown up this rediscovery was in 1970, and I finished the novel in 1971.
In 1971, he sent a query letter to Doubleday, addressed to the editor of Loren Singer's political thriller The Parallax View, thinking the editor of that book might also like his novel. That editor was no longer employed at Doubleday, so the letter landed on Bill Thompson's desk. Thompson agreed to read King's manuscript and later called it "a masterful study in character and suspense". Doubleday requested changes, which King duly made. However, Despite Thompson's efforts, Getting It On was ultimately rejected, "a painful blow", King said, "because I had been allowed to entertain some hope for an extraordinarily long time".

In July 1977, after publishing Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, and The Shining, King signed a three-book deal with Doubleday. He also quietly published Getting It On, now titled Rage, as a mass-market paperback through New American Library, under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.

The story goes that King was having doubts about his fame: Was it a fluke? Could it happen a second time? Publishing houses believed that one book per year for a writer was the norm, and that flooding the market would be detrimental. But King was so prolific that he had several finished manuscripts sitting in his drawer. He wanted to put out the Bachman books - "just plain books", he later wrote, "paperbacks to fill the drugstores and bus stations of America" - and let nature take it course.

You try to make sense of your life. Everybody tries to do that, I think, and part of making sense of things is trying to find reasons ... or constants ... things that don't fluctuate. Everyone does it, but perhaps people who have extraordinarily lucky or unlucky lives do it a little more. ... Part of you wants to think that you must have been one hardworking S.O.B. or a real prince or maybe even one of the Sainted Multitude if you end up riding high ... But there's another part that suggests it's all a lottery, a real-life game show ... It is for some reason depressing to think it was all - or even mostly - an accident. So maybe you try to find out if you could do it again. Or in my case, if Bachman could do it again.
King originally used his maternal grandfather's name - Guy Pillsbury - but that secret leaked at the publishing house. So he went with Richard Bachman, in tribute to Donald Westlake's long-time pseudonym Richard Stark and the rock band Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

Rage was published and dropped out of sight.


Tony Magistrale, a professor at the University of Vermont, writes that despite "an overstretched reliance of Freudian exegesis" and some implausible plot twists, Rage should not be dismissed.
So much of what King examines in [the Bachman books] is about people being disenfranchised of power on several levels: personal, familial, societal. ...

Charlie Decker aligns himself with the oppressed - particularly his young female classmates, victims of sexual oppression - and their struggle against authority, specifically patriarchal authority....

As evidenced in works that follow Rage (most notably The Shining, Firestarter, and It), the real monsters in King's canon are always human, and more often than not, they take the form of adult males who erect and maintain elaborate bureaucratic systems of control. ... King's protagonists, especially in the Bachman books, view violence as one of their few remaining options. ...

Decker's own actions occur out of an insistence that the authorities confront the truth of their enterprise ... [The students] understand the spirit that has created the hostage situation. The students sympathize with Charlie because they sense intuitively that this is a conflict between the authorities and the disenfranchised.
It is worth noting that King grew up without a father. When King was only two years old, his father went out to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned. It was as if he vanished off the face of the earth. King's abusive males often stand in for society at large, but he is also remarkably observant, and the confrontations between Charlie and his father seem remarkably on point.


Charlie is nothing but a name on a file folder to the principal who boasts that he's been "in the kid business" for several decades. By committing murder and taking the class hostage, Charlie forces those in authority to take him seriously. For a few hours, he has the upper hand, and delights in humiliating them as they try to convince him to end his siege.

The class also enjoys Charlie's interactions with those outside the school. The actual murders are quickly forgotten. The speed with which the class identifies with Charlie seems fairly implausible - but perhaps they have felt like hostages to the adult world for years. The novel climaxes with the class's emotional torture of Ted Jones, who already identifies with the various authority figures. It's a final blow to authority, before the teenagers will leave the school, graduate, and begin the process of joining the adult world that has oppressed them. (The severity of Ted's mental destruction also seemed implausible.)

After Charlie surrenders, he is tried, found guilty by reason of insanity, and institutionalized. He refuses to discuss the incident with his psychiatrists.
But if I told them anything, it would be that they've forgotten what it is to be a kid, to live cheek-by-jowl with violence ... I'm telling you that American kids labor under a huge life of violence, both real and make-believe.

In 1999, King addressed the Vermont Library Conference and talked about the many incidents of school shootings:
[A] great many parts of American society have contributed to creating this problem, and that we must all work together to alleviate it...and I use the word "alleviate" rather than "cure" because ... I don't think that sort of cure is possible. ...

