Thursday, April 28, 2011
April 27 2011
Monsters and Men: Grendel and Darth Vader
There are often two types of villains in fiction. On one side there are the villains who engage in evil for seemingly no reason other than to provide a challenge for the protagonist. At the other side there are deep, complete, and sometimes sympathetic villains who have suffered some kind of circumstance that causes him to think that the way he is acting is justified for the common good. Oftentimes sequels help to provide depth in these cases. This is true for two classic villains: Grendel and Darth Vader. In Beowulf, Grendel is arguably a static, one dimensional character with only the most base and inhumane characteristics. Despite his obvious adeptness in regard to strategy, his character at times seems written as a bloodthirsty beast, motivated only by the desire to consume human flesh and bring Hrothgar's kingdom into darkness. John Gardner adds a totally new perspective to Grendel, particularly with regard to Grendel's attitude toward people and society. In Beowulf, Grendel's only interaction with humans comes when he goes on raids and attacks them. His determination to kill every human he comes in contact with seems to be fueled by a deep, animalistic passion. Gardner attempts to change this characterization, as he portrays Grendel as something like a confused adolescent trying to come to grips with his place in the world. I think the biggest changes Gardner makes to Grendel's character are the basis of his origins and his introduction to Hrothgar's kingdom.
Early in Gardner's novel, Grendel is deeply frustrated with what he deems to be an over-mechanization of the world. He views the animals, the weather, and even his illiterate mother, as non-thinking beings. He feels completely alone in the world, especially with his mother being unable to communicate with him. Grendel even begins to question whether or not he exists himself. This frustration leads him to wander into the woods, and exploring the outside world like he never has. He gets himself stuck in a tree and is charged at repeatedly by a bull. He eventually passes out and is awakened by a younger Hrothgar and a group of Danish warriors. Grendel can understand their words, but they are unable to understand him and begin attacking him. Had it not been for his mother's swift rescue, Grendel would have been killed. Despite their unprovoked aggression towards him, Grendel speaks of Hrothgar with great admiration, saying, "He reshapes the world...He stares strange-eyed at the mindless world and turns dry sticks into gold." This shows his deep desire to take part in civil society, and the fact that he is unable to comes through no fault of his own.
In Beowulf, Grendel is described as being a descendent of Cain's clan. This designation makes him an outcast not only from society, but from God himself; making him more than simply a monster or a beast, but an instrument of evil, the living embodiment of Satan. In the novel, we find out that there is no proof for this claim, and that Grendel only believes it because he misinterprets Shaper's telling of the story of Cain and Abel, which he indicates by saying, "He told of an ancient feud between two brothers which split all the world between darkness and light. And I, Grendel, was the dark side, he said in effect. The terrible race God cursed."At this point Grendel is desperately searching for an identity, and since the humans have cast him aside as a freak, he decides that he would rather play a fictional role as their scourge than as a pitiful outsider. This change in Grendel's back story transforms Grendel from a beast destined to wreak havoc on man to a confused young being who is simply trying to find his place in the world.
When Beowulf was originally written, Grendel's character seems to represent the dangers of the outside world, and the necessity for unity amongst kingdoms. However, with Gardner's novel in the mix, Grendel's character takes on a fully new meaning. Rather than signaling a need for strength, Grendel signifies a need for compassion and understanding. Had Hrothgar and his men shown the slightest amount of consideration, they would have found an extraordinarily powerful ally in Grendel. However, their rush to demonize and antagonize him leads to a bloody conflict. Whatever Gardner's intentions, his novel revolutionizes our outlook on Grendel, and transforms him from a one dimensional beast to a sympathetic, misunderstood child.
In Grendel, Gardner transforms a semi-static, albeit fascinating character into one with a rich and sympathetic background. George Lucas follows a similar pattern with his most iconic character from Star Wars: Darth Vader. In the original Star Wars film, Vader is a one dimensional villain with essentially two goals: finding the base of the Rebel Alliance in order to destroy it and to kill his old mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi. While he shows an abundance of intelligence and cunning throughout the story, he never deviates from his single minded focus. For example, we are first introduced to him as he is boarding Princess Leia’s starship to forcibly retrieve the stolen plans from the Death Star. When he is unable to obtain this information, he takes Leia prisoner and spends the next segment of the film interrogating her in order to ascertain the location of the Rebel Alliance’s base. Upon Obi-Wan’s arrival at the Death Star, Vader immediately pursues him and kills him in the ensuing duel. As the events show, Vader had few dimensions beyond his two goals, and while displaying skill and intelligence in attempting to achieve them, we see his character go remarkably undeveloped. Our only knowledge of his past comes from the account we receive in the form of Obi-Wan’s explanation to Luke Skywalker about the death of his father. Even then our knowledge of Vader’s past is only superficial. We see that he used to be a Jedi Knight, but betrayed them and joined the Empire. While this is a bit more than we get about Grendel in Beowulf, who we are told “descended from Cain”, it still preserves most of the static, essentially saying he was a sellout. It strengthens the image of him as a simply evil character, especially when we consider that he killed the main character’s father.
