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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

A Gothic, Cosmic, and Psychological Lifetime of Horror: The 16 Greatest Short Stories from Robert Bloch

Robert Bloch wrote literature that ranged from the psychologically terrifying to the downright “weird” horror; his inspiration stemmed both from watching his first scary film on his own as a child—and his subsequent nightmares—and his admiration for the stylistic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. His stories, however, are and always will be uniquely Robert Bloch, a genius in psychological horror with a splash of the supernatural. His deep interest in serial killers brought back anti-heroes like Norman Bates and Jack the Ripper.

“The Shambler From The Stars” (1935)

This particular short story first appeared in the September issue of Weird Tales, in 1935—later on, it was included as a part of his first published book, The Opener of the Way (1945). It was one of the many works that bore the influence of H.P. Lovecraft and can be considered part of the genre of cosmic horror. More than just another author following the footsteps of Lovecraft, Bloch still included elements of Lovecraftian influence, such as the inclusion of The Necronomicon, and The Book of Eibon. Deliciously self-indulgent, Bloch’s story is about a writer of weird fiction obsessed with learning all things occult when he looks to find the aforementioned esoteric tomes of forbidden knowledge. As we all know when it comes to Eldritch cosmic horror, this writer inevitably summons something disastrous.

“The Secret in the Tomb” (1935)

Another instance of cosmic horror in the early days of Bloch’s writing career, it has been compared directly to the stylistic literature of the father of cosmic horror himself—to the point that, if the author of this had been unknown, it would have been assumed to have been a product of Lovecraft. This dark, dank tale of eldritch horror and dread is lurking, just beyond sight, and awaiting the arrival of the last descendant of a long line of sorcerers.

“The Mannikin” (1937)

Another Weird Tales original, published in the April edition in 1937, we get a tale of a strange reclusive and a disfigured, hunchbacked man named Simon, whom the locals all despise. As a short story, of course, it doesn’t take long to find that this cosmic horror is based all around the diabolical hump on Simon’s back—just wait until you find out what the hump really is.

“The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (1939)

This is a story that Bloch originally published under the pen name Tarleton Fiske in Strange Stories Magazine, in 1939; in this story we see a similarity to “A Shambler in the Stars” when we follow a photographer who takes incredibly bizarre photos as his life’s passion. While he doesn’t believe in the occult, his assistant happens to be a devotee of a peculiar occult practice and everything changes when the photographer is brought an ancient jewel.

“Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” (1943)

Over the years, Robert Bloch’s short story “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” has been adapted to various mediums following its publication—the story is about a man from Chicago who is approached by a gentleman from England who tells him that he’s looking for Jack the Ripper. This, of course, is strange on its own as the infamous serial killer should have died years before. The Englishman believes that Jack the Ripper has become immortal through occult means and that his serial murders are actually ritual sacrifices that restore his youth. The man from Chicago is enlisted to help to bring the Ripper to light.

“Satan’s Phonograph” (1946)

A slow burn for a short story, this haunting tale follows the narrator down memory lane as he tells the reader about the ingenious, but wildly mad piano teacher that helped him to reach Carnegie Hall—but when the pupil returns from his tours across Europe with his new wife in tow, he finds that his old teacher had been institutionalized—when his insane old teacher shows up in his house with a seemingly innocent phonograph and his wild theories, the narrator believes his teacher is simply delusional.

“Sweets To The Sweet” (1947)

Bloch spins the thread of a sinister six-year-old girl, following the narrative of the housekeeper as she speaks to her former boss’s brother, who happens to be a lawyer. The housekeeper encourages the lawyer to look into what she believes to be a brutally abusive situation between father and daughter. She tells the brother about all of the signs of alcoholism and beatings, while the child is accused of witchcraft. When the lawyer finally goes to investigate what is happening in his brother’s home, he finds out that the truth may be more disturbing than he expects.

“Floral Tribute” (1949)

An eerie tale of a young boy being raised by his grandmother brings her fresh flowers home every day—it’s not until the inhabitants of the local cemetery come to speak with the grandmother that she finds out that he has been taking them from the graves of the nearby graveyard, where he plays among the tombstones.

“The Shadow From The Steeple” (1950)

Yet another story based in the Lovecraft universe, Bloch starts the story off with the friend of a character Lovecraft had killed in his short story “The Haunter in the Dark” whom Lovecraft had modeled after Bloch himself. A convoluted and dark fictional tale based on Lovecraft and his circle of writers, we get to see the authors appearing as characters of their own making. As another story within the Cthulhu Mythos, we see how involved Bloch was still within the Lovefcraft style even at this point in his career.

