Shirley Jackson

Classic Shirley Jackson story The Lottery coming to the screen

Contributed by
Jul 27, 2018

Shirley Jackson's 1948 short story, "The Lottery," is getting the feature film treatment from Paramount Pictures, according to Deadline. Veteran producer Frank Marshall (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) is leading the charge through his Kennedy/Marshall production company and screenwriter Jake Wade Wall (The Hitcher) is penning the script. Laurence Hyman, Jackson's son and the overseer of her estate, will be credited as an executive producer.

"The Lottery" was published in The New Yorker magazine and focused on the preparations within a small New England town for an annual rite known as "the lottery." The rite is enacted to ensure a good harvest and begins with every family in town drawing a slip of paper from a box. The family that gets the slip marked with a black spot must then have each member of the clan -- adults and children -- draw again until one person gets the marked slip. 

What happens next was so controversial and shocking at the time of the story's initial publication that Jackson received hundreds of pieces of hate mail throughout the summer after the tale saw print, with the author recalling in a 1960 lecture, "It had simply never occurred to me that these millions and millions of people might be so far from being uplifted that they would sit down and write me letters I was downright scared to open." (Good thing we didn't have Twitter back then.)

Marshall said about the project, "I liked what Jake was doing in developing it and bringing up to the present day. It has a dystopian, Handmaid’s Tale feel about it, which makes it very timely. And it has a great twist at the end."

This won't be the first adaptation of "The Lottery" — it was produced on the radio in 1951, adapted for a NBC-TV anthology series called Cameo Theatre around the same time, transferred to the stage and made into a TV film starring Keri Russell, also by NBC, in 1996 — but it's the first theatrical film version and the latest of Jackson's works to get picked up for a modern interpretation.

Her classic novel The Haunting of Hill House is coming soon to Netflix as a limited series from director Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep), while another acclaimed book, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is also set to hit the big screen soon. There's even a movie called Shirley in the works that takes a decidedly fictional view of the author's life.

Jackson's body of work, which included six novels and over 200 short stories, has been heralded as a major influence on Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and many other horror writers (there's even a Shirley Jackson Award), not to mention feminist and lesbian literature. With filmmakers rediscovering her canon some 53 years after her death, it makes sense that her most famous short story — and one of the most famous in American literature — will turn up on the screen as well.