Just as Gardner’s sequel adds depth, sympathy, and interest to the character of Grendel Lucas’s five sequels to Star Wars establish Darth Vader as one of the most complex and multidimensional villains in cinematic history. In The Empire Strikes Back, we receive the shocking news that Vader is in fact the father of Luke Skywalker. This is compounded in the next film when Vader turns against his evil master, Emperor Palpatine and sacrifices his own life in order to save his son, redeeming him in the eyes of Luke and the audience at large. In the Prequel Trilogy, we see Vader’s life as Anakin Skywalker, and are able to develop sympathy for him and the decisions he makes that lead him to become a monster. Some of the developments actually directly parallel Grendel. For example, in The Phantom Menace, a nine year old Anakin Skywalker stands before the Jedi Council with the hopes of being accepted into the Jedi Order to begin training, only to be turned down because the masters believe that he is too old, thus making his training dangerous. This is reminiscent of Grendel’s attempts to communicate with Hrothgar and his men, only for them to fail in comprehending his words and attack him. He at once feels alienated, and as though he has no reason for conciliation. Anakin too feels isolated from the Jedi Council, and this initial tension creates a permanent sense of distrust between them. This distrust creates an opening for then Chancellor Palpatine to get close to Anakin, which proves to be pivotal. When Anakin has a vision of his wife Padme dying in childbirth, he lacks the trust in the Jedi Council to confide in them, leading him to feel as though joining Palpatine was his only chance to save his wife. Ultimately, this results in Palpatine conning Anakin, getting him to become his Sith Apprentice. Under the name of Darth Vader, Anakin murders Jedi children, amongst other atrocities. Their paths resemble each other’s in another way also. When Grendel begins to attack Heremod, he severely weakens the kingdom, and even succeeds in defeating Hrothgar’s prized warrior, Unferth. Similarly, when Anakin chooses to leave the Jedi Order to serve as Palpatine’s Sith Apprentice, the Republic falls in place of the Galactic Empire, and although Anakin is at first defeated by Obi-Wan Kenobi, he eventually gets revenge. In fact, the only major difference comes in the form of their final opponent. Grendel is forced to deal with Beowulf, a hardened warrior who views him as nothing more than a challenge to be defeated. Vader on the other hand is bested by his own son, who had been attempting to turn him back to the good side ever since they met. Luke refuses to kill him, and prompts Palpatine to attack him. This causes Vader to turn on his master, and sacrifices himself to save his son. Vader’s backstory and redemption arms him with a level of depth and humanity that Grendel gains upon Gardner’s continuation of Beowulf, and both become richer and more interesting characters because of it.
Brooks, Terry. The Phantom Menace. Del Ray. New York 1999
Gardner, John. Grendel. Alfred A. Knopf. New York 1971
Glut, Donald. The Empire Strikes Back. Del Ray. New York 1980
Kahn, James. Return of the Jedi. Del Ray. New York 1983
Lucas, George. Star Wars: A New Hope. Del Ray. New York 1976
Stover, Matthew. Revenge of the Sith. Del Ray. New York 2005
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Both the “Circular Ruins” and “An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain” play with our perception of reality. They are similar stories in that they both deal with the creation of a character. The interconnectedness of the two stories remind the reader of the importance of imagination and the fickle nature of our perception of the universe with our own awareness at the center.
Jorge Borges asserts that one’s perception of reality could be an elaborate illusion. One’s consciousness could just be another being’s imagination. He is not the first person to allude to this idea. Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass makes this argument when Tweedledee tells Alice that by waking the Red King she would end her life. Supposedly Alice is just a character in the King’s dream and imagination. When Alice wishes to wake the Red King Tweedledee states, “Not you! You’d be nowhere. Why, you’re only a sort of thing in his dream! (Carroll 168). Alice is effectively a figment of another creature’s imagination and yet she is entirely unaware of her connection to this person. In fact, at the end of the story she wakes up from her own dream leading the audience to believe that she was actually the one who was dreaming up the Red King. There is an ambiguity that prevails over this entire exchange. One is never entirely sure whether Wonderland is the real universe or the world that Alice knows is indeed the true universe.
