The Book That Inspired 'The Haunting Of Hill House' Is Way Darker Than The Show
Photo: user uploaded image

The Book That Inspired 'The Haunting Of Hill House' Is Way Darker Than The Show

The Haunting of Hill House is a sprawling, 10-episode series filled with both existential and tangible scares, but the show wouldn't exist without its source material: Shirley Jackson's eponymous 1959 Gothic horror novel. Series writer and director Mike Flanagan adapted the book by taking the story's most important elements and applying them to a new plot that still feels familiar to Jackson's fans. While the novel and TV show are fantastic works of horror, the two Haunting of Hill House stories only share a few similarities.

Character names, themes, and a few passages from the book ended up in the series, but many of the scariest ghosts from The Haunting of Hill House TV show are Netflix inventions. If you enjoyed the series, you should read the novel because an entirely new and deeply terrifying adventure awaits. And if you're too scared to follow through with that, check out these other shows like The Haunting of Hill House!

  • Eleanor Vance Dies In Both Versions

    Eleanor Vance Dies In Both Versions
    Photo: Netflix

    Eleanor Vance doesn't fare well in any version of The Haunting of Hill House. While Eleanor kills herself in the series pilot before spending the rest of the show as a ghost who haunts her family, the book sends the character on a death trip starting from the first page.

    By the book's end, Eleanor has suffered from paranoid delusions for a while. For example, the initial pages illustrate that she thinks a waitress at a truck stop is laughing at her. Jackson's version of Eleanor unfurls over a few days in Hill House; she goes from an amiable young woman seeking a mother figure in Theodora Crain - AKA Theo - to wanting to bash in her friend's head to fatally crashing her car into a tree in the book's final pages. 


  • The Book's Hauntings Are More Aggressive

    The Book's Hauntings Are More Aggressive
    Photo: Netflix

    By the Netflix adaptation's final episode, the ghosts of Hill House are content to watch the Crain family slowly get devoured by the Red Room. However, the house in Jackson's book is more aggressive with its inhabitants, especially when dealing with Eleanor.

    In Jackson's book, Hill House's first major sign of being haunted occurs on the second night when Luke and the doctor search the grounds for a dog that they saw run through the house - a scene referenced in episode 6 of the series. While that happens, Theo and Eleanor hide from a phantom that bangs on their door and tries to get into their room.

    There is a scene in the series where a phrase, "HELP ELEANOR COME HOME," appears written in chalk on a wall. But instead of the words being written under wallpaper, they show up as massive letters that extend to the ceiling. The phrase reappears repeatedly - written in blood - most notably in Theo's room. However, Jackson's deft prose keeps the reader guessing whether Eleanor is mentally ill or the house is truly speaking to her. 

  • In The Book, The Late Hugh Crain Owned The House

    In The Book, The Late Hugh Crain Owned The House
    Photo: Netflix

    The Crains are the main characters of Netflix's adaptation, but they get pushed into the background of its source material. In Jackson's book, Hugh Crain is the late owner of Hill House, and his entire life features tragedy. He might be one of the phantoms haunting the house, but it remains unclear.

    In Jackson's version, Crain builds Hill House for his wife and two daughters, but the wife dies in a carriage accident outside the gates. Each subsequent wife he remarries dies in a different horrible way. He ultimately moves to Europe and then dies, leaving his two daughters to take over the property. After a few years, the sisters decide the eldest should become owner of Hill House.

    Some have theorized Crain is haunting the house because his home collects people, drawing and trapping them permanently after they die. 

  • The Book Gets Narrated From Eleanor's Perspective

    The Book Gets Narrated From Eleanor's Perspective
    Photo: Netflix

    While the Netflix adaptation follows each Crain family member across multiple timelines, Jackson's book plays out on a much smaller scale. Not only are there fewer characters, but the perspective does not expand beyond that of Eleanor.

    Things only appear frightening if Eleanor determines they are, since the readers can't see what's going on without her viewpoint. The show is more omniscient, which makes the book darker - when Eleanor either begins losing her mind or experiences ghosts beating down her door, it feels as if it's happening to the reader because they can only see things from her perspective. 

  • The Book Is About Four Strangers

    The Book Is About Four Strangers
    Photo: Netflix

    Mike Flanagan's adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House is a sprawling epic that follows the stories of the seven Crain family members, the Dudleys, and a few other people who pop up throughout the 10 episodes. However, the original book is about four strangers who convene to research Hill House's paranormal activity.

    The book begins with Dr. Montague sending out letters to the three other characters - Eleanor, Theodora, and Luke Sanderson - the son of the woman who owns the house. The quartet works perfectly in Jackson's book because it's a relatively truncated tale, so why not carry on their story in the series? 

    Mike Flanagan explained the reason behind his deviation from the source material to The Hollywood Reporter:

    I went back through the book, and I figured the only way through the woods was [that] we were going to need a much larger character palette to carry a series. I'm just naturally drawn to family drama, and I think in horror, in particular, the way people behave in their families is different than the way they behave out in the world. It strips away all the pretext.

  • Jackson's Hill House Might Not Be Haunted

    Jackson's Hill House Might Not Be Haunted
    Photo: Netflix

    Mike Flanagan's adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House is a twisted story with multiple oblique narratives that get inverted with each episode. The one certainty in the series is the fact the house is full of real-deal ghosts. Rather than keep the mystery alive across 10 episodes, Flanagan leans into the haunted house motif.

    In contrast to Flanagan's approach, Jackson never reveals whether or not the house is haunted, leaving it up to readers to decide what's happening. Though there is something spooky going on in the book, the characters fail to definitively see physical manifestations of spirits. However, they do experience the chilling presence of something that wants to enter their rooms in the middle of the night. 

    In addition, Jackson does not clarify if there's anything in the house other than bad vibes, and she allows her characters to stew in their panic. Each character feels off-kilter in the house for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes it's because of the structure's uneven build, and other times, the infinite darkness is to blame - but maybe it's always dark because a group of hills encompasses the house in a valley.

    Throughout the book, the doors, windows, and curtains of Hill House keep shutting themselves when no one is looking. While this could serve as the sign of a haunting, it's also possible Mrs. Dudley is keeping everything shut up during the day because it's her job.