If one has never read Shirley Jackson, wait no longer, spring and summer are here! Such as autumn belonging to Macbeth, the warmer months should belong to Shirley Jackson; and the reasons why are simple. Foremost, her works of horror can inspire the blood to run cold during the hottest day. Also, three of her most haunting classics transpire throughout spring and summer. So, what better time is there than now to read the mistress of the macabre?
“The Haunting of Hill House” opens with an eighty-year-old mansion that was born bad. Far and wide, it has become infamous for its bloody past and its inhabiting ghosts. Due to its reputation, a paranormal investigator, Dr. Montague, decides to examine Hill House. His goal for doing so is to prove that ghosts exist, and he believes Hill House can provide him that evidence.
After Dr. Montague schedules one week during summer for investigation, he builds a team. Among his crew are two women with a paranormal background, Eleanor and Theodora. Accompanying them is Luke, the spoiled rightful heir to Hill House. While he lacks paranormal interests and abilities, his aunt required he play their host. Thus, granting herself a break from his personality and spending.
Once the week begins, all guests gather at Hill House and become acquainted. On the eve of their meeting, Dr. Montague reviews the property’s bloody history. The artistic way he relays this information is reminiscent of hearing a campfire tale. For any horror fan, his rendition seems like a love letter to the genre.
After learning Hill House’s history, Eleanor begins experiencing paranormal phenomena. Yet, due to her mindset, one could suspect her to be delusional rather than haunted. But if one disregards Elenore’s mental state, the plot thickens. Because of her paranormal background, her telekinetic powers may have awakened something.
Near the novel’s conclusion, Eleanor’s storyline is never deemed paranormal or psychological. Because a definite answer is never provided, Hill House’s bloodthirsty possibilities remain endless. Yet, Jackson’s intensity continues to build for later pages. In the last paragraph, Jackson utilizes a final hair-raising prose. By her style and imagination, she secures a concept that will chill everyone’s summer.
If one analyzes “The Haunting of Hill House”, they must first juxtapose the characters. Overall, Theodora and Eleanor deserve the most attention. In comparison, they are nothing alike, yet, they bond.
Theodora’s character is liberated, independent, and is everything Eleanor wishes to be. To indicate Theodora is a free spirit, she is the only character without a last name. In contrast, Eleanor is meek, introverted, a people pleaser, and bares obligations. One may see Eleanor’s desperation for independence become paramount whenever she longs for her allegorical “cup of stars”.
Dr. Montague and the original house owner, Hugh Crain, provide another interesting comparison. While Hugh Crain’s description reflects deplorability, Dr. Montague’s description indicates courtesy. However, between the two, they share the desire to dominate. Although Hugh Crain’s desire is brunt, Dr. Montague’s is discreet. One can see Dr. Montague’s dominance by his last name being emphasized in repetition. This is to suggest he is the authoritative figure among the cast.
Finally, one must consider Luke’s untrustworthy character. Due to a scene of rescue, many admire him as a gothic hero. Still, this one good deed doesn’t dismiss his delinquent character background. Unlike Jackson’s more complex characters, Luke is nothing more than a flawed person.
“The Lottery” is a ritualistic story that occurs in America on June 27th. On this date, a community participates in an annual name drawing. All seems innocent, until the reader understands participation is a requirement. The story then progresses from a subtle unease to complete dread. By its slow burn pacing, the plot becomes barbaric and reminiscent of ancient practices. Then, such as the villagers, reality strikes.
To review what occurs on lottery day, the steps are as follows. First, the morning begins with each homeowner drawing lottery slips. Next, the individual family members in that same home must proceed in the drawing. This will eliminate participants, until a sacrifice receives nomination. At last, the community will stone the lottery winner to death to insure a fruitful harvest.
For a shorter piece, this tale has a plethora of social commentary. The lottery winner is a scapegoat; one whose sole purpose is to alleviate burdens. By how the villagers ravenously kill the winner, the story maintains a cannibalistic vibe. One that suggests a survival of the fittest concept.
Readers can also determine “The Lottery” concentrates on multiple topics. In its text, the fear among crowds and the danger of traditions are both blatant. Yet, there is a deeper psychology. “The Lottery” is a cautionary tale. One that stresses the dangers of blindly following a group and not thinking for oneself.
“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece. This mysterious, gothic tale of psychological horror and suspense introduces the remaining Blackwood family. Members include the siblings, Merricat and Constance, and their disabled Uncle Julian. All of which live isolated in a dilapidated home that is within walking distance of a nearby village.
Each remaining Blackwood family member is in some way dysfunctional. Between the siblings, Constance displays agoraphobia, while Merricat exhibits codependent and sociopathic traits. Their Uncle Julian demonstrates signs of being obsessive compulsive through his memoir keeping.
By Uncle Julian’s rantings, the majority of the past comes to light. Yet, it is among all three characters that we learn a grim truth. Six years ago, someone murdered the Blackwood family members by arsenic laced sugar.
After the mass murder, villagers believed Constance was the murderess. By how society treated her, we can assume they are to blame for her agoraphobia. However, the villagers’ persecution extends further, causing all remaining Blackwood family members to feel like outcasts.
Due to their treatment, the remaining Blackwood family learns to live in seclusion with Merricat serving as their protector. To insure no trespassing, Merricat utilizes a form sympathetic magic to surround their property. The most prominent talisman is a book nailed to a tree.
All seems well, until one day when the book falls from its placement. Since this omen indicates trouble, it is unsurprising when an unwelcomed visitor arrives. From here, the plot elaborates into a battle of wits, sympathetic magic, and willpower.
This book, such as others by Jackson, revisits the subject of shunning and persecution. By the novel’s theme and character development, some speculate this to be Jackson’s most personal work. In her life, Jackson struggled with disorders such as depression and agoraphobia. Also, rumor went she dabbled in the occult. In the past, some have debated the Blackwood sisters are as Jackson’s inner diversity. It has also been noted that the Blackwood sisters represent Jackson’s own two daughters.
Whether one reads Jackson for an analysis or entertainment, one will admire her alluring prose and imagination, regardless. Just keep in mind, whenever reading a horror story by Jackson, don’t expect gore. Expect to be deeply seeded with psychological fear.
For those hoping to match the books on this list by calendar date, here is a cheat to when one might plan their reading. “The Haunting of Hill House” is unspecific in regards to a particular month. Yet, it does state that the horror develops over a week in the summer. Although “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is a bit more specific, its exact date is unknown. Regardless, its tale blossoms out on a Friday in late April. The only book of these three that feature a specific date is “The Lottery” which arrives on June 27th.
For those starting their Jackson extravaganza, I would suggest reading “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” last. It is the final novel Jackson wrote, and one can see her soul still haunts the pages.