“Head Man” (1950)

An interesting spin on Nazi Germany’s obsession with the occult and paranormal, a SS executioner puts everything on the line to keep possession of the heads of a man and woman who had been charged with witchcraft and executed as a result.

“The Hungry House” (1951)

A tale that will once again make you fear your own reflection in a mirror; “The Hungry House” takes place after a couple moves into their new home. As they try to get comfortable in their new house they begin to see spooky inexplicable reflections around the house and dismiss it as being an overactive imagination. It’s not until the husband finds the locked closet in the attic that they realize something is incredibly wrong with their house—in it are all of the mirrors that the previous owners had removed from the walls of the house.

“Notebook Found in an Abandoned House” (1951)

This story is told from a notebook found in an abandoned house, which was written by a twelve-year-old boy by the name of Willy Osborne who is trapped within the house by the sinister beasts, or “them ones,” that stalk him from within the woods and swamps that surround the house. “Them ones,” that Willy is scared might come and get him are monstrous, Lovecraftian elder creatures who used to be take sacrifices to be appeased.

“The Light-House” (1953)

This particular short story took special influence from a story that Edgar Allan Poe began before his death in 1849, but was never able to finish; in 1953 Bloch took this unfinished short story, finished it, polished it up, and then had it published. As such, it is considered a posthumous collaboration. It follows the pursuits of a nobleman who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper, so he may write in solitude. His loneliness gets the better of him in this weird and satisfyingly dark tale, when he tries to psychically summon a companion.

“House of the Hatchet” (1955)

A couple with a relationship on the rocks decides to take their a second honeymoon on the road—on their trip they end up stopping at a haunted tourist attraction, where the story goes that a husband had killed his wife with a hatchet in one of the rooms. When they decided to take a tour of this haunted house, the husband begins to feel a heavy dark presence in the room where the murder was said to have occurred…

“Terror In Cut Throat Cove” (1958)

Considered a horror adventure tale, “Terror In Cut Throat Cove” follows the tale of an American writer who is approached by a treasure-hunting duo; they end up recruiting him to help them locate this long-lost legendary ship that sunk with a massive fortune aboard because the writer has an undeniable fondness for the girlfriend of the treasure hunter. A crazy adventure ensues until they find the ship and one of the divers returns from the ship’s wreckage without his head.

“The Animal Fair” (1971)

This story of a drifter who ends up in the small town of Medley, Oklahoma while the carnival is in town—where he enters the a tent that houses a gorilla who happens to be the main attraction—not to mention seriously abused by his trainer. This horrifying weird tale ends in a shocking twist and is well worth the read.

Works Cited:

Cowan, Matt. “FIFTEEN HORROR TALES BY ROBERT BLOCH.” Horror Delve, 4 Apr. 2016, horrordelve.com/2016/04/04/robert-bloch/.

HorrorBabble. “The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 12 Mar. 2018, youtu.be/0Q6xA0f9SNk.

HorrorBabble. “The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 20 Aug. 2018, youtu.be/vodqchPxgCoyoutu.be/vodqchPxgCo.

Thomas, G. W. “The Early Robert Bloch.” Dark Worlds Quarterly, 6 Aug. 2020, darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org/the-early-robert-bloch/.

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

From Traumatized to Terror Creator, the Life of Robert Bloch

Robert Bloch (1979)
Robert Bloch (1979)

His Youth and Education

Robert Albert Bloch was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 5 in 1917, to two German Jews, Raphael Bloch and Stella Loeb who, despite their Jewish heritage, had the family attend a Methodist Church. When Bloch was only eight years of age, he attended a screening of Lon Chaney Sr.’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on his own, where he was traumatized by his first horror scene—where Chaney removes his mask to reveal the Phantom’s horrific face. According to Bloch, “it scared the hell out of [him] and [he] ran all the way home to enjoy the first of about two years of recurrent nightmares.” Like many fans of horror who see their first horror flick too young, this trauma and subsequent nighttime hauntings sparked his interest in horror. He became an avid reader at eight, reading books well above his own level of schooling, as well as experimenting with pencil sketches and watercolor art. While he very much had a love for artwork, but he was diagnosed with myopia in his youth and it deterred him from pursuing it professionally.

