Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shining On

"We all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
Yeah, we all shine on
C'mon and on and on, on, on."

John Lennon

Stephen King has been one of my favorite writers since I was in my teens.

And I always thought his stories would make splendid movies.

But even when I was a teenager I knew that it was almost impossible — given the technology that existed at the time — to transfer his stories from the printed page to the big screen.

Nothing illustrated that better, I think, than the film version of "The Shining" that came out in 1980. It was a spine–tingling horror movie with a great cast (Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers) and a great director (Stanley Kubrick) — and King was a fan of Kubrick's work — but ultimately King was disappointed in the results, as well he should have been.

I have often said that so much of what happens in a King novel seems to happen in the characters' minds. Sure, there are genuinely spooky things that happen in King's books. It's just hard for a filmmaker to re–create many of them, even with all the developments there have been since "The Shining" was published 35 years ago this month.

Twenty years after the book was published, a three–part TV miniseries was aired. King, whose dissatisfaction with Kubrick's version was behind the remake, was deeply involved in the teleplay.

It may well have been that King made such a personal investment in the project because he had gone to such great lengths to write the book in the first place. It was early in his writing career, and his first two books had been set in his native Maine. King apparently felt it was necessary to have a change of scenery.

He randomly chose Boulder, Colo., and relocated his family there. He was inspired to write "The Shining" during a family trip to a resort hotel in nearby Estes Park.

Later, King acknowledged that the story was, in part, a confession. The protagonist of the story, Jack Torrance, has seriously injured his young son in the past while under the influence of alcohol and desperately wants to make amends.

King, who struggled with his addictions to tobacco, alcohol and both prescription and street drugs until about 10 years after "The Shining" was published, admitted to "occasional feelings of real antagonism toward my children." I don't think King ever injured his own children; perhaps "The Shining" provided him with a creative outlet that helped him let off some steam before it became destructive.

But his ability to empathize with his characters, even the ones his readers find repugnant, is the trait that makes King's books so special.

And, while there was a lot more about "The Shining" that made it King's first hardback bestseller, that factor always stood out for me.

Several years later, I learned the inspiration for the title. It came from a line from John Lennon's "Instant Karma," which was one of my favorite songs before the book was published.

I didn't know, when the book was published 35 years ago this month, that it inspired the name. But the thought did cross my mind.

And now you know the rest of that story.