I’d love to say that the first crime I committed was stealing a copy of The Shining, but in truth it was probably well along the list of crimes. It is the first thing I remember stealing, at least, although I want to add the critical caveat that I returned it to its rightful owner. That always satisfies the judge, right?
The Shining was the first King book I read, and I didn’t intend to read it. The book was in a neighbor’s house and while they were on vacation I was entrusted with a key in the hopes that I would keep their cats fed and not steal their literature. I batted .500.
I opened the book with only mild curiosity because I expected to know the story since I’d already seen the film, a decision of great controversy in my family and one that produced an all-time-classic memory of my parents. My mother was hesitant to let my sister and I see the movie; my father was convinced that “we were ready.” The vivid memory comes with Danny’s visit to Room 217 (er, sorry, 237) but it isn’t the awaiting horrors that make the memory stand out in my mind. It’s my mother shouting at my father to fast-forward through the (gasp!) sight of the naked woman, a sight that threatened the moral compass of her children – and one that clearly had a cost, because I was soon stealing from the neighbors. My father leapt into action and did as he was told, punching the fast-forward button. In the fashion of the old VHS tapes, two blurred lines appeared on the screen: one covered the woman’s face, the other her stomach, meaning that the image was now reduced to an advancing pair of faceless female parts. My sister and I will laugh over that one until the day we die.
But back to the book. As I said, I didn’t intend to read it. I certainly didn’t imagine that it would be one of the few novels I keep beside my writing desk today, a constant source of inspiration, a reminder of how much a reader can feel from a book. I intended to skim a few pages, that was all. But you don’t just skim a few pages of The Shining. King’s remarkable novel doesn’t allow that. The Torrances might not be trapped (yet) in the Overlook, but you are.
An element I remember from that first read was a sense of astonishment as I realized: wait, a minute – Jack isn’t crazy. Jack hasn’t lost it yet. In the film, the first shot of Jack Nicholson’s face assured me that we were traveling along with a mad man. The crisis of the story was clear: innocent family is en route to snowbound hotel with insane husband/father. The worries of the character I met on the page, however, the desperate man calling in the last favor he has in the world to protect the family he loves, a man battling the threats around him and within him, were jarring. I thought maybe I don’t know the story so well after all and set about making my theft, carefully hiding the book lest it reinforce my mother’s suspicions about the corruption of character that had occurred during that fateful family movie night. I had a few days before the neighbors returned; it did not take me a few days to read the book.
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