Throughout history, numerous homes and buildings have witnessed the passing of many lives. These locations often become imbued with eerie experiences, from unexplained noises to ghostly apparitions. One such popular tale is "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, first published in 1959. While not based on a single true story, the novel draws inspiration from various encounters, experiences, and hearsay.
The story takes cues from a group of 19th-century psychic researchers who resided in a reputedly haunted house to study supernatural activities. The Borley Rectory, once dubbed "the most haunted house," was a prominent inspiration. Psychic researchers Harry Price and Louis Mayerling lived in the rectory and published conflicting accounts of their experiences. Price's book, "The Most Haunted House in England," detailed his alleged encounters with poltergeists during his year-long stay. Mayerling, on the other hand, wrote "We Faked the Ghosts at Borley Rectory," challenging the authenticity of Price's claims. Despite the dispute, Mayerling couldn't explain a peculiar incident during a séance at Borley in 1935, where all participants experienced a momentary paralysis and a dazzling burst of light.
Jackson also drew inspiration from the Ballechin House in Scotland, where Major Robert Stuart believed he would be reincarnated as a dog and consequently kept many dogs on the estate. After Stuart's death, his nephew John Skinner, uncomfortable with the notion, shot all the dogs, leading to the belief that Stuart's disembodied spirit would haunt the house forever.
Other sources of inspiration for Jackson's novel include accounts like "An Adventure" by Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, who claimed a supernatural encounter in the gardens near the Petit Trianon in the Palace of Versailles, France. They believed they experienced a time slip, interacting with phantom-like figures from the past, including Marie Antoinette. Additionally, supernatural expert Nandor Fodor's theories on haunted houses as vessels of emotional trauma and external manifestations of the subconscious mind influenced Jackson's work.
The Jennings Music Building at Bennington College in Vermont, where Jackson's husband taught, was reputedly haunted, and the Edward H. Everett Mansion near Old Bennington in Vermont, with its ghostly tales, also had an impact on Jackson's imagination. Her personal struggles with depression, loneliness, and alienation played a significant role in shaping the haunted house as a metaphor for inner turmoil.
"The Haunting of Hill House" has been adapted several times for the screen, with the Netflix series gaining widespread popularity. However, show creator Mike Flanagan clarifies that the series is more of a remix and only loosely based on the novel. While the characters and themes are drawn from the book, the story diverges significantly. In the show, the focus shifts to a family who experienced trauma in the house, unlike the novel's premise of strangers investigating a haunted house.
Despite these alterations, some characters' essence and traits made the transition from book to screen. For example, Hugh Crane, the original builder of Hill House in the novel, becomes a buyer and renovator of the house in the show. Characters like Theo, Luke, Eleanor/Nell, Shirley, and Steven undergo changes in the adaptation, with the addition of Shirley possibly paying homage to author Shirley Jackson herself.
In summary, "The Haunting of Hill House" draws inspiration from various sources, including historical psychic researchers, notorious haunted locations, personal experiences, and theories on supernatural phenomena. The adaptation for the screen takes creative liberties while preserving some key elements from the novel.