BOOK REVIEW: Grave’s End: A True Ghost Story, by Elaine Mercado, R.N.

GravesEnd coverGrave’s End is another “true account” ghost story. Only unlike The Amityville Horror, this story was not handed over to a professional writer for “touching up”. It is written in a straight-forward, journalistic style – this is what happened, this is who it happened to, this is how we all felt about it, and this is how it stands right now. Dull stuff compared to the sensationalized, and sensationalistic, Amityville Horror we just read! However, it can be claimed, too, that unlike The Amityville Horror, this ghost story might actually have happened.

When we compare the two incidents we see many differences:

  • Intense cold, devil pigs, green goo and ghostly marching bands in Amityville Horror
  • Feelings of paralysis, suffocating dreams, fleeting shadows and ghostly orbs in Grave’s End
  • Amityville Horror was a vacant, murder house on the market at a bargain price
  • Grave’s End was partially occupied and remained so for over 18 months after Elaine and her husband bought it
  • George and Kathy Lutz abandoned their haunted house in less than a month’s time
  • Elaine and her family are still living in their haunted house as of the book’s publication (2001)
  • The Amityville Horror was a hugely successful book and was adapted into several movies over the years
  • Grave’s End went unnoticed by nearly everyone, even people with a strong interest in the subject (like me!)
  • George and Kathy turned to a priest for help when things got really scary, but never felt like they could confide in any close family
  • Elaine had a strong ally in her brother, Ron, and turned to a famous parapsychologist, Dr. Hans Holzer for help
  • The whole Lutz family was terrorized by what went on and they all wanted to escape
  • Elaine and her daughters all felt the effects of their haunting, but Elaine was the only one terrified by it – the girls just thought it was interesting, and they were upset when the house was finally “cleansed” and most of the hauntings stopped

The extremely low-key handling of the events that happened in Grave’s End may have been due to a fear of a media backlash, such as occurred after The Amityville Horror was published. It may also have been the result of having an R.N. for an author, and not a Hollywood writer. And it may be so non-sensationalized because it was all true, and that’s how real hauntings look.

It certainly feels that way, in large part because there were no invisible pigs with red eyes, or cold, winter rooms full of flies. If my own ordinary experiences (and those of countless TV ghost-hunting shows) are any indication, that’s about the most anyone can expect from a real-live haunting – a few orbs, some funky shadows seen out of the corner of one’s eyes, and some weird, unpleasant nightmares.

One thing that Grave’s End showed me is that truth is just as strange as fiction – despite all the crazy crap that went on, and despite how thoroughly miserable Elaine felt for years – people have to be just about thrown out of a house they own, no matter how haunted it is, because they just refuse to leave!

Mercado, Elaine, R.N. Grave’s End: A True Ghost Story. 2001. Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, 2006, Print.

The 100 Scariest Horror Novels of All Time

A list of the Best Horror Books ever? Awesome. Let the arguing begin!

Horror Novel Reviews

Compiling a Top 100 list isn’t easy. I’m bound to offend some and win over others. That’s the nature of the beast, I suppose. Whether you agree with this list or not, you should be able to track down a few new treasures you’ve been missing out on, and you’ve got time to line up some reading material for Halloween. Anticipate loads of familiar names to fill this one up (a few are featured multiple times), but don’t be shocked if you stumble upon some fresh names as well. Check it out, from vintage classic to modern masterpiece, novella to full-length novel, these are the greatest 100 horror books on the market!

100. A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood

acoldseason

Alison’s Littlewood’s A Cold Season didn’t win over hearts unanimously, but I found it extremely creepy, fully engaging and chilling to the marrow. There’s a slick Wicker Man vibe to this…

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BOOK REVIEW: The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson

Amityville-HorrorThe Amityville Horror is one of the seminal “true story” horror stories out there. The other is The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, which we’ll be reading in a few weeks.

The story is, basically, that a family (George and Kathy Lutz and their three children) gets an incredible real estate “steal” in an affluent village on Long Island near New York City. The reason for the low, low price? It was the site of a horrible multiple murder just a year prior. Ronald DeFeo shot and killed six members of his family in their beds, in the middle of the night because he said, “I heard voices” (Anson 9). The unfortunate DeFeo family were all shot, execution-style, face down on their beds, in the back, at 3:15 a.m. No one in the neighborhood heard a thing. DeFeo was convicted of murder and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.

