Book vs. Film: “The Shining” Will Haunt You in Both Forms

39473d46f1de866e1c7a3763c23d2054The film The Shining is beloved by many, but how many of them have actually read the book? Turns out: hardly any. One fan even said he heard that films adapted from Stephen King’s novels are better than his actual books. While I can’t categorically attest to that, I can say that the film The Shining pales in comparison to the novel The Shining. It is one of King’s best novels, combining brilliant imagery with complex psychology for a truly haunting experience. It’s no small wonder that this is the only of his novels to land a spot on The List.

The story focuses around Jack Torrance who is so desperate for a job that he becomes the off-season caretaker for the secluded Overlook Hotel. He, along with his wife Wendy and 6-year-old son Danny, will spend 8 months alone in the hotel, preventing the pipes from freezing over and the boiler from overheating. Wendy is frail and fearful of her husband whose previous history of alcoholism led him to break their son’s arm (and attack a student); yet she loves him enough to follow him to the Overlook in the hopes that a secluded season of writing will rehabilitate him. It is only little Danny whose “shining” premonitions of the horrors within the Overlook give him trepidation for this venture.

129_shiningnewThe chapters shuffle through the main characters’ perspectives, giving striking point-of-view perceptions of what is occurring in the present while also imparting insight into the characters’—and hotel’s—backstories that help frame their deteriorating psychological states. While this helps provide the framework for the story, it’s the recurring imagery used throughout that elevates this novel into profound horror. Iconic images and phrases like the roque mallet, the topiary animals, Room 217, and, of course, “REDRUM” enhance the eerie mood and building tensions of the story. Thus establishing King as a renowned horror genre writer.

As iconic as the novel is, the film is equally iconic in its own regards. Stanley Kubrick’s film is considered one of the best horror films, and that’s a worthy assessment. The film sets an uneasy mood with flashes of horrific images that Danny (Danny Lloyd) can see combined with Jack’s (Jack Nicholson) descent into mania—not to mention a creepy score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. The overall look of the film is brilliant thanks to help from Roy Walker, for production design; Les Tomkins, for art direction; and John Alcott, for cinematography. These elements combine to make a visually appealing and eerie film.

tumblr_m0hkxhPS6f1r1au5yo1_500But, as great as the film is, it seems to miss the point of the book. In King’s Shining the Overlook itself is an important, menacing character. It has motivations and manipulations that slowly become central to the story. In Kubrick’s Shining the Overlook is just an expanse of open rooms with mismatching color schemes spread throughout. It acts as the playground for Jack’s psychotic breakdown but has very little influence on his actual mental state. The film also eliminates nearly every piece of character backstory; sacrificing story for languorous shots of the empty hotel or Danny pedaling around in his little tricycle.

There are smaller things that are altered or lost in the adaptation as well. Would it have been so hard to have Jack chase Wendy around with a roque mallet? (A baseball bat makes an appearance, however.) The sound of the clock chiming still rings in my ears from reading the book, yet that inciting moment for the climactic chain of events is missing from the film. The overheating boiler and creepy topiary creatures are swapped out for intense outdoor blizzard shots and a hedge maze chase scene (presumably for budgetary reasons). Even the haunted Room 217 is changed to 237 in the film (presumably for superstitious reasons). It seems that only the slight alteration to how “REDRUM” is written (with the inverted letters) manages to add the visual punch needed for its reveal.

The-Shining-movie-poster200All such changes make for a disappointing cinematic experience (when read in close conjunction with the book). King’s novel is rife with delicious visual imagery that yearns to be depicted onscreen, yet the film fails to capture much of that. An inevitable remake of the film may be able to capture these, but without Nicholson’s ingenious and iconic performance will it be as effective? Even Shelley Duvall as Wendy, with deeply hideous costumes, perfectly captures the intense anxiety of the character. Only the depiction of Danny and his imaginary friend Tony was a major acting disappointment. When Danny first spoke as Tony through his finger, the film nearly lost all sense of believability. A new adaptation would better capture Tony as the distant figure who subconsciously speaks to Danny.

It should come as no surprise that the book is overall better than its filmic adaptation. (When, if ever, has the reverse been true?) The film is a visually stunning piece that has impacted pop culture for decades, but the novel is much more effective at telling the story while greatly engaging the reader. So this is one case where I can safely advise that you see the film first before tackling the novel—yet I certainly recommend that you do both.


