Haunted House Reads
If you are searching for some of the greatest haunted house reads, then I have two very different reads for you. Hell House is a series of scary amusement park rides, while the Haunting of Hill House is an unnerving amble through that same amusement park after closing hours. Because they provide such different experiences, I recommend both.
Obviously, since they are both in the same genre–horror–and specifically since they are the same exact type of story–a haunted house story–they innately share a lot of similarities. When Richard Matheson wrote Hell House (1971), he was inspired by Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959), and he wanted to write a story like it but not it of course. So, each story has a similar skeletal structure. And, that’s a good thing, since this structure is a very entertaining one. Other similarities include the cast and basic plot. They both feature four main characters led by a doctor to investigate paranormal activity in a haunted house. Both coincidentally feature two males and two females, characters that can be seen as semi-analogous to each other. But how each author fleshes out the skeleton of their story is where everything differs.
The Amazing Differences
The Haunting of Hill House is a more psychological story. Hell House is a more action-filled, visceral, gory, sexual story. The presentation and intensity of paranormal activity differs wildly in each novel. The scares in The Haunting are mainly not shown, whereas in Hell House you come face-to-face with flying furniture and ghosts. The Haunting messes with the readers mind more, provoking questions of validity and credulity regarding the characters’ interpretations of paranormal activity. It works on a psychological level and produces an unsettling atmosphere.
On the other side, Hell House sets the reader in front of some pretty ghastly and repulsive sights, providing a disturbing atmosphere. You’d think seeing things would be less scary, but it’s the implications, consequences, and character reactions of these scenes that cause more fear than the actual paranormal event itself.
Maybe each being somewhat a product of their times shaped how each author chose to present their paranormal activity in their respective books, or maybe it was more just their personal preferences. I imagine different types of scares will more readily affect different types of readers, but regardless of how the story is presented, both writers are effective in each of their approaches.
Each being what they are, The Haunting sometimes falls victim to plotlines that take too long and boring segments in general. Whereas Hell House could sometimes polarize readers because of its intense, graphic nature. But, I think each writer manages these pitfalls well.
Other Good Things
Some other reasons I recommend both these books is that each features a nice little twist, and in stories as sensational as ghost stories, I think a twist fits nicely in the story and can easily enhance it if done well. And, I think both are done well. These are not Sixth Sense twists by any means—so don’t get your hopes set high on that–but they are entertaining and serve to make the plot all the more interesting.
Another thing I enjoyed in these stories is the language used. Matheson features a quicker, more screenplay like prose, which will probably easily appeal to any modern reader. The style serves well to reinforce the quick plot and helps to minimalize the visualization of the paranormal activity for the reader, I think helping it feel more real. In The Haunting, Jackson’s prose is more poetic, and pleasantly so, which serves to reinforce the psychological ramblings of the main character and the subtle and gradual damage to her psyche caused by the house.
And lastly, these are just fun books. Sure, they feature excellent subplots such as redemption in Matheson’s and self-discovery in Jackson’s, which are great unto themselves, but just the over-the-top nature of a haunted house setting is ripe for fun, adventure, and excitement. And when executed as excellently as these two are, all the better. If I had to read them in any order, I’d maybe start with The Haunting of Hill House just because I think it would be easier to transition from its slower pace to Hell House’s faster pace than vice-versa. It goes to show you how much spin a good writer can put on an established and overdone type of story.
Either way, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
There are certainly other great haunted house novels out there. Share with us which ones you love.