[The final installment of the essay that began on Friday.]
The 50th Anniversary of the publication of The Haunting of Hill House marks an appropriate time not only to look back on the novel itself but also to note its subsequent influence. To date there have been two film versions: Robert Wise's faithfully atmospheric The Haunting (1962), and Jan de Bont's abominable, CGI-rife remake (1999), the latter as critically panned as the former is acclaimed. Still, the book's greater legacy can be traced in the realm of fiction. Over the past five decades, Hill House has provided an architectural blueprint for a slew of haunted houses in the horror community. Consider the following macabre McMansions that have sprung up across the American Gothic landscape:
Richard Matheson's Hell House (1971) stands as a more graphically violent and sexually charged version of Hill House. The basic plot parallels here are hard to miss: an investigating foursome move into a remote New England house of horrors (in which the servant couple from a neighboring town refuse to sleep [Matheson 3]). Moreover, the character of Florence Tanner clearly mirrors Eleanor Vance. At first sight Florence exclaims that Hell House is "hideous" (27), echoing Eleanor's initial outraged reaction to Hill House. Eleanor balks at entering the library because of the perceived stench; Florence can't go into the chapel because the "atmosphere here is more than [she] can bear" (35). Much like the psychologically fragile Eleanor, Florence represents the group's "weakest link" (286), and dies after being fiendishly duped by the ghost haunting Hell House.
Anne Rivers Siddons's Southern gothic novel The House Next Door (1978) involves a recently-built but malignant home ("haunted" by the latent evil of its architect) that preys "on the weakness and inherent flaws in the characters of the people who live there" (Siddons 327). Siddons has cited Hill House "as nearly perfect a haunted-house tale as I have ever read" (qtd. in King, Danse Macabre 259), and such reading has left a discernible imprint. Planning to set fire to the neighboring home, Siddons's narrator Colquitt Kennedy comments in the book's prologue that "[i]n another time they would have plowed the charred ground and sowed it with salt" (5)--a remark echoing Dr. Montague's indirect quote of a former tenant of Hill House, who "ended by saying that in his opinion, the house ought to be burned down and the ground sowed with salt" (Jackson 51).
The titular domicile of Peter Straub's 1980 novel Shadowland (a "haunted house"  in the sense that it brims with the dark magic of the master conjurer residing there) exists several miles beyond a town whose very name recalls the village of Hillsdale in Jackson's novel: "Hilly Vale" (162). During a summer apprenticeship at Shadowland back when he was 15, protagonist Tom Flanagan "felt the house claiming him" (320), and "[i]t seemed to him that he could visualize every inch of the house, every curve of the stair posts, every watermark in the kitchen sink" (319)--sensations similar to Eleanor's ostensible communion with Hill House toward the end of Jackson's novel. The tunnel below Shadowland formerly used for "bootlegging" (375) also serves as a literalization of Eleanor's early fancy of "a passageway going off into the hills and probably used by smugglers" (Jackson 23).
Marvin Kaye and Parke Godwin's A Cold Blue Light (1983) builds upon the same foundation that Matheson did earlier: a team of scientists and mediums descends upon the Pennsylvanian manse known as Aubrey House. Another Eleanor Vance clone appears in the person of Vita Henry, a sexually-frustrated woman tragically seduced into believing that Aubrey House "welcomed and protected her" (144). The cold blue light seemingly rooted in the upstairs hallway of Aubrey House also brings to mind the cold spot fixed outside the door of Hill House's second-floor nursery.
In his short novel Elsewhere, Exorcist scribe William Peter Blatty has a quartet of investigators--a group led by a university professor with research interests in the paranormal--settle into a labyrinthine mansion ("it's disordered, no sense to where anything leads" ) with a shady reputation. Blatty (whose plot ultimately offers a clever twist on the haunted house formula) echoes famous fright moments from Jackson's novel and Wise's film, most notably the scene of a furious, inexplicable pounding on a bedroom door.
In his postmodern horror novel Demon Theory (2006), Stephen Graham Jones diligently cites his sources within a slew of endnotes. Note 29 (occasioned by the characters' first glimpse of the ominous house in the novel) appropriately reads: "In Shirley Jackson's 1959 urtext The Haunting of Hill House, Eleanor's first thought after turning 'her car onto the last stretch of straight drive' and encountering Hill House 'face to face' is that the house is vile. Her second thought is 'get away from here at once'" (Jones 380).
