by JD Salinger
I’ve written enough about this around the site that I’m loathe (like so many English teachers, I’m sure) to take it on again. Unless you’re recently new to western civilization, you’ve probably heard of this book, and know what it’s about. I read somewhere that Holden Caulfield’s red cap is considered one of, if not the most iconic literary symbols of the 20th century. So if you notice red hats becoming popular for other reasons in the near future (for reasons connected to individuals misunderstanding and romanticizing the past)…look out!
Anyway, here’s a brief rundown of why this book seems interesting:
- Its “Catch” twins with Catch-22, on the shelf above Danny.
- Wendy holds it almost at the middle page (in fact, she’s at the exact 5/8ths mark, 26/27 pages past this edition’s middle, as we’ll discuss later), emphasizing the mirror/butterfly-like nature of the book’s cover design. Wendy’s being almost halfway through a book in her first shot could also be a sly allusion to how the middle of The Shining is like a second beginning (Kubrick may have felt similarly about Catcher, I don’t know).
- Also, the official number of pages for the book is 234 pages, which makes 117 the middle page, a number associated with the Tower of Babel. There’s been more than a few pressings of the novel (Goodreads lists 501 editions so far), but the most common of the 1951 prints of the book seem to be 234 and 277 pages.
- There’s also the fact that chapter 15 would start on the middle page no matter which edition you’re reading (so long as no new sections have been added or subtracted), so the first half of the book is the first 14 chapters, and the second half is the final 12. There’s a crucial moment in The Shining that has to do with a 12 and a 14, which is itself a sort of “midway point” for the film. And that moment also seems to invoke a bible verse, Mark 13:29, while the only bible verse directly invoked in Catcher in the Rye is Mark 5:1-20, about Jesus casting the “Legion” demon out of a man into a herd of pigs that race and drown themselves. At the end of chapter 14 (also seen on the middle page of the book), Holden reflects that instead of the sleep he got up to, he’d rather’ve jumped out a window to his suicide. At the beginning of the chapter is when he thinks about the guy he likes best from the bible (besides Jesus), which was the guy who “kept cutting himself with stones” (pg. 91 of my copy). That happens exactly opposite the other, most overt reference to religion in the book, when Holden meets a couple nuns on page 100, and they get to discussing Romeo and Juliet (and almost discuss Julius Caesar, before the nun cuts him off). So maybe there is a certain mirrorformity to the book. In any case, on page 159 of The Shining, Jack reads that the Overlook got bought out by a couple of Pulitzer Prize winners in 1961 who turned it into a writer’s retreat until one of the students jumped out the third story window to his death. And there’s a lot of to-do in King’s novel about an assassination that took place in the third-floor presidential suite, room 300. And Jack remembers that assassination at the exact 5/8ths mark of his book, page 280, before wondering how many suicides had taken place in the hotel over the years. And this is in a scene where Jack is working his way up to destroying the snowcat (pg. 282), eliminating his own ability to save the family from calamity, and his own mind from being hijacked. So, in effect, this is Jack’s final suicide.
- The book appears from 4:17 to 4:43 of the film, or 26 seconds. The book has 26 chapters. And Wendy is 26 pages past the middle of her copy.
- I noticed another cool thing about this, but it’s a little complex. The first second of Jack’s typing face, on the first day of his writer’s block having ended is 43:20. This is 2600 seconds into the film. In my F21 photo analysis, we find that the F21 photos on the pillar behind Jack in this scene add up to 20 (north pillar) and 34 (south pillar). And when we go to 20:34 of the film, we find that this is the exact second that Jack emerges from the Colorado lounge elevator, to walk between these two values. So I began to think of 2034 and its jumbles as the hotel’s “home” number for Jack, just as I began to think of 417 and its jumbles as the true “home” number for Wendy and Danny. So I’m wondering if this 2600/43:20 mashup signifies the fact that Jack is finally doing what he always wanted to do (or thinks he’s doing): writing his great American novel. But the fact that Wendy would be reading page 132 (a jumble of 312, the code for Bluebeard, as we’ll get to), seems to foreshadow the uselessness of Jack’s efforts. But, since the film has such a pro-artistry subtext in all the Beatles imagery, and Danny’s lessons and escapes, I wonder why Jack’s efforts to be such a great artist are being undermined here. Perhaps what’s being vilified is the way Jack thought he needed such lengthy seclusion from the world in order to write his masterpiece. Stephen King has a maxim about how you need to write your first draft with the door closed, but you need to edit with the door open. In other words, yes, the creation of art is, in the beginning, a personal, private affair. But it must become a public affair if it’s to mean anything, so, as artists we have to be part of the world that we’re writing/painting/filming/singing about. Jack’s quest for 5 months of total seclusion is too much, too hard on his spirit.
