Hell House by Richard Matheson

I’m not one for ghost stories. And while the head hopping within a single paragraph or the numerous uses of “mattress edge” became rather annoying, Matheson did one amazing thing. Just as the characters in the novel began to doubt which series of events was the truth, I began to do the same. Yet, despite the fact that I don’t like ghost stories, I found myself wanting to believe that the truth to the Belasco house was in fact a haunting and not just residual energy in the house. I guess it would validate the pain and death in the 1940s group as well as for these characters.

As I did last semester, I’m going to try to post about what I learned from the craft of this novel and not just respond to the story itself. This might just be the one novel where head hopping numerous times in the novel might actually have been intended by the author. We, the audience, in a sense became Belasco himself. Flitting from mind to mind to work on what beliefs they held and manipulating the truth. Thus weaving the tale to the final page.  I’m not normally a ghost story reader but this one worked well for me on a few levels.  This week in our course discussion we’re talking about whether or not you believe in ghosts.  The answers are intriguing to me because they are matching what I’ve noticed with the characters in the novel.  Some believe in ghosts while other believe in residual energy.  So there’s a realistic aspect when creating the characters.  Not everyone will react to such phenomena the same as others.  That resonated with me.  I could get deeper into this story and the struggles of the characters because of that.  So much so that the aspects I didn’t like didn’t seem as important anymore.

6 thoughts on “Hell House by Richard Matheson”

  1. I was never thrown off by the plot twists. I thought Belasco was behind the haunting the whole book and felt like I was missing something for thinking the solution was too easy. The lack of mystery didn’t impede on the story at all, though, because I found it to be an examination of psyches put up against the supernatural, not a mystery. I agree the characters were fascinating because they represented the different ways humans perceive the supernatural. Even Fischer, the one who sat back and did nothing most of the novel, takes on the characteristics of an agnostic who can’t be bothered. It’s also interesting that the truth was a mix of the thoughts.

    As for head hopping, we’re taught not to do it because it can easily cause confusion. It’s not a mandatory rule, and we should never feel tethered to set standards in writing, or we’d be too afraid to try anything new. The real question is whether the story still made since, and I thought, even with the head hopping, it worked fine. However, I don’t think I could write a novel so clearly with that much head hopping, so I’ll follow the guidelines a bit longer.

  2. I like how you point out that the “head hopping” reflects Belasco. I didn’t think of that. Although, It did cross my mind that the views of the characters reflect how different people view supernatural events. With, like Ryan said, Fischer reflecting an agnostic. I really liked that part of the story, as well. I agree the head hopping was on purpose, here. And it worked. Even though there were many things in the story that didn’t float my boat, this may have been my favorite aspect.

  3. Head hopping only bothers me when it muddies up the scene and confuses the reader as to what’s actually happening. Or if the writer is doing it without a reason other than laziness. So for the most part, Matheson’s head hopping didn’t get on my nerves too much.

    You do raise an interesting story idea about Belasco as the POV character to excuse the rampant head hopping. Now I sort of want to write a story through the ghosts’ POV in a similar haunting situation. 😀 This is most convenient, since I have a horror flash due in April, and now have the beginnings for the premise. Thanks for that. 🙂

    Also, you dislike ghost stories in general? 🙁 Thats sort of bad luck for you this whole semester then, eh? That sucks.

  4. Interesting that Matheson made you want to believe in the haunting. I love ghost stories, but tend to go into one a sceptic—I’m willing to believe, but the storyteller shouldn’t hand me a load of b.s.. Hell House had the same effect on me; I wanted to believe. I think, as you said, validation had a lot to do with it: something needed to be behind all the pain and death.

    The head hopping didn’t bother me. It read as intentional, not as slip-ups by the author. I like the idea of it being Belasco’s P.O.V. That never dawned on me.

  5. Great points here! I especially like the thought that maybe the POV was from Belasco; however, I hated the head-hopping. Yet in this case, the story was able to pick up the slack and keep me interested. This has been one of my favorite stories so far from the class.

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