Sarah Langan's Audrey's Door (2009) wears its influences on its leaves (in a short preface, the author lists The Haunting of Hill House first among the texts that "particularly inspired" her novel). The book's haunted Manhattan apartment building proves just as architecturally askew as Hill House: "The Breviary's floors differed in height from one story to the next, and its walls didn't intersect at right angles but were either obtuse or acute" (9). Recent renter Audrey Lucas--a socially awkward, emotionally unstable thirtysomething who's been scarred by her lifelong struggle with her mentally ill mother--also reflects Jackson's protagonist when she sees "through the Breviary's eyes" (388) and achieves an omniscient awareness of events throughout the building. Perhaps Langan's most impressive echo of Jackson, though, comes in the opening of Chapter 41 "The Breviary" ("No thinking creature can tolerate captivity. In the presence of just four white walls, the mind invents [...]" )--a clever pastiche of Hill House's famous "No live organism..." first paragraph.Yet none of these authors represent the prime inheritor of Jackson's legacy; that distinction belongs to horror's greatest success story. Indeed, no single novel has had a more extensive influence on Stephen King's oeuvre than The Haunting of Hill House. The influence is evident in King's first published book, Carrie, whose title teen shares Eleanor Vance's telekinetic abilities (as well as the name of Eleanor's sister). Carrie's backstory features a "rain of stones" (3) episode that further aligns her with Jackson's protagonist. In King's second novel Salem's Lot, the looming Marsten House is also given a Jacksonian frame of reference. Part One of the novel employs the opening paragraph of Hill House as an epigraph; within the text, protagonist Ben Mears also invokes the book by title and author, and quotes to Susan Norton: "'And whatever walked there walked alone.' You asked me what my book [on the Marsten House] was about. Essentially, it's about the recurrent power of evil" (111). Similarly, Jack Torrance ruminates upon the ghost-infested Overlook Hotel in The Shining: "if it played its cards right they [i.e. Jack and his family] could end up flitting through the Overlook's halls like insubstantial shades in a Shirley Jackson novel, whatever walked in Hill House walked alone, but you wouldn't be alone in the Overlook, oh no, there would be plenty of company here" (281). The omniscient narrator of King's post-Talisman collaboration with Peter Straub, Black House, draws a stricter analogy: "Black House--like Shirley Jackson's Hill House, like the turn-of-the-century monstrosity in Seattle known as Rose Red--is not sane" (567). Rose Red, of course, is the eponymous haunted house in the 2002 King-scripted TV miniseries--which, interestingly enough, "had its beginnings in a[n aborted] project involving King and Steven Spielberg, the 1999 remake of The Haunting" (Wiater, Golden, and Wagner 402-3). King treads upon familiar ground in Rose Red: the telekinetic teen (here, Annie Wheaton) who caused a rain of stones as a child; the specially-gathered, psychologically-gifted team of investigators who make an unfortunate foray into an old manse. The academic organizing the mission, Dr. Joyce Reardon, even quotes (albeit in misinterpretation): "Shirley Jackson was right. Some houses are born bad."
King's Bad Places repeatedly hearken back to Hill House, but the extent of the novel's infiltration of King's imagination can be gleaned by turning to his narratives that are not focused on haunted houses. In Pet Sematary (1983), Rachel Creed's abiding guilt over her failure to save her invalid sister Zelda from dying at home in the bedroom (a guilt compounded by Rachel's secret happiness at the time over that death) clearly recalls the family drama that haunts Eleanor Vance. Similarly, the story of old Miss Crain and her companion resonates in King's Dolores Claiborne (1993): the title character serves as a live-in nurse to a sick, elderly woman who dies under mysterious circumstances (in the town's eyes, at least) inside the sprawling New England home that is subsequently bequeathed to Dolores. In King's 1987 novel The Tommyknockers, the town of Haven has a tellingly-named founding father: Haven "began municipal existence in 1816 as Montville Plantation. It was owned, lock, stock, and barrel, by a man named Hugh Crane" (167). Hill House even works its way into as unlikely a spot as the 1982 novella "The Body." The scene (384) where a disoriented Gordie LaChance awakens during an overnight campout believing it's so cold in his bedroom because his (now-months-dead) brother left the window open--and then realizes that he [Gordie] isn't home and that a terrible din has started--parallels the scene (93) where a groggy, chilly Eleanor wakes up in Hill House thinking that the pounding on the door is the sound of her (now-months-dead) mother knocking on the bedroom wall of their own home. If the late Shirley Jackson was a writer "who never needed to raise her voice," as King asserts on the dedication page of his 1980 novel Firestarter, then no writer has done more than horror's long-reigning monarch to keep that voice heard, both by singing Jackson's praises in his nonfiction and sounding echoes of her classic novel throughout his body of fiction.
For all its well-earned renown, Jackson's novel is not a flawless construction. Certain aspects of Hill House have not aged gracefully over the past half-century. For instance, obtrusive adverbs encumber Jackson's dialogue tags: throughout the novel, characters say (or think) things "inadequately" (35), "wisely" (62), "roundly" (79), "stanchly" (87), "conscientiously" (113), "impudently" (143), and "wickedly" (164). At times, the dialogue itself devolves into "excruciatingly arch banter" (Miller xx). Also, the author's decision to keep the horrors masked and forego overt explanation sometimes lead to plot developments that strain belief: it's hard to fathom that the four main characters would not have discussed afterward what exactly Theodora saw out on the grounds when she turned from the envisioned family picnic and then screamed to Eleanor to run and not look back (130).
Still, the novel's strengths far outweigh its flaws. Jackson is unparalleled when it comes to crafting scenes in which things go bump in the night (or bang on a bedroom door). The novel expertly uses unity of setting to claustrophobic effect: starting with Chapter 2, the stage does not shift from the house and its hill-surrounded grounds. Jackson builds her setting through the steady accretion of detail, as the characters gradually explore the layout and Gothic contents (statues, ancient tomes, spiral staircases, etc.) of the house and struggle to orient themselves within Hugh Crain's "masterpiece of architectural misdirection" (78). Perhaps the novel's strongest quality is its reflexivity. As readers, we activate the novel's title and engage in our own "haunting" of Hill House--when we step inside the book we assume the same subject position as the characters investigating the house's mysteries and accordingly open ourselves up to the same frightful experience. Early on, we are told that Dr. Montague's letters to prospective team members "had a certain ambiguous dignity calculated to catch the imagination of a very special sort of reader" (2), a statement that serves as the perfect description of the novel's own workings. Jackson's clever entrapment of readers in such an unsettling setting has helped The Haunting of Hill House stand as a masterwork of terror for fifty years; there is little reason to doubt that it will stand so for fifty more.
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---. The Haunting of Hill House. 1959. New York: Penguin, 2006.
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---. "The Body." Different Seasons. 1982. New York: Signet, 1983. 289-433.
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Rose Red. Dir. Craig R. Baxley. Perf. Nancy Travis and Kimberly J. Brown. DVD. Lions Gate Films, 2002.
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The Haunting. Dir. Robert Wise. Perf. Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, and Richard Johnson. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 1963. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2003.
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