Book Review and Comparison: ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill

Posted: 17 October 2013 in Book reviews, Movie reviews
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I have decided to add a disclosure for this post. Normally when I write a review, I never include the entire synopsis of the book in order to give the reader the opportunity to read it and find out the ending themselves. This time I cannot. In order to get a complete and concise comparison, I will need to reveal every aspect of both the book and the film. That being said, read on at your own discretion.


I saw the film adaption sometime earlier this year. I had some major frustrations from it that I have had a difficult time reconciling. Now that I read the book, I understand that it was once again Hollywood grossly overstepping its creative bounds. Of course, I will be exploring this accusation throughout the synopsis. Before I get there though, I want to just state that I was surprised to find that this book was written 30 years ago. Hadn’t expected that.

If I were to write a very simple explanation of the plot of the story, I would say that it is about a man (a solicitor) who travels to a town called Crythin Gifford to go through a deceased Mrs. Drablow’s documents and take back anything of importance. While there, he encounters a ghostly presence and is deeply affected by it. In the end, he is met with a life-changing tragedy. That would basically sum up the plot for both the film and the book. Now, how they get through the plot is something entirely different. I shall do my best do relay this information clearly.

The film begins quite straight-forward with exception of a small scene I will discuss shortly. Arthur Kipps (the solicitor) is assigned by Mr. Bentley to go to Crythin a month after the death of Mrs. Drablow as a final chance to save his job. Arthur takes leave of his son and the nursemaid, who are meant to join him at the weeks end, and begins his journey. Here we already see major differences. The book begins at the end when Arthur is elder, married with four stepchildren, and has decided to write the story down for the first time. He makes this decision after having to leave his house in fright when the kids were telling ghost stories around the fireplace one Christmas and they goaded him to tell one. To the kids, ghost stories were nothing serious. They didn’t know he had been through a real supernatural situation. In his telling of the account, Mr. Bentley gives him the assignment as an opportunity to take on more responsibility and move up in the firm. He is being sent as a representative of the firm to attend Mrs. Drablow’s funeral, as she has only just died. He leaves a note for his fiancé and takes off Crythin. He has never been married, nor has any children.

On the final leg of the journey, he meets a Mr. Samuel Daily. In the film, Arthur has dozed and when he wakes finds he is not alone. In the book, he is quite awake and Mr. Daily sits with him to have a travel companion. They chat a bit where Arthur begins to sense something of a mystery surrounding Mrs. Drablow. Mr. Daily looks nothing in the film as he is described in the book. In the film he looks like he’s from the city, where in the book he is described much larger and rougher.

Once they arrive, Mr. Daily gives Arthur a ride to the Gifford Arms, a hotel in the town. Once again, the portrayal of the townsfolk differ greatly between the film and the book. In the beginning of the film, the children of the landlord jump from the attic out the window to their deaths (interestingly almost all the deaths are girls). When Arthur arrives at the hotel, the landlord is rude and says they are booked up. It isn’t until the wife intervenes and offers Arthur the attic that the landlord relents. All the townsfolk know why he is there and they do not like it. They are afraid. Even Mr. Jerome is overly helpful to get him to leave that same day. Then when two more children die in horrific manners, they blame Arthur. This is almost the exact opposite of what happens in the book. When Arthur arrives at the inn, they are very kind, they get him his room, some food, and engaged him in some polite conversation. No one other than his contact and now  Mr. Daily knew of why he was there. Whenever someone did learn of it, they were still polite, but became a bit standoffish. Mr. Jerome wanted nothing to do with the house nor was he willing to help Arthur out. They understood the terror and kept quiet about it. They gently tried persuading Arthur against some of his decisions, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. Oh, and in the book no children in the village die while he is there.

Then we have the Eel Marsh House and the Woman in Black. In the film, the house is eerie looking and quite filthy inside and out. As Arthur walks towards the house, he sees the graveyard. In the house is where he first sees and has the majority of his ghostly encounters with the woman. He sees her in the glass, in the shadows, and outside when he looks out the window. She haunts in the style of a poltergeist at the house and something else with the children (almost like a pied piper). He is afraid because she all of the sudden shows up and scares him essentially. This is not so in the book. When Mr. Keckwick takes him to the Eel Marsh House (unpaid by Arthur unlike in the film), his first opinion of the place was it was in some way ‘handsome.’ He found the island beautiful and even slightly fantasised about living there with his fiancé. There was nothing creepy about the place other than it was isolated. The graveyard is located a distance behind the house by the ruins of some sort of monastery. This is where he encounters the woman for a second time. The first was at the funeral of Mrs. Drablow. He had asked Mr. Jerome about her, but Mr. Jerome nearly passed out at the question. On the island, he saw her again and got a better look at her. From her he got an overwhelming and debilitating feeling of malevolence, anger, rage, evil. it wasn’t until she walked away that he was once again in control of his being. He tried to follow her, but she was gone. He looked at the tombstone by where she stood, but like the rest of them the surface was timeworn and only partly legible (unlike in the film where they are all like new). He only sees her a couple of times and never in the house. He feels her presence brush by him, but never sees her.

