The Haunting of Hill House

Formats and Prices


UK-B Format Paperback (Revised edition)


UK-B Format Paperback (Revised edition)

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 28, 2006. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

The greatest haunted house story ever written, the inspiration for a 10-part Netflix series directed by Mike Flanagan and starring Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, and Timothy Hutton

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers–and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.




There is no god but this mirror that thou seest, for this is the Mirror of Wisdom. And it reflecteth all things that are in heaven and on earth, save only the face of him who looketh into it. This it reflecteth not, so that he who looketh into it may be wise.

—Oscar Wilde, “The Fisherman and His Soul”

To learn what we fear is to learn who we are. Horror defines our boundaries and illuminates our souls. In that, it is no different, or less controversial, than humor, and no less intimate than sex. Our rejection or acceptance of a particular type of horror fiction can be as rarefied or kinky as any other phobia or fetish.

Horror is made of such base material—so easily rejected or dismissed—that it may be hard to accept my postulate that within the genre lies one of the last refuges of spirituality in this, our materialistic world.

But it is a fact that, through the ages, most storytellers have had to resort to the fantastic in order to elevate their discourse to the level of parable. Stevenson, Wilde, Victor Hugo, Henry James, Marcel Schwob, Kipling, Borges, and many others. Borges, in fact, defended the fantastic quite openly and acknowledged fable and parable as elemental forms of narrative that would always outlive the much younger forms, which are preoccupied with realism.

At a primal level, we crave parables, because they allow us to grasp the impossibly large concepts and to understand our universe without and within. These tales can “make flesh” what would otherwise be metaphor or allegory. More important, the horror tale becomes imprinted in us at an emotional level: Shiver by shiver, we gain insight.

But, at its root, the frisson is a crucial element of this form of storytelling—because all spiritual experience requires faith, and faith requires abandonment: the humility to fully surrender to a tide of truths and wills infinitely larger than ourselves.

It is in this abandonment that we are allowed to witness phenomena that go beyond our nature and that reveal the spiritual side of our existence.

We dislocate, for a moment, the rules of our universe, the laws that bind the rational and diminish the cosmos to our scale. And when the world becomes a vast, unruly place, a place where anything can happen, then—and only then—we allow for miracles and angels, no matter how dark they may be.

Penguin has a particularly important place in my own relationship with the fantastic. When I was a child—roughly seven years old—I started purchasing and collecting fantastic literature. My first purchases were paperbacks, and the two main purveyors of my collection were, almost inevitably, Editorial Bruguera in Spanish and Penguin Books in English. As a kid, I was so grateful to have these short story collections and novels in an affordable—albeit fragile—format. Reading these tales at such an early age most definitely shaped me into whatever manner of creature I am today.

The discovery of the horror tale at such an early age was fortuitous for me. This sort of tale serves, in many ways, the very same purpose as fairy tales did in our childhood: It operates as a theater of the mind in which internal conflicts are played out. In these tales we can parade the most reprehensible aspects of our being: cannibalism, incest, parricide. It allows us to discuss our anxieties and even to contemplate the experience of death in absolute safety.

And again, like a fairy tale, horror can serve as a liberating or repressive social tool, and it is always an accurate reflection of the social climate of its time and the place where it gets birthed.

*   *   *

In the eighteenth century, Romanticism—and with it, the Gothic tale—surged as a reaction against the suffocating dogmas of the Enlightenment. Empiricism weighed heavily upon our souls so, as the age of reason went to sleep, it produced monsters. Reason and science were being enthroned when the Gothic Romance exploded full of emotion and thrills. “The great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain,” said Lord Byron, enunciating a basic Romantic idea and, perhaps, hoping that goblins, ghosts, and demons provided some necessary release to a puritanical society.

The Gothic has its sights planted firmly in the past because it is there that ghosts reside. Romanesque ruins evoke, with their incomplete grandeur, the will that built them and the echoes they left behind. The innate necrophilia subjacent in the Gothic spirit is made manifest as a tribute to the eternal notion of love.

The enormous popularity of this genre produced a deluge of inferior titles and sub–Minerva Press imitations; its elements became so well-known as to be somewhat parodied in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (created in direct response to Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic novels) or, more obliquely, in the Don Quixote of the Gothic genre: The Monk, by Matthew G. Lewis.

