There was something in the paper for Halloween about scary books and this was mentioned. It emphasized the difference from the movie, the family aspect of the story, so I got it and read it.
I haven’t read a lot of stuff by Stephen King- “Christine” and “It” are the only other full-length books of his I have read, along with some stories, and I have seen some of the adaptations on TV- I take that back, I read “‘Salem’s Lot” at some point- but you know that in Stephen King’s world, real life is plenty horrifying enough- the supernatural horror just pushes people over the edge, although they hardly need it.
“The Shining” is largely a slow build-up, laying out the relationships of a young, small, dysfunctional family. Far more than the telepathically gifted son, Danny, the driving force is the father, Jack, who seems plagued by bad luck and can never quite get a grip on things. He is able to quit drinking, but he is plagued by an anger he doesn’t seem to know the origin of and seems to come out of nowhere to ruin things for him.
King admitted the story came from his own frustration as a parent and later to having a heavy addiction himself. I’m guessing though that the character of Jack Torrance came from a variety of people he knew, men who on the surface seemed normal at least, or often charming and high-functioning, but still had a dark side.
The logical explanation for Jack’s anger is his own abusive childhood, and yet there has to be a little more to it than that. Jack’s father is also good to him much of the time, and the combination of loving and admiring someone who harms others may make him want to engage in the same behavior. Abusers are by definition powerful; and we want to model ourselves on the powerful. Even if we are weak and can only let loose our anger in private, we see expressing these emotions as good and positive.
But I think the real secret to Jack is his fascination with the past. He doesn’t really start to go crazy until he starts going through the papers of the hotel, in particular the scrapbook. He becomes obsessed with knowing and understanding it all, and he can’t let go. And in truth his memories of his father are probably skewed towards the good times, without a realistic and mature view of the damage his father did to his family.
We don’t carry the past with us, only certain specific memories and emotional reactions to them. Making sense out of the past is probably futile. We can only judge and conduct ourselves by what is happening now, not by what happened before. We are often told to “let go” of the past, but that is also probably futile. I think the best thing to try to achieve is a realistic view of it, and to understand that the most important thing about the past is that it’s over.