Nihilism Is a Grim Philosophy

The graphic novelization of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery reminds us of lapses of truth

We are not always creatures of consciousness. As humans, we like to forget that in truth, we are animals. We harbor intense cruelty and self-serving cowardice. Nihilism is a grim philosophy, but the herd instinct is real.

Shirley Jackson’s original short story “The Lottery” inflicts a certain shock, a revulsion in mankind. It rises from the lower gut and get stuck in the throat. The question why begs but falls silent.

Every year in June, a town selects by family and then within the family for an individual to be sacrificed. It is a dystopian ritual that results in spouse killing spouse, parent child and vice versa. While the victim’s final cries echo, so the moments when her death could have been deemed unnecessary.

Miles Hyman’s graphic adaptation of The Lottery captures this intent. It is disturbing without being unnatural, deeply unsettling without gratuitous words or symbolism.

While many graphic adaptations fall in the range of boring to awful, Hyman uses the medium to his advantage, building suspense with bright colors and the pale shadows of a clear summer day. Everyone appears clean and healthy. All are complicit. It is a diorama of a society, rippled with discord.

One reason Hyman’s adaptation works may be the form of the short story itself. Often graphic adaptations in particular are unsatisfying because there is not enough space to retell the intricacies of long form prose. Something must be left out. But a short story, especially one written by a genius of the unsaid such as Jackson, is easier to tackle. Hyman has room to convey all in his visual narrative, even embellishing slightly to make the tale his own.

Jackson’s literary voice does not falter. To replicate a master is never easy, perhaps even more so as Hyman is the grandson of the famed author. A good author makes an adaptation his own, and in that purists may find fault. But the essence of the original classic rings true in Hyman’s The Lottery. With crisp imagery and scant sentences, the sinister is revealed within the everyday. The reader knows what is coming and is sickened but powerless. And then, the townsfolk go home for lunch. In this way, The Lottery is a timeless literary masterpiece.

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