” 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.”
Thoughts: Considered the mother of all haunted house stories and given how often this classic story has influenced other story tellers, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House will be familiar even to those who have never read the story. However, this familiarity does not preclude one’s enjoyment of the narrative. Ms. Jackson has an ability to create the feeling of terror with her well-chosen words even if a reader knows, or suspects, what is going to happen next in the story. In fact, this sense of déjà vu only enhances the tension as a reader struggles to puzzle out the actual events from the psychological events and the true story from countless similar ones.
While Ms. Jackson fleshes out all of the characters to some extent, it is Eleanor with whom the reader becomes thoroughly intimate. Early in the narrative, she is established as a character prone to flights of fancy and sudden mood shifts, and her apparent psychological decline as the hauntings occur make her usefulness as a reliable narrator questionable. Masterfully, Ms. Jackson capitalizes on this unreliability to create a story in which the true horror is the fact that one does not know whether the house is really haunted, if Eleanor is mentally unraveling, or if it is a combination of both.
Of the hauntings at Hill House, a reader is only certain of a few things – the main caretakers refuse to stay there once night falls, no one has been able to live in the house for longer than a night or two, and the history of its original owners is unfortunate. Beyond that, the truth is anyone’s guess. Therein lies the power of The Haunting of Hill House. Ms. Jackson, more than anyone, understood that a person can create a more terrifying story when left to one’s own imaginings than anything an author can put down on paper.
Acknowledgments: Mine. All mine.