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The Haunting of Hill House and the “Poppy” in Our Heads

Spoiler Alert: Please be warned. This is heavy on spoiler details, so stop now. But really, go on. This is not a series review—it’s more of a reflection paper, so carry on. Haha. Are you confused now?

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“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 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.”

-Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

When I started watching The Haunting of Hill House, I thought I was watching a horror show but after a few episodes it became apparent that it wasn’t just that. From the surface it was all about the scary details—but as the story went deeper into the heart of the tale, you realize that in between the screams and the breathtaking scenes you are drawn to the characters.

Your heart is endeared to innocent young Luke and pained every time the bent-neck lady torments Nell. The story goes back and forth into the lives of the Crains, as they were young and now all grown, and it is clear that they all remain traumatized by their past—battling with demons that devour their being. As I rushed through the ending, the lingering question remained: “What happened to them? What happened to their mother?” And as you continue watching you try to jump to conclusions because that’s what we love to do. I remember my friend suggesting that Hugh Crain murdered Olivia.

More than the family’s gripping tale, however, The Haunting of Hill House appealed to me because of the real life lesson that it touches on. You see, I’ve seen the series three times already. The first time, I saw it with my sister, and together we embraced it for what it truly is—a unique depiction of love and sacrifice in a family as signified by he persistence of Nell to save her siblings from impending doom and the father’s willingness to join his wife in the Red Room, to spare his other children from further strife. In the beginning, you’ll see the Crains and find in them, faults that would put things into perspective. You’ll judge them and say that they do not care for each other—but you realize that they do. They’re dysfunctional, like most families, but they are devoted to each other. So you ask again, could they have stopped Nell from going into the house? Maybe, maybe not—the hunger that the house possessed was definitely strong, though.

The second time, I saw it with my friends from the mission field, and we appreciated for the less obvious angle and that’s the battle against the voice in our heads. The battle against the demons that reside in your head, playing you like a puppet. A demon like Poppy.

Conquering Poppy’s Voice in Our Head

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It’s very easy to label Poppy evil. After all, she is insane and it was her suggestion that eventually compelled Olivia to take the kids into the Red Room for a tea party. But is it really all Poppy’s fault? The truth is that it’s easy to lay blame on people. In the battle versus good and evil, no one wants to be bad. But you see, we all have a Poppy in our head and it’s up to us to find a way to conquer it. The voice will whisper, demonize your thoughts, and influence you to do things. And the influence doesn’t have to be as vicious as murder. Sometimes Poppy will tell you it’s okay to gossip and poke fun—and so you do. I am, actually, guilty of this. I think I spend a good time of my day talking about other people and often, I have to remind myself that it’s not really good. I’ve been the subject of gossip. I know what it feels to be talked about, ridiculed, and judged, so I shouldn’t allow others to suffer the same.

I believe that in varying degrees, we all battle with the Poppy in our heads and if we’re not strong enough to stand against it, we can fall victim. Because the truth is that fighting is going to be hard. It’s easier to be careless and to think not about consequences, but the thing with poisonous thoughts is that it clings on until it succeeds at devouring your sanity in whole. That’s what Poppy did to Olivia, she poked and poked until Olivia broke and she was convinced that the only way she could save Luke and Nell, was to kill them. If they’re dead they wouldn’t have any nightmares anymore. If they’re dead, they’ll eventually “wake up” and will never have to sleep again. The thing with the voices–they will say things that we want to hear because it knows what we want.

Yes, evil lies. In the Story of the Adam and Eve, the serpent lied to them and they succumbed to its ploy. Evil wants to lure you, so it will deceive, trick and fool. It will present lies that you won’t be able to resist—and if your faith is not strong, you will fall.

I watched The Haunting of Hill House three times, and in three occasions I have wondered the same things over and over:

  • Why didn’t Olivia tell Hugh about all the spirits in the house?
  • Why didn’t they just leave the house?
  • Why didn’t Hugh and Olivia believe the children when they cried ghost?

Greed is very toxic. In the beginning of the summer, when the family first entered Hill House, they were all very excited. The place was humongous and grand. The children could not contain their excitement for the adventure that awaited them. Hugh and Olivia were already celebrating the fortune that will be the reward, at the conclusion of their massive project. Hugh screams, “We’ll be rich,” not knowing that their greed was going to be their downfall.

They did not bother that their family was being ripped apart by the house because they were in a hurry to complete the project, so that they can collect. Greed.

No it’s Not a Horror Story

When I started watching The Haunting of Hill House, I thought it was going to be a horror show. And every time someone tells me that they’ve started watching and have stopped because it’s too scary, I tell them to carry on because it gets better after the third or fifth episode. As soon as you grasp the story, it stops being a horror show and suddenly becomes one of the best things you’ve ever watched. It’s a show composed of many layers and from chapter-to-chapter you peel off the cover, until you get to the real message.

And there’s much to learn from the Crain’s horrific tale. There’s so much to learn about how to properly love and care for family, biological or otherwise. How to love family, in the midst of conflict, that’s designed to ruffle feathers violently and shatter you to pieces.

Recently, a “family” I belong to was struck by a catastrophic turn of events and quarreling alliances were formed. Layers of lies and truths have been uncovered and quite frankly, I dread to see what will eventually become of us, but it doesn’t look so good from where I stand. Everyone has something to say about one another and it’s become a battle between right or wrong. You see, no one wants to be wrong, so fingers are being pointed at each other but no one really comes in to say, “Hey, it’s my fault.” So regardless of the damage and the growing gap, this “family” just like the Crains inside Hill House, begin to rot.

image from here

I have never seen a ghost, but I know that I battle with ghosts in my head, from time to time. I know for a fact that some of the people I know are battling with their own ghosts. But that’s the thing with ghosts, not everyone believes in them.

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