- The book is a red book, much like Ullman’s Red Book.
- Jack Nicholson (and DiCaprio!) wanted to star in an adaptation in his youth (there’s a few little clues in the film to remind us of Nicholson’s rise to fame, and his glory days, and this could be another little jab at him).
- The book contains a few details with subtextual links to this film: a pimp/elevator operator named Maurice who punches Holden, which Holdon later imagines as a much worse gun shot (Hallorann is axed next to a painting about a Maurice); Holden agrees to meet Sally Hayes (with a name like Lolita Haze, another film by Kubrick) at the Biltmore Hotel (the Gold Room bathroom is supposed to be based on the Arizona Biltmore); Holden’s sister Phoebe is excited to play Benedict Arnold in a school play (the mountain behind Wendy’s apartment, Green Mountain, has a connection to Benedict Arnold (through Ethan Allen), as discussed); and of course, Holden is angry at his WWII-vet brother for becoming a screenwriter (Jack Torrance goes to the Overlook to finish his quasi-autobiographical play, where he and Wendy will make remarks comparing him to a war vet, like when he asks where his “purple heart” is after getting a bee sting (pg. 120)).
- We assume that movie Jack is a novelist (though all he says is “I’m outlining a new writing project”), and certainly his All Work papers sometimes have the look of a novel (though more often like poetry), and Salinger is something of the antithesis of the novelist who becomes a novelist in order to become a working novelist, opting for solitude and never publishing any of the copious works he composed throughout the rest of his life (so, Wendy’s apparent fascination might speak to her hope that Jack can put his ambitions to bed).
- Salinger dated Oona O’Neill who would go on to become Charlie Chaplin’s wife, and there’s some reason to think Chaplin’s The Gold Rush inspired The Shining.
- Holden’s disdain for “phony” art forms (like Hollywood movies) reminds of Jack’s disdain for television on the drive to the hotel, and the fact that Jack’s last four lines of meaningful dialogue (but especially his last) are TV references.
- If you read the Interpretations section on Wikipedia, there’s several factors that should entice your intrigue:
- Some hold that Holden evolves as a character while others hold that he doesn’t (Jack Torrance is similarly arcful/arcless);
- It’s been argued that the book is secretly a war novel (it’s been argued that The Shining is secretly a war movie);
- The book references Captains Courageous (1937; 42 years before these events) in chapter 13, specifically targeting the child actor in that film (Danny Lloyd isn’t 13, like Freddie Bartholomew was in that film, but he is a child actor). The reference comes on page 89 (of my copy), which means that the opposite page is 104, and that’s where Holden ponders his desire to buy his 10-year-old sister Phoebe a 20-year-old record (1931) called Little Shirley Beans by one Estelle Fletcher (neither of which seem to exist) who makes the song sound real “Dixieland and whorehouse”. That made me think of Little Shirley Temple, who debuted at 3 years old in the same year as the fictional Little Shirley Beans, 1931, and who also sang about Dixie. Jack learns on page 157 of The Shining that part of the Overlook’s finances came from the success of Horace Derwent’s Top Mark Studios, whose prior success came from a string of films starring Little Margery Morris (lines of King’s description of Morris’s on-screen character are synonymous with lines from the Wikipedia entry on Shirley Temple), who died of a heroin overdose in 1934 (Judy Garland was a child star at the same time as Temple, and died of a barbiturate overdose in the summer of 1969). The Morris reference seemed to me to link the host of “Morris” references in the film, which in turn link to the murder of Dick Hallorann. In fact, the girl who tells Holden he looks like Freddie Bartholomew is a child prostitute herself, who’s been sent to Holden by the “elevator boy” Maurice. And while there was an actor named Margaret Morris, she wasn’t a child star – the closest thing to a child star named Margery from that era was the sister of the much more famous Marcia Mae Jones. So, I’m wondering if it’s rather a reference to a series of novels from 1917-1921 by Violet Gordon Gray, which followed the adventures of Margery Morris, a little Quaker girl. Although I’m not sure what the significance of that would be. Violet Gray was a Charlie Brown character, and Danny’s room is covered in those. Also, Danny gets a toy “Violent Violet Volkswagen” in the book, and Charlie Brown’s Violet was known for her cruelty.
