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.
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.
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.
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.
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.