"The Shining" Book Discussion and Orange Butter Loaf Cake Recipe
Some readers may be tempted to brush off reading this book for the first time because they have already seen the movie. That would be a huge mistake, especially if they consider themselves true fans of this genre. This book is far more terrifying and psychologically probing than the movie.
pulls the reader into the psyche of Jack Torrance, the protagonist, and into an understanding that borders on his defense from the very beginning. It is almost easy to sympathize with him through his alcohol consumption that becomes an addiction, and the tragic events of his childhood that led to it. But King changes hands to Jack’s wife Wendy, his son Danny, and later to Dick Hallorann, and gives us a very well rounded view of their individual and collective struggles against each other and their own inner demons. It’s no wonder that the terrifying ghosts of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado (where Jack acts as caretaker throughout most of the novel) are so drawn to this family—they are all powerful characters with whom it is easy to identify at least some element of self, or at least sympathize with their deficiencies. The Shining
Their fears become ours as the novel progresses and their thoughts are laid bare for us to fear as well. Even the absolute terror of a child playing in an abandoned playground with something lurking in its dark, snowy shadows, or the screeching of an empty elevator moving unaided up and down the hotel floors become absolutely unnerving to the reader who dares turn the pages of this macabre tale at night. King’s references to Poe’s “Mask of the Red Death” are a perfect nod to the even more horrifying tale he has written. The Shining causes the reader to wonder long after the the last cover is closed, about our own possible “shinings”, and to second-guess what haunts we might have experienced in our own world.
Perfect for fans of
- The movie The Shining
- Stephen King
- Horror stories
- Haunted hotels
- Ghost stories
- Supernatural elements
Wendy “thought that to children, adult motives and actions must seem as bulking and ominous as dangerous animals seen in the shadows of a dark forest. They were jerked about like puppets, having only the vaguest notions why.” Do you think this could be true, or perhaps are adult motives not given much those by children, and only seen as frustrating when different from the child’s?
In thinking back on her feelings and moods, Wendy describes them in terms of colors “The way she had felt yesterday or last night or this morning…They were all different, they crossed the spectrum from rosy pink to dead black.” How often do we ascribe colors to our feelings, and why do we? (Bonus question: if you’ve read Stephen King’s Insomnia, how do these color feelings relate to our auras?)
Jack, in recovery from alcohol addiction, complains of wanting “just one waking hour when the craving for a drink wouldn’t surprise him like this.” Is that the way of all addictions, that the craving still, even years later, sneak up on us when we least expect them, or are at our weakest? What could cause that? Is that one more reason to avoid addicting things to begin with?
Is it true that “a man can’t help his nature,” as Jack excuses? Or are we responsible for following our own paths and making our own choices? How much a part did destiny play in Jack’s life? Was everything working against him and was he truly the victim?
Does every bog hotel have a scandal or a ghost? Have you ever stayed in one that had, or had any kind of encounter with something “other-wordly?”
Danny states that thinking hard, shining, as he later discovers it’s called, can make reality slip away—Do all children have this ability to live in pretend worlds? How and when do we lose it as adults? Are books our only means to get back to those places of fantasy? What are some of the benefits of having such creative outlets? Is it true, as the doctor later states, that “children have to learn to grow into their imaginations?” What does that really mean?
Jack states once feeling a wave of affectionate love for his son, but it only displays on his face as stony grimness. How much of this pattern do you think he observed and recreated from his own father? Could that be part of Jack’s underlying psychological issue (and his emotional drinking)? Do you think this is something that affected Danny as well?
Why had it never occurred to Wendy that Jack had gone out to drink for reasons that had nothing to do with her? Were a dangerous combination of genetics and the circumstances of their respective upbringings to blame for their later misunderstandings and conflicts?
Does Hallorann equate empathy, to a certain extent, with shining? Or, for most people who are unaware that they are doing so, is it more of a special psychic connection with others? And do you think these people have to be strangers, or would they be better at reading people with whom they are close? Have you ever had a “shining” about the past or present?
Were the wasps a danger developed by the hotel, or an unfortunate accident? Was that perhaps Danny’s first warning sign that the spirits there were after him? If not, what was?
Is it true, in what you read about Danny, or in what you know about children, that “Small children are great accepters. They don’t understand shame, or the need to hide things.” If that is the case, why do they hide it when they do something wrong they know they will get in trouble for? Or was this doctor referring to something else?
Why is Danny’s “invisible friend named Tony, instead of Mike or Hal or Dutch”? What does this say about his mental power and overall intelligence?
Have you ever had your mind feel sharp and accurate, all the way down to millimeters, like Jack’s did when he was writing? What situation were you in/was it academic, creative, athletic? What do athletes call this now?