- One curious thing is that there was a Margery Morris burned alive along with the martyr Richard Woodman in 1557, and on the Gold Room sign is an advertisement for two performers: Danny Haynes and Kim Woodman. Until now, I haven’t had a reference for that “Woodman” component. King’s Margery Morris being invoked only once, and on page 157 could connect to that 1557. That page also makes reference to the “Hayes Office”, which is pretty close to “Haynes”.
Every “Red Book” printing of the novel that Wendy’s holding in the movie, printed in the 1970s, was 212 pages. I happen to own the 192-page version (the 24th printing from 1962), so I was able to look at the line breaks that show up on the pages of Wendy’s copy (she turns it toward the camera as she sets it down on the table: 4:40-4:43) to see that she would be at the exact 5/8ths mark of the book, which would be page 132/133 of her book. This would be page 146/147 of the official 234-page version of the book, or page 173/174 of the original 277-page hardcover copy. I don’t know if there’s any way to know if Kubrick meant for us to consider these alternate page counts, but the book appears at exactly 4:17 of the film, and 147 and 174 are jumbles of that.
Actually, something just occurred to me on this. If this is the 212-page version, the official page count for Catch-22 is 453. So if you put these both together you’d get 665 pages. Juli Kearns counts The Shining at 661 shots, and I think she has good reason for doing so. But what she does is discount the darknesses resulting from total blackouts during the film (like the one between the first bloodfall vision and Danny waking up in Boulder). If we added those back in, we’d get 664 or 666 shots, depending on how one thinks of the darknesses that begin and end the film. In any of the above instances, that’s still pretty close to these combined “catch” novels. Shot #212 is the placard for SATURDAY, being the shot right after the slow zoom on Jack staring bleakly out the window with the raging fire behind him. Catcher ends (spoiler alert) with Holden entering a sanitarium, while Catch-22 is pretty gonzo from start to finish. So, despite Jack’s erratic behaviour in the scene just past, this shot of him staring madly and unblinkingly into the bleak face of pre-winter is where we get the sense that there’s no question left about it: Jack’s losing his marbles, and he’ll seem to remain so mad for the duration. So perhaps it would be interesting to do a page-by-page comparison of the two novels against the 661 shots of the film. Like, Wendy’s page 132/133 would correspond to the shots of Hallorann asking Danny how long he’s been able to shine, and then why he doesn’t want to talk about his shine power, with Danny shifting around awkwardly and uncomfortably. Wendy is interrupted by Danny asking if she really wants to go to the Overlook when she’s on page 132, and Dick’s question is the first instance of him trying to broach the subject with Danny (before this he’s just been divulging about his own experiences with shine), so perhaps Danny reached out for his mother at being asked this question, and this is the film’s way of letting us know, without telling us. I just did a little comparison with my 192-page version, and it seems that the shots that comprise this scene, #124-#163, would correspond to the beginning of chapter 17 right to the end of chapter 21. Is that a 21/17 reference? Like room 217? If so, it’s fitting that room 237 would come up for the first time in this conversation. Danny brings up the room in shot #157 (that’s 2:37 in seconds, remember), at which point chapter 21 has just begun. In it, Holden meets up with his little sister, Phoebe, who pesters him multiple times why he didn’t come home on Wednesday. Wednesday is the day Danny enters 237, after getting locked out on Tuesday. Phoebe also tells him about getting to star as Benedict Arnold in a play, and there happens to be a painting around the corner from 237, which makes obscure reference to Arnold. Phoebe also complains of people talking “Right in the middle of the picture” they’d gone to see, and Hallorann will be the main action right in the middle of The Shining, at which point Danny will begin to send him his shine blast about room 237. And there’s multiple books at that moment that tie to the Torrance kitchen where Wendy is reading. Danny’s first brush with room 237 happens in shots #185-#191. Going by my former calculus, this would equal the last seven pages of chapter 24, where Holden hangs out with his beloved English teacher, Mr. Antolini, ending with him waking to find Antolini stroking him lovingly in the dark, and causing a fright that makes him flee the older man’s company. In the page corresponding to the shot of Danny trying the doorknob to the room Antolini asks about Holden’s girlfriends, Sally Hayes and Jane Gallagher, and in the following shot of the film, Danny gets his second mind-flash of the Grady twins. But that attempted sexual abuse certainly goes well with the Massey subtext, who is extra fond of underage men in King’s novel. The page corresponding to the start of Danny’s ride goes with Antolini saying Holden’s “riding for a terrible fall” but that he’s not sure what kind of fall. It’s strange to think of Danny as a Holden-type. But it’s true we don’t get any profound sense of his inner nature, beyond his cautiousness with Dick and Jack, or his curiousity with Wendy (and the Overlook). He could be thinking the 5-year-old equivalent of Caulfield thoughts.