A little over a year later, the Lutzes moved in just before Christmas. They endured an unbelievable series of strange events for 28 days, and then just abandoned the house and all their belongings.  They claimed they were attacked and tormented by demonic forces, and finally forced to leave, fearing for their lives.

I have to admit, I’ve read this book maybe a dozen times since it first came out. It scared the hell out of me the first few times, and the next few times I’d get a bit of a chill. Then finally I just gave my original copy away, because I’d decided that I had outgrown it. When I started this horror RIG I had to buy a new copy, and I noticed the publishers had updated it a bit for a more modern audience. This actually helped me get into the book again as a new-ish reader, and I have to admit that by the second or third night I was freaked out enough to wish I hadn’t left the book on my nightstand. So close to my head. In the dark.

Despite others’ complaints, I thought The Amityville Horror was pretty well written. The author, Jay Anson, was mostly a documentary film writer. Why someone thought he, of all people, should be the one to write this “true account” of a haunted house is a mystery. Nevertheless, I think he did a bang-up job. This book scared everybody when it came out, and if my experience is anything to go by, it’s still scaring people.

Some of the things I liked about this book:

  • My favorite scare is Jodie the Pig. That thing just freaks me out, and I like pigs. And the name Jodie.
  • George’s constantly waking up at 3:15 in the morning was a little scary too. Any time someone just wakes up at the same time every night makes me uneasy for some reason.
  • The strange siren call of the boathouse. Why was George so fixated on the boathouse? It’s never explained, and as far as I know nothing bad ever happened in there. So, weird.

Some of the things I didn’t like about this book:

  • George and Kathy Lutz. George was never a very sympathetic character, I felt. Anson tried to make out that George wanted this big house for Kathy “…George vowed to himself that if there was a way, this was the place he wanted his wife to have” (Anson 13). But all I saw was a self-centered guy with lots of big, expensive toys that needed housing (like his motorcycles, “a twenty-five foot cabin cruiser and a fifteen foot speed boat”), and low impulse control (Anson 16). Kathy was another classic Seventies Dishrag. When her son, Danny, has his hands weirdly crushed flat by a window frame, Anson writes, “There was as much of a storm raging inside 112 Ocean Avenue as outside, as Kathy chased after her husband asking him to call a doctor for Danny” (Anson 247). Really? Bitch doesn’t know how to use a phone?
  • I didn’t like how the Lutzes (mostly George) always kept Harry the dog outside in all kinds of horrible weather. To be fair, they did let him inside. Occasionally. The bastards.
  • Finally, I didn’t like how the authors of books like this always go out of their way to tell you how freaking religious the victims are. They always just happen to know a priest who’s not doing anything right now, so why don’t you come on over to our house and bless it?

Despite these complaints, I think everyone has to read The Amityville Horror at least once in their lives in order to consider themselves well-read, informed adults.

 

Anson, Jay, The Amityville Horror. 1977. New York: Pocket Star Books, published by Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Shuster, Inc., 2005. Print.

MOVIE REVIEW: THE OTHERS

TheOthersThe Others, is a 2001 film written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar.  It stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Stewart, a woman living in a dreary and isolated mansion with her two children just after World War II. The children, Anne and Nicholas, have a rare genetic disorder that makes them dangerously sensitive to the light, so the house is always dark.  The family exists, more or less happily, in the house which is governed by a set of religiously strict rules, designed to protect the children. However when new servants arrive to replace the ones who have mysteriously disappeared, strange things begin to happen. Eventually, despite her staunch Catholicism, Grace becomes convinced that her house is haunted.

The filmmaker wanted to create a ghost story driven by atmosphere and mood, and not by gore, special effects and jump scares. He was also, reportedly, a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense and wanted a twist ending. He accomplished all these goals, but in the process, I think, he proved that just by making a different ghost story, he didn’t necessarily make a better one.

By American standards, this film was slow. I say “American standards” because I think it did very well in the rest of the world. It did okay in the U.S., but that may have been mostly the result of the relatively new “twist ending” (The Sixth Sense had been released only two years earlier).

As far as my personal standards go, I found The Others to be slow too. It had great atmosphere, and the dark, depressing mood was effectively maintained throughout. I thought the setting (an isolated mansion somewhere in the U. K.), and the time period (the immediate aftermath of World War II) both combined to reinforce the gloomy feeling. Nicole Kidman was great, as always, and we even got to see a former Dr. Who, Christopher Eccleston, for a few moments.

