The Haunting of Hill House: elements in common between Shirley Jackson’s novel and the Netflix TV series

Here’s the cover of my ebook edition of The Haunting of Hill House. Isn’t it disturbing in its simplicity?

Hello, bookworms!

How are you? I hope 2021 has started in the best possible way for you.

Today I’d like to write something about my last reading: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Well, what a book! I enjoyed every single word of it.

I must admit that I watched the Netflix TV series based on the novel before reading the story. They are actually quite different; as the director Mike Flanagan said, we should consider the TV series as a sort of remix of the book. As I fell in love with the Netflix product, I thought about reading the novel that inspired it. So now I’m in love with the latest one too. I really appreciate that the stories are different, but you can see a lot of elements scattered in the book that were used by Flanagan, sometimes in a different context. I thought about listing them here. Enjoy the article and of course, if you don’t want any spoilers on the TV series or the novel, stop reading right now!

  • the names of most characters: in the novel, Dr John Montague rents Hill House to investigate the supernatural. He invites Eleanor Vance, a girl who had poltergeist experiences in her past, Theodora, a girl who is rumoured to be capable of guessing the faces of cards held out of her sight and hearing, and Luke Sanderson, a young man who will one day inherit the house. These three characters join the doctor at Hill House, where they meet Mr and Mrs Dudley, the caretakers of the house. In the TV series we find the majority of names reprised, but in a different context. There is no Dr Montague, whereas we follow the stories of five brothers: Steven, Shirley (a probable homage to Jackson), Theodora, Eleanor and Luke Crain. They lived in Hill House for a while, with tragic consequences for their mother, who allegedly committed suicide. Moreover, their father’s name is Hugh Crain, who in the book is the evil gentleman who had Hill House built. The TV series also presents the Dudleys, giving them a more defined background.  
  • the beginning: both the novel and the TV series start with the following words:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone”.

This passage is slightly changed by Steven, but the words are almost exactly the same. The novel takes this passage and transposes it at the end of the book, whereas the TV series changes it a little bit:

“Love is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishment of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway. Without it, we cannot continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality. Hill House, not sane, stands against its hills, holding darkness within. It has stood so for a hundred years and might stand a hundred more. Within, walls continue upright, bricks meet neatly, floors are firm and doors are sensibly shut. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and those who walk there, walk together”.  

This ending differs a bit as Flanagan chose a more serene ending for the TV series; no such thing happens in the novel, where the story abruptly finishes with Eleanor, the main character, dying.

  • in the book, Eleanor is contacted by Dr Montague because she had experienced a poltergeist episode: when she was little, after her father’s death, a rain of stones fell for days over her house. This episode is quoted in the TV series too, but differently: it’s Olivia, the Crains’ mother, who experienced such a thing as a child.
  • in the novel, while she is driving to Hill House, Eleanor stops at a bar to drink something. There, she meets a couple with a little girl, who doesn’t want to drink from the bar’s cup but demands her own cup, which is full of stars. As her mother explains, the child believes she can drink from the sky, because her cup has stars painted on it. In the TV series, little Eleanor Crain finds a cup full of stars and asks Mrs Dudley if she can use it. She then declares she will only use that cup from that moment on.
  • when the book Eleanor arrives at Hill House, she immediately thinks about one sentence, “journeys end in lovers’ meeting”. It is actually a quote from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The sentence is repeated over and over again inside the novel. In the TV series, when the Crain siblings and Hugh arrive at Hill House looking for Luke, the ghost of Olivia appears and repeats the same quote.
  • in the novel, we learn that Hill House was built by Hugh Crain, who had two daughters. The elder inherited the mansion and later left it to a girl who used to keep her company. The younger daughter started a legal fight against the new owner, who eventually won the cause. Nevertheless, the girl kept feeling haunted by the other woman and ended up hanging herself in the turret. It’s impossible not to think to Eleanor’s death in the TV series; even if we learn that this isn’t a case of suicide, she still dies inside Hill House, hang to the spiral staircase.
  • in the novel, Eleanor starts experiencing supernatural events straightaway. One night she and Theodora reunite in Eleanor’s room, scared because something keeps on pounding at the door first, and then at all the walls. The scene is reprised in almost the same way in the TV series; the only difference is that Theodora is with Shirley and they are children.
  • in the book, Theodora and Eleanor sleep together in the same bed. They leave the light on, as they are afraid. Eleanor wakes up to find the light off and hears a voice talking and laughing. She wants to call Theodora for help, but she can’t open her mouth; she just squeezes her friend’s hand. All of a sudden, in a dreamlike atmosphere, she realises the light is on and that Theodora is next to her. Eleanor, then, feels terrified and asks “whose hand was I holding?” as she realises it couldn’t be Theodora’s. In the TV series, a young Theodora asks herself the same question, after she held what she thought was her little sister Nell’s hand in bed at night. But as she turns, she sees no one is there with her – she’s completely alone in the room.
  • “fear and guilt are sisters”: this sentence is pronounced both in the novel and the TV series.
  • in the novel, Eleanor feels more and more connected to Hill House as time passes. She even starts hearing everything that is happening in the various rooms, in total communion with the house. At a certain point in the story, she keeps repeating “I am home”. When Steven is having his Red Room dream in the TV series, he imagines writing a sequel to The Haunting of Hill House that begins with “I am home”.
  • during her last night at the mansion, the novel Eleanor knocks on everyone’s door in order to wake them up. When they realise she’s not in bed, they start looking for her. She eludes them and continues running away, dancing all alone through the hallways of Hill House. This scene reminds us of the TV series one, when Eleanor goes back to the house to fight her own demons. She ends up trapped in a hallucination where she believes she’s dancing with her late husband. In fact, the viewer can see she is dancing all alone at night.   

What do you think? Have you read The Haunting of Hill House and watched the TV series? Did you notice all these elements or did you notice other things in common? Tell me everything with a comment!

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