A Travelogue from May 2021
Sometimes a place grips our imagination so tightly that we can't help but dream about it. And I suppose that's what happened when Stephen King visited the historic Stanley Hotel back in the nineteen seventies. He stayed there one night, had nightmares (rumor has it), and wrote The Shining shortly afterward.
Travel is so useful for writing because it allows me to collect details like a child picking up rocks. By the end of the day, my pockets are bulging. Edinburgh's slick black paving stones live on in my mind, and so does the sensory explosion of the spices at Athenian flea markets, right down to the detail of those blue and white evil-eye charms staring at me as I walked by.
Setting isn't story but it can inspire one. Just as illustrators work from reference art, writers draw descriptions from real-life places. Just last week, P and I were walking through the city and I pointed at a bus stop. "That's where Hostile Takeover starts," I said. I could see both realities, the one in front of my eyes and the rain-drenched night Jessica hurried through that same corner at the start of the novel. And I cannot step onto a cruise ship without imagining that Ellie Tappet is behind me, bustling forward with her shopping tote.
Place and story intertwine. That's what I'm thinking today, about after spending a few hours at the Stanley Hotel. P and I were road tripping through Colorado when I remembered that the hotel that had inspired The Shining was hidden in the mountains nearby. Spontaneity is the whole point of a road trip, and I wanted to see how the Overlook Hotel of my imagination compared with the place that story was born.
I wasn't disappointed.
The hotel has been updated over the decades since King slept there. They added a hedge maze and some props from the made-for-TV movie. But even stripping those things away, I could see the connection between the Stanley Hotel and its fictional twin in The Shining. The tall eerie staircases were flooded with light from old windows, and the brass elevators were from a bygone age. The lonely ballroom contained a piano. We admired the beautiful bar with a long wooden counter. The hedge maze was a nice addition.
We saw other tourists walking around, delighted, enjoying comparisons with the haunted hotel of their imaginations. And I love how a good book has the power to bring us all to the same location in our minds, to sync up our emotions and memories. In that sense, fictional setting becomes a real place, durable and permanent. How many of us have walked through the Gothic splendor of Mr. Rochester's house in Jane Eyre? Millions, I expect. Those images and feelings are a shared experience that transcends time and all other differences.
If you're a fan of The Shining and you find yourself in Colorado I recommend a quick stop at The Stanley Hotel. They give tours, but the slots were all booked up by the time we arrived. So we walked around the hotel on our own, admired the grounds, and picked up some amusingly Stephen King themed lattes before heading out for our next destination.
I did not look for the ghost of room 217.