Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy, and their son Danny check in to the Overlook Hotel in remote Colorado--sort of. Jack, who struggles to be a writer and struggles not to be a drunk, has signed them up to be a caretaker family during the hotel's winter off-season. The Torrances will be alone, isolated by distance, then cut off by snow. Jack works away at his novel. Wendy and Danny explore the empty hotel.
The hotel is empty, but not abandoned. It "shines" with the residue of past evil. Dick Hallorann, the hotel's cook, explains this phenomenon to Danny before departing for the season. Recognizing that they share a psychic ability to see more than others, Dick tells Danny to ignore what he sees. It cannot harm him. While the hotel cannot harm Danny directly, it can work through others. As the book progresses, the hotel's evil takes gradual possession of Jack, releasing a homicidal rage that Wendy and Danny slowly recognize then desperately try to escape.
This story will give you a lasting scare. While you deal with this, savor two accompanying themes. The first is a strong sense of history and place. You get to know the Overlook Hotel in terms of what has happened there and as an ordinary hotel with rooms, a kitchen, ballroom, storerooms, and all of its other parts. You will wonder how a place designed to meet its guests' daily needs can possess such a hidden hunger for their souls. The well-written contrast between the ordinary and supernatural is part of the book's tension.
The second theme is the book's illustration of the nature of evil. Jack could not have been possessed by the hotel had he not taken willing steps toward it. In a key scene, Jack enters the formerly empty hotel bar to find it fully stocked and tended by a former caretaker, now deceased. Jack is slowly instructed in what he must do as a drink is prepared and set before him. Weakened by his alcoholism, Jack takes this first drink, tacitly agreeing to destroy his family and giving the hotel greater power over him. This "entice, agree, enslave" sequence repeats several times as Jack slips into madness.
It all works out. Leaving the reader thoroughly frightened and impressed. Read this Stephen King classic first, and then see the Stanley Kubrick movie.The later miniseries is also interesting, but not as moving as either of the first two.
This glorious tale of the supernatural opens with arguably the second most famous sentence in the history of western literature: "Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick". Obviously this is meant to offend or entrap the reader, and it does, but the comment is not entirely out of context of the character of Jack Torrance once you get to know him. By the end of part one, we know that he is susceptible to violence, alcoholism and depression. We also know that the Overlook Hotel - the location of the story itself - has had a particularly violent and gruesome history. We know that Danny Torrance - son of Jack and Wendy - is gifted (or cursed) with the ability to witness events before they happen. This is unfortunate for one so young, and yet in this context, this ability may turn out to be a blessing for him to witness events that he does not fully comprehend.
As the story progresses, Mr King prefers to hint at significant features of the tale, leading the reader to guess this, or guess that, instead of simply telling the reader what he wants them to know. Suspense therefore builds slowly but surely and each page is turned by the reader not just with apprehension of what you know is sure to come, but with a sense of absolute joy in the knowledge that you have placed the next four or five hours of your life in the hands of a master. And when it comes to The Overlook Hotel, the mind boggles.
So, in summary, then: Is THE SHINING Stephen King's finest work? You need to read the book yourself to answer that question. Certainly, one could say CHRISTINE was the greater accomplishment - in it, Mr King made the absurd totally believable (and therefore terrifying). But with THE SHINING he has made the everyday, run of the mill ghost story into one of the scariest reading experiences you could ever hope to find. Reading THE SHINING is like going on an infinite DARE-DOUBLE DARE competition with the devil. You read one chapter, and then another but then you ask yourself, one more? one more? Will i be able to cope with one more?
Go on and test yourself, then. You know you want to.