Friday, September 6, 2013

All "Shining" And No Work Make DanielleTBD Draw Reaching Comparisons...

In Stephen King's upcoming sequel to "The Shining," no-longer young Danny Torrance has a much bigger threat than the Overlook Hotel with which to deal. Now, almost two decades after he survived that horrific ordeal and the hotel itself burned down, the land has been taken over by a group who feed on children that "shine." If you remember the former novel itself, it was a key member of the Overlook Hotel staff who gave the children this term in the first place to label the aura that surrounds them and marks them as "special." Interestingly, it appeared then that King had just appropriated a term that marked things as special in his own life. In the prologue to "The Langoliers", King mentioned his own writing process being that he files ideas into a mental filing cabinet of sorts, closing the drawer for indefinite time, only to reopen it later and see what's still surviving inside. The ideas that remain are the ones he remembers because they are good enough to turn into something more than an idea, and they look up at him, "each with its own bright central image." 

"The Shining" may have brought this theme up last century, and in that particular book the "shine" worked both ways to mark the person as special and describe the person's special abilities to sense what others (dead and alive) were feeling, but in recent months it has become quite a popular approach for writers tackling tales of crazed killers. "Doctor Sleep" will be just the latest on the list, but King is far from the only creator who is dipping their quills, so to speak, in the ink of those who shine. Just a few months ago Lauren Beukes took on the topic with a novel about a "girl who wouldn't die" and a "killer who shouldn't exist." In her novel "The Shining Girls", serial killer Harper Curtis literally jumps through time to kill young girls from various eras, crossing their names off a list, guided to them only because they quite literally "shined" to him.

It isn't just literature, either. Films like 2001's Frailty starring Bill Paxton as a devout man who was trying to rid his town of demons by killing those who came to him in visions used a hazy, glowing aura around certain people in those visions to mark them as the worthy next victims. 

Obviously with Frailty something religious was at play, and with both King and Beukes' books it appeared something other-worldly was. Not quite out of this world, but certainly something surreal. While the Overlook Hotel was very much a metaphor at times for Jack's descent into alcoholism and related madness, it was accelerated by the supernatural nature of the structure, and in the sequel, the beings that feed on these special children don't age (because of feeding on special children). Of course the time travel element in "The Shining Girls" keeps it, too, from being completely grounded in our reality. 

Those who shine should be celebrated, not hunted. In all of these fictional examples, having a special glow is tantamount to being "other" simply because they have a quality that cannot fully be explained. It is a feared quality by some, a desired one by others, and the result of all of that unknown difference is disaster for he or she who has the quality-- even though he or she don't always even know they have it. In many ways, that shine can be a stand in for an innocence.

There are not supernatural things like time traveling serial killers in our actual world, but we are still very much surrounded by people who shine-- people who have an "it factor" or a "je ne sais quois"-- especially in the entertainment industry in general. There is a reason, even if a subconscious one, this idea keeps coming up in fictional narrative. Most writers write what they know, and everyone knows someone who has just seemed inexplicably special. This town-- Hollywood-- especially is lousy with them. Hollywood is a place where anyone who has ever been told is special can run and hope that label will be proven true. And among the hoards of talent, let alone even more wannabes through which to wade, there are a select few who actually absolutely command your attention simply with their presence and without even trying. They are the ones with that intangible but still unique quality-- an almost indescribable attitude and aura around themselves that not only makes you unable to tear your eyes away from them when they're on-screen but also makes you want to know them better as people, in life. 

But just as in these genre narratives, there is a threat to those who shine in the real world, too. To continue with the Hollywood comparison, it is the entertainment industry at a whole here that acts as the threat to snuff out that shining-- that specialness. Perhaps not by literally killing the person who embodies the quality, but certainly by treating that person with lackluster care. It shouldn't be easy for those who truly shine to get lost in Los Angeles, but it is easy for that shine to be worn down. Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes it's just carelessness, but it amounts to the same thing: without proper polishing and handling, things that shine always begin to fade, dull, crack-- until they are no longer special or worthy of attention at all. Since the industry can misunderstand the people so easily, it should be no surprise that their representations get so sensationalized, proving it doesn't see its own part in the metaphor and therefore is not in touch with the gift it could have if truly in touch with itself.

As King's inspiration for his theme and his title John Lennon sang in "Instant Karma,"
"...Who in the hell do you think you are:
A super star?
Well, right you are.
Well we all shine on,
Like the moon and the stars and the sun,
Well we all shine on..."

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