12 Hidden References to the Book in THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

Despite an entirely new chronology, Netflix’s new doozy of a horror series, The Haunting of Hill House, pays tremendous tribute to Shirley Jackson’s titanic 1959 novel of the same name. Whereas the book tells the story of a doctor and a team of psychics he gathers who explore a notorious haunted mansion in the hope of documenting real paranormal activity, the TV series uses the haunted house and horror elements are merely a backdrop for a story about generational mental illness, addiction, and grief. But though it may not be a literal adaptation, it is indeed a spiritual one, loaded with Easter Eggs any Jackson fan will recognize. Here’s a list of all of the references we caught in The Haunting of Hill House.

The opening and closing lines

The opening paragraph of Jackson’s novel is one of the most famous in all of literature:

“No live 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 its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand 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 same paragraph bookends the novel and the show. Steven Crain recites the paragraph from his nonfiction account of the family’s stay at Hill House. There are some variations to account for the difference in adaptations, and the version that closes out the season is far more saccharine than Jackson’s more ambiguous, spooky ending, but it’s a nice narrative callback.

The names

A lot of the names in the series are transplanted from the novel. The most obvious is probably Nell, whose full married name in the show is Eleanor Vance. This is the same name as the protagonist in Jackson’s book, who also goes by Nell for short. A lot of their character traits are similar, too: Eleanor is psychically drawn to the house in both stories, and also feels isolated and unseen by the rest of the world. Both of them die on Hill House’s property. Nell’s siblings, Theo and Luke, are also names lifted from the book; they’re the two other members of the team who investigates Hill House’s paranormal properties. The team is organized by Dr. Montague, which is also the name of Nell’s psychiatrist on the show. (He’s played by Russ Tamblyn, who was not only in the 1963 adaptation of Jackson’s book, The Haunting, but also played Laura Palmer’s psychiatrist Dr. Jacoby on Twin Peaks—a nice double reference for horror fans.)In the novel, Hugh Crain is the name of the villainous man who built Hill House. Here, he’s the kindly, erratic patriarch. The elder Crain siblings, Shirley and Steve, are likely references to Shirley Jackson and Stephen King, a master horror writer like the show character and an on-the-record fanatic of the book. The house’s caretakers, the Dudleys, are straight out of the book; their daughter Abigail is also a name lifted from text, although she’s Hugh Crain’s daughter in the original.There are probably other fun references hidden away in the show, waiting to be discovered. One we caught: Luke’s rehab is called the Sanderson Center. In the novel, Luke’s last name is Sanderson.


Like Nell, Theodora is a pretty faithful reinterpretation of a character from the book, right down to a lot of specific lines, moments, and scares—more so than any other character. Jackson’s version of Theo is a bohemian city girl with an ambiguous sexuality and telepathic powers. The show’s Theo has a very different career (she’s a child psychologist) but retains her psychotremic powers; she can touch people and objects and glean memories or premonitions about them. She’s also more explicitly a lesbian, something Jackson toyed with putting in the novel but avoided due to censoring concerns. (It was 1959, after all.)In episode three, “Touch,” a young Theodora thinks Nell is in bed with her holding her hand, but when she turns around there’s no one there. “Whose hand was I holding?” she asks aloud. This is taken directly from the novel. Later in the season, Theodora tells the woman she’s hooking up with a story about throwing a rock through a greenhouse window when she was a little girl; this is also a story Theo shares in the book.

“Welcome home, Nell.â€

Eleanor’s symbiotic connection to the house is the thrust of Jackson’s novel. In one terrifying passage, Eleanor and the rest of the team stumble on a hallway where the words, “HELP ELEANOR COME HOME” are painted on the walls. Who or what wrote this is left ambiguous in the book; was it ghosts, or did Eleanor herself scrawl them? In the show, Olivia finds Nell’s name written on the walls of Hill House in red chalk and scolds her daughter for graffitiing the house. Theodora, who touches the wall after their mother leaves, tells Nell she knows she didn’t write it. She then peels back the wall paper to reveal that it actually says, “Welcome home, Nell.”

“In the night, in the dark.â€

The Dudleys are arguably the show’s biggest spiritual connection to Jackson’s novel. They have the same names, occupations, and connection to the house; both sets of characters had worked there for generations, living in the cottage on the edge of the property. Mrs. Dudley’s line to Steven in episode one, “Steven Sees a Ghost,” is lifted almost line-for-line from the book: “No one would live nearer than town. No one would come any nearer than that. So yes, they lived all alone. In the night, in the dark.”

