The Real-Life Inspiration Behind 'The Haunting of Hill House'

Horror lovers and paranormal enthusiasts alike will know there is a long list of supernatural films and TV shows loosely inspired by “real” events and naturally, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House is no different.

The Mike Flanagan created series, which debuted Oct. 12 on the streaming platform, might be scaring up a storm with audiences and critics, while earning rave reviews and fervent acclaim from the master of horror himself, Stephen King, but amid all the excitement is a spooky truth stemming from renowned American writer, Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel of the same name.

While Flanagan’s series is loosely based on Jackson’s novel and acts as a modern reimagining of the gothic classic, Publisher’s Weekly reveals her work, particularly the Hill House mansion was inspired by real hauntings.

“[Jackson] based The Haunting of Hill House, her famous ghost story, on historical accounts of haunted houses and pictures she collected of spooky estates; from the Castle Neuschwanstein in Germany to the Winchester Mystery House near her hometown in California,” the publication states.

Despite the Winchester Mystery House’s cheerful appearance, the massive California mansion’s history is one edged with tragedy, mystery and unrested spirits. Noted as one of the most famous haunted houses in America, the home is a mystifying labyrinth constructed from unearthly fear and paranoia by its eccentric owner, Sarah Winchester — the widow of gun magnate, William Winchester. After the sudden death of her husband and child, Winchester became obsessed with the idea that the men who died at the hand of Winchester rifles were haunting her, and built abstract additions in the house that would lead the spirits out.

While Hill House is not as elaborate in its construction, the concept of loneliness and depression is one that permeates throughout the Netflix series and Jackson’s book.

According to the New York Times, Jackson’s own demons and lingering unhappiness might have helped shape the emotional and haunting core of Hill House, particularly with the novel’s protagonist, Eleanor — or in Netflix’s reimagining, Nell.

“You once wrote me a letter telling me that I would never be lonely again. I think that was the first, the most dreadful, lie you ever told me,” Jackson wrote in a letter to her estranged husband during the time she wrote The Haunting of Hill House.

While inner demons might have inspired her during the development of the novel, one of the books Jackson most admired that stirred imagination during the writing process was An Adventure — an account featuring two British women of an uncanny experience who apparently stumble upon a scene from the past while visiting the Petit Trianon at Versailles.

Publisher’s Weekly goes on to state Jackson was inspired by “poltergeist accounts collected by the psychic researcher Nandor Fodor, among others.”

Though Jackson herself never experienced anything directly paranormal and was simply inspired by documented events, she was evidently “intrigued by the occult” and according to a 2016 biography of the author, “had a huge library of witchcraft books.”

Her interest in witchcraft and reading Tarot cards began during her early years in college and remained with her long after. Many of her books, including Life Among the Savages, includes references to historical witchcraft chronicles or manuals, known as grimoires. Jackson would often joke about her skills and spread the rumor that she broke the leg of publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, of whom she was in a contract dispute with.

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The Haunting of Hill House is now available to stream on Netflix.

Photo credit: Netflix