Monday, November 21, 2016

The Lottery

Shirley Jackson only wrote 6 novels in her 30 year career as a writer. She manged in that time to write the archetypal Haunted House story, The Haunting of Hill House (1959.) It was praised by Steven King, and probably was the best work in that genre since Charles Dickens own Haunted House Story [LINK] in 1859. But her novels are not what she is known for. She's remembered as a master of the short story.

In 1948 she published her most famous work The Lottery in the New Yorker. This one short story was so bit it now has it's own Wikipedia article [LINK].  The story describes a fictional American small town which observes a lottery in which one towns-person is elected to be stoned to death. This is believed to to ensure a good harvest. The story is rife with strong metaphors and commentary about blind obedience, scapegoats, ignorant traditions, mob psychology, and rural Americans. The response to the story was overwhelming. Hundreds of readers canceled subscriptions, and Jackson got hate mail all summer. The story was banned in South Africa.

Because of it's popularity and/or notoriety The Lottery has also been adapted into a number of formats, including a ballet in 1953, three short films (1969, 2007, and 2008) and   three different TV movies: one in 1951, another in 1960 and again in 1996. In 2016 Jackson's grandson, Miles Hyman had the story interpreted again as a graphic novel [LINK] What interests us of course is it's first radio broadcast in 1951. It was an episode of the anthology series NBC Presents: Short Story. This was a high quality series that also broadcast works based on short stories by  Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck among others.

The series premiered February 21st, 1951. NBC's radio adaptation of The Lottery was broadcast March 14th, 1951.  So this episode would have aired in week three of season one.  That season ran until July 13th. A second season ran starting that November and running thru March of 1952. A third, more abbreviated final series ran from April 11 to May 30 in 1952. In season two, the program had been tied to a project between Brooklyn College and NBC called the College by Radio plan. The College by Radio plan fizzled and did some damage to the program.

Interpreting the story for a 15 minute radio play was extensive. The original New Yorker short story was barely two pages long: 3,299 words in all. Writer Ernest Kinoy expanded the narrative with additional scenes in characters' homes. He also did a surprisingly good job writing original dialogue in new scenes for the major characters. He also added one major character which might offend some purists.  The character John Gunderson is a schoolteacher who publicly objects to the lottery.




In 1965, Ms. Jackson died of heart failure she was only 48. In 1961 Jackson had received the Edgar Allan Poe Award.  She left behind a bibliography of 6 novels, 2 memoirs, 4 children's' books, and innumerable short stories, many of which populate 4 very worthwhile collections: The Lottery and Other Stories, The Magic of Shirley Jackson, Come Along with Me, and Just an Ordinary Day.