Judging a Book by its Covers: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House, one of the most influential haunted house stories of all time, was published in 1959 by Shirley Jackson, also known for The Lottery and We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Pictured: Shirley Jackson, by Steph Cherrywell/The Hayes Code

Neil Gaiman named it the scariest book he’d ever read. Stephen King wrote an essay labeling it one of the best horror novels of the twentieth century. I keep getting it mixed up with House on Haunted Hill. It’s been adapted into one good movie, one bad movie, and a TV series. This spooky season, let’s take a walking tour through the many faces of Hill House.

The Story

Viking, 1959

No living organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand so for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”


The most obvious thing to put on the cover of the book was Hill House itself, and many – most – of the covers it’s had over the years do just that. Often, it’s just a stock photo of a spooky looking house, but there are exceptions, as in the very first cover, which lets us see just a hint of the house through the overgrowth as we approach.

(Incidentally, I found most of these on Goodreads, which, the last time I did this, was very hit-or-miss with the dates. I’ve done my best to confirm them when I can, but take them with a grain of salt.)

Centipede, 2019

This is the outer cover of a bespoke box set edition with art by Matt Mahurin. It’s lovely but I can’t help thinking it looks like an illustration from The Stinky Cheese Man.

Argo, 2015

The eerie, subdued glow of this Czech edition lets you know you’re in for, as the synopsis puts it, some “Oldschoolová hororová.”

Penguin Books, 2013

This cover is part of a set of six classic horror works curated by Guillermo del Toro. It’s just alright in isolation – the extreme chiaroscuro contrast over a single-color background has a very “zine” look to it – but the full set is more than the sum of its parts:

Eksmo, 2013

And then there are the covers that go full-on Frankencastle with the place. But a haunted house wouldn’t be much of a haunted house without someone to haunt, so let’s meet our heroine, Eleanor Vance.

Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2016

Eleanor, or Nell, seen here looking fragile and limpid, is one of several people who’ve been invited to Hill House by one Dr. Montague to investigate paranormal phenomena. Like the others, she was picked because of a previous brush with the supernatural – when she was a child, it inexplicably rained stones on her house for several days. In fact, it’s possible Hill House isn’t even haunted and that everything strange that happens in the book is just because Nell is a Carrie and she’s stuck in a self-spooking feedback loop. Nell has spent her entire adult life looking after her invalid mother and desperately wants to get out, so she “steals” her sister’s car (which she owns half of) to come and spend some time hiding out in the ghost house. She arrives, meets an ornery caretaker who would totally be behind everything if this was Scooby-Doo, and begins exploring the grounds.

Orfelin, 2016
Arcturus, 2021

Lindfors Bokförlag AB, 1978

Once she’s given herself the fantods nice and good, the others start showing up, and it’s here we meet the rest of the research group:

Penguin Books, 1987

SO EIGHTIES. The others consist of project leader Dr. Montague, idle rich boy and heir to the place Luke, and Theodora, the only other potentially-paranormal person to actually show up.

Le Bélial, 2020

This image is from Bifrost, a French science fiction/fantasy magazine which covers classic stories (a gallery of their covers could be an article in itself), and despite the retro look this was published in 2020. I’m not sure if this was the whole book or just an abridged or excerpted version – or maybe just articles about Shirley Jackson. They might mean this to be Nell, but she gives me strong Theo vibes with her short hair and a subdued but rather sly expression. She only came to the house in the first place for a place to crash after a fight with her “roommate” and you can just feel the quotes, because Theo is gay AF and happy that way, and pretty soon Eleanor is falling for her. This was pretty daring for a book in 1959 and remarkably kept intact for the 1963 film, in which the subtext is only barely sub before giving up altogether; it’s the only movie of that vintage I’ve seen with such sympathetic lesbian protagonists.

Their relationship is one of the saddest and most affecting parts of the book for me because of how unrealistic and yet endearing Nell’s goals are: lonely, inexperienced, and infatuated, she immediately wants to segue straight from Hill House to her and Theo living together. Theo thinks she’s cute but has no interest in being Baby’s First Sapphic Training Wheels and shuts her down – which leads to Nell withdrawing further and further into Hill House itself.

Siren, 2018

Her sense of self begins to fray, as seen in this clever cover in which the house does double duty as a tattered dress. Tepedeki Ev – “House on the Hill”, according to Google Translate – shares its Turkish title with Studio Ghibli’s From Up on Poppy Hill, making for an odd fruit salad of image search results.

It’s around now that the spookery REALLY kicks into high gear.

Montesinos, 2000

There are strange noises and thing going bump in the night!

CBS Inc, 1982

…not to mention a near-fall from a teetering spiral staircase! Okay, we have the staircase, let’s get Nell up there.

Popular Library, 1977

That’s better. As depicted here with full Paperbacks from Hell flair, Nell is entranced by the house, lured up a dangerous stairway, and nearly falls to her death before Luke manages to get her down. Dr. Montague kicks her out of the house for her own good, and Nell, humiliated and unwilling to go back to her hated, stifling old life, stomps on the gas and drives the car head-on into a tree, killing herself. Nell was desperate to belong, to be part of the group, and now she’s a part of Hill House… and whatever walks there, walks alone.

Also, her sister is gonna be pissed about the car.


Popular Library, 1963

The story was first adapted to the screen in 1963 as The Haunting. It stuck fairly close to the original, but added some nice touches and was critically acclaimed (as well as being pretty remarkable at the time for its queer main characters.) I actually saw this one before I read the book, and maybe two or three chapters in I realized “wait a minute! This is that gay haunted house movie!”

Robinson Publishing, 1999

It was adapted again in 1999, again as The Haunting, this time with very little to do with the original book beyond some names and the haunted house setting. It got lousy reviews, but was successful. The original screenwriter was none other than Stephen King, but he left the project over creative differences; a few years later, he would develop his version of the script into the 2002 TV miniseries Rose Red.

Penguin Books, 2018

Finally, it was adapted by Netflix in 2018; this version was again only loosely connected to the original, but was god damn scary as shit. I couldn’t even get through it; I noped out at the part with the box of kittens. Ye gods. I liked how this image literally shows Hill House getting into Nell’s (?) head.

Covers that didn’t fit anywhere else

Michael Joseph, 1960

Can you tell this is from 1960? It looks like it’s the opening to a TV theme song and an animated Theo is going to come dancing out with a martini.

?????, ????

I love this one, but I’m having a hard time finding where and when it actually comes from. It might be the cover to a recent Kindle edition, in which case, good job on actually putting in some effort. But in the end, it’s a mystery. JUST LIKE HILL HOUSE OOOOOOOOOO

And that’s the story of Hill House! Which covers were your favorites? Got one you want to share that wasn’t shown here? Let me know below. And a very happy Season of the Witch to you all – from my haunted house, to yours!