At the age of twelve, Robert’s father lost his job at the bank and the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he grew up throughout the Great Depression. During his youth, he delighted in the Golden Age of horror films that played in the picture houses, and the magazine Weird Tales, which he scrimped and saved for each month from his allowance so as to purchase a copy of this pulp magazine. Bloch’s favorite childhood short story was one of Lovecraft’s first-person narratives about an artist whose disturbing creations lead to his disappearance, entitled “Pickman’s Model,” and he would also end up doing flattering imitations of his mentor’s style later on. When Bloch was just seventeen years old he wrote to his highly regarded idol, H.P. Lovecraft, to proclaim his admiration for the writer’s short stories. It is said that he greatly preferred Lovecraft’s particular flavor of genre—cosmic or as it’s often regarded, Lovecraftian horror—over what he was being taught in his own high school English classes.

To the unending joy of Bloch, Lovecraft wrote him back and sent him copies of earlier stories he had written and asked Robert if he himself had written any weird fiction. This is when he would be admitted into The Lovecraft Circle as well as when he began writing some of his first (of many) short stories that would be published in Weird Tales. He would be the youngest member of The Lovecraft Circle, which were a group of writers who followed H.P. Lovecraft and published their short fiction in Weird Tales—a pulp horror magazine that circulated during the Great Depression.

Career

With the early influence of Lovecraft and his cosmic horror, Bloch’s earliest short stories took place in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe. Not too long later, Bloch would begin to associate with the Milwaukee Fictioneers, a group of writer’s dedicated to pulp fiction where he began to deviate and develop his own style, instead of relying upon the Lovecraft influence. When Lovecraft died in 1937, Robert was deeply affected by the loss of his mentor, but used it as a reason to keep writing.

Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

Robert Bloch

Novels

Bloch’s first novel to be published was The Scarf (1947) and was very reminiscent of the style he had developed when he was involved with the Lovecraft circle, but also marked the beginning the development of a style he would explore later that would be considered pulp fiction. Like most other horror writers, Bloch had a certain kind of story that inspired him—for some writers it’s urban legends, supernatural monsters, or wicked folklore; but Robert’s inspiration didn’t come from folklore so much as it did true-crime serial killers from all throughout history. Jack the Ripper, Marquis de Sade, and Lizzie Borden were amongst those whom Robert created stories based on their legacies, which included short stories such as “A Toy for Juliette” and “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax….”

When Ed Gein was arrested in his home in Plainsfield, Wisconsin for the murders of two women in 1957, authorities discovered that Gein had been stealing corpses from fresh graves of local women and then using their flesh to create furniture, silverware, and clothing. Bloch only lived about thirty-five miles away from where Gein had lived, so after the discovery of this serial so close to home, he became obsessed. The idea of his next door neighbor being a monster, but going undetected even in such a small town is what he considered his largest inspiration for Norman Bates, the anti-hero of Psycho (1959). The story of Ed Gein was sensational at the time, but what really translated Bloch’s Psycho into an instant classic both in text and Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation for the big screen, was due to the psychological not-so-undertones of the story.

While Bloch had enjoyed some critical and commercial success before he produced Psycho, it wasn’t until the novel was published that his life changed forever. With Psycho and its instant success, he was approached by a Hollywood production company with an offer to purchase the rights to the film. He made a whopping $9,500 which through inflation would equate to $84,472 and some change.

The world of horror would be forever changed by Norman Bates, the sensitive mama’s boy, whose domineering mother corrupted him—which brought an interesting air to the 1960s as the field of psychoanalysis and the research of the Oedipus Complex which coincided with a crisis in contemporary American masculinity which followed the women’s movement of liberation. When Norman psychologically becomes his mother at the end of the novel it was representative of Freudian horror in the utmost of extreme cases. Psycho wasn’t Bloch’s only success and he continued on with his creative writing, winning awards and accolades for his talent.

Death

Bloch was seventy-seven when he passed away on September 23, 1994—he had long battled with cancer and it finally took him at his home in Los Angeles. Before he passed, however, he wrote what was considered an unauthorized autobiography, which was titled Once Around the Bloch (1993) and while he didn’t speak of his illness, it was clear that it was written with the realization that he was not long for this world.

Index of Sources

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

History of the Ouija Board: From the Civil War to The Exorcist

Ouija board
Photo by Josh Olalde

Horror Culture

Terrifying hands coming over a hill
Photo by Daniel Jensen

Most of popular horror culture will convince the easily misled that talking boards, specifically Ouija boards, are tools of evil. Movies like The Exorcist (1973) and Witchboard (1986) have painted a fairly devious portrait of talking boards, which previously held a sociable reputation. Prior to its debut in such classic horror movies, it was regarded as a game that could be played whilst on a date with a lady companion as an excuse to touch hands, in an era where it was otherwise forbidden for courting couples to touch. With much of the history of the Ouija board still unknown, due to a he-said-she-said origin of who the creator of the official board really was, what is known is quite a bit more vanilla that what might be expected.

