Friday, 21 March 2014

Hell House by Richard Matheson

December 18, 1970
3:17 P.M.

It had been raining hard since five o'clock that morning.

Scared yet?

Starting a book, a story, a news report, a personal anecdote or even a lie with rain is pointless. Even if the point of your musings was the rain, who would care? Weather like this is small talk, things people say when they have nothing better to say to one another or are trying to get rid of someone by boring them to death. Not the way to begin a story - with mindless drivel or constipated small talk. Yet, there seems to be a built-in automaton in the human psyche that insists most authors start novels with the weather.

I hesitate to make comparisons, but compare Hell House's opening line to the opening of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

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 so for 80 years and might for 80 more.  

The rest of the first paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House only adds to the eerie mood and sense of foreboding and is quite creepy. Hell House on the other hand offers nothing. I mention The Haunting of Hill House only because these two books are somewhat archetypes of the genre, companion pieces in the annals of 'haunted house' literature. Their openings, however, are very different, strikingly so. Side by side, Hell House is without doubt an epic fail.

Next line:

Brontean weather, Dr. Barrett thought.

At least this line has something: a setting and a character.

First thing said:


Verdict: Epic Fail

Theodore Moracht

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