I don’t know if this is a coincidence or whether my subconscious remembered this detail or that’s sparking today’s thoughts, but the current chapter I’m reading in The Shining has Jack Torrance reflecting on how the passage of time had changed him.
Specifically, he’s started to lose his mind due to the influences of the things haunting the Overlook. Jack doesn’t realize how bad things are yet, but his goofy attempts at levity and his ride down the playground slide and on the rusty swings illustrate how dissatisfying some activities become when you’re not a child any longer.
Now, how this relates to writing and reading (which is what I’m talking about here) is that some stories don’t age well. I touched on this a bit before, and in the Father’s Day post, but the idea bears repeating (or honing, as I try to form a better argument). As you change as a person, your perspective changes. How you see the world alters the stories you knew and sometimes loved.
Don’t get me wrong. I still like The Shining. If I didn’t, well, I’d pull a Pontius Pilate and wash my hands of the book before moving on to something new. But I know the problem isn’t the book, because I’ve revisited other books from King’s early days before — Salem’s Lot, The Stand, The Gunslinger — and I haven’t felt as disconnected as I am with this time through The Shining.
If you’ll let me paraphrase “Seinfeld” here, it’s not him, it’s me.
I’ll the same thing happen when I was reading James Clavell’s Shogun again a few years back. That book made quite an impression on me as a young writer. An aunt had purchased it in a three-book boxed set for me for Christmas the year it came out in paperback. I devoured them in short order (not much of a social life as a 14-year-old, don’t you know), and relished them for how they entertained and showed me other places. I’ve gone back to them every few years. For fun, but also to see what I could learn about how Clavell wrote them and captured my attention back then. My wife asks me why I go back to books I’ve already read, and this “research” is one of the reasons besides the enjoyment I get from revisiting characters and stories that entertained me before.
And while I had this disconnect happen with Shogun, it wasn’t as drastic with the earlier books. Certainly not with King Rat.
So I’m left to wonder why there is a disconnect at all. There are some scenes that just stick with me, while others fade or pale in the shadow of other interpretations. For instance, Jack Nicholson’s take on Jack Torrance and his “Here’s Johnny” from the Stanley Kubrick film remains fresh years later, even though I avoid that movie like it has the plague. Is it a situation where I want to preserve the experience I had in the past? And does that make the problem King’s or mine?
Probably it’s a bit of both. Some parts of The Shining will still resonate. The ones with the topiary animals, the snake/hose early on the in the book, the scene in the equipment shed at the end, the confrontation Danny has with Jack toward the end of the book. But are they immortal, unchanging? I don’t think so.
But it certainly makes me want to finish that much sooner, so I can see how the story changes with Doctor Sleep, how King has changed. Because the next hurdle I face is figuring out and practicing how to bring that maturity and immortality to my own writing.