Horrifying History of the Ouija Board

There are so many different theories of when they came to be such a popular object, one of the most well-regarded of which is that the Ouija board made a huge splash in the market directly following the Civil War. There was a large movement of spiritualism, with so many lives having been lost there were a lot of unmarked graves and soldiers who merely never returned home. Their loved ones wanted a way to get the answers they so desperately desired, even if it was just to know once and for all that their soldier was not coming home to them.

There really is no tangible proof of when the first talking board was created or for what purpose it was ultimately created, so it continues to be a tool that is shrouded in mystery. Still, with all of the information that is available today about the innocent origins of the Ouija board, there are more convinced of its sordid nature than those who believe it to be a neutral tool. Those involved in occult practices, who either consider themselves mediums or spiritual readers enjoy using talking boards to either communicate with spirits of passed loved ones or to channel their own, often regarded as supernatural, gifts. When things are misunderstood, there is typically a sense of mistrust that follows along, skepticism is a normal reaction to things that defy logic and avoidance is an understandable reaction to things that create a sense of dread.

So—with all of that in mind, what is it about Ouija boards that continues to scare the uninformed into rebuking those who use them? Likely it’s the images that are conjured from the horror movies we enjoy so much; the idea of demonic possession and evil spirits can scare even the most skeptical mind into uncertainty when all of the lights are out.

Horror movies that have inspired our fear of Ouija boards:

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

Robert Bloch: The Man Who Brought Us Psycho (1959)

During his lifetime, Robert Bloch traveled through the horror subgenres in pursuit of any and all things strange, morbid, or macabre. He started his writing career by imitating his mentor H.P. Lovecraft and subsequently becoming Lovecraft’s peer when he began to expand upon the Cthulhu mythos. It’s fair to say that without the influence and encouragement of Lovecraft, Bloch may never have become the successful and prolific author of horror fiction.

The Wildly Successful Novel?

It’s true that “millions of people across the globe know Psycho very well,” (Hood and Szumskyj, 102) but the Pyscho that they know is the Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation—to say that as many of them are familiar with the original novel by Robert Bloch would simply be false. Truth be told, however, without the masterful original inspiration, there would be no Psycho film franchise and massive following that it has had over the years.

All in all, Bloch himself was quite satisfied with how the movie adaptation came out, not to mention the fact that he regularly quoted Hitchcock when he reminded people that, “Psycho all came from Robert Bloch’s book. The scriptwriter, Joseph Stefano, a radio writer, he had been recommended by my agents MCA, contributed dialogue mostly, no ideas.” This apparently tickled Bloch so much that he even repeated it in his own unofficial biography Once Around the Bloch. He wanted everyone to know how much he endorsed the movie as a great representation of his book, this was a change in direction for Hitchcock, who had a history of taking artistic liberties when adapting other novels to the screen—consider, for example, the differences between Hitchcock’s The Birds (19363) and Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds and Other Stories.

Was Psycho (1959) Based on a True Story?

Bloch had a pretty obsessive fascination with psychopaths and serial killers in general, in fact, the inspiration for his masterful novel Psycho (1959) was loosely based on “the infamous real-life Wisconsin serial murderer Ed Gein” (Hood and Szumskyj, 104). In 1985, Bloch gave an interview to Ron Leming where he disclosed the fact that at the time Gein’s crimes were discovered, he had lived only twenty-nine miles away from where Gein had lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin. It was upon this discovery that Bloch became obsessed with the idea of this psychotic murderous person living in plain sight, perhaps even being the seemingly kind neighbor who would fly under the radar. Although Bloch didn’t intend for the novel to read like a biography of Gein’s life, he did take elements from his life as inspiration for his main character, Norman Bates. Ed Gein was, during his early years, a poor loner raised by troubled parents; his father was an alcoholic and his mother a domineering and fanatically religious woman who exerted her monstrously controlling influence upon Ed and his older brother Henry. It’s not terribly surprising that Henry ended up dying in a fire under suspicious circumstances in their family home.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Film Adaptation: Psycho (1960)

When Alfred Hitchcock purchased the rights of Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho (1959) for a meager $9,500 he did so anonymously—it wasn’t until closer to the release of the film that he came to find out. Hitchcock’s screenwriter Joseph Stefano remained incredibly true to the original story, altering the screenplay only minimally to fit the infamous director’s vision.