America was born in the violence of the Boston Massacre, indemnified in the violence of Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Shiloh Church, shamed by the violence of the Indian Wars, reaffirmed by the violence of two world wars, a police action in Korea, and the conflict in Vietnam. Most of the guns carried in those armed actions were carried by boys about the age of the Littleton killers and not much older than Thomas Solomon, the Conyers, Georgia, shooter. ...

I sympathize with the losers of the world and to some degree understand the blind hormonal rage and ratlike panic which sets in as one senses the corridor of choice growing ever narrower, until violence seems like the only possible response to the pain. ...

I can't say for sure that Michael Carneal, the boy from Kentucky who shot three of his classmates dead as they prayed before school, had read my novel, Rage, but news stories following the incident reported that a copy of it had been found in his locker. It seems likely to me that he did. ... I asked my publisher to take the damned thing out of print. They concurred. ...

Do I think that Rage may have provoked Carneal, or any other badly adjusted young person, to resort to the gun? It's an important question, because it goes to the very heart of the wrangle over who's to blame. ... There are factors in the Carneal case which make it doubtful that Rage was the defining factor, but I fully recognize that it is in my own self-interest to feel just that way; that I am prejudiced in my own behalf. I also recognize the fact that a novel such as Rage may act as an accelerant on a troubled mind ...

My stories of adolescent violence were all drawn, in some degree, from my own memories of high school. That particular truth, as I recalled it when writing as an adult, was unpleasant enough. I remember high school as a time of misery and resentment. ...

I don't trust people who look back on high school with fondness; too many of them were part of the overclass, those who were taunters instead of tauntees. These are the ones least likely to understand the bogeyboys and to reject any sympathy for them (which is not the same as condoning their acts, a point which should not have to be made but which probably does).
King, revised introduction to The Bachman Books:
The fury and terror and jagged humour found in that story had only one real purpose, and that was the purpose of all my early fiction: to save my life and sanity. What made me feel so crazy so much of the time back then? I don't know ... and that's the truth. My head felt like it was always on the verge of exploding, but I have forgotten why.
King, Entertainment Weekly, April 2007:
Certainly in this sensitized day and age, my own college writing - including a short story called "Cain Rose Up" and the novel Rage - would have raised red flags, and I'm certain someone would have tabbed me as mentally ill because of them.
Next: Night Shift.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Stephen King: The Shining (1977)

"The past is a ghost which haunts our present lives constantly."
Stephen King

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
William Faulkner

Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic and writer, has been fired from his teaching position at a Vermont prep school for assaulting a student. He accepts a job as the winter caretaker at a remote Colorado resort, thinking the time alone will help him finish the play he is working on. Jack, his wife Wendy, and their five-year-old son Danny move into the 110-room hotel just as it is closing for the winter.

Danny has certain clairvoyant abilities - he can read people's thoughts or see scenes from the future. This ability is referred to as the shine or the shining by the Overlook's chef, Dick Hallorann, who has similar abilities. Soon after the Torrances move in, Danny senses the menace of the hotel almost immediately, and begins experiencing terrifying premonitions, visions, and messages. The hotel - "a palimpsest of fantasies and atrocities" (Fisher) , a metaphor for American society's embrace of violence, corruption, alcohol, and debauchery - is literally coming to life, drawing strength from Danny's powers.

When Jack abandons his writing project, he becomes more vulnerable to the hotel's suggestive influence that he sacrifice his son, and becomes increasingly unstable. He begins to hallucinate, conducting full conversations with ghosts from the hotel's past (echoing Danny's clairvoyant trances and his imaginary friend, Tony), and has increasingly strong thoughts of murdering his family. As Jack nears the breaking point, Danny telepathically urges Hallorann to return before Jack can fulfill his violent impulses.


In August 1974, King and his family moved from Maine to Boulder, Colorado, as King hoped for some new inspiration and a new setting for his next novel. He had begun work on The House on Value Street, inspired by the Patty Hearst kidnapping. "I was convinced that the only way anybody ever could really understand the whole Hearst case was to lie about it." The work was not going well, however, so he and his wife took a short vacation at the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park. They were given Room 217.

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 to be the perfect - maybe the archetypal - 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. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.
King had begun a novel entitled Darkshine in 1972, about a psychic boy in an amusement park, but the idea never took off. He used some of those ideas for this new project. The first draft took a mere three or four months to write, "a very erotic experience" in King's words.