The Circular Ruins is a story built around a similar concept. At the end of the story the Sorcerer, “with relief, with humiliation and terror, understood that he, too, was but appearance, that another man was dreaming him “(Borges 100). Borges states that The Circular Ruins is based largely if not entirely on Herbert Quain’s fictional collection of stories Statements. In his review of this fictional piece he writes that the reader is “blinded by vanity” and that he is convinced that “he himself has come up with [his son]” (111). The Sorcerer is stunned to learn that his existence is merely the extension of another being’s existence. He believed it he was he that was creating the man. He thought of the man as so perfect and educated that he remained ‘blind’ to the fact that he was in fact much like his own creation. Just like as his creation discovers its true nature he too discovers that he is really just an idea in the mind of another.
Borges, in his early twenties, wrote a book called Inquisitions which had an article that summarized and identified with the work of Bishop Berkeley. Bishop Berkely maintains that there is no matter in the universe. What we think of as matter is merely a projection of our minds. While this philosophy is not widely held today, it was the grounds for many a discussion among authors just like Borges. Extrapolating on Berkeley’s idea Borges wrote a paper titled, “No hay tal yo de conjunto” (“There is no Such Thing as an Overall Self”). In Borges Ficciones personality plays a small role in the plot of the story. In “A New Refutation of Time” Borges argues that if matter and space are merely figments of the imagination then time itself must also be an illusion. In “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” Borges maps out an “idea permeated” universe with all the “logical ramifications” that would go along with it (Bell-Villada 29). The intellectuals in this story are able to turn their thoughts into physical manifestations.
Another philosopher who Borges admired was Author Shopenhauer. Borges was able to read many of Shopenhauer’s works in their original German print. Borges said of Schopenhauer, “Today, were I to choose a single philosopher, I would choose him. If the riddle of the universe can be stated in words, I think these words would be in his writings” (Bell-Villada 30). What Borges appreciated about Schopenhauer’s philosophy was the idea that the universe was a cosmic uncertainty where one’s personality was merely an illusion, much like Bishop Berkeley’s hypothesis. For Schopenhauer everyone is connected in some way as they are all part of the same person’s illusion. For this reason pain and pleasure are essentially the same thing. As Schopenhauer states, good and evil are, “but different sides of the manifestation of the one will to live.” Shopenhauer’s favorite parable comes from the Upanishads where every creature parades in front of a man and announce “Tat twam asi” (“This thou art”) (Bell-Villada 31). Borges interoperates this idea as meaning that one’s personality may be part of a massive illusion. Two people may very well be one in the same (much as one never knows if Alice is part of the Red Kings dream or vice versa).
Herbert Quain is Borges fictional creation and he crafts him in a similar way that the Sorceror crafts his son. He gives him a definite personality through his writing. He praises his writing ability highly and compliments him on his own modesty. The ironic part is that the story which he claims this fictional writer wrote mimics his own creation of Herbert Quain. Borges is stating that he created Quain from his own imagination, yet he may just as easily be the fake character in the real Herbert Quain’s fictional story. Borges is trying to illustrate the concept of perception’s fragility with fiction and fantasy. According to Borges there is one goal of the author and that is to exercise a reader’s imagination: “Of the many kinds of pleasure literature can minister, the highest is the pleasure of the imagination” (111). The idea of fantasy and the imagination are important to both Borges and Herbert Quain. Borges states that the best work Quain ever did was a fantasy story. In the fantastical story, “The Circular Ruins,” the boy that is created through imagination is said to be perfect because he is a fantasy. When the sorcerer tried making a boy with a model he failed to keep his heart beating. Finally he had to craft his son, “with painstaking love, for fourteen brilliant nights. Each night he perceived it with greater clarity, greater certainty. He did not touch it: he only witnessed it, observed it, corrected it, perhaps, with his eyes” (98). In much the same way Borges values the imaginary Quain as an actual person. Taking Borge’s, Berkeley, and Schopenhauer’s philosophies literally Quain may be just as real as Borges himself, and thus equally beautiful.
