Post by Mark T. Locker.
Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and Hell House by Richard Matheson.
Happy Halloween, everyone! Here are two similar but very distinct haunted house novels. Hill House and Hell House, besides having quite similar names, have similar premises (no pun intended!). Each features a scientifically-minded individual engaging in an empirical study of a well-known haunted house.
In Hell House, Dr. Lionel Barrett is invited by a wealthy eccentric to spend a week in a notoriously haunted—and dangerous—house with two mediums to gather definitive proof of the paranormal. In this case, the site is known as the Belasco house, named for the former owner, a horrifically depraved and evil man named Emeric Bellasco. Many lives were lost in the house and many angry spirits remain. Every attempt to reside in and study the house has ended in death. Dr. Barrett is convinced he can end the whole thing using technology. Florence Tanner, a spiritualist and mental medium, wants to connect with the spirits and put them to rest. Benjamin Franklin Fischer, a physical medium, visited the home as a teenager and hopes simply to get through the week alive.
The Haunting of Hill House is by Shirley Jackson, a well-known author, most notably of her chilling short story “The Lottery”. Like Hell House, this story is based around a science-minded professor spending time in a haunted house with a couple assistants hoping to gather concrete proof of the supernatural. This story is built more around the characters, especially Eleanor, one of the young women staying with Dr. John Montague. Unlike the Belasco house, there is no particular set of event that makes the house so awful, rather it seems the house itself is malevolent. Its forces get into the characters minds and exploit their weaknesses.
Both are spooky and enjoyable books, though Shirley Jackson’s superb writing style and brilliant subtlety of narrative flow through the novel make it seem creepier. You never see a chair fly across a room, which somehow makes the whole thing scarier. Matheson’s book, however, highlights the darker parts of the human soul and the icky depths some people descend to. Either one will make you shiver in your bed as you read.