Once, during the drinking phase, Wendy had accused Jack of desiring his own destruction but not possessing the necessary moral fiber to support a full-blown death wish. So he manufactured ways in which other people could do it, lopping a piece at a time off himself and their family. Could it be true? Is that again the pattern of an addict—forcing others to take responsibility for their own destructive behaviors? Or is Jack an unfortunately vulnerable man who was exploited by fate and a force more powerful than himself in this hotel?
Several times, Stephen King references the story of Alice in Wonderland, from the white rabbit, to the Red Queen, the dangerous game of croquet (even though Jack uses a roque mallet). What are some similarities in each story that you see? Is even the theme of madness something that could be argued to exist in both worlds, or dreams? What about Danny’s linking room 217 with the story of Bluebeard—is it an apt analogy?
Jack states that he believes all great fiction and nonfiction are written to get the truth out. Thus he justifies writing a book about the Overlook, because he feels compelled to be the one to write the truth of its story. Why do you feel all great literature is written? Is there truth of some sort in all great literature, even if it’s fiction? Did his research perhaps cause his possession/madness/obsession?
Jack’s father, and later he, repeat that their victims need to “take their medicine.” What could this be a metaphor of? What do they feel needs to be “remedied”?
Is it true that a real artist, a great one, be it a writer, painter, etc., must suffer? Must he in a way, kill the thing he loves? Or is that just the way of tragic characters?
Jack’s true face is one of desperate unhappiness. What would Wendy’s look like? Or Danny’s? Hallorann’s? Yours? Does it depend on the current mood, or is there an underlying current of something ever-present for each of them?
Jack Torrance develops opposing feelings about his characters. Ordinarily he generally liked them all, but later became conflicted. How is this an appropriate example of a reaction King creates in his readers? At what point does each character become unlikable? Why?
Did the real Jack truly wish just to find peace and a sense of purpose at the hotel? Did any of them? Do you think he ever found it?
“Was it possible, Danny wondered” of his father, “to be glad you had done something and still be so ashamed of that something that you tried not to think of it?” How do you think Jack felt? What has been your experience?
Wendy, at one point, sees her husband as a Hamlet-type figure, one “so mesmerized by onrushing tragedy that he was helpless to divert its course or divert it in any way.” What makes people react to tragedy in this way, instead of jumping in to help? Is it self-preservation or selfishness? Explain why you think so.
What caused some areas of the hotel to be safe, and others weren’t? What were some of each?
How does accepting that death is a part of life make someone a whole person, or a mature adult? Why is this necessary, as Hallorann believes?
Who do you believe the “manager” of the hotel was? Is it a character mentioned in this book? Or in perhaps another of King’s books?
How did the spirits of the Overlook escape the hotel and make their way into the shed? Why did they attack Dick Hallorann? How was he able to resist them when Jack couldn’t?
I chose this recipe because the smell of oranges accompanied each of Dick Hallorann’s “shinings,” but especially the ones with Danny. This cake is also made with butter and milk—a couple staples in the pantry, a point of discussion among Danny, Hallorann, and Wendy, as well as something Wendy and Danny go to the store to pick up during one of their first deeply honest conversations as they drive back up to the hotel. Finally, this recipe has an orange liqueur called Grand Marnier (optional), and orange juice, to give it a real orange flavor that’s still balanced and sweet.
Orange Butter Cake with Orange Icing Drizzle
For the cake:
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup salted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 cup orange marmalade
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
- 1 large orange, of zest
- 1 (about 1/3 cup) large orange, of juice
- 1 tsp orange extract, (optional)
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
For the icing:
- 2 tsp orange juice, or Grand Marnier
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Make a mix of oil or butter and flour and use to grease the inside of a loaf tin. In a mixing bowl or a stand mixer on medium speed, beat butter, orange zest, orange marmalade, and sugar together till light and fluffy. Add in sour cream and stir till incorporated. Then add in the orange juice (and optional orange extract) and mix well.
- In a separate bowl, sift together flour and baking powder. To the mixing bowl, add in flour slowly, by halves, and stir on low speed until all the flour disappears. Add eggs, one at a time till well mixed in. Gently pour the cake batter into the loaf tin and bake for 40 to 45 mins or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack for twenty minutes minimum before icing.
- For the icing, stir or whisk orange juice (or Grand Marnier) with powdered sugar. Drizzle on top of a completely cooled cake.
Orange Butter Cake with Orange Icing Drizzle
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If you like Stephen King’s terrifying writing style, the most horrifyingly brilliant of his stories are Duma Key, Bag of Bones, and Lisey’s Story, all of which have to do with ghosts or some sort of supernatural influences. Some of the elements of this book are continued in King's book Insomnia (and there is a bonus discussion question for those who've read both books).
If you enjoyed the concept of a haunted place of residence, with unraveling historical mysteries, and even the Overlook Hotel’s connection to a tragic writer’s school, read The Ghost Orchid or The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman.
© 2019 Amanda Leitch