I saw it when it first came out, and I have to admit, I missed a lot of the clues to the twist ending the first time (although I did get a feeling of something being not quite right after a while). Seeing it a second time it was easier to spot the clues. This was mostly because the film was so slow there was never any sense of being swept away by the action, or the story. And that’s the main problem with slow, atmospheric movies with twist endings – once you’ve seen it, it’s not really possible, or desirable, to see it again. Its whole essence is tied up in the surprise at the end, unfortunately.

Despite that, The Others pretty much single-handedly turned all our usual “haunted house” expectations on their heads. It was fresh and a little chilling to see a haunting from the ghosts’ perspective, even if the ghosts didn’t know they were ghosts until the very end. It also made us aware that behind every “exciting” ghost story there is a tragedy lurking in the background. In this case, Grace, driven mad by despair at the loss of her husband in the war, smothered her two children and then shot herself to death.

BOOK REVIEW: The Shining, By Stephen King

TheShiningStephen King’s The Shining is a dazzling, complex haunted house/ghost story. Maybe even the best ghost story ever written. Unlike previous ghost stories we have read in this course, there really are very compelling reasons for the hapless Torrance family to stay – financial ruin for all of them, and a probable slide back into alcoholism for Jack. So, unlike in The Haunting of Hill House, or Hell House (where the money being offered to stay is more like icing on the cake for those characters), the Torrance family doesn’t enter through the doors of the Overlook Hotel with a lighthearted sense of adventure, or a deep-seated grudge against academia. They are, quite literally, at the cliff’s edge with few options. Because of that, and because a lot of us have likely been at the edge of that very same cliff, we feel for them. We identify with them, and their very human struggles to hang on.

The story starts with a disgraced, former prep-school teacher, Jack Torrance, enduring a humiliating job interview for the position of winter caretaker at a prominent Rocky Mountain hotel. Oh, and did we mention – he just gave up drinking, and his writing career is in free fall. But, he has been given this one, last chance to redeem himself by his old, ex-drinking buddy. His old, rich, ex-drinking buddy – just take care of my famous, expensive hotel for the winter, and when spring comes, ta-da! We’ll get them to give you your old job back. Near-disaster averted. You and your family safe and sound, back in Vermont. It sounds like a great deal (and certainly any deal would sound like a good deal to Jack by this point), but he’s bitter, and resentful, and angry, and dying for a drink.

Jack gets the job and packs his wife, Wendy, and his precocious son, Danny, into the world’s most beat-up VW bug and heads into the mountains. They arrive on Closing Day, the last day of the Summer season, and meet one of my favorite characters – Dick Hallorann. Ex-Army cook, now the head chef for the Overlook Hotel. He has a secret he shares with Danny Torrance – the Shining, which is what he calls precognition, the ability to see events in the future. Before Dick leaves for his winter gig in Florida, he has a little chat with Danny and makes one of the most astonishing promises in all of fiction – If Danny ever needs him, he should just “shout” at him psychically, and Dick will come running. It is to Hallorann’s great credit that he does just that.

Alongside great good, there is also great evil here. The Overlook is a bitter, old whore, full of mean tricks and devious games. All the murders and suicides it’s seen, and maybe even facilitated, have given it a taste for human blood. It starts working on Jack right away, kind of like tenderizing a piece of meat before putting it on the grill. It really wants Danny (all that wonderful psychic power), but he is too strong for the direct approach. Wendy Torrance is barely considered as a possible conduit to Danny, presumably because it knew “Wendy would pour a can of gasoline over herself and strike a match before hurting Danny” (King 244). Jack’s father-son bond is apparently not quite as strong, at least as far as the Overlook is concerned.

Which brings me to my main complaint about this novel. As great as I think The Shining is, it is not perfect by any means. King’s prose would probably have a hard time getting by a conscientious editor nowadays. Like the infamous hedge animals, he could “use a trim”. Jack Torrance, the presumed protagonist, is an asshole trying very hard to imitate a good guy. Wendy Torrance is one of the worst dishrags of the Twentieth Century (and Shelly Duvall’s portrayal of her in the movie made her even more annoying, if that is possible). King’s female characters suffered mightily during the Sexist Seventies, with the low point occurring in ‘Salem’s Lot when grown woman Susan Norton (the protagonist, Ben Mears’, love interest) is reduced to taking orders from Mark Petrie, age 12.

