The Shining as an Allegory of Haunting and Emotional/Spiritual Issues. (Excerpted from About Ghosts: A Useful Handbook by Jan Olandese)
A tale that exemplifies haunting as dysfunction is Stephen King’s The Shining. In it, the Torrance family, a couple and their young son, move to the remote Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado. The father gets a job there as a winter caretaker, hoping to have time to write. They are told the hotel will be snowed in for weeks at a time. The reader correctly takes this as a bad omen: but not the clueless Torrances. The father struggles with alcoholism and anger issues. These are analogous to the furnace boiler in the basement of the hotel, which, we are told, has to be watched very closely by the caretaker so it doesn’t explode.
The Overlook can be likened to the superego/subconscious of the caretaker. The hotel is haunted (as is the caretaker). The hotel is the stage, the dysfunctions are the actors or ghosts. The caretaker becomes overwhelmed by these and goes crazy. He evolves, indeed, into ‘a danger to himself and others.’
True to form as exemplified in classic hauntings, he refuses leave the place. While they do need the money (and in most haunted house cases, people don’t leave because they cannot afford to move again), his increasing symbiosis with the Overlook and his issues with anger and substance abuse become his primary motivation for staying.
The reader is given a hint: the origin of the name Torrance is Scottish and it means ‘from the craggy hills’ – ‘tor’ may also mean ‘watchtower.’ These are perfect choices for the plot and tie in with the dual purpose: a great ghost/horror story and a fine and effective allegory.
In The Shining, the ghosts enable the caretaker: they become the devil on his shoulder. In other hauntings, ghosts may alternatively be messengers from our subconscious, or perhaps from the Divine, coming to warn us that here lies danger.
The haunted house might be a symbol of an unhappy or unhealthy state of emotional or spiritual being. The being, the ‘housing’ of the psyche and the spirit, is out of balance for one of the abovementioned reasons. And it thus becomes an unhealthy, disintegrated, haunted. As nightmares can be messengers of the subconscious mind to call our attention to something important, so might hauntings.
(To be continued…stay tuned for Part III!)
Photo: Jack Boucher [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons