The monster of House of Leaves, referred to as Mr. Monster (Danielewski, 254), by Mark Z. Danielewski is unlike any other monster we have experienced in class. It resides within the house of William Navidson, a photographer, and his family. However, its domain is nothing like a normal home. Beyond a door in the Navidson living room is a series of black, icy hallways that can change shape without warning. Within this space, anything left behind is destroyed, apparently by an animal, and a loud growl can be heard echoing through the halls. However, a physical monster is never found. This monster is, while never seen, a great instance of exoticism in horror. The horror of this monster is that it is created entirely by the its unfamiliar environment. While Vathek, King Kong, and other monsters we have studied are made more monstrous by their exotic environment, the monster of House of Leaves is made purely from the “other”. Without its environment, this monster would not exist.
The house, within the book, is connected to the wild and unknown lands of Virginia as colonization takes place. The house, located in Virginia, is built on the site of a discovery by Lord De la Warr and his men as they were hunting. In a journal the man declares, “[S]taires! We ha[v]e found [s]taires!” (Danielewski, 414). These stairs may have thus been integrated into or covered by the house when it was built. With the appearance of a staircase within the house (Danielewski, 85) this history resurfaces. This shift marks the beginning of the uncanny in House of Leaves. This reappearance of this concealed past can cause a shift in something that is easily recognized by the characters and readers into something unfamiliar and foreign (Mackenthun, 97). This foreign space “transforms the signs of the uncanny into signatures of cultural survival” (Mackenthun, 108). The monster that the characters fear may be the “shadow of the presence” (Mackenthun, 108) of the past that colonists attempted to cover up, similar perhaps to a ghost inhabiting its old home. However, the monster is never seen and so it defies any sort of definite categorization by the characters or by the reader. The lack of the physical presence of the monster frustrates both the character’s and the reader’s desire for exotic spectacle. We, as well as the characters, derive pleasure “from watching, in an active controlling sense, an objectified other” (Mulvey, 835). Eventually, we do receive some sense of satisfaction as explorations into the hallways begin. The men of the novel, Will Navidson along with friends and hired help, venture into the depths of the house in order to try to understand it. “[E]xploration (knowledge) of the hallways eventually becomes a true obsession for the men” (Bemong, n.p.) and their exploration of the house becomes the reader’s point of view as well. The men become the “bearer of the look of the spectator” (Mulvey, 838). These explorations serve to satisfy the quest for knowledge in both the novel’s characters and the readers, but not fully. Still, after exploration, the true object of the gaze is never found. The monster remains elusive. Because of this, the monster will forever stay bound to the otherness of its environment. With no other proof of its existence other than its effects on the house, the monster cannot be separated from the labyrinth it seems to reside in.
Bemong, Nele. “Exploration # 6: The Uncanny in Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”” Image&Narrative. N.p., Jan. 2003. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <http://www.imageandnarrative.be/inarchive/uncanny/nelebemong.htm>.
In the Bemong article, the book House of Leaves is explored according to psychological definitions of the idea of the “uncanny”, especially the definition put forth by Freud. The first appearance of the “uncanny” in House of Leaves is deconstructed as is the eventual journey into the house. In addition, Bemong explores the search for the meaning of the house that is demonstrated not only by the characters, but by the author. He accomplishes these explanations with many references to the text itself and the analysis it provides within the story as well as adding in his own explanations.
Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. London: Pantheon, 2000. Print.
House of Leaves is a story that follows the Navidson family after they move into their new home on Ash Tree Lane. Soon after moving, a mysterious new hallway appears within their home, challenging their belief that this new house is a safe haven for the family. The story is told by the equally mysterious Zampanó, with footnotes by another character named Johnny Truant.
Mackenthun, Gesa. “Haunted Real Estate: The Occlusion of Colonial Dispossession and Signatures of Cultural Survival in U.S. Horror Fiction.” American Studies 43.1 (1998): 93-108. JSTOR. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.
This article by Gesa Mackenthun investigates the theme of the removal of Native Americans from their land and their subsequent dispossession in horror. This, as well as the theme of a struggle over land claims and land in general feature as a cause of horror in American fiction. This article uses as examples The Shining, Poltergeist, as well as Pet Cemetery. This article also addresses the idea of the uncanny in the repression of memories of the ill treatment of American Natives by colonists.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism :
Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP,
This article by Laura Mulvey analyzes the use of the gaze within fiction. The exploration of this theme is broken down into the idea that the gaze and specifically the gaze fixated on another human is a cause of pleasure for an audience and the idea that the male gaze is used more often as the default point of view for the audience as well as the gaze on a female figure.