Books vs. TV

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: Book vs. TV Show

Beware! This post includes spoilers.

The Haunting of Hill House book vs. The Haunting of Hill House TV series

This modern reimagining of the Shirley Jackson novel follows siblings who, as children, grew up in what would go on to become the most famous haunted house in the country… Now adults, they are forced back together in the face of tragedy and must finally confront the ghosts of their past. Some of those ghosts still lurk in their minds, while others may actually be stalking the shadows of Hill House.

I knew I had to do at least one Book vs. Movie/TV comparison during the month of October, and what better choice than a ~spooky horror story~ like The Haunting of Hill House. With the TV show’s sequel, The Haunting of Bly Manor having just come out, I finally sat myself down and watched its scary predecessor that I had been meaning to watch for almost 2 years, but had continuously been putting off because it looks significantly frightening.

Of all the book-to-screen adaptations I’ve compared, The Haunting of Hill House is definitely the most intentionally divergent work. And I say this not only because the original novel was written in 1959 and the Netflix TV show is a modern retelling that came out in 2018. Besides the almost 70-year modernization, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House is an altogether different beast than the original novel written by Shirley Jackson.

While the book follows a group of 4 unlikely companions who choose to stay in Hill House at the behest of the occult scholar Dr. Montague to find concrete evidence to back the mansion’s haunted history – told from the perspective of Eleanor, nicknamed “Nell”, a lonely, unsocialized young woman who had previous experience with a poltergeist as a child – the TV series focuses on a family of 6 who spent a life-altering summer in Hill House as their parents attempt to ‘flip’ it for a profit.

And besides the obvious nods to the original novel, such as the main characters names, and the care-taker couple, the Dudleys, the TV show and book at first glance appear like completely different stories, the only string tying them together being the location of the action – the aforementioned Hill House.

Nevertheless, on closer inspection it is plainly evident that Mike Flanagan was largely influenced by Shirley Jackson’s original tale, and took much inspiration from it when creating his modern-retelling. In fact, I would argue The Haunting of Hill House might be one of the best book-to-television adaptations I’ve ever seen, if not in plot, than in spirit. (Pun ABSOLUTELY intended 😂).

The main characters themselves are obvious nods to the original story. The characters Theo, Nell and Luke take their names directly from 3 out of the 4 inhabitants of Hill House, and their behaviours and mannerisms match almost perfectly with those from the book.

I was thrilled when I first found out Theo was a lesbian on the TV show, and even more psyched to learn the original character was – if not outright stated, heavily implied – to be a lesbian as well! Luke might not be the rich, future heir to the mansion, but he’s still a somewhat dopey, but nevertheless caring individual. I thought this was really exemplified for both Luke characters in the way they cared for Nell. And Nell herself, while not coming from the exact same circumstances between adaptations, definitely had the same qualities to her, and, in the end, was the most susceptible to the “haunting” of Hill House and came to the same tragic conclusion. 😢

While not named specifically after him, it seemed evident to me that Steve was mirrored after Dr. Montague, and Shirley named as a homage to the book’s author. Meanwhile the parents, Hugh and Olivia Craine were modelled after the original owners of Hill House in the novel.

And if you’ve read both the book and seen the show I’m sure you noticed all the quotes taken from the book and used, while within different contexts, often word-for-word in the TV series. I actually found it pretty ingenious that Flanagan managed to incorporate so many direct saying from the original novel and have them make sense contextually in the TV show when the plot and the events depicted in the story themselves were so vastly different.

And while the horrors of Hill House were VERY different between the two adaptations (much of this being attributed to the requirements of a visual medium vs. a non-visual one) the monsters they represented, and the ways in which they slowly creeped into the lives of the characters until the fear and distrust they incited within their victims utterly controlled them was absolutely the same, and equally terrifying to me, the reader/viewer. 🙈

All this to say, that I absolutely adored – and was utterly FRIGHTENED of – both the book and the TV adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, and cannot wait to sink my teeth into The Haunting of Bly Manor/The Turn of the Screw.

How about you? Have you read the book? Seen the show?

What about Bly Manor? Have you watched it yet? What did you think?

Let me know!

Liza is a twenty-something book blogger who spends way too much time with her nose in books and feels way too much. She loves cooking, baking, reality tv show watching and, of course, reading. She can be found most often with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. Her blog, Literary Liza, features bookish content like reviews, recommendations, and author interviews.


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