Nell and Olivia’s deaths

Both mother and daughter take their own lives off a spiral staircase in the Netflix show. That staircase also exists and is responsible for two deaths in the book. Hugh Crain had a wife in the novel who plummeted to her death from the top of the staircase, just like we see Olivia do in Hill House. In episode five, “The Bent-Neck Lady,” it’s revealed that Nell hung herself from the same staircase; in the novel, Abigail Crain’s nurse hangs herself in the same location.Also, shortly before Eleanor’s death in the book, when she has given into the madness of Hill House, she dances through the rooms of the house in a dreamlike state, much like Nell does before plunging to her bent-neck fate.

Nell’s “cup of starsâ€

In the book, Eleanor Vance has a dreamy drive through the country as she makes her way to Hill House, and stops in a small diner for lunch. There, she witnesses a little girl who refuses to drink the restaurant’s milk because it doesn’t come in her “cup of stars.” As the girl’s mother explains to the waitress, her daughter always has her milk from a little cup with stars in the bottom. “She calls it her cup of stars because she can see the stars while she drinks her milk.” The mother then tells her daughter that she can have milk from that cup later tonight, and that she must drink her milk from the restaurant glass.Eleanor, distressed by this, thinks in her head, “Don’t do it; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again.”In the show, young Nell finds a tea cup with stars painted on the bottom. She asks Mrs. Dudley if she can have it, and the set it came with, and Mrs. Dudley repeats Eleanor’s lines from the book verbatim.

The Robin

One of the loveliest parts of Jackson’s novel is that country drive of Eleanor’s, when we spend a significant amount of time in her head, and learn of her simple fantasies: of living alone, in a cottage all by herself with nature all around her. One monologue that she has in the book is transplanted into the finale of the show, when Olivia’s ghost recounts to Luke a drive she once took with her grandmother, when she spotted her own cottage and fell in love with houses. “No one will ever find me there, either,” she says of the dream house she wants to live in. “I will light a fire in the cool evenings and toast apples in my own hearth … People will come to me to have their fortunes told and I will brew love potions for sad maidens. I will have a robin…”Those lines are taken word-for-word from Nell’s monologue in the book. Olivia then tells Luke she almost named him Robin, a reference to the robin of her dreams.

“Journeys end in lovers meeting.â€

The phrase “journeys end in lovers meeting” appears 14 times in Jackson’s novel. Eleanor first says it to herself when she arrives at Hill House, and repeats it often. The phrase is taken from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (“Trip no further, pretty sweeting / Journeys end in lovers meeting“) and Eleanor uses it almost romantically when thinking of the house. In the show, Hugh gifts his daughter a pocket watch that has the same phrase engraved on its lid.

Pounding ghosts and cold spots

Pounding is a pretty common horror trope, but Jackson had a way of making foreboding, unseen raps on the wall positively horrific. Flanagan uses this tool in several scenes, but most recognizably in a moment when young Theo comes to Shirley’s room to complain about her pounding on the wall. As they argue, the pounding starts up again, and they hop into bed together. It then makes its way from one end of the room to the other, rattling picture frames as it nears closer to the girls. This is very similar to a scene in the books when Theodora and Eleanor hide in bed from an intruding phantom pounding.Likewise, there is a subplot in the book about a cold spot that hangs outside of an upstairs nursery and never goes away. In the show, Olivia attempts to show Mrs. Dudley a cold spot she’s found in the statue room.

Unseen dogs

In the book, Dr. Montague and Luke Sanderson chase after a phantom dog that they’re never able to catch. Ghostly dogs are referenced in the show as well; when they first move into Hill House, the Crain children hear dogs barking at night, and in episode six, when their parents search for a missing Nell, they claim to see a dog walking through the downstairs hallways.

“I am home, I am home; now, to climb.â€

When Steven goes to save Luke from Hill House in the finale, we hear in voiceover the line, “I am home, I am home; now to climb.” This is taken from the book, when Eleanor ascends the house’s spiral staircaseThose are all of the ones that we caught, but did you notice any Jackson references in The Haunting of Hill House we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: Netflix

Want to read the book first? Catch up on The Haunting of Hill House episodes of Alpha Book Club!

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