“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.”
When I was a kid I loved movies about haunted houses, the cheesier, the better, and so when I first saw The Haunting I was highly impressed. I watched as many as I could find, but noticed they all had a similar set up, even ones that weren’t just re-releases a of the original, with eccentric millionaires, epic mansions, and a gathering of paranormal specialists sent to spend the night, freaked out caretakers and an heir who wants to inherit a ghost-free home and so on. So when I found out that most of them were based on Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, I knew I had to read it.
Shirley Jackson is easily one of my favourite authors. It takes quite a writer to scare me, and to be able to do so without relying on blood and guts but rather by leading you so subtly and deeply into her stories that they could easily be a reality.
Generally I don’t find ghost stories scary, because I don’t believe in ghosts. Jackson’s haunting, however, scared the wits out of me for precisely that reason, because it isn’t necessarily even about ghosts. It is entirely open to interpretation, and spooky as hell either way. Hill House may well have been haunted, but it is not the ghosts that may or may not of existed there that pose the threat. The threat comes from within the people who stay at the house. They are driven by belief, by madness and by fear of the things they think that they see and hear, but any danger that they are exposed to comes very much from one another. People can be fatal under the right conditions, and Jackson is a genius for creating the kind of conditions that allow her characters to commit the most horrific crimes. She shows us that no matter how you excuse human behaviour by blaming supposed paranormal activity and the madness it inspires in people, it is purely human behaviour that causes us to harm one another the way we do. And that truly is terrifying.