The Shining: Watch It Or Read It First?

This article contains minor spoilers for both the book and film adaptation of The Shining.

If you are reading this there is a good chance that you know the drama that comes whenever a film or TV series based on a book comes out. Do you watch it straight away or try to read the source material beforehand?

I am a habitual read the book firstperson, and the worst kind of person to watch a book based film with. Throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Lord of the Rings films I have had to constantly consciously hold my tongue to stop me whispering my insider knowledge to my irritated family I am seeing the film with. Often with the announcement at the end of the film that the book was better’.

But with time I have learned to appreciate and respect the differences between the two story telling mediums. Following these points of personal growth, I did what once I thought was unthinkable, and saw a film before reading the book.

The film in question?

Stanley Kubricks iconic film The Shining.

The Movie Poster (Shining)

The film is so interspersed in our pop culture that many scenes in the film will be familiar to watchers by virtue of parody in other shows such as The Simpsons, which is why I thought it was a prime candidate for this experiment. And with the experiment now complete, I am ready to share the results with you, to help you make the decision on whether or not you want to break with tradition and watch this film before reading the book.

What are you wanting to experience?

Whilst both mediums tell a similar story each has a different focus that fundamentally changes the experience for the reader/viewer. Both book and film tell the story of the haunting experiences of the Torrancefamily whilst they are snowed in at the isolated Overlook Hotel over the course of several months. But how that story is told varies distinctly, and naturally when you have experienced one medium, some of the tension is pulled out of the other by the reader/viewers foreknowledge of the events that are going to unfold. In fact I believe that this foreknowledge is what was likely to be responsible for my issues with the pacing of the book, which I highlighted in my review last week.

The book has a distinct focus on the more supernatural elements of the story, looking into the dark history of the Overlook Hotel, and the obsession that starts to grow within the Torrance family, in relation to this storied history. In this regards it is much clearer what is happening in the book when compared to the film. There is some distinctly odd imagery in the film that seem unexplained and weird for weirdness sake, however it becomes more clear what this imagery is in reference to upon reading the book. Further the titular shiningis explored with much greater detail in the book and is a relevant plot point, whereas it seems to be a vestigial story element in the film, and could be entirely cut without removing anything significant from the story.

The film by contrast focuses on the mental trauma of isolation and the growing madness it causes. Haunting events still occur, but the question in the viewer’s mind is Is this happening or is it all in their heads?As a note of personal preference I find this horror to be more effective, as it feels more grounded in reality. The film continually utilises long cuts to build tension which works perfectly with the more psychological horror theme of the film. In a more artistic note the film uses single-point perspective extensively, clear inspiration for Wes Anderson’s later work. The combination of long cuts and single point perspectives build a sense of the enormity of the Overlook Hotel and the isolation the Torrance family are experiencing.

Both mediums explore themes of toxic masculinity and the damaging effect of patriarchal norms on men and those they love, however the book treats Jack Torrance in a distinctly more sympathetic manner than the film. Jack Nicholsons portrayal of the head of the Torrance house has a continual undertone of an unhinged individual, complicit in his own madness, whereas the book paints the picture of a sincere man struggling to fight his own demons despite his best efforts. Neither can be said to be objectively better than the other as each portrayal is directly linked to the greater thematic focus of each medium.

Does one story completely ruin the other?

The short answer is no. The long answer is that in addition to the different narrative and thematic focus of the book and the film, there are important set-piece differences between the two mediums, which I was surprised to discover. Without spoiling both the film and book completely there are distinct differences between the film and the books climaxes, which are each suited to their own medium and story, and would be less suited to the other should the scenes be switched.

Because of this you will not ruin the film by reading the book first and neither will you ruin the book by watching the film first. It comes down to a point of personal preference which you watch or read first, which hopefully I have helped to advise you on. In either case I would fully recommend experiencing both, as it is rare to find such an effective example of how to tell the same story in two different mediums and how one can effectively adapt a book to a film without sacrificing the artistic integrity of both mediums.

Book Review: Barefoot Gen Volume 1

‘Gen is my alter ego and his family are just like my own.’

 

Barefoot Gen Volume 1

Japan is the only country in the history of the world that has had an atomic bomb used against it in war.

It went through that trauma twice.

When I finished reading Barefoot Gen I did not have any words to say.

I just sat there with tears in my eyes processing what I had just read.

This graphic novel tells the semi-autobiographical story of the author Keiji Nakazawa and his childhood experience of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

It is a passionate and emotive piece of anti-war literature, and one of the most deeply disturbing horror stories I have read.