For much of the three or four months it took me to write the first draft of the novel I was calling The Shine, I seemed to be back in that trailer in Hermon, Maine, with no company but the buzzing sound of the snowmobiles and my own fears, fears that my chance to be a writer had come and gone, fears that I had gotten into a teaching job that was completely wrong for me, fears most of all that my marriage was edging onto marshy ground and there might be quicksand any place ahead. ...

Sometimes you confess. You always hide what you're confessing to. That's one of the reasons why you make up the story. ... [T]he protagonist of The Shining is a man who has broken his son's arm, who has a history of child beating, who is beaten himself. And as a young father with two children, I was horrified by my occasional feelings of real antagonism toward my children. Won't you ever stop? Won't you ever go to bed? ... So when I wrote this book I wrote a lot of that down and tried to get it out of my system, but it was also a confession. Yes, there are times when I felt very angry toward my children and have even felt as though I could hurt them. ...

I had written The Shining without realizing that I was writing about myself. I've never been the most self-analytical person in the world. People often ask me to parse out meaning from my stories, to relate them back to my life. While I've never denied that they ... have some relationship to my life, I'm always puzzled to realize years later that in some ways I was delineating my own problems, and performing a kind of self-psychoanalysis.
Jack Torrance is haunted by the past - his termination from the Vermont prep school is why he is semi-forced to take this winter job - and terrified that it will doom his future. His father was an abusive drunk who beat his wife and children, and while Jack is a recovering alcoholic, he wants to be a good father and husband, and meet the expectations of a "breadwinner" in modern society; he is working at controlling his darker side. But he cannot escape the past. He discovers boxes and boxes of old receipts and ledgers and newspaper clippings about the hotel in the basement. He becomes disgusted with, and soon abandons, his play (the future of his writing career) and immerses himself in the Overlook's past. King leaves the narrative open so that we are never clear if Jack's decision is made freely or whether the hotel is subtly controlling him. As Jack absorbs (and is absorbed) by the hotel, he begins to rationalize, and then emulate his father's abusive behaviour.

There is a strong theme of repetition in The Shining. Jack seems doomed to repeat the sins of his father (as those threats and insults he heard as a child reverberate over and over in his head). His wife Wendy is worried about adopting the harmful aspects of her mother's personality. Will Jack repeat the familial slaughter committed by the previous caretaker? There is also a certain sameness to the Torrances' daily routine at the Overlook. And King himself returns to certain descriptive phrases and metaphors, seemingly re-using them deliberately: dead aspen leaves, Jack wiping his lips with a handkerchief, wasps, puffs of dust or plaster, the batwing doors of the hotel's bar, the near-mist of an alcoholic's breath, masks and unmasking.

One repeated refrain is "An inhuman place creates human monsters." King offers an opinion on how inhumane surroundings - an abusive household, poverty - can warp even the most well-adjusted mind. And as was the case with 'Salem's Lot, there is a streak of anti-capitalism in The Shining. The Overlook was once owned by a reclusive Howard Hughes-like millionaire and the resort has hosted several presidents, influential corporate businessmen, and mob bosses throughout its decades. The clear evilness of the hotel and its voracious need to consume its guests (and tear families apart while doing so) is a metaphor for capitalism's single-minded profit motive, for a society run amok.


The Shining was heavily influenced by Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (as was 'Salem's Lot), Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher, and Robert Marasco's Burnt Offerings. The novel has also often been compared to Guy de Maupassant's story "The Inn".

King has also spoken of his fascination with Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. In that book, Campbell writes that "the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often an old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. ... Not infrequently, the supernatural helper is masculine in form." In this case, Hallorann warns Danny about the possible dangers of the hotel, and says he should send word to him if there is any trouble.


During a Q&A in Toronto in November 2009, King announced that he would be writing a sequel to The Shining.
In King's still tentative plan for the novel, Danny is now 40 years old and living in upstate New York, where he works as the equivalent of an orderly at a hospice for the terminally ill. Danny's real job is to visit with patients who are just about to pass on to the other side, and to help them make that journey with the aid of his mysterious powers. Danny also has a sideline in betting on the horses, a trick he learned from his buddy Dick Hallorann.
A later report states that a traveling group of vampires called The Tribe is also somehow involved in the story. The novel is entitled Dr. Sleep and is scheduled to be published in 2013. King reads from the work-in-progress here.

Next: Rage by "Richard Bachman".