Toward the end of its run, the Gothic’s resistance to modernity gave way to a new set of devices—it began to utilize the shiny artifices of science, psychology, and other avant-garde tools to lend plausibility to its phantoms.

And it is at this point that the modern horror tale, in the hand of young, skillful, and powerful writers, starts evolving from its Gothic roots and delivers bold, very experimental works that shape the language in exciting and innovative ways.

*   *   *

Much like Matthew G. Lewis, who was twenty years old when he wrote The Monk, Mary Shelley was painfully young—a teenager, in fact—when she first published Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus and into the monster and his tale she was able to pour all her contradictions and her questions—her essential pleas and her feelings of disfranchisement and inadequacy. The tale spoke about such profound, particular feelings that, irremediably, it became universal.

While reading the novel as a child, I was arrested by the epistolary form Shelley had chosen (and which Dracula would use to good effect many decades later), because it felt so immediate. I was overtaken by the Miltonian sense of abandonment, the absolute horror of a life without a reason. The tragedy of the tale was not dependent on evil. That’s the supreme pain of the novel—tragedy requires no villain.

Just as Poe will prefigure the ambiguities of psychiatry, Shelley utilizes the most cutting-edge science and philosophy to drive her existential discourse home. Galvanism, chemistry, and surgery provide the alibi for the monster to gain life and to arise and question all of us.

The Faust-like thirst for knowledge and the arrogance of science are embodied in the character of Victor. He becomes an uncaring god who can force dead flesh to be reanimated but cannot calculate the consequences of his creation. This leads to the infinite sorrow of his creation, who will experience the hunger, the loneliness, and the burden of existence, far removed from its creator.

And the Creature, like the wolf of St. Francis, wanders through the world, encounters mostly evil and hatred, and learns of rage and pain. He becomes hardened and lonely. And I, at age ten, in a comfortable house in a suburb, felt exactly the same way. Shelley goes deeper than many authors by refusing to impose a pattern of good and evil only as discourse (like Stevenson’s “Markheim” or Poe in “William Wilson”), but by actually weaving it into the plot.

The unnatural essence of the Creature is defined by his origins—by the god that gave him life—because Victor usurps not only the divine function of God, but also that of intercourse. Victor is barren and alone when he creates the Creature, and their final encounter brings it all full circle—they finally meet in a desolate, frozen landscape, which provides the perfect theater for the colloquy between the arid God and the abandoned Man.

In usurping the role of God, Victor is also faced with questions and reproach that far exceed his paternal capabilities and ultimately allow the Creature to see him, too, as just a man. Another abandoned man. So, as the tale ends, and as his god dies a simple man, the Creature will fade into the cold limbo with the sole desire to die himself. To be no more. Remote as Victor may have been, he was the only thing that gave sense to the Creature’s life, and with him gone, only oblivion remains.

Frankenstein is the purest of parables—working both as a straight narrative and as a symbolic one. Shelley utilizes the Gothic model to tell a story not about the loss of a paradise but rather about the absence of one.

The novel is so articulate and vibrant that it often surprises those who approach it for the first time. No adaptation—and there are some masterful ones—has ever captured it whole.

Taking its rightful place among the essential characters in any narrative form, Frankenstein’s Creature will go beyond literature and will join Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Pinocchio, and Monte Cristo in embodying a concept, even in the minds of those who have never read the actual books.

*   *   *

Clearly, the horror tale deals with the essential duality of mankind, a topic that has proved irresistible to philosophers, prophets, and saints. The Adamites, the Dulcinians, and other savage orders advocated salvation through Bosch-like excess and violence—and they all situated the root of all evil in the soul. It is not until Poe that the seat of evil is transferred back to its proper place: the human mind.

It is in Poe that we first find the sketches of modern horror while being able to enjoy the traditional trappings of the Gothic tale. He speaks of plagues and castles and ancient curses, but he is also morbidly attracted to the aberrant intellect, the mind of the outsider.

Poe grappled with the darker side of mankind, with the demons that reside within us: our mind, a crumbling edifice, sinking slowly in a swamp of decadence and madness. He knew that a rational, good-hearted man could, when ridden by demons, sink a knife in the eye of a beloved cat and gouge it out. He could strangle an old man or burn alive his enemies. He knew that those dark impulses can shape us, overtake us, make us snap—and yet, we would still be able to function, we would still presume to possess the power of rational thought.

Why would anyone say we are mad?

