There might be a few spoilers if you are not familiar with Shirley Jackson’s work, The Lottery.
I have read Shirley Jackson’s book, The Lottery, at least once. Probably more as she is a Vermont author that is known for being from a town south of me; therefore, teachers feel the need to introduce her into the curriculum at some point. I always got the basic elements of the story: there is a lottery in a small town. For what, you are not sure until the end. There are typical people in a stereotypical small town. When the winner is chosen of the lottery, I got the scapegoat metaphor but never deeper than that. I always found the book to be dull, due to no real action.
It was not until later, and now with this authorized graphic novel edition created by Jackson’s grandson, Miles Hyman, was I able to see the action. I think had I reread the novel version, I might not still have felt there is action, even though I now realize the action is the suspense of the buildup to the drawing of the lottery. Not only do you hear the old timers say they have “seen 77 years of the lottery,” you now see disgust, pride and more on their faces. And something I asked myself for the first time was, how did some of the people last that long without becoming lottery “winners?” And, of course, I always wondered, “Why did the younger generation start to stop it” or at least, start talking about it?
The story is dialog with no “oomph” to it. One character is the last person at the gathering spot because she “forgot what day it was” and “had to make sure she did not leave her dishes in the sink.” The dialog of one of the characters brings into the picture how disrespectful the youth are as they do not follow tradition. But other characters mention how some traditions went to the wayside, so this ironic thought process shows that you might still do tradition, but traditions can change. And that is the other part of the story that I am having more thoughts about now then the kid reading did.
Because it is a graphic novel, of course, illustrations come into the picture as well. Full color pieces of art show you what could be “any town USA.” If you want a ballpark year, it was published in 1948 and many small towns still had a less, shall we say, sophisticated look/not so in “style.” In fact, many felt Jackson had set it in her hometown and was making fun of the locals. As you can imagine, this did not go over well with many of the local towns people. With that said, the illustrations tell the story more than the limited text. The text gives you the bones and the illustrations give you the rest of the piece. Both capture the spirit of Jackson’s words while the illustrations capture the spirit of the time, place and words. They capture the faces with their glee, fear, boredom, and even their tuning out their humanity. This is shown by the faces, but also by the main action as well as such scenes where a couple of kids fight over a rock like dogs over scraps.
And while you can not say these pieces of art are breathtaking in the sense that they are beautiful or showing lovely images, it is breathtaking because I stopped breathing as I was reading. I knew the outcome, but reading this version was probably more powerful than I could have imagined.
While it is not a new way to present books (classics have been put into graphic novel/comic book format or even in Reader Digest formats since at least the 1960s) these novels to graphic novel (be it a classic or a more contemporary novel) has become a great way to be introduced, or see another interpretation to a story.