Hitchcock’s wildly successful film continues to dominate the public consciousness and, indeed, its dreams and nightmares: the stark, indelible black-and-white images, the characters, the suspense and horror of the storyline, the infamous shower scene, Norman Bates as masterfully portrayed by the unnerving Anthony Perkins, the ultimate unveiling of “Mrs. Bates,” the unforgettably desolate setting of the little neglected dark motel off the road far from the main highway and the house behind it—all this has, by the present day, become such a part and parcel of our culture that for many, Psycho is just one of Hitchcock’s most popular and shocking films, now as then upon its release in 1960.

Scott D. Briggs, “The Keys to the Bates Motel: Robert Bloch’s Psycho Trilogy” in The Man Who Collected Psychos (2009)

Psycho Movie Poster (1960)
Psycho (1960)

Trickery in the Theater

Hitchcock was possibly at the height of his showmanship when the 1960s thriller Psycho came out. Now, when we look back at how he maximized the attention of this legendary film’s release, we can see how blatant of a publicity stunt it really was.

Kudos to Hitchcock though, because he committed to it to such a degree that he made it abundantly clear that, in no uncertain terms, no one was allowed into the theater once the feature had begun.

Stationed outside each box office where the film was being featured was a five-foot-tall cardboard standee of Hitchcock himself, holding a sign that warned theater attendees of the following:

WE WON’T ALLOW YOU to cheat yourself! You must see PSYCHO from beginning to end to enjoy it fully.

Therefore, do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the picture. We say no one – and we mean no one – not even the manager’s brother, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England (God bless her)!

– Alfred Hitchcock

Now, if you have seen this classic thriller, you’ll know exactly why Hitchcock didn’t want people to walk in late and spoil the movie for themselves, but if you don’t know why—consider the following:

The synopsis of the movie is that “a Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.” To go along with this, the theatrical trailer for the movie shows the star of the film as Janet Leigh—Leigh’s part in the movie, while substantial to the story, is tragic and short-lived. This was incredibly controversial and shocking to audience members who, having watched the trailer, expected her to be in the entire movie. Classic Hitchcock.

The Remake—Psycho (1998)

While the remake from 1998 didn’t add any content or context that enriched the movie from the original Bloch creation, it did come across as a reverential and faithful scene-by-scene retelling of the original movie. Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche play our main characters and do these classic scenes a decent amount of justice. Other than being a modernized version of the original film, there isn’t much that this movie brings to the table—I still personally enjoy watching it occasionally.

Work Cited

Bloch, Robert. Psycho. Blackstone Audio, Inc., 1959.

Hood, Robert, and Szumskyj, Benjamin. The Man Who Collected Psychos: Critical Essays on Robert Bloch. McFarland, 2009.

Sorene, Paul. “Alfred Hitchcock’s Rules for Watching Psycho And Behind The Scenes Photos (1960).” Flashbak, 30 Oct. 2017, flashbak.com/alfred-hitchcocks-rules-watching-psycho-behind-scenes-photos-1960-389260/.

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Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Shirley Jackson: Novels, Short Stories, and Other Works

The Lottery (1948)

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The Lottery is a short story that Shirley Jackson wrote in 1948—it was written within the month of its first publication. It appeared within the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker and describes a fictional account of a small town that participates in a lottery of sorts. This particular short story has often been described as “one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.”

Conceptually, two creative stories come to mind immediately after reading this story–no doubt the authors of which were inspired greatly by the Jackson original. The cult classic film The Wicker Man (1973), then later the novelization and The Hunger Games franchise both echo the idea of a ritual where the town comes together and holds what they call a lottery.

This lottery is, unfortunately, not the type that anyone hopes to win, but mirrors the dystopian attitude where the losers rejoice in the winner’s predicament. Without spoiling the entire story for anyone, let’s just say it’s most definitely worth the read (or simply listen below). What is truly interesting with this story–one that leaves the reader with a feeling of utmost terror and despair–is that Jackson apparently wrote within the confines of a single morning. The agreed-upon account of its creation is that Jackson came up with the idea for the story while she was shopping for groceries in the morning, came home, set her two-year-old daughter in her playpen to play, and had it finished before her son came home from kindergarten for lunch.