Despite these flaws, I continue to enjoy The Shining. Stephen King’s grasp of premise, setting, pacing and, yes, even characterization, are spot-on. I love Danny, I understand Jack, and I commiserate with Wendy. Besides, which of us flawed neurotics would fare any better than Jack Torrance in the same situation? (Which makes me wonder – does the real-life counterpart of The Overlook Hotel, the Stanley Hotel, also close for the winter? And also hire a caretaker…?) Food for thought.

King, Stephen, The Shining. New York: Signet Books, a division of Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1978. Print.

Structure Part 3–Introducing the Opposition

My story needs a good “antagonist”, you say? Bleh. I need a Big Bad Troublemaker in my story? Awesome! NOW you’re talking.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Welcome to Part III of my Structure Series. If you happened to read Friday’s blog, then you know that it is okay not to know everything. I still don’t. I do want to take a quick segue here, though. I think a lot of people might have seen the title to Friday’s blog The Big Lie—No More Drinking the Publishing Kool-Aid and thought I was going to tear down the establishments of traditional publishing. I will grant, publishing is changing and that’s a topic for another day. There are all kinds of other ways to get published, but here is the deal. If you want to self-publish or indie publish, I would assume most of you want to be successfully published, regardless the format or distributor. To be considered “successfully published” we have to sell a lot of books. To sell a lot of books, we must connect with readers. That…

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Introducing Deep POV—WTH IS It? Can We Buy Some on Amazon?

Kristin Lamb’s SUPER POWER is the ability to take writing advice I’ve heard a thousand times (and *yawned* at) and make it SPARKLE. I suddenly GET “deep POV”.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

If you are a writer who has a goal of selling books it is wise to remember that audiences are not static. They change. Their tastes change with the times and we need to understand what is “trending” if we want to connect and entertain. Many new writers look to the classics for inspiration and there isn’t anything per se wrong with that, but we must reinvent the classics, not regurgitate them.

Even if you look at the fashion trends, sure some styles “come back around” but they are not exact replicas of the past. They are a modernized version. But keep in mind that some fashion styles never come back. They’ve outlived their usefulness and belong in the past. Same with fiction.

Story trends and fashions change along with the audience. For instance, Moby Dick spends an excruciatingly long time…

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BOOK REVIEW: GHOST STORY, by Peter Straub

GhostStory StraubGhost Story, by Peter Straub kicks off with a promising start. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Asks the very first line (Straub 3). The prologue concerns a writer, Don Wanderley, who is driving south, patiently avoiding cities and large towns, because he has a kidnapped young girl in his car. As he drives, day and night, it soon becomes apparent that this is not the horrible child-murderer-with-an-innocent-victim-in-his-car story you originally thought. Instead, the “scary adult” is soon revealed to be a scared adult. The little girl is in charge and Don fears for his sanity and his life.

The story wanders back and forth through time and place, dipping in and out of several characters’ lives, at a leisurely pace. One by one, we meet four very old men who call themselves The Chowder Society – Frederick “Ricky” Hawthorne; Ricky’s law partner, Sears James; aging lady killer, Lewis Benedict, and Dr. John Jaffrey. Following the mysterious death of their fifth member, Edward Wanderley, a year earlier, they began spending their evenings in Milburn, NY telling each other ghost stories. Gradually, reluctantly, they realize that they have all been having nightmares, the same nightmares. They decide to invite Edward’s nephew, Don, a successful writer of supernatural tales to come to town. They hope he can debunk the irrational, but growing conviction they all have, that something terrible is stalking them.

Straub, being more of a literary horror writer than his contemporary, Stephen King, is interested in the really slow burn approach to horror, so he spends countless pages weaving together a rather unique ghost story that actually has no ghosts. In this tale, the thing that haunts the members of the Chowder Society is regret. Regret over an accident that occurred while they were all together with a woman called Eva Galli. The secret behind that event is what now stalks these men, intent on destroying not just them, but the entire town.

This is the second time I have read Ghost Story, and I have to say, the experience was slightly less painful than the first time I dove in, all eager and heedless of the cost to my sanity. This time I began to see what some reviewers have been raving about all along – the complex structure, the interesting story alleyways the reader is lead down, the scope of the novel. I also enjoyed the creepy and mysterious “A. M.” who kept popping up, bewitching and then destroying the men she met. However, despite this tiny, grudging admiration for Straub’s skills and techniques, I still found myself sighing in exasperation at every turn, wondering where was the story going now? And that’s the fundamental flaw with this novel, I believe. No matter how well done the total effect is, when the reader is constantly checking to see how many pages are still left in a chapter before they can turn out the light, then the suspense and tension usually associated with horror never gets a chance to build.

