The weather outside is frightful you say? Well thankfully you don’t have to venture outdoors if you don’t want to. Instead, you can curl up by the fireplace and read some chilling tales of murderous maniacs, blizzards, and the folks stuck indoors with them. With winter heading into full swing and wrapping up winter books month had me thinking about weather as a mechanism for horror. Not necessarily natural disasters that don’t occur regularly, but more specifically the debilitating and isolating effects of snow. A large amount of snow or severe storm can bring even major cities to a standstill, and in doing so cause people to feel trapped and shut off from the rest of the world.
This in turn can make for some fascinating and eerie stories; and Stephen King, being the horror master that he is, knows how to use it to his advantage. And where do we see the fluffy white stuff put to good use? Many winter books feature snow, but The Shining and Misery use them to great result. Both quite different in plot and storyline – one paranormal and one not at all – but both showcasing the paralyzing effect of snow, and what it can do to a person. Let’s talk about some snowy scares.
The Shining – Welcome to Hotel Horror
I don’t think that there’s a person around who hasn’t read the book, seen one of the films, or isn’t aware of the plot of this story in some way shape or form. It’s the perfect read for those searching for winter books with some spookiness. To sum up: struggling writer takes a caretaker job at a hotel that is completely shut off from society during the winter due to heavy snowfalls in the region. He slowly succumbs to the hotel’s “madness” while his terrified wife and son – gifted with an ability called a “shining” – must save themselves from the monster that they thought they knew.
At first glance, Jack Torrance appears to be easy to pin as the evil antagonist type. Now don’t get me wrong, Jack has many issues that he’s trying to resolve in his professional and personal life (alcoholism and anger management being at the top of the list). No questions about that. Would he have succeeded? It’s difficult to say; it would have depended on many factors and decisions that he as a character and Stephen King himself could have made.
Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.
Stephen King himself has often spoken about The Shining being his way of coming to terms with his relationship with his own father. However, on closer inspection, the looming figure of the Overlook itself presents itself to be the true antagonist of this tale. The hotel seems predisposed to unearth your deepest troubles in life and feed on them, quite frankly creating the monsters that lie within its walls.
Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.
Building on that, one could also argue that the Overlook purposely secludes itself up on its hill, using heavy snowfalls to isolate its victims within its walls, the perfect trope for winter books. Of course this angry behemoth and its permanent residents couldn’t have been prepared for the resistance that it receives from Danny Torrance and have such trouble reeling him into its orbit. In fact, the Overlook only turned its attention to Jack, praying on his weaknesses, after it discovered that Danny would be extremely difficult to corrupt.
This impressive five-year-old is able to overcome not only his fears of his father, but take on a massive entity of psychic energy and all of the icy tricks it throws at his family – along with some massive help from fellow “shiner” Dick Halloran. Spoiler alert for you Kubrick lovers, Dick survives in the novel and is a massive help to Danny and Wendy throughout the climax of the story. The Colorado snow lends itself perfectly to this remarkable novel about a very special child facing his fears.
Misery – Tell Me Where It Hurts
Keeping in the theme of Stephen King writing about writers (it happens a lot, trust me) let’s move on to a story about an author with tons of success – but not for the stories he’d like. Paul Sheldon is a celebrated writer, having received high praise for his romance novels featuring a protagonist named Misery Chastain. Having decided to kill her off in the latest installment and move on to greener pastures, Paul – having indulged in a few celebratory drinks – decides to drive from his hotel in Colorado back to LA.
He felt as he always did when he finished a book — queerly empty, let down, aware that for each little success he had paid a toll of absurdity.
Naturally, weather conditions are less than favourable and he winds up having a severe accident. Luckily – or so he first believes – he’s rescued by Annie Wilkes, a seemingly kind former nurse living in a small cabin nearby. Annie nurses Paul, who has broken legs among other injuries, and claims to be his number one fan. Unfortunately, she quickly reveals herself to be unhinged, forcing Paul to write a new Misery novel that resurrects the character he hates.
I am in trouble here. This woman is not right.
The combination of Paul’s injuries, Annie’s madness, and the near impossible snowy weather outside make for a terrifying and thoroughly harrowing experience for the writer.
Unlike The Shining, this novel has no supernatural element to it, but instead showcases the antagonist using the weather to her advantage, easily overpowering her victim, who she knew through rabid fandom would be at a particular place at a particular time. It’s a small story that doesn’t need much to be effective.
The blizzard may take second place to Annie’s lunacy, but its effects are just as detrimental to Paul’s situation. I’m personally a much bigger fan of this film than of The Shining – unpopular opinion I know. If you’re looking for a deeper dive, check out Lizzy Kaplan’s phenomenal portrayal of a young Annie in Castle Rock.
Snow can do a great many things; bring joy, games and fun to people. But, it can also be a great mechanism of isolation, harsh and unforgiving. So many winter books capture the positive nature of snow, but it’s the horror of it that I love to get lost in. I’m a spooky Canadian at heart. Stephen King beautifully harnessed that element in both of these stories. I, for one, would love to read some more snowy madness from this seasoned horror veteran.