In Poe, the legend weighs heavily upon his readers. Partly because of the singular misfortune of his life, but also due to one outstanding fact: The portrait of Poe as a dissolute, intoxicated wretch comes chiefly from the biased chronicling and ruthless eulogizing of one Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold had the singular duty of being an enemy of Poe and guardian of the writer’s legacy. So, quite early after the writer’s death, the misinterpretation of Poe starts in earnest. Griswold publishes a most ruthless epitaph and a distorted biography that will, to this day, define Poe in the popular imagination.

One of the most surprising aspects of Poe is how remarkably uninterested he is in the supernatural. He is interested in figures of uncanny origin, and—much like the medieval artists—is capable of giving the plague a body and a voice, but he is not compelled toward the ghostly or physically monstrous; he is a rationalist (it should come as no surprise that he pioneered the detective novel) repulsed by and attracted to madness and loss.

Like every good writer of horror fiction, there is a large degree of autobiography in Poe’s work. The imprinting of death and love, the almost Dickensian nature of his childhood and the fact that his savage muse did not endear him to the mainstream of American literature all cooperated to create the sense of isolation in his fiction. This remarkable characteristic—which he will share with another accursed American writer, Howard Phillips Lovecraft—is of the foremost importance in understanding Poe. Most of his protagonists are outsiders. They stand alone, trapped, confined within themselves.

But it is here that two thoroughly modern demons make their appearance: perversity and arrogance. Part of the fundament of the horror tale is that it exists in a regimented social reality. The inner monologue of a Poe character becomes more effective when juxtaposed against minute social detail and quaint norm. The desires that pulse within are deemed irrational or perverse by the outside world and lay these characters on a disastrous route that suffuses each story and poem with a driving sense of doom.

His poems and stories, such as those in The Raven: Tales and Poems, have a passion for the abnormal and the hopeless that makes clear his ambivalence toward “normalcy.” He can only paint normalcy as a saintly virtue, a quiet, enraging sounding board for the drumming of madness. And little by little, as his tales unfold, that quaintness will become unsustainable, repugnant even, and it must be extinguished. It is in this arrogance that Poe’s characters reveal their true nature: They are not victims but executioners. Wolves in a land of sheep. In this, Poe hints at the psychopathy and sociopathy that will shape the criminology of centuries to come. Standing above moral judgment, he gives us a true glimpse into the criminal mind.

Poe is enraptured by the loss of all that was noble and grand and good. The tragedy in Poe’s world is not the darkness in which we wallow but the fact that we once contemplated heaven. The warm, bright kingdom of the smile has fallen, and it has given way to a valley of despair and demented laughter.

Poe instilled polarized reactions and remains, to this day, a writer often misinterpreted and even reviled. To an obstinate few, the exquisite, precise nature of his prose remains invisible, asphyxiated by the effect it provokes. But his work is without a doubt the fundamental stepping-stone between the legacy of Gothic horror and the threshold of its modern incarnations.

*   *   *

Poe redefines the Gothic edifice as a haunted castle of the mind, but it will have to wait until the end of the nineteenth century to be fully inhabited, when Henry James creates The Turn of the Screw.

The ghost story is perhaps the most venerable and accepted part of horror literature. Just as monsters can be found as far back as Beowulf, The Ramayana, or The Iliad, so can ghosts be traced to the very origins of the consigned narrative.

The ghost story has had many great practitioners, but, justly, two names stand above them all: M. R. James and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. In their hands, the ghost story acquires such solidity and conviction as to become fact. Their distinct styles achieve this result through varied means, which I will discuss succinctly. In James, horror comes as much by the punctilious nature of the detail and background provided for the story as it comes from the obstinate omission of such details in a capricious manner by the story’s narrator. This lends the story the patina of truth. It is no secret that, in describing his horrors, James is evoking his own intimate phobias and, it is said, the echoes of a single ghostly encounter he had at a very early age.

Le Fanu’s case is entirely another matter. Even when James drinks from the same stylistic resources—which he absorbed as a student and scholar of Le Fanu’s legacy—it is the innate connection that Le Fanu feels with the supernatural that dominates his work and separates it from the rest.

