Sunday, November 20, 2011

Haunting of Hill House finished; The Time Traveler's Wife started

I only have a couple of recurring dreams. Both of them are nightmares, both of them are about houses. The first involves being in a house that goes on forever - like in a Flintstones cartoon where Fred is running, and he is in the center of the screen as the wall of the house scrolls by endlessly until he smashes into something (and that something is never the adjoining wall). There are windows all along the walls without stopping, and there are things outside that want to get in. It's like living in a school hallway (if your school was always in danger from marauders, that is).

The other dream is that I live in a very large house. It has a lot of rooms, and I keep forgetting that one of them exists. I will suddenly discover that room, and it makes me feel really nervous, like all along the room has been hiding from me. Why would it do that? What's it got to hide?

I've been in houses that feel warm and inviting instantly. I've been in houses where I feel unwelcome if I'm left alone there without the owners. My first girlfriend rented an old house that had a dirt cellar between the kitchen and the back door. A friend of hers who claimed to have psychic abilities said that a child had once been abused there - locked up and forced to live in this small room on the dirt floor. I don't know that I believe in her psychic abilities, but no one liked that room. If she or her roommates had to go through it to the backyard, especially at night, they would run through it as quickly as they could.

When I was in my early 20s, I spent a lot of time house-sitting for other people. It was a way to both make money and live in a place that was totally mine for a week, and all I had to do was take care of other people's pets. I learned a lot about what makes me happy or uncomfortable in a house - high ceilings are bad. So are windows that can't be covered. Small entertainment rooms - "man caves" if you will - are good. The house I was most nervous in was occupied by four cats. All my other customers had a variety of pets, but also at least one dog. Dogs make a place better. Whenever I buy my first house, I plan to get a dog within my first week there.

Haunting of Hill House taps into this exact kind of delicate discomfort with houses. What makes a house feel inviting? What makes it feel unwelcoming? The house is described as having a strange architecture - uneven lines, a lack of symmetry, doors in unexpected places. I imagine Shirley Jackson had the Winchester Mystery House in mind when writing it - Hill House is not that extreme, but definitely borrows a lot of its terror from strange appearances. Eventually it does more than just look unsettling, as it's evil spirits begin to work on the minds of the visitors, all of whom have shown up to observe and collect data for a doctor who enjoys researching the paranormal. Of course, science and logic are no match for the horrors within the house. Still, despite the story's age it still contains some real genuine moments of terror as the house seeks to destroy the visitors.

They should have brought a dog with them.
I've started The Time Traveler's Wife, which was made into a film not long ago. All I know about the film is that it wasn't very good according to everyone I know who has seen it. I've really enjoyed the book so far, though.

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