The Lottery; or, The Adventures of James Harris – Book Review

I borrowed The Lottery; or, The Adventures of James Harris by Shirley Jackson from the Logan County Library on 12/18/2009 and I read it that evening, all 306 pages. While I did not find what I expected, I was not disappointed.

3 1/2 stars out of 5

My first experience with Shirley Jackson was when I read The Haunting of Hill House. Her talent as a writer was evident from the very first page. I know it’s quoted quite often, so if you’ve read the book, please forgive the repetition, but this is truly what hooked me:

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.

See what I mean? Eloquent, revealing, and yet, mysterious enough to make me turn the page. The Haunting of Hill House really fulfilled my expectations and it was a great introduction to Shirley Jackson, I think.

So, before my last trip to the library I gathered a list of authors and titles I wanted to read. Shirley Jackson was on my list, and since I’d already read her (arguably) most popular – The Haunting of Hill House – I dug a little deeper and discovered The Lottery. As soon as I read that title, it sounded familiar. Then it hit me: a movie I’d watched years ago with Keri Russell. And sure enough, a quick search on IMDb confirmed the movie was based on Jackson’s short story.

Based on the collection’s title and my memory of the movie, I expected a book of short horror stories, which isn’t what I read. Don’t get me wrong, some of the stories in The Lottery are horrific, especially the short story of the same name, which unsurprisingly is much better than the movie adaptation. But what I found was that many of the stories had a much deeper meaning and social commentary. I guess they would be considered allegories if I wanted to examine and dissect them.

“After You, My Dear Alphonse” is a superb example of the powerful statements and deeper meaning in her work. And, one of the stories so unnerved me – “The Renegade” – I almost couldn’t finish it because of the emotions it evoked. But then I laughed out loud when I read “My Life with R.H. Macy” and “Charles.” So Jackson made me think; she made me laugh; she made me cry; and then she scared me. Whoa! That’s talent.

How could this writer even be labeled or lumped into one sub-genre? I mean, obviously, she writes fiction. I guess I was just floored by her depth. And, the most inspiring story for me as a writer was definitely “The Lottery.” Had I not watched that movie years ago, I would’ve had absolutely no idea what Jackson was going to unleash at the end of the story. She so masterfully diverted my attention to the people of the quaint little town and the logistics of the lottery that I never would’ve suspected the dark climax.

Lastly, Jackson’s ability to hook me from the first paragraph of a story is what really amazes me. She showed me just enough to reel me in then BAM! The story was over and I was like, but…but…I want more…what happened next?!? Yes, I was left with questions. Yes, it was somewhat frustrating. No, it didn’t make me like the story or the author any less. Can I explain why? Nope, not really. I suspect you’ll either love or hate Shirley Jackson’s work. Personally, I’m a firm fan.

I hope to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle in the near future, but I also want to save it since there are limited works to read.

Have you read any of Jackson’s stories or novels?

Did you like or dislike her work? Why?


Click the link to purchase a copy of The Lottery. That links to a paperback version. I read the hardcover version ISBN 0-8376-0455-9.

Click the link to purchase a copy of The Haunting of Hill House. I highly recommend it. I still get the heebie jeebies when I read it.


The Works of Shirley Jackson – Kristen Hubbard created a fantastic research site, which offers a biography, a thorough bibliography, and a list of online resources.

Words On Us – In this essay, Deborah Markus addresses James Harris and his relevance to The Lottery‘s collection of stories. I rather enjoyed her examination of the “daemon lover” and her essay really gave me some perspective.

The Tall Man in the Blue Suit – A thesis by Håvard Nørjordet, which examines the “Witchcraft, Folklore and Reality in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, or the Adventures of James Harris.” An interesting, albeit academic, examination of the book.

2 Replies to “The Lottery; or, The Adventures of James Harris – Book Review

  1. I’ve read the lottery, it was actually part of my required reading for my English Comp 2 class(Walters State). It was part of our section on irony, it was pretty good- ended up having to write a paper of several pieces that used irony in story telling.

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