 

 

Straub, Peter, Ghost Story. New York: Pocket Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, 1979. Print.

BOOK REVIEW: HELL HOUSE, by Richard Matheson

 

Hell House, by Richard Matheson, is one of the best haunted house novels ever written.  It takes the basic premise of The Haunting of Hill House – that there’s a scientist and his wife, and two people who have had prior experience with the paranormal; and that together they will spend a week in a very famous haunted house for the purpose of scientific research into the supernatural – and really takes it up several notches.

The first thing I noticed was an immediate build-up of tension. Matheson creates tension in Hell House in a couple of very effective ways: the book is broken into days, rather than chapters, which gives the feeling of time inexorably moving forward, no matter what; the time stamps introducing each scene are listed in a way that is somehow unnerving, such as 3:17 p.m., 11:47 a.m., 6:11 p.m.; as if we are always just missing the hands at three, or twelve, or six.

As far as the actual story goes, it has a classically ominous beginning to a haunted house tale. A dying billionaire, Rolf Rudolph Deutsch, hires Dr. Lionel Barrett, a physicist with an interest in parapsychology, along with two mediums: Florence Tanner, former Hollywood actress and now a mental medium and Spiritualist; and Benjamin Franklin Fisher, a physical medium and the only survivor of an earlier attempt to investigate Hell House in 1940. Deutsch is willing to pay them $100,000 each to bring him proof that the afterlife either exists or it doesn’t. He gives them one week to accomplish this. When Dr. Barrett asks Deutsch how he is supposed to do all that in a week, Deutsch tells him he has just purchased the Belasco House in Maine, and that’s where they will find their answers. “Hell House?” [Asked Barrett] Something glittered in the old man’s eyes. “Hell House,” he said (2). Barrett agrees, on one condition: Deutsch’s people have to build a special machine he needs, and deliver it to Hell House as soon as possible.

Before everyone meets at the Belasco House, we briefly meet each character and learn their reasons for taking on such a terrifying challenge. Florence needs the money to build a proper church for her Spiritualist congregation; Fisher feels like he’s finally ready to confront Hell House once again – he’s not a weak, gullible fifteen-year-old anymore; Barrett (who had polio as a child and still walks with a limp) wants his theory about the nature of psychic energy verified and recognized; Edith Barrett wants only to be allowed to stay by her husband’s side – they were apart once for three weeks because of his work and she nearly had a nervous breakdown.

Once everyone has gathered at the house, Dr. Barrett tells them what they’re in for, and why it’s called “Hell House”: the wealthy owner, Emeric Belasco, created his very own “Hell on Earth” where every blasphemy and perversion was not only encouraged among his guests, but enforced on them.  Edith comes across Barrett’s list of all the phenomena observed in Hell House over the years – it has one hundred and six items on it, starting with “Apparitions” and ending with “Xenoglossy”.  Edith is appalled. My God, she thought. What kind of a week was it going to be? (29)

Each character approaches Hell House in a different way. Florence Tanner roams the house “wide open” looking for poor, hurt souls she can save. Ben Fisher keeps himself, and his psychic abilities, locked down tight, so nothing can get in and hurt him. Dr. Barrett is appropriately skeptical and scientific – even though he acknowledges the mediums’ abilities, he disputes that they are actually doing what they think they’re doing. Edith Barrett never gets very far from her husband’s side; she is his own, personal ghost.

It’s not long before the house (or is it Belasco?) gets everyone’s measure. Florence becomes convinced that the poor, tortured soul of Belasco’s son, Daniel, is behind all the activity in the house.  Dr. Barrett has a nasty encounter with something down in the basement pool and steam room that terrifies and weakens him. Edith starts sleepwalking through the house in search of carnal gratification, and Fisher’s psychic abilities are locked down tighter than ever: he won’t get fooled again.

As the week progresses, Hell House hits them with everything it’s got. Florence finds Daniel Belasco’s shackled, walled-up mummy in the basement. However, even when Daniel’s body is buried, the attacks and abuse of Florence continues.  Goaded by Dr. Barrett, Fisher is frightened that he might really have lost his abilities so he lets down his guard momentarily; he is predictably attacked by sinister forces. Dr. Barrett’s machine finally arrives. At first it seems to work, and then it doesn’t.