The tenuous but precise way in which Le Fanu builds up the supernatural elements is akin to the pervasive effects of mildew on a solid wall. It is not by force but by accumulation that he demolishes disbelief and tears down the barrier that separates us from fear. The relentless but delicate construction of atmosphere and dread that Le Fanu creates comes partly from a calculated and precise style of writing and partly from the lifelong relationship he has with the darkest folktales of his native Ireland.

The tenets of ghost story fiction are quite varied but almost invariably require the rooting of a haunting within an edifice, a patch of land, or an ancient object. The ghost must be “tethered” to a host of some kind. A haunted castle.

Henry James was fascinated by ghost stories—which he defined as fairy tales for adults—and studied them carefully. He devoted considerable time to the creation and contemplation of such tales and, in my opinion, devised one of the most moving and tenuous of all ghost tales in “The Way It Came.”

In The Turn of the Screw, James utilizes many a traditional Gothic story element (a haunted edifice, a manuscript, a secret from the past, and the element of innocence at the center of the tale) but creates a breathtaking exercise in ambiguity and duality—the house and the mind of the governess seem to be equally infested with darkness and ghosts.

Through the ages, it has been a tradition in Great Britain to have a great ghost story for Christmas. This tradition gave us A Christmas Carol by Dickens, and it extends into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries through the gorgeous productions the BBC has done through the decades at the yuletide season.

Henry James utilizes this device to start The Turn of the Screw. He also utilizes, obliquely, a most popular framing device: the club story.

The club story, along with the ghost story, is a cherished tradition that can be found in settings as varied as The Dinner Club stories by Sapper, Tales from the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke, assorted stories by M. R. James, or even “The Body Snatcher” by Robert Louis Stevenson, to name but a few. In the typical club story, a varied assortment of characters gathers in a supper club, a tavern, or a smoking room and, after describing the settings—the quality of the brandy, the gentle glow of the fireplace—stories of one sort or another are shared. This device often produces in the reader a sense of comfort and allows for a colloquial narrative that gives the most outlandish tales the patina of reality. Often a manuscript is quoted. The epistolary nature of the tale within the tale also lends credence to the events narrated, even if they unfold through a most unreliable narrator. The reader may now be in the wrong hands.

James then proceeds to weave a brisk but dense tale that engages the heart and the mind of the reader. We are at once as fascinated by the chilling nature of the tale as we are by the bifurcating possibilities of the haunting. We are either seeing the chronicle of the most tragic, relentless mental abuse of two children, or we are witnessing a chilling story of spiritual infestation. James himself has left some scattered evidence as to where his loyalties lay, and while there is some indication of his belief in the reality of the haunting, this has been disputed ardently through decades of literary analysis by some of the great minds of our century.

At the heart of the tale lies a most English virtue: repression. Regardless of the factual reality of the proceedings, the constant pulse of repressed desire gives the characters a susceptibility, a proclivity to heightened emotion, to hysterical reaction. James maintains the children as chillingly ambiguous, manipulative, and strong willed. This alone would have unsettled a governess at the time, but particularly one who can only define her subjects in the most anodyne and antiseptic terms: “charming,” “beautiful,” “beatific,” or “radiant.” The governess seems uncomfortable at the hint of any complexity in the children and at great unease with almost any demonstration of flattery or physical affection. That is why James is so brilliant in constructing his two ghosts around the very thing that would frighten his main character: carnal desire.

The origins of Quint and Miss Jessup (the former governess) are not an Anglo-Saxon myth or an ancient tale of revenge but the carnal story of two lovers consumed by physical passion. It is, in a way, a different sort of possession that also scares and bewilders our heroine/villain, quite in the same way that native lust would shock goodwilled missionaries across the South Seas.

The duality in the tale lies also within James. The English streak in him supports one side of the story—the one permeated by ghost tales and moral colonialism. His empirical, liberal American streak supports the other side. And even structurally, the pacing of the piece—which can be defined as a long novella or a short novel—throughout its compact chapters is entirely American while its coruscated prose and internal pacing are decidedly Old World.

A sophisticated mind still has, hardwired in it, the trigger of pareidolia—the human tendency to organize any random pattern into a system or a shape—and James lays before us an inkblot test of a tale. Whether we believe the haunting to be real or not speaks volumes about our nature as well as the nature of the tale’s characters. Our experience reading the novella mirrors the experience of the governess trying to assemble the tale. After all, James said that the reader should rely on “his own experience, his own imagination” to complete the haunting.

The haunted castle is now officially our mind and the ghost is desire.