Junji Ito may provide a visceral and terrifying supernatural horror experience on a graphic novel page, but Keiji Nakazawa’s story is real, that is the most disturbing thing of all.

This story is an important piece of modern literature, in the same vein as the war poetry of the frontline soldiers of World War 1, and it provides a unique insight into the domestic situation in Japan at the end of World War 2 and the impact of the atomic bomb being dropped that is not familiar to western readers.

I say western readers, but I can only speak from my own experience of history lessons taught in the UK. I knew about the atom bomb, I knew it was dropped to stop a long drawn out war to claim every individual island of Japan, I knew that it immediately ended thousands of lives instantly like turning off a switch.

Except that last part is not true.

I was taught a very sanitised understanding of atomic warfare, and Barefoot Gen breaks through that understanding violently.

The story told follows Gen, a child living in Hiroshima in the final days of World War 2, and his family. His father is opposed to the war, and living in a militaristic society this leads to Gen’s family being branded traitors.

The reader is introduced to the issues that the civilians of Japan were facing with food shortages and starvation being present in the face of a war that was slowly being lost, along with the pervasive militarism that permeated their society, blinding people to the fact that the war was not going well.

Gen's father

These struggles form the majority of volume one as Gen’s family try to cope with having their neighbourhood turn against them, simply because they are opposed to sending young men out to die for a war that should never have been engaged in.

And then the date ticks over to the 6th August 1945.

The final 35 pages of the manga address the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb. It is haunting. You are given the slightest impression of what Keiji Nakazawa had to experience, and it enough to chill you to the core, and question what humanity is capable of.

The art style used is a very classic, simple, disney-esque cartoon style, lacking the detail that you get from other high quality manga or graphic novels, but this does not negate the emotional connections you build with the characters in this completely human story. You begin to feel like you truly know Gen’s family, and in this process Keiji Nakazawa gives us an intimate and deeply personal insight into his own relationship with his family and the life that he lived in Hiroshima.

There are further volumes of Barefoot Gen that deal with life after the dropping of the bomb. I have not yet read it, and feel I still need time to process volume 1 before I move onto the next part of the story.

Trampled Wheat

Barefoot Gen is, in my view, essential reading. Even if graphic novels are not your cup of tea, the story that it tells is an important part of human history, and it gives a unique insight into the events of 6th August 1945, that should form part of the education around the use of atomic weaponry, that is an ever present shadow in modern global politics.

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

‘Before the beginning there was nothing – no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky; only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.’

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In Norse Mythology Neil Gaiman invites us to pull up a seat by the fire with our friends and family and listen as we learn about the gods and how they shaped the world.

The book is Neil Gaiman’s retelling of 15 tales from the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, and it effectively transports the reader into the place of early Scandinavians, looking for meaning in the world; an explanation for why things are the way they are, and what qualities one should have if they wish to please the gods.

Each chapter is a separate tale, and can be read individually, or as a series of highlights in the massive timeline that is existence itself. The stories are clear to read and easy to understand for the modern reader, with a narrative style more similar to the Hobbit than the Lord of the Rings. Every detail given adds to the readers understanding of the world, the gods and their relationships, and gives clues as to the stories that we are not told, all without bogging down the narrative or leading to confusion.

Reading this book reacquainted me with stories that I read as a child. I half remember reading the stories of when Thor and Loki travelled to Jotenheim and were tested by the giants, and that Loki was somehow the mother of Odin’s horse Sleipnir, but I could never remember the details. Now, thanks to Neil Gaiman’s masterful retelling these stories are firmly fixed in my mind.

The stories this book tells have not only informed my understanding of the old Norse culture, but continue to inform my experience of more modern media, such as the God of War remake, and Marvel’s Thor movies. Having an understanding of source material allows you to better appreciate the creativity of the authors of these newer stories and interpretations, which I have found improves my enjoyment of these other media, although my friends and family might not appreciate the little ‘did you knows’ I now have at my fingertips when we watch Thor: Ragnarok…

There were parts of this book where I thought the writing was a touch over simplistic, explaining a bit too much, but in the same breath, these are stories you could read to children almost verbatim, and it would be enjoyed. There is always a balance to be struck with accessible storytelling, and I believe that Neil Gaiman has achieved that balance with this book.

If you have even a passing interest in Norse mythology, or the modern stories that have been influenced by it, I would recommend reading this book. It is a short, easy read that, that does not require you to be a linguist to enjoy.

If you like this article check out more book reviews here.