By this time it has become obvious – Hell House has survived by feeding on the fears and insecurities of the people inside it, and with every person it corrupts, and every soul it devours, it grows stronger.

 

 

Matheson, Richard. Hell House. 1971. New York: Bantam Books, 1973. Print.

BOOK REVIEW: The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

book cover Haunting Hill House_

The Haunting of Hill House is one of those classic tales that every horror fan reads, or at least knows they should read.  This story, written in 1959, is the foundation for much of the haunted house fiction that exists today.  It inspired two movies: “The Haunting”, made in 1963, and the remake, also called “The Haunting,” made in 1999. It also established the premise for all the modern ghost hunting TV shows, like “Ghost Hunters”, “Ghost Adventures”, “The Dead Files”, etc. – a group of people gather at a site reported to be haunted and try to gather evidence of paranormal activity. No less a horror fan than Stephen King used the whole first paragraph of Shirley Jackson’s novel to kick off one of his own haunted house stories, ‘Salem’s Lot (King, 1).

So what is it about, this story? It’s about a very informal, by today’s standards, ghost hunt. Dr. Montague, an anthropologist with a secret passion for the supernatural, invites a group of people with prior paranormal experience to spend the summer at a large, country mansion he has rented. The mansion, Hill House, has been empty for some time and is reputed to be haunted. By summer’s end, Montague hopes to be able to bring back irrefutable, scientific proof of the existence of ghosts.  With him are his two assistants, Eleanor, who had a poltergeist experience as a child, and Theodora, who astounded the college psychical research lab with her card-guessing abilities. Also along for the ride is Luke, a “liar” and a “thief” (Jackson 9). He is also heir to Hill House, and sent by his aunt to keep an eye on the property. Mr. and Mrs. Dudley (the granite-faced caretaker and his equally dour housekeeper/cook wife) round out the cast for most of the book. Then when the story is almost over, the doctor’s wife, Mrs. Montague, and her boy toy … er assistant, Arthur show up.

The story is told from Eleanor’s point of view, and it’s often difficult to tell what is real and what is imagined. Despite her initial impression: “Hill House is vile, it is diseased” (33), Eleanor changes her mind once Theodora shows up. “Theo” is everything Eleanor, “Nell,” is not: confident, pretty, playful, and flirtatious. Theo also has a mysterious roommate waiting back at her very own apartment. Eleanor, on the other hand, is lonely, awkward, repressed, and basically homeless. The two strike up the kind of “summer fling” friendship that often occurs during cruises, vacations, or similar ordeals.

The two men, Dr. Montague and Luke, take turns answering the women’s questions, and fulfilling at various times the roles of father/mentor/big brother/love interest. This was, after all, written in the Fifties when men were men, and women were neurotic.

The actual supernatural events that occur in this book are few, but well portrayed. I especially liked the scene where Eleanor and Theo are in Theo’s room on her bed, clinging to each other as a crashing BOOM, BOOM,BOOM attacks the bedroom door.  The other chilling bit of scariness occurs when the Thing in the Hall returns and Eleanor sits terrified in the dark for a long time, Theo clutching her hand so tightly it hurts. Then suddenly the light is on, and Theo is sitting up, half asleep, all the way across the room.  Freaked, Eleanor says, “Good God – whose hand was I holding?” (163). Good stuff.

However, except for the paranormal elements in Hill House there is not much for a modern reader to like about this ghost story. In many ways it’s dated: the dialogue consists of a lot of “witty” Fifties-style banter, favored by the middle class; the characters have become stereotypes, and even the most thoroughly fleshed-out character, Eleanor, can be seen as a stereotype –just another repressed, neurotic female; a thirty-two year old virgin; and even Dr. Montague’s “man of science” act is lame by today’s standards. Where are his EVP recorders, his K2 meters, or MEL meters, or Ghost Boxes, or IR lights, or even his Laser Grid Scope?!

Despite these flaws, Jackson has written a remarkably unique ghost story. Love her or hate her, Eleanor’s vulnerability, loneliness, and fear do make her sympathetically human. So when the house singles her out for special treatment and mockingly dangles before her the one thing she wants more than anything else – someplace she belongs, a home – you hurt for her. At least a little.  And that is why The Haunting of Hill House has managed to retain its place of honor in horror fiction after all these years.

 

 

Jackson, Shirley, The Haunting of Hill House. New York: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.

King, Stephen, ‘Salem’s Lot. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1975. Print.