As for Catch-22, the pages corresponding to Danny entering room 237 (shots #256-#261) are 44-49, at which point someone explains what “catch-22” means, and there’s chaos going on in an aircraft, which perhaps speaks to Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater. The shots for Jack’s time in 237 are #306-#328, which would go with pages 94-116. This encompasses most of chapters 9, 10, and 11. Dick starts receiving Danny’s shine about 237 in shot #303, corresponding to page 91 where a bunch of references to Washington Irving begin to occur. Exactly 23 mentions of “Washington Irving” and 7 mentions of “John Milton” occur in chapter 9, from page 91 to page 99 (the joke being that a character named Major Major likes to sign his name as Washington Irving or John Milton, for kicks). Irving is best known for his short stories Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, so I would guess the headless horseman is the thing being compared to the Massey ghost, but there may be something to be said for Jack as a man who’s slept his life away. Also, for the record, there’s another cluster of 7 more Irving mentions on pages 206-209, which correspond to four shots of Dick asking Larry for a snowcat, giving his reasons for needing to get up the mountain, and ending with Larry asking how soon he’ll arrive. These shots overlay Danny’s first brush with the evil room.
Chapter 9 ends on 105, corresponding to Jack seeing the Massey ghost dead in the mirror. Chapter 10, Wintergreen, begins with a line stating that the character Clevinger was dead. The following page features another reference to “Catch-22”, the first since page 58 (corresponding to shot #270, of Wendy embracing the silent Danny and looking over at Jack, suspecting him for the first time of what actually resulted from Danny entering 237), which was the first since the aforementioned page 45 (shot #267: Danny seeing the 237 on the door of the room for the first time). Anyway, this page 107 “catch-22” goes with a shot of Massey looking old and dead in the tub, likely from Danny’s point of view the first time he entered. Chapter 10 ends on 112 corresponding to the last shot (#324) of Jack recoiling inside 237. Jack’s final exit corresponds to a page that’s mid-chapter, but the final reference made in the film to the evil room comes a couple shots later (#330), when Wendy asks about what Jack found, and he tells her nothing. This goes with the end of chapter 11, where characters are feeling a similar disappointment with a returning character named de Coverley. I suspect a deep dive would reveal even more, but this is pretty curious. Perhaps one day I’ll do that page-by-page study, but for now I’m going to move on.
So yes, Wendy’s eyes are on a page featuring numbers that could be rearranged, jumbled, to make either the Aarne-Thompson (AT) code for The Goat and the Seven Young Kids (AT code 123) (a fable that King seems to link to Snow White, The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood) or the main fable invoked by King’s novel, Bluebeard (AT code 312).
Danny interrupts her while she’s reading Holden’s big romantic speech to Sally Hayes about how they should run off into the woods together (into some “cabin camps” in “Vermont”, where Wendy will be proudly telling the doctor she’s from in a few minutes), until they run out of his “hundred and eighty bucks”and have to “chop all [their] own wood in the wintertime”. She gets distracted by Danny before her eyes reach the part where Sally tells him he’s a nut bar, and that his plan can’t happen, that society isn’t set up to allow for plans like his to work. Perhaps this simply reflects the way Wendy never raises questions with Jack (that we see) about this radical plan to take on such an unusual career, but maybe it also reflects her own hopes to have things two ways: one, to flee back toward her former life in Vermont (in fact, the real mountain seen outside her apartment in Boulder is called Green Mountain, which is what Vermont (“Vert Mont”) means in French), and two, for this trip into the wilderness with Jack and Danny to work out impossibly well.
We’ve covered King’s invocation of a “Hayes” on page 157, but there’s also a character in King’s novel named Sally, a blink-and-miss-her character, the doctor’s assistant, only referenced on page 138. The first appearance of the doctor is on page 137, and I’ve wondered if this is to suggest that the doctor is something of an alternate room 217 monster, since 137 makes 2:17 in time. So “Hayes” was an evil force in the life of Horace Derwent and “Sally” was a minion of the doctor who tells Wendy and Jack to ignore evidence of Danny’s shine power. I don’t know if Salinger or King thought that Sally Hayes was such a monster, but she certainly thwarts Caulfield’s desire to run screaming back to a (romantically unrealistic) natural existence. Maybe the reason he likes the Legion-possessed man from the bible so much is because he’s looking for a similar form of externalized suicide, and can’t seem to find it anywhere. He’s looking for anyone or anything that could drive his own Legion out into the wilderness, to be so drowned. Even if he has to take himself there. Sadly, there is nothing waiting in that mythic wilderness to help Caulfield survive against all odds – how fitting that he would dream up at least one noble death for himself, casting himself as the angel, the catcher in the rye.