The “Heroes'” Quest Continues to Rome in “The Mark of Athena”

The_Mark_of_AthenaPercy Jackson and Co. are back for another terrific adventure in The Mark of Athena. In the third installment of Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus, the demigods must fly to Rome to save Nico from some twin giants and find Athena’s statue that will unite the Greek and Roman camps. After spending books 1 & 2 introducing the demigods and establishing the stakes of the overarching quest of the series, all seven characters are now united together, making this the most crowded of Riordan’s novels.

Riordan continues his trend of four consecutive chapters narrated by one character as the story shuffles from person to person. Fortunately, he doesn’t give all seven of them chapters; but, instead, focuses on Annabeth, Percy, Leo, and Piper, emphasizing their characters arcs in this novel (saving us from the tedium of Hazel and Frank chapters that bogged down the previous novel, while providing fodder for their unlikely love triangle with Leo). Unfortunately, Riordan gets into a frustrating structural loop with the four chapters per person cycle. The first two are dedicated to expositional and travel purposes and the other two build up to a battle scene with gods or monsters. The perspective then switches to the next character and the cycle is repeated. It quickly becomes both predictable and tiring, which makes slugging through the middle of the book a challenge on par with these demigods’ quest.

But Riordan knows how to tell an engaging story, and all his plot threads tie up perfectly. And this series is so well thought out, that he can already hint to the events to come in the next book—giving each of these books a great cliffhanger ending. So far, I find the Heroes of Olympus series a much more fascinating and rewarding read than his original Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (which I also absolutely adore).

Delve Into the World of Roman Mythology with “The Heroes of Olympus”

The Son of Neptune is the second book in The Heroes of Olympus series, which is a continuation of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. The twist being that this series puts a decidedly Roman spin on the Greek mythology we so studiously learned about in the first 5 books. Riordan’s books transplant ancient mythology by Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and even the Chinese into our contemporary world spinning a web of action, comedy, and suspense that is as entertaining (and somewhat educational) for its YA audience as it is for older readers.

250px-The_Lost_Hero_210The first Olympus book, The Lost Hero, follows the adventures of Jason, Leo, and Piper as they try to save the beloved Camp Half-Blood from the growing threat of Gaea. In the end we learn that Jason isn’t actually a Greek demigod but a child of Zeus Roman counterpart Jupiter and that he was switched with Percy Jackson (who was MIA in this book) by Hera/Juno. Son of Neptune begins with Percy Jackson’s ominous entrance into Camp Jupiter, the Roman counterpart of Cap Half-Blood on the West Coast. Percy’s memories have been blocked and everyone thinks he’s a Roman demigod, although a highly unusual one.

He teams up with fellow outcasts Hazel (a cursed daughter of Pluto who was set free from the Fields of Asphodel by her brother Nico whom we last saw in The Last Olympian) and Frank (an awkward-looking Asian Canadian child of both Mars and a Chinese god who has a secret past of his own). The trio goes on a Mars-mandated quest to stop the giant Alcyoneus in Alaska who has captured Thanatos and opened the Doors of Death with the help of Gaea. With Death in chains, Gaea has unleashed all conquered villains and monsters and nothing the demigods do is able to keep them dead. On top of that, one of Alcyoneus’ brothers (Polybotes) is marching down the coast with his own legion of evil creatures to destroy Camp Jupiter. All of which must be accomplished within a few short days with almost no resources.

Rick-Riordan-The-Son-Of-NeptuneNeither Percy nor the readers are new to such impossible missions and we are almost certain he will prevail. Riordan’s books are always jam-packed with obstacles that require the characters to look inside themselves and discover new abilities that they didn’t realize they had. But these obstacles are always sprinkled with gods and have a comedic levity that prevents the story from becoming too heavy-handed or monotonous. I found their run-in with the Amazonians to be as amusing as the acronym for Iris’ Rainbow Ogranic Foods & Lifestyles shop (R.O.F.L.).

However, though I’m usually pleased with Percy’s companions, I found Hazel and Frank to be somewhat unengaging characters. Their budding romance and Hazel’s constant feeling of guilt and shame (for both her curse and her romantic feelings) were tedious and dull. I was also displeased to find that I had to suffer through 4 chapters of Hazel and Frank each before I could get back to the more entertaining and engaging Percy chapters (as opposed to Riordan’s system of shuffling through 2 chapters per character in the previous book). Despite this, I was wildly engaged with the overall story and found Roman mythology to be very interesting (if not somewhat confusing when constantly compared to the Greek side of things).

The novel ends by setting up the characters’ quest for the next book and I’m eager to be reunited with old characters while also hoping I’ll find more satisfaction in the love triangle that Riordan slyly sets up at the end. The fall season can’t come fast enough for this wannabe demigod.