Talk about a whirlwind turn-around for something so utterly and terribly fantastic. Along with other myths that surround the creation of The Lottery, there was a time when people actually believed that the story was a factual report–this is in part due to the fact that at the time The New Yorker didn’t distinguish between fact and fiction when it came to the stories within its publications. As a result of the misunderstanding, much to the chagrin of Jackson, subscribers sent her several hundred letters that in her words could be summed up to, “bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse.” It was especially alarming to her that some of the letters were from people who wanted to know where such lotteries were being held and whether they would be allowed to watch.

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
The Haunting of Hill House (1959)

This gothic horror novel stands in the same class as those by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Bram Stoker—to the point of even being a finalist for the National Book Award in the category for best literary ghost stories published during the 20th century. While Shirley adhered more to the thrilling psychological aspects, which successfully elicited stronger emotions in her readers. It has since been adapted into two feature films, a play, radio theater, as well as a Netflix series which premiered in 2018, although considerable liberties were taken with Shirley’s original story.

Shirley’s initial idea for this particular novel came to her after she read about a real-life group of researchers from the nineteenth century who had spent time in a reportedly haunted house and then published their experiences while investigating the site. She spent quite a bit of time researching and studying floor plans of large, potentially haunted houses around the country, and also spent time reading several volumes on hauntings and ghost stories before she sketched out the grounds of Hill House, as well as the floor plan for the house itself. Suffice it to say, she took her time considering how the characters might move about the house and made sure she had a clear vision of how a haunting would play out in such a house.

Check out this trailer of the Netflix series of The Haunting of Hill House and see how this novel translated to a television series.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was published in 1962—just a few years before the radical social movement of the 1960s and 1970s—and served as her reaction to the movement of traditionalism that followed the Second World War. The fifties was an exceptional decade when women were transitioning from having jobs that supported the war effort while the men were overseas, to being expected to stay at home in order to support their husbands by cooking, cleaning, and rearing children.

This novel takes place in a small New England town where the remaining members of the Blackwood family stay in their ancestral home—they seem to live a peaceful, if not removed life from the rest of the town and its oppressive atmosphere. The initial perception of the people in town is one of apprehension when the main character Mary Katherine admits the anxiety she feels when having to pass the general store when the men are sitting out front. The mood of the novel changes to reflect what many literary scholars believe might have been Jackson’s own response to the changing social climate of the fifties and how stifling it would have been to be a housewife with a job. It also bears mentioning that it brings attention to the ways women had been oppressed in the past, referencing witch hunts where women would be killed for even the slightest misstep.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle echoed a lot of the same themes that were found in her profoundly popular short story The Lottery, with special emphasis on the strange and hostile townspeople who take on the type of mob mentality that allows otherwise sensible people to commit horrible acts with little to no impact on their conscience. It is said that this particular novel served as inspiration to many writers—including authors like Neil Gaiman and Joyce Carol Oates—who, after reading Shirley’s work, felt liberated in taking leaps with horror, speculative fiction, and just enough realism to create creepy atmospheres within their own novels.

Take a look at the trailer for We Have Always Lived in the Castle (2019) and let us know what you think between the differences you’ve found between it and the original novel.

Looking back on a career like Shirley’s it’s widely believed that despite the fact that raising four children is an extremely difficult task, Shirley couldn’t have been such a literary success without them—after all, her first success, The Lottery came only a few months before Shirley was set to deliver her third child. A cringe-worthy moment came when the clerk asked Shirley her occupation, when she responded that she was a writer, the clerk responded that he was going to put down the occupation of housewife instead. While it was true that being a mother was one of her jobs, Shirley was more than just a mere housewife—in fact, she was the breadwinner of the family.

Shirley Jackson happened to be both a housewife and a “talented, determined, ambitious writer in an era when it was still unusual for a woman to have both a family and a profession.” The appearance of a conventional American household generated material for this sassy mother of four—who thrived on the tensions that it created between both roles. The expectations of herself, her husband, family, publishers, and readers gave life to her writing since what was normal for her was unspeakably abnormal for the time. She made this clear during the early years of her career, when she drew, “a muscular woman, looking disgruntled, [dragging] her husband off by his hair as another couple [looked] on worriedly. ‘I understand she’s trying to have both a marriage and a career,’ one says to the other.” The truth of the matter was, that Shirley’s career only really took off after she became a mother, having gained an empathetic view of developing minds and the well of imagination that she drew therein. In this respect, Shirley was not only a sensational author, she was an admirable role model for any woman who may have wanted to follow in her footsteps.

Index of Sources