To Read or to Watch: 'The Haunting of Hill House'

Some of you reading may remember Shirley Jackson, and if not the name, then you remember the short story many of us read in grade school, The Lottery. It was written by Jackson and had a twisted and sinister plot lying beneath the seemingly normal title. It’s what she did best, writing works of horror and mystery. In fact, Jackson went on to publish what has been widely considered one of the greatest ghost stories ever written, The Haunting of Hill House.

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The Haunting of Hill House tells the story of four people coming together in a decrepit, abandoned mansion: a doctor, his assistant, Eleanor and the mansion’s heir, Luke. They come together to aid Dr. Montague on his search for psychic phenomena or hauntings. Today, horror movies are so convoluted with gore, monsters and possessed dolls, but Jackson’s take on the typical haunted house is much different. Yes, in the novel the stereotypical inexplicable noises occur, but it’s much more than just a haunting. It’s a psychological trip manipulating the minds of those inside the house, well, one more so than others.

“Shirley Jackson is unparalleled as a leader in the field of beautifully written, quiet, cumulative shudders.” –Dorothy Parker, Esquire

“Makes your blood chill and your scalp prickle…Shirley Jackson is the master of the haunted tale.” –The New York Times Book Review

Through her writing, Jackson manifests horror and psychology. She was able to create horror without ghosts, gore or ghouls but somehow still managed to instill fear in her readers. As the reader follows the four characters during their stay at Hill House, the reader is drawn deeper into the human psyche and watches the gradual unraveling of a young woman’s mind.

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Netflix recently adapted the novel into an original series, although with a few changes. It kept a few of the names like Luke, Theodora, and Eleanor but twisted the original plot into something completely new. I appreciate Netflix’s adaptation for not trying to recreate Shirley Jackson’s novel because it’s something that can only be interpreted in the reader’s mind. When I read it, I created Hill House in my own imagination. I visualized the characters how I wished to see them. It’s something that a TV show can’t express. Only a book can. It’s different for every reader. However, that’s not to say the Netflix show is bad. It’s quite good actually, although for different reasons. The show still incorporates Jackson’s psychological hauntings but also incorporates the ghosts a little bit more.

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The show may be confusing at times, but it has a way of unraveling itself perfectly throughout the season. After watching, I felt it was more melancholy than scary. With psychological trauma comes sorrow and fear, and the show perfectly mixes the two. In a way, it’s kind of incomparable to the book because the two differ in so many ways. I recommend both to anyone who is interested in mysteries, horror, psychological thrillers and the like.