The Haunting of Hill House, what can I say about a book from 1959 that you haven’t already heard before. If by some off chance you haven’t heard about The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, you probably have heard about the two movie adaptations based on the novel, both with the name The Haunting. The first movie came out in 1963 and followed the book very closely while the remake came out in 1999, and the less we speak of that flick the better. I’m not here, though, to talk about the movies. I’m here to tell you that The Haunting of Hill House is a superb read, heralded as one of the best ghost tales out there. It rightly deserves the praise, as it has plenty of spooky stuff going on, however, there is more to the story than just your average run of the mill haunting.
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First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
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There is something else going on with this story, something that isn’t blatantly shoved in your face, but hinted at throughout. It has to do with our main character in the novel, Eleanor, the meek and introverted girl who lives in her head. The story behind The Haunting of Hill House goes a little something like this: Dr. Montague is investigating the paranormal and wants to prove the existence of the supernatural through the use of Hill House, a supposedly haunted mansion. In order to bring out the supposed spirits of the house, Dr. Montague invites a group of people that have had some sort of past experience that was unexplainable. We have the aforementioned Eleanor, who as a child had a strange experience where for a few days in a row, rocks rained down on her house. Joining Eleanor is Theodora, who had the uncanny ability to guess 19 cards out of 20 without actually seeing them. Also joining the girls is Luke, the eventual inheritor of Hill House.
Dr. Montague’s plan is to stay the summer at Hill House and record anything odd that happens. It doesn’t take long for the odd to start happening, as doors close by themselves, a loud banging transpires at night and the sounds of laughing and crying are heard throughout the halls. All of these events are witnessed by Eleanor, as the book follows her throughout her stay. We as the reader are constantly in her head hearing her thoughts, seeing her slow descent into madness as the haunting intensifies.
Although, is Hill House actually haunted, though? That’s the real question that needs to be asked. Everything that happens in Hill House is connected to poor Eleanor and we know from being in her head, that Eleanor is a bit on the wacky side. There are times where she actually fantasizes about killing Theodora, who, mind you, happens to be a bit on the annoying side. Eleanor worries that everyone is talking about her, scheming behind her back. It’s these little trips into insanity that have you questioning everything that is happening. Could it possibly be that Eleanor actually possesses some sort of power that manifests itself in what would seem like a haunting to others? It’s possible, but author Shirley Jackson never truly comes out and admits it.
It’s this idea that makes reading The Haunting of Hill House so damn fun. There is more here than just a ghost tale, however, if all you want is a ghost tale, you can easily get that as it all comes down to how you want to interpret the story.
The Haunting of Hill House is a fantastic novel that captures the creepiness of what a haunted house tale should be. It’s also more than meets the eye and has the reader thinking about the story long after the last page is turned.
I would love to hear how you interpreted the story below, so please leave a comment if you would like to discuss the book further.