By making himself much like the sorcerer in his own story Borges makes the fantastical elements of that story more palpable. We are able to see an actual person creating another in our own physical world. In this way the theme of the story becomes more apparent and believable. We are questioning the tangible nature of Borges ‘the man’ rather than the sorcerer ‘the character.’ In fact many descriptions in the story and of the characters lead one to have a rather “misty” impression of the story as a whole. As Gene Bell-Villada argues, “The Dreamer is a “gray man” (the vaguest of colors); his son and the workmen who bring the Dreamer rice and fruits are not described at all. The faces of the two oarsmen, who bring the Dreamer the wondrous news about his son cannot be perceived in the dark. The story begins with a suggestion of the end of the story by describing the night as “unanimous” (Bell-Villada 86). This suggests that the universe may in fact be one vast soul.
By stating that Quain wrote the Circular ruins the idea that Borges sees the world not as physical but rather as metaphysical is reinforced with the reader. Though Borges uses fantasy to help the reader come to this conclusion it is not fantasy for fantasy’s sake like the stories of J.R.R. Tolkien. Nor is it fantasy reminiscent of the surrealists’ psychoanalysis of dreams which were prevalent of this time. Borges depicts unrealities by quietly suggesting the reality of our own world. Borges has stated that his fantastic tales are “parables, veiled comments on real human problems” (Bell-Villada 43). Even when the fantastic elements of Borge’s stories begin to overtake the normalcy one is able to see the story’s application to the real world. In the Ficciones Herbert Quain helps ground the reader. Quain gives hints to the reader that this is not just a fantastical, fun story but that the universe may in fact be structured like the story suggests. One’s perception of one’s universe could be just as fleeting as the Dreamer’s.
Bell-Villada, Gene H. Borges and His Fiction: a Guide to His Mind and Art. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1981. Print.
Carroll, Lewis, and Helen Oxenbury. Alice through the Looking-glass. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2005. Print.
Borges, Jorge Luis, and Andrew Hurley. Collected Fictions. New York [u.a.: Penguin, 1998. Print.
In John Gardner’s Grendel there is a massive transformation of the title character from the one dimensional embodiment of evil to a being which is able to rationalize and interpret its position within the universe. In its most basic form, Grendel serves to humanize the character of Grendel. In the end he accepts the role which he has carved out for him; that of the nemesis of man. The way in which he does this, however, proves him to be an intelligent entity capable of very real and very human emotions and logic. This evidence of perspective is very relatable to the reader, and the tragic situation which Grendel finds himself grappling with is also highly relatable as it symbolizes the existential struggle of modern man. By making Grendel a more human character, Gardner allows the audience to take a second look at a creature we once wrote off as completely and instinctually evil.
When we first meet Grendel we realize that he is very intelligent. Unlike his mother he is capable of speech. This is one of the many things which separate Grendel from his mother. Grendel’s intelligence in addition to his freewill and his awareness of that freewill separate him from his mother, the mating rams, and the bull which attacks him in the first chapter. In the earliest part of the novel all Grendel knows are creatures which work like machines. He comments: “I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly—as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back” (Gardner 21). It was not until he encounters the human race that he beings to question this philosophy. At first he sees them as brutish animals much like the ones he is familiar with, but over time he realizes they are at least intelligent creatures.
Grendel’s intellectual struggle with his own existence can easily be described as an existential crisis on his part. John Gardner explained that his inspiration for Grendel came about as wanting to tell the story of Beowulf from Grendel’s perspective and describe how Sartre’s philosophical reasoning took shape: “I finally worked out an interpretation that I believe in, where Grendel is a cosmic principle of intellectual disorder. He liked unreason, in the same way that Jean-Paul Sartre likes unreason. He further explains that during a class on Beowulf he told his students, “that the three monsters in Beowulf are very symbolic, and Grendel [the first one] is symbolic of the rational soul gone perverse. One may wonder if a “perveresed” soul is possible in a world that is no longer dogmatically Christian. Gardner responded with the idea that Sartre’s Existentialism is this “perverse rationality” (164, Silesky)
Existentialism is a philosophical as well as a cultural movement which attempts to find further categories based on the norm of authenticity that allow one to grasp what it means “to be.” In the past “the norm of authenticity” was religion which allowed one to grasp one’s position in the universe. In Grendel, Grendel has been abandoned by God and set aside from man. He is a monster and is forced to see his existence as such (“completely alone, part Disney cartoon, part contemporary everyman, a permanent stranger driven to wreak horror on the human community”). Gardner claims that a major section of Grendel was taken directly from one of the works of Jean-Paul Sartre: “The first major experience in Grendel’s life, when he meets human beings for the first time, is all from Being and Nothingness” (165, Silesky).
