Thursday, September 09, 2004

KING COVERS: The Shining (1977)

As already mentioned in my previous post, I consider The Shining to be King's greatest literary achievement. More than any other story (except, perhaps, The Dead Zone) this book struggles to be something more than just a spooky yarn. It struggles -- and struggles effectively -- with such timeless and relevant issues as abusive parents, marital disharmony and alcoholism. While it's true that these are issues that King would deal with in later books, it is perhaps the setting of The Shining -- in an abandoned hotel, blocked by winter from the rest of the world, where the three family members have nothing to distract them from their own emotional and psychological crises -- that allows it to be as effective as it is.

Having said that, most of the covers for the Shining are horrible.

The original Doubleday hardcover edition, reminiscent, just slightly, of the Doubleday hardcover for Salem's Lot, makes one point that is lost on every other cover of the Shining: That this is a story about a family. Most other covers focus on one of two other elements of the book, either A) A young boy with psychic powers; or B) A homicidal father (usually using Jack Nicholson's crazed look from the film to drive this point home).

As boring as it is, though, it's one of the few covers to get the book, and of the ones that get it, this one gets it most completely. So, as sad as I am to say it, this is my pick for best cover.''

The original Signet paperback goes with a nice, understated cover design, but they choose to play up a rather insignificant part of the story -- that Danny Torrence, the young boy of the story, was born with a "caul" over his face (from A part of the amnion, one of the membranes enveloping the fetus, which sometimes is round the head of a child at its birth) which, according to the story, is often an indicator of psychic ability in old legend. Which, yeah, i skind of fortuitous as Danny does end up with psychic powers. But c'mon, it's a midly creepy image to see a head without a face on a book cover, but what does it really have to do with the book? Not a hell of a lot.

Oh, and first printings of this paperback had a shiny (I'm tempted to say mylar) cover that would actually rub off as it was handled. Not great for reading, if you wanted to keep your book looking pretty.

NOTE: And yes, in fact, I do have a copy of the shiny paperback version, about a quarter rubbed, so still in relatively good condition.

These two books, both courtesy of Pocketbooks, are so similar it's almost not worth pointing out both of them -- and, in fact, I only include the second for its strange similarity to the bizarre, campy version of Salem's Lot. Both covers also, clearly, play up the "little boy" aspect of the story, though with a boy so creepily-faced that I'd almost expect to find out that he was the brutal, homicidal killer of the story. Guess you can't win 'em all.

Moving away from the US covers (because they're either movie tie-ins, or more pictures of children) we come to this edition from England -- another child cover, this time with what appears to be either ghosts or zombies behind him. Enough with the children, for pete's sake! It's not all about the kid!

NOTE: I only show this book because, in fact, I have a copy of this british edition. Dunno why I do, or where I got it, but I do.

This later UK cover gets higher points, for dropping the focus on little boys and placing the focus on the hotel. There even seems to be -- shock of shocks! -- a family in the foreground, looking at or walking towards the hotel. The hotel seems nicely menacing as well. Nice touch.

The Japenese version -- in fact, two books to make one - also plays up the hotel element with an, as always, strangely Japenese kind of design. I'll confess a fondness for this cover, even if it doesn't quite get the whole "menacing" angle that, unfortunately, I think the cover requires. For all we know at first glance, this could be "Fawlty Towers: The Novelization."

And, to close, here are three books from around the world (left to right: netherlands, denmark, and spain) that focus on the insane daddy element of the book, using Jack Nicholson's famous face from the film to really drive the point home. Blech.

Could it be that the book is actually a bit too complex to get a nice, simple cover design? Or am I just madly groping for excuses? Will I ever have an answer? Will I stop caring as soon as I publish this post?

In that order: Unlikely. Probably. No. Yes.

All covers are stolen without permission from the Stephen King Cover Gallery. Here's hoping that if I'm nice and give him a link, he won't ask me to take these down.


Anonymous said...

Hey, have you ever thought that the books with the strange similarities are done at the same time by publishers looking to cash in on the latest King novel? That is, the two campy ones and the two with the same font for the title? Kind of like the black cover editions of Lord of the Rings that came out simultaneously with the movie? Maybe it makes them look more like a set that needs to go together, so people buy both of them instead of just one.

Just askin...

Todd said...

No, you're absolutely right, those similarly designed covers all appeared on the shelves at roughly the same time -- normally to coincide with a brand new Stephen King paperback. In fact, in about half of the cases, I can even remember which book was being published in paperback for the first time during that back-catalogue redesign. I'm not sure if it's just an excuse to give their graphics department a bit more work, or if they're trying to fool people into buying books they've already bought before, but that's a large part of why I'm doing these King Cover reviews in the first place -- there are SO many different versions of his books in paperback.

I never did see that campy Salem's Lot cover, though. Which is too bad, as I would very much like to get my hands on a copy...