Book Review: 2 Classic Haunted House Stories

The Shining by  Stephen King

As a fan of both Stephen King and the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film based on this book, it’s a bit surprising that I hadn’t gotten around to reading it sooner. Better late than never I suppose. Anyone who has seen the movie will be familiar with the general gist of the plot: Jack Torrance accepts a job to mind an isolated Colorado hotel during the off-season Winter months with his wife Wendy and their son Danny. Oh, and of course, the hotel would seem to be haunted. The main beats of the story might be the same, but by it’s very nature, the novel is able to go into greater depth about the history of the hotel and do a much better job of developing the characters. Mr. King himself has complained that the movie made Jack seem pretty crazy right from the get-go, whereas in the book he begins as a more sympathetic but flawed character who is gradually driven mad by the hotel, and I would have to agree with him. His original story also goes into more detail about Danny’s psychic abilities (the titular “shining”), making them more central to the plot, gives Wendy and hotel cook Dick Hallorann much more to do, and has a very different ending. It’s hard to say which is better however. I would say that the book is a more satisfying experience all around, even if it isn’t particularly scary until near the finale. The aesthetic decisions made by Kubrick make the movie considerably more frightening, but some of his choices make for a worse story. Both are worth experiencing for their own reasons, but if I had to choose, I guess I would say that the book is better (as usual). ★★★★ – Sean Farrell

Available Formats:

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Burnt Offerings by  Robert Marasco

Having just read Stephen King’s The Shining immediately before this one, I was struck by just how similar the set-up to both books was. It should come as no surprise then that Mr. King has cited it as an inspiration for his story. In Burnt Offerings we follow Ben and Marian Rolfe who take their son David and Ben’s aunt Elizabeth along with them as they rent a dilapidated, old mansion on the Eastern end of Long Island for a Summer. The chaos of living in New York City had been wearing on them, and Marian is instantly enamored of the antique-filled house. There is a catch however. The Allardyce siblings who are renting the house to them require their elderly mother to remain behind, and for them to make sure to feed her a meal 3 times per day in her room. While it seems a bit odd that they would leave her, Marian decides it isn’t too much bother and takes on the responsibility herself. Over the ensuing weeks strange things begin happening, the house and the grounds seem to be coming to life and improving themselves around them, and though she does occasionally pick at the plates Marian leaves by the door, Mrs. Allardyce never seems to leave her room. Things get progressively eerier and their relationships begin to fray all leading up to a dark if not somewhat predictable conclusion. The story moves along at a brisk pace, though we still get a good feel for the characters and their mental deteriorations as the house casts its spells over them. While there aren’t many moments that I would consider frightening, the book has an overall sense of dread about it, that keeps one turning the pages. Most will see the ending coming a mile away, but that doesn’t damper its impact. A truly creepy read that lingers with the reader. ★★★★ – Sean Farrell

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

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