Being and Nothingness had a main focus of asserting a beings existence over its essence. As Levy Neil writes:
“Sartre's overriding concern in writing Being and Nothingness was to vindicate the fundamental freedom of the human being, against determinists of all stripes. It was for the sake of this freedom that he asserted the impotence of physical causality over human beings, that he analyzed the place of nothingness within consciousness and showed how it intervened between the forces that act upon us and our actions.”
Grendel realizes when he sees people for the first time that there are forces acting upon him trying to make him conform to a certain cultural standard (i.e. he is evil because he was born evil). What Sartre is saying, is that all societal standards must be brought into question when one takes into account the fact that the universe is based on nothingness. If there are no essentials to society than any that we perceive are only man made and therefore, meaningless (Levy, 111)
Grendel is not invited to be part of the human experience. When they first see him they misinterpret Grendel’s words and attack him. From then on he becomes an observer of the human race. As partially human (a descendant from “Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts.”) while at the same time an outcast he is the perfect spectator to man’s development (Beowulf 106). When he stumbles upon a town with courting lovers and a murdered corpse he is able to see the duel nature of man. The shapers song in this chapter begins to infect Grendel. He begins to believe truly that there is a divide between himself and man that cannot be overcome. When he tries to return the corpse he is again misunderstood and chased away from civilization.
Grendel is indeed, alone in this world. His mother is no intellectual equal and man refuses to embrace him. The shaper’s song, with its encouraging words, only makes Grendel more upset over being separated from the things mentioned in it. He, unlike man, does not have God, yet he wishes he could. His darker side refuses to allow Grendel to experience this hopeful thinking. "Some evil inside myself pushed out into the tress. I knew what I knew, the mindless, mechanical bruteness of things, and when the harper's lure drew my mind away to hopeful dreams, the dark of what was and always was reached out and snatched my feet." (54). Grendel reveals himself to be perpetually pessimistic.
The philosophical conversation with the dragon clearly outlines Grendel’s human and relatable characteristics. The dragon comprehends Sartre’s existential philosophy while Grendel “perverses” it. He explains that Grendel might as well become a model of evil for humankind to compare itself with. This could be his purpose that he is searching for. The dragon also explains that all of man’s systems will one day end and so to try and better one’s self is pointless. He understands fully the idea of nothingness or “the absurd” that Jean-Paul Sartre advocates. This conversation changed Grendel. He proclaims: “I had become something, as if born again. I was Grendel, Ruiner of Meadhalls, Wrecker of Kings! But also as never before, I was alone” (80). By misinterpreting the Dragon’s existential approach to life Grendel seals his fate to be forever alone in his world.
This transformation from being alone and wishing to better himself and embracing his evil side is one which an audience can easily understand and relate to. In Beowulf we only see Grendel as his fully embraced evil self. The perspective is from that of mankind and so the picture painted of Grendel is, naturally, not a pleasant one. By showing the story from Grendel’s perspective John Gardner allows his audience to enter the mind of the beast and understand why it is he acts the way he does. Gardner states that he initially wanted Grendel to be a wholely evil character, but knew he would not be interesting. Instead he realized he, “had to become more and more sympathetic. [Grendel] wants to punish himself for what he feels to be an inadequate state of being” (167 Silesky).
Not only does Grendel realize he has made a mistake in choosing his philosophy he laments his decision. A modern audience of the time would see someone grappling with the loss of religion and the increasingly popular existential philosophy, whitness the destruction of a creature who lets this struggle get the best of him, and will be highly sympathetic of their struggle. In Grendel John Gardner takes the embodiement of evil that is Grendel and makes him an intelligent, humanlike character who at the end of the day as an audience member you can’t help but feel sorry for.
"Existentialism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 23 Apr. 2011.
Levy, Neil (2002). Sartre. One World Publications. pp. 111
Silesky, Barry. John Gardner: Literary Outlaw. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2004. Print.
In House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski a brief reference to the story of Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes can be found on pg 42 of the novel. Ironically, this same section is referenced in the story of Pierre Menard found in Collected Fictions by George Borges. Many would wonder why the Don Quixote reference was included in House of Leaves in the first place. On the surface, many would probably describe the novel as primarily a work of fiction about a Californian party boy who slowly slips into insanity after finding the manuscript of a fake novel about a House that shifts and moves on its own. However the inclusion of Don Quixote is significant as it links the two authors. For Borges and Danielewski, ambiguity and double meanings are a mainstay in their stories and novels. Borges was known for writing fictional stories about other fictional stories. Danielewski uses this technique is his novel as well when writing and referencing the Navidson Records. The association between Borges and Danielewski and their use of false stories is an obvious one. But how does the actual story of Miguel de Cervantes in the Borges’ story Pierre Menard take part in the development of House of Leaves? The answer is perception. In Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote, the section in question is compared to the “similar” one also found in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It is quite obvious that they are identical.