Many things happen at the house both in the film and the book. In the film, Arthur quickly finds the death certificates for the adopted son Nathaniel and then for his mother, Mrs. Drablow’s sister. He learns that she committed suicide. He finds the many letters from Jennet (the sister) to Alice (Mrs. Drablow) about giving them the boy and then the letter become more and more angry until she blames the boys death on Alice. She said that she would never forgive her and to rot in hell. Arthur had learned about the dead boy from Mr. Bentley before he came and that the body had never been recovered from the marsh. The boys room was also locked. Then one night, he hears a creaking in the room. He grabs an axe from downstairs, but when he arrives back upstairs finds the door open. He checks out the room and finds a nursery. It is there that he discovers that Jennet killed herself in the nursery. That night he also realises that the house is also haunted with the ghost of the dead boy and also sees the ghost of the other dead children in the trees outside the house. With the deaths of more children in the town, both Arthur and Mr. Daily decide to pull the boy’s body out of the marsh and give him a proper burial with his mother. They believe this to be the only to save Arthur’s son (after a spooky encounter with Mr. Daily’s crazy wife who describes how their son was killed. She then becomes possessed and warns Arthur). In the end, the attempt was futile and Arthur and his son both die being hit by a train. But at least they were with his dead wife now.

In the book, Arthur doesn’t find the death certificates until later and only then dies he learn about the boy. Not even Mr. Bentley knew about him. The boy, his nursemaid and Mr. Keckwick’s father all drowned in the marsh that night while Jennet watched waited for them at the house. Unlike in the film, Jennet was allowed to see the boy but just wasn’t able to tell him her identity as his mother. They formed a natural bond and she was going to take him away when the accident happened. She was devastated and died many years later from an illness after wasting away (not suicide). All the bodies had been pulled from the marsh as well. That means she wasn’t angry against her sister for her son dying. She was just angry times a billion at no one in particular. The main event that happened over and over again at the house while Arthur was there was the reenactment of the boy’s death (screaming included). Mr. Daily had loaned him a dog named Spider to keep him company (and his wife is not crazy and their son never died but has his own son. Also, his opinions are quite opposite form the book and he is tries to appear not superstitious about the whole thing) and on the last night Arthur is there, the dong is nearly killed in the marsh. Arthur saves her and Mr. Daily shows up (and he is not around anywhere near as much as he is in the film). Arthur stays at the Daily’s as he overcomes an illness from the ordeal and then learns the whole story (that Jennet was Alice’s sister and that anytime the woman in black is seen a child dies). When Arthur is better, he leaves with Stella (his fiancé who came to see him). They get married and then have a son. Life seems good until a year later when the woman in black appears and his son is killed and his wife dies some months later from her injuries.

Now, after that whole long spiel, there are still many differences I could show, but I think you get the point. Yeah I think I went a little overboard with the comparison, but it really drives me crazy when Hollywood adapts films and makes them so different from the original material. The film left me annoyed. In a horror film, especially a supernatural one, there has to be some sort of resolution. You have to be able to destroy the evil thing if you show there is possibly a way to do so. In the book, I was ok with the woman in black not being destroyed because as I said earlier, her anger wasn’t directed at anyone in particular. There was no way to resolve the problem.

So naturally, while the film was given good reviews and was cinema-graphically good, the book was so much better. I was left speechless when I finished the book (which never happens). The main character was solid, albeit slightly arrogant in his attempts, but solid nonetheless, unlike the film where he was morose the whole time. The story was well thought out and the imagery was splendid. There is only one real thing that frustrated me about the writing. While I loved the archaic way it was written, the overly wordy sentences did throw me. Now I am no scholar of early 20th-century or Victorian literature, but it did annoy to have to refer back to the beginning of the sentence to make sure I understood it correctly. Other than that I really enjoyed it. Below are the ways you can get it beyond checking out your local library. Enjoy 😉

Buy book from Amazon

Buy movie from Amazon

Buy book from Barnes and Noble

Buy movie from Barnes and Noble


  1. Melinda says:

    Thanks for the comparison. I watched the movie, and am yet to read the book, which I am a little afraid of.


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