The Guardian, Textbook Terror
Jackson was the first author to understand that “houses aren’t haunted – people are”, says Hill. “All the most terrible spectres are already there inside your head, just waiting for the cellar door of the subconscious to spring open so they can get out, sink their icy claws into you,” he says. “In the story, the house toys with the minds of our heroes just like the cat with the mouse: with a fascinated, joyful cruelty. Nothing is more terrifying than being betrayed by your own senses and psyche.”
Ever since I finished reading the stories in this collection, I’ve been trying to articulate the effect they’ve had on me. It’s easy enough to appreciate Shirley Jackson as a superb writer who had absolute control of her material, but when it comes to discussing the content of the stories, I find myself struggling because they seem to say so much and I always end up with more questions than answers. If I had to try and sum it up, I suppose I’d say these stories explore the high price attached to the modern western construction the “self” as something that must be constantly defended against the “others” it attempts to exclude and deny.
Jackson is very much a gothic writer and one trope that appears in a lot of the stories, and is often associated with the gothic, is that of “the double”. Her use of doubling produces a sense of what Sigmund Freud would call “the uncanny”, that is, the deeply unsettling feeling that something which should have remained secret and hidden has come to light. Like seeing oneself reflected in a distorted mirror, the uncanny double makes the familiar world appear disturbingly strange. In ‘The Renegade’, we find a middle-class housewife doubled with her “chicken killing” dog. The doubling of woman and dog reflects her position in the family in a very unsettling light, but in so doing makes the horror of that position finally visible. Meanwhile, in the story ‘Charles’, the doubling of a supposedly perfect child with his monstrous other shatters his parents’ illusions. Adult denial about the nature of children is a theme in several of the stories. My favourite use of doubling occurs in the chilling story ‘Of Course’ in which a family is confronted with some alarming new neighbours. But this new family is (of course), an uncanny mirror held up to the supposedly “normal” family, the flipside of the deadly, conventional, suburban lifestyle that the story’s protagonist is herself living. The neighbours are horrifying because they are not really so very different.
From Eclectic Eccentric, a review of Matthew Lewis’s 1796 lurid, gothic, horror, The Monk
Andy reviews The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which is one of my favourite horror stories. The 1963 film adaptation is also excellent if you’re looking for something to watch on Halloween.
From io9, the first lesbian science fiction novel published in 1906.
From Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations a selection of bleak alien landscapes
From Tor.com a post about Joanna Russ’s final novel, On Strike Against God with some great feminist quotes.
Another from Tor.com, Did Ursula Le Guin change the course of SF?
Margaret Atwood has just published a book of essays about science fiction. From The Guardian, Margaret Atwood: the road to ustopia and a review from Slate.
From The Zoe-Trope, a critique of the way the term ‘Mary Sue’ is being used to denigrate female characters, You can stuff your Mary Sue where the sun don’t shine
A video tribute to Blade Runner
From Bitch Flicks, The Madwoman’s Journey from the Attic into the Television – The Female Gothic Novel and its influence on Modern Horror Films. Bitch Flicks is currently doing a series on women and horror film.
From Genevieve Valentine writing at Strange Horizons, a review of The Fall
Markgraf from Bad Reputation went to see The Three Muskateers . I recommend reading his review before spending any money on this film.
From Cracked, Great movies from the villain’s point of view. I think my personal favourite is Terrible Shepherds!
And another one from Cracked, The 6 most mind blowing things ever discovered in space