Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Shining: Wasps, Wasps, and More Wasps

I enjoyed The Shining on the whole.  As with a lot of Stephen King books I read, I felt like it dragged for a good portion of the book, as he goes into excruciating (and sometimes seemingly needless) detail to the point where I just want the story to move forward.  But toward the end, I was all in, especially since the whole novel had built up to the moment when Jack Torrance would go insane and swing that sledgehammer around.  I was hungrily waiting for that moment, wanting to witness the steps that led up to it, not to mention the actual event itself.
However, despite all the supernatural and admittedly pretty cool stuff going on in this book, the part that “horrified” me the most wasn’t any of that.  Not to mention it happened early in the novel.  It was the part where Jack is ripping away the rotted shingles on the roof, gets stung by the wasp, and pretty much prays that that the rest of the wasps don’t swarm him.  Luckily, they don’t, but it’s the concept that Jack may have killed himself if they did that really stabbed fear into my heart.  After getting stung, he thinks about how he probably would have hurled himself off the top of the Overlook out of fear if the wasps were stinging him – how he wouldn’t even be really thinking, just reacting out of pure fear.  I found my horror at this point interesting for two reasons.  The first is that, like I said, this is such a normal thing.  There are no supernatural elements, it hits so close to home.  This could easily happen to me on the roof of my own house – like right now, if I happened to be pulling off rotted shingles.  The other thing is that this terrible demise doesn’t even really happen.  I was horrified purely based on the concept.  I have to admit that was pretty cool, and it taught me a lesson in horror and storytelling: sometimes you don’t even have to show something horrible happening.  Just the idea that it could happen or even the concept by itself can be horrifying.  Something to remember when trying to entertain those damn readers.  Interesting…
On another note, there are obviously lots of allusions to wasps in this book.  Not only does Jack Torrance discover a hive on the roof and get stung, but the wasps make a “magical” reappearance in his family’s suite, there’s a flashback to a time when Jack’s father killed a wasp hive, and the noises that things make in the Overlook remind Jack and Danny of a wasp’s buzz (such as the motor of the snowmobile, not to mention the machine looks like a wasp itself), among other things, probably.  Throughout the whole book, I tried to figure out what the significance of the wasps was.  I’m not really sure I was all that successful.  I think the idea behind them is how somebody can become overwhelmed by an emotion and, as a result, do something by accident without being aware of what they’re doing.  I think that goes back to the first scene on the roof when Jack is stung.  He thinks about how fear could have overcome him and, without even meaning to or realizing it, he could have fallen or even jumped off the roof.  Eventually, that’s kind of what happens to Jack at the end of the book, except it isn’t fear that overcomes him, but anger.  I kind of see the Overlook as a giant wasp’s nest.  It’s full of lots of wasps, or angry spirits, that just want to sting people.  Therefore, they all “sting” Jack, who then becomes enraged and tries to kill his family, all the while clearly unaware that he’s doing it, and obviously doesn’t really want to at his core (he is the flawed protagonist, after all).  A moment that convinces me of this is on page 494.  It’s a moment that’s kind of like the calm before the storm: it feels like the hotel is just about to erupt and go crazy, all its spirits coming out to play and wreaking havoc on Jack’s family.  On that page, Danny “hears” the spirits: “It was like the somnolent hum of summer wasps in a ground nest, sleepy, deadly, beginning to wake up.  They were ten thousand feet high.”  Makes it sound like Danny and his family are on the roof where the wasps are, and they’re just about to wake up and cause some serious harm…
Anyway, does anyone else have any ideas behind the whole wasp thing?
Source: King, Stephen.  The Shining.  New York: Pocket Books, 1977.

5 comments:

Jennifer Loring said...

For me, the wasps tie back to Watson's line and the underlying theme of the book, "'[A] man can't help his nature.'" The wasps would be doing what it's in their nature to do, which is to sting until whatever has attacked them is dead. The spirits operate in kind of the same way, "stinging" whomever has awakened them until that person has given in and joined them.

As an aside, one of the things I've always enjoyed about King's writing is his ability to turn the mundane into something completely horrifying. Whether it's wasps, St. Bernards, overzealous fans, etc.

Christopher Shearer said...

I think you may have Spheksophobia. I also happen to think it's always more effective to hint at something and let the reader take it wherever they will. As King himself said (and this'll be paraphrased because I don't have the quote here), if you show the reader a giant spider, you scare the people who are afraid of spiders, but if you give them noises and shadows and feelings and hints, you scare everyone.

John Dixon said...

Great points, Chris - though the book never dragged for me. I think the wasp thing works on many levels. I like your analysis and your comparison between the hotel and a wasp nest, and I also agree with Jenn that this probably ties back into the nature of force and the force of nature, be the subject man or wasp. Like Chris says, King is the master of showing just enough; the wasp thing shows another of his talents. With thematic stuff, he doesn't try too hard, doesn't hold on too tightly, and the thing just works itself in throughout the book.

Laurie Sterbens said...

I'm so glad you wrote about the wasp thing. This was my first read of the book and thought, "Hmm, there's a wasp thing going on here," but I never could figure out what it it was. Jen, I like your take on it.

Kristina said...

Ha! I wrote about wasps in my post, too, but you took yoru analysis further than I did. I only described it in the context of foreshadowing and its relation to the hotel.

I totally forgot about all the other "wasp" appearances in the novel, too.

It's neat to read your take on it and to see how other people interpreted it in the comments.