Before You Watch Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House, Brush Up on What Happens in the Book
The premiere of Netflix's next great horror entry, The Haunting of Hill House, is finally upon us, and there's a lot to unpack. Between the large cast of characters and the thrilling mysteries at its center, it's clear that the show is more of a "creative reimagining" of Shirley Jackson's 1953 Gothic novel than a faithful adaptation. That being said, the title and concept still contain echoes of the original tale.
Jackson's book has been hailed as one of the greatest haunted house stories of all time, and perhaps it's because it's not your typical tale of ghosts and creaky floorboards. The story has a way of getting under your skin rather than outright terrifying you, and it's that kind of fright that stays with you a long time. Although the new TV series will be a bit of a departure from the source material, some of the original beats of the story will trickle into the narrative. As such, we're giving you a bare-bones description of the tale that started it all.
Hill House is a haunted structure that has been standing for decades, plagued by death and darkness. We meet Dr. John Montague, a paranormal investigator who is determined to prove, with science, that the supernatural is real. In his efforts to confirm his suspicions, he rents out Hill House for a Summer. He hopes, by the season's end, to have answers. And he invites a few others, individuals who have had paranormal experiences themselves, to join him in his quest. At first, he keeps the nature of their stay a secret.
The Major Players
The cast of the novel is very small. Only two women answer Montague's letters, and then a handful of other characters enter the fold by other means. Here are all the main players:
- Dr. Montague: We've already mentioned our main guy. Without him, the whole story wouldn't have happened in the first place.
- Eleanor Vance: Following the death of her mother, Eleanor is looking for the next thing to do. When her invitation to Hill House arrives, she jumps at the chance to go.
- Theodora: This one comes to Hill House looking for an escape. In fact, she's recently been in a fight with her roommate and needs somewhere to sleep while things settle down.
- Luke Sanderson: Luke is the young heir to the Hill House. His aunt, who owns the house currently, is the one who convinces Montague to let him stay.
- Mr. and Mrs. Dudley: The two caretakers at Hill House. They don't like sticking around at night, though.
- Mrs. Montague: She's the wife of our good friend and doctor. She brings along a friend as well. With an interest in the house and its occurrences, she spends a weekend there.
- Arthur Parker: Mrs. Montague's friend, the headmaster of a boys' school who also is curious about Hill House and its haunted history.
On the very first night, Dr. Montague finally reveals the nature of their visit and goes through the history of the house. It's been standing about 80 years, and it was first built by the Crain family. Though some deaths have occurred under the roof, it's not a space of murder and deceit. As Montague explains, the house isn't haunted in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, it gets inside your head and drives you crazy.
The core four characters experience some strange, indirect hauntings as their stay continues. Without spoiling too much, there are loud knocks, jiggling door handles, strange writing on the walls — the list continues. Once the weekend guests arrive, there are spirit readings with a planchette — which is basically what comes with Ouija boards nowadays, plus with a pencil attached.
Eventually, it becomes clear that the house is possessing Eleanor and affecting her more than any of the other guests. At times, it seems like whatever's haunting her may be a product of her imagination and that she's going insane. In other moments, the paranormal occurrences seem very real.
Eventually, Eleanor becomes so convinced that she belongs inside the house, she refuses to go anywhere else. She becomes so absorbed in the house, much to the worry of all the other inhabitants. Eventually, Dr. Montague insists she leave, and she agrees to do so. They get her in a car, and she bids farewell to the others . . . then she crashes directly into a large tree, presumably killing herself.
Our good doctor promptly ends his investigation, and everyone goes their separate ways. Once again, as always, the house stands in silence, empty and alone.