*   *   *

Which brings us to Howard Phillips Lovecraft. There is so much to say about him and such illuminating texts have been written by brilliant scholars (above all else my kind accomplice S. T. Joshi), colleagues (L. Sprague de Camp’s Lovecraft biography), or fellow authors (H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, Michel Houellebecq) that I feel at a disadvantage trying to scribble a few thoughts.

I will then speak about my personal relationship to his work. One hot summer afternoon (I must have been eleven or twelve years old) I stumbled upon the text of the Lovecraft story “The Outsider.” I was riding in the family car, and the text was included in Spanish in an anthology for my older brother’s lit class. I started to read, and almost an hour later, I was left behind in the car, still reading, oblivious to the inclement heat, mesmerized and moved by this story.

In it, an entity emerges from the depths of the earth and ascends painfully, seeking, lost. And he encounters a horrifying entity at the end of a corridor. A loathsome creature, pale and deformed—who is it? And why does he stand there, looking directly at him? What is that frame that surrounds the door where the wretch stands? In the final paragraphs of the story, the narrator extends his hand and the horror hits the reader full force. The story provoked such strong emotions in me. “The monster was I . . .” And, as I closed that book, I felt transmogrified. I had become an acolyte of Lovecraft.

Starting that afternoon, and for the rest of my life, I have devoted more time to Lovecraft than virtually any other author in the genre. His mannered, convulse prose, so antiquated and yet so full of new ideas, is very compelling to a young writer for the same reason that Bradbury’s is—it seems easy to forge. It is so clear, so full of evident quirks, that you long to imitate it, and it is then that you find out how full of secrets his prose can be.

Many a time the term “visionary” is used to describe a particular type of artist, one with such conviction about the worlds that he or she is building that he seems to be transcribing rather than creating. I wrote about this in my introduction to a Penguin Classics edition of Arthur Machen’s work. Well, Lovecraft is that type of artist. His phobias and inadequacies do dictate in him the compulsive worlds and characters he creates. He speaks of what he knows—corrupt lineages in old Eastern Seaboard towns, bizarre forms of sea life that terrorize the pious white men with their undulating, soft folds of pale flesh, the fundamental loneliness of men trapped out of time in urban monstrosities that seem to shift and change around them—all of these things stem from the dark moments in his own life.

Lovecraft’s biography rivals Poe’s in bizarre occurrences and outrageous misfortune, but his is a quiet, isolated, phobic existence, whereas Poe’s is marked by excess and adversity. The details of his misfortune are too many and too odd to enumerate here, and the best thing I can do is ask you to follow Mr. Joshi’s notations and books and the few other titles I recommended earlier.

The stories included in this Penguin Horror volume of The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories are an absolute treasure trove that will show you many of the thematic and stylistic aspects of HPL’s work. He is a well-versed student of the weird tale and can metamorphose at will. He drinks from the wells of Poe, William Hope Hodgson, Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, and many others, but impresses all of his narratives with his own phobic, misanthropic seal. No one has ever created a more adverse and bizarre cosmos than Lovecraft. No one.

You’ll be delighted with the lysergic “The Music of Erich Zann,” the necrophiliac “The Tomb,” the often imitated, multianthologized “Pickman’s Model,” the disturbing “The Dunwich Horror,” and a few other masterpieces, including the titular story.

But the crown jewel in the collection is, in my opinion, “At the Mountains of Madness.” A great admirer of Poe, Lovecraft sets out to riff on The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, but then he stumbles into uncharted territory by hinting, through science and revelations, at the darkest possible origin of mankind. A group of scientists embarks on a fossil hunt to the frozen edges of the globe. Utilizing cutting-edge technology and tools, they attempt to catalog and decipher the evolutionary clues found in fossils and remains that are gradually revealed to them. They stumble upon the ruins of a cyclopean alien city. It is there that it is revealed that an ancient race of extraterrestrials created mankind as a cruel cosmic joke. They also created a race of slaves that can shape-shift at will, and that still lurk in the ruins of the city. The final encounter in the few final pages and lines of this story are so powerful, so primal as to render one speechless.

Reading this tale in my midteens was a revelation. I had never been exposed to any literature that so dwarfed our existence and hinted at the cold indifference of the cosmos. I became entirely enamored. Making a film of it became my quest.

On Sale
Nov 28, 2006
Page Count
208 pages