A couple years ago when my kids and I were shopping at the Indigo book store, we saw a display featuring Stephen King’s newest novel at the time, Doctor Sleep. This book is a sequel to his famous novel The Shining. You might remember the Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation of the novel starring Jack Nicholson. Classic film.
For the month of October I delve into the world of horror novel reading. It is thematic in a way, because October is the month of spooks, thrills, scares and Halloween. I love Halloween, but unfortunately it tends to be “demonized” in many circles because of its depictions and supposed celebration of evil. Hollywood is more to blame for that. In my estimation, Halloween is a festival of fun and make-believe, but it is also part of a day that commemorates the dead. Horror novels tend to go a bit further and Stephen King is the most famous in that genre.
King is author of some of these classics: Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, Carrie. It is a particular favourite. However, my enjoyment of Stephen King pales in comparison to my brother Gerard, whom I consider to be an expert on the “Master of the Macabre.” Gerard has read all of King’s material multiple times. He’s even had the pleasure of visiting Stephen King’s home in Bangor, Maine!
I credit my brother with getting me into Stephen King, but for a while I had trouble reading his stuff. The content is disturbing, but not just to his readers. In an early 1980s interview King said he used to sleep with the lights on. And in this excerpt from an interview: “At night when I go to bed, I still am at pains to be sure that my legs are under the blankets after the lights go out. I’m not a child anymore but . . . I don’t like to sleep with one leg sticking out. Because if a cool hand ever reached out from under the bed and grasped my ankle, I might scream . . .” He, too, has become a casualty of his own imagination.
That night in Indigo, the Doctor Sleep display piqued my interest in re-acquainting myself with King. Doctor Sleep follows the adult life of the young boy from The Shining, Danny Torrance. After reading Doctor Sleep I was compelled to re-read The Shining — the novel where it all began. Danny, a five-year-old at the time, has an extraordinary gift — the gift to be able to read people’s thoughts. To feel their emotions. To prophesy, in a way, about events that have not happened but might happen. He has visions into the past and, in particular, of people who died sudden and tragic deaths. If he should come across a person who has the same gift, they are able to communicate with each other without actually talking aloud. They call it “the shine.”
The Shining takes place in an old seasonal resort hotel called the Overlook, located in the highlands of Colorado, an idyllic mountain setting. The hotel has to close for the winter months because access to the hotel is impossible during the winter. The hotel hires a live-in caretaker to look after it. The caretaker must heat parts of the hotel, checking the old boilers, fixing things, protecting it so it can open again for the spring and summer seasons. When the snow arrives, the family looking after the hotel is cut off from the rest of civilization. There are no roads in or out, and the only communication is through a CB radio.
As winter descends with its unrelenting cold and fury, isolation and loneliness threaten to destroy Danny and his family. The demons of distress and destruction, intent on consuming the live-ins, begin their work. The scenes are sinister and the phantoms of the past come alive with macabre and gruesome savagery. Beware of the Redrum! Fun stuff to read when you’re home alone with the creaks of the house during the eerie evenings of October.
So much of what Danny sees he is able to control in his own mind, despite what seem to be impossible odds. Through Danny we see that the human spirit is a powerful and indomitable force. Danny will not be consumed. When tested to the extremes, the spirit will not be destroyed.
Life always has the final say. Yet, our own personal terrors and frights are no laughing matter, and they are not works of fiction, either. The struggles we all experience are real and sometimes difficult to endure, but we have been promised that we will never be left alone.
No matter the terrors that lurk down the darkened hallways of our minds, no matter what demons we fight in our personal lives, despite feeling isolated, alone and cut off from the rest of civilization, remember, we will never be abandoned and we will never be forsaken to fight the battles alone. Despite the darkness, the light will shine because light cannot be contained. Light and life will, ultimately, triumph.
Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.