Category Archives: Readings in the Genre: Hauntings

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.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I started reading the stories for the semester before the syllabus went up so the first two books I read out of order. I won’t review Hell House yet, but having read that first and then Haunting of Hill House, I found the latter to be quite tame. Then, at a bookstore, I saw that it was listed as one of the best literary ghost stories. That piqued my interest. I’m in the “Writing Popular Fiction” program at Seton Hill. We talk often of what makes something literary rather than popular. I personally have never been satisfied with the distinction. But that’s neither here nor there.

Haunting of Hill House takes longer to get into the actual ghost story. Sure, the house is creepy and designed weird but you are nearly halfway through novel by the time anything really manifests itself. And having come into the novel right after finishing Hell House, I was expecting a lot. Or that it was all Mrs. Dudley in the end pranking everyone so they’d leave the house alone. So I’ve tried to think of what I can that stuck out in my mind from this novel.

The word haunt is an interesting one. In terms of ghosts the common definition is “Manifest itself at a place regularly.” Well, by that definition, who exactly was doing the haunting? This isn’t a story about people going into a house to figure out what is causing the haunting. They’re just there to observe. So there’s no resolution in that regard. Instead, the novel ends with a traumatic event that sends everyone away. However, a case could be made that by the definition of a haunting, it is actually the characters of the novel that are doing the haunting of the house because they “frequent a place regularly.” But I know that’s not what was meant for the novel.

One thing the author did rather well is spinning the suspense. I kept expecting more to happen. But we never “see” anything. Just “Hear” the pounding and laughter. Yet, you are able to feel the tension within the characters (when you get over the old fashioned way the women act but it was written for that time period). All in all, a rather interesting start to the semester.