Wendy parts from Holden and Sally at the zenith of this fantasy, which is interesting, since novel Wendy multiple times imagines that Danny’s shine power comes from his having been born with a caul over his face. Caul. Caulfield. In fact, Wendy mentions this theory to Dr. Bill on page 147, just to get a “big, hearty laugh” in her face. Novel Wendy is never seen reading Salinger, nor is anyone else, but there is one sly reference to the reclusive author’s works. On page 6, while responding to Ullman’s claim that the Overlook’s roque court is one of the finest in America, Jack wonders to himself “What’s next? An Uncle Wiggly game behind the equipment shed?” The game is actually Uncle Wiggily, but it makes little difference; both the game and the series of books that use the same titular rheumatic bunny rabbit are by the same author, Howard Garis. And Salinger only put out a couple books other than Catcher before disappearing into his lonesome literary existence. One of these was Nine Stories, a collection of his earlier publications. The second story was Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, a story about Eloise who has a daughter who has an imaginary friend, Jimmy Jimmereeno. Eloise (joined by an old friend from bygone days) must come to face how her own infatuation with a dead army soldier, Walt Glass, is similarly imagination-based. Her daughter imagines Jimmy Jimmereeno getting killed by a car in the street, but later that day reinvents him as Mickey Mickereeno, in a way that Eloise can’t do with Walt. Eloise, possibly frustrated by this, forces her daughter to confront Mickey/Jimmy’s non-existent nature, and then retreats to her old friend to be soothed, and reminded that once upon a time she had been a good person. Jack being the literate guy we know him to be might’ve been thinking of Salinger when this thought came to him. In the story, Eloise’s lost friend Walt says, “Poor Uncle Wiggily…” when she sprained her ankle running for the bus. So perhaps what she misses is someone who helped her feel like a child, like a fantasy, like something from her more innocent past. Jack Torrance will be seduced by exactly these factors, as the ghosts begin to crowd around him.
Also, Jack’s a fair bit like Holden Caulfield: he can’t stand Ullman’s phoniness (or as Jack thinks of it, his “officious” nature), he’s pursuing this reckless course of career action, he’s isolated, his thoughts drift all over the place, he even speaks in a mocking French accent at times. Holden reflects that he would commit suicide if only he knew that someone would be there to cover up his body so that people don’t see him being “all gory”, and Jack feels a similar embarrassment at the notion of being seen by the hotel ghosts during his suicidal conversations with Lloyd. Like Holden, Jack may want to cast out the various demons inside his character into a herd of little pigs, little pigs. Actually, you may know that the main Greek myth villain I see movie Jack reflecting is Geryon from the tenth labour of Hercules. And isn’t Geryon a sort of soft Legion? In fact, if you flipped the “r” and “G”, it would sound almost identical: Regyon.
One last thing: by my count, Wendy was reading paragraph 52 of chapter 17 (the 5/8ths mark of the book), and 17:52 is the exact 1/8th mark of the proper film. Which is 14 seconds after the end of the scene of Wendy and the doctor talking in Boulder, which means that this moments proper film code would be the same as the last second of Wendy being in the same room as Catcher in the Rye (17:38), if you extract the opening 14-second Warner Bros. logo. In other words, the start and end of Wendy’s time in Boulder have this 17:52 connection. And, actually, she turns the book toward the audience exactly one second after the film’s 1/32nd mark (4:38), so her being on page 132 seems to have two meanings. Perhaps that’s why this version of the novel especially was included.
Oh, also, it’s apparently 10:35am as they’re having this little luncheon, it’s hard to tell exactly, but the hands appear to be pointing toward the 7 and 11 points of her watch. So first, if we flip the 5, that looks like another 132 jumble (10:32), but really that gives us another 11-7 for this scene. It’s interesting to think that both Jack and Wendy would, in their first scenes be near artworks invoking a Maurice and the Tower of Babel.
Next literary reference: Hotel & Motel Red Book