I believe that how one perceives these novel fragments depends on the biases that they have or may pick up while reading the text. These biases may be on race, culture, or any other issue relevant to their time period. In both Borges’ story and the actual text from Don Quixote, there is an underlying theme of race. In Don Quixote, the narrator doubts the translations of an Arabic Author due to his heritage and the opinion that “the people of that nation are very prone to telling falsehoods” (Cervantes). In Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote, Menard is both exalted and chided for his interpretation of the classic work. His interpretation of Don Quixote is praised when compared to that of the “ingenious layman” Miguel de Cervantes”. (Borges, 95). It is interesting that Cervantes is described as a “layman” in this story. As noted, Cervantes is the original author of Don Quixote, and it is a bit strange that that he is described as someone with no knowledge on a subject he first wrote about. This leads me to believe that his ancestry and the history between the French and Spaniards may have been a cause for doubt. This is similar to the doubt found in Cervantes story involving Arabic people and Spaniards.
To answer the question posed above about how all of this information ties into House of Leaves, we can once again look at the time period that the Johnny is living in, and also try to identify how he could possibly relate to the fragments in a way that would allow him to perceive any subtle differences in the two “similar” texts. The time period or region that Johnny is living in is not at all similar to that of Borges or Cervantes. From the perspective of a 20-something year old, the supposed subtle nuances between the passages are nonexistent. In the footnotes of The Navidson Records, Johnny has even told readers to not to read into things too hard, and instead encouraging readers to interpret ideas and situations as they see fit. Also, Johnny does not have the same ulterior motives and prejudices that Cervantes and the Narrator in Borges’ story hold. Without these biases, Johnny is unable to recognize or understand the “exquisite variation” between these two passages (Danielewski, 42). Race however is an important but subtle part of House of Leaves. The most apparent reference to race involves the interaction between Tatiana and Johnny. As it was discussed in class, the term “homie” on page 337of House of Leaves could be taken as a racially derisive term.
In contrast, Author Guillermo Lain Corona believes that Borges employs the use of multiple authors to “hide the truth” and also “increase the element of ambiguity” (Corona, 423). Ambiguity and hidden truths are a big part of what House of Leaves. One cause of ambiguity in this novel was the “beast”. There are many references to the unknown creature, both within The Navidson Record as well as in Johnny’s transcripts. However the only proof of its existence were the howls heard inside the house, and also the strange drag marks that were found inside Zampano’s apartment. Several characters inside the novel, including Johnny, are convinced that the beast is real, though no one has ever seen it or provided a visual description. This leads to many unanswered questions within the novel. Who is responsible for the strange markings that Lude and Johnny saw? Was the beast that Holloway pursued in The Navidson Record the same entity that plagued Johnny? Is the “beast” responsible for Zampano’s death? The answers to these questions may have lie within the novel. Or they may not exist at all. The conclusion that a reader may reach heavily relies on how they interpret and perceive certain events inside the book. It all depends on how one perceives things.
This view on perception can be applied to the situation inside the Navidson Record when Will, Reston, and Tom head into the hallway and eventually down the staircase in an attempt to find Holloway and his fellow explorers. The staircase that Holloway and his band of explorers encountered is totally different than the one that Will and Reston encountered on their descent. This may have been due to the perception that each group had about the abyss. Will believed that there was a definite end to the staircase, and was able to complete the descent in less than 30 minutes. Holloway on the other hand, went into the hallway with the notion that the hallway and the staircase were never-ending. What he perceived is what he got. The house serves as an interpretation of what the inhabitant thinks, fears, or perceives it to be. Just like in the works of Borges and Cervantes, perception is everything in House of Leaves.
The exploration is aptly described by Natalie Hamilton as an examination of the “metaphor[s] for the mind, and more specifically, self-exploration” of the explorers’ inner thoughts (Hamilton, 3). Hamilton also proposes that the journey through the house’s labyrinth serves as an opportunity for each explorer to “navigate the maze of the self” (Hamilton, 3). This can be seen in the self-reflecting dialogue that many of the explorers record within hand written diaries or through the use of some electronic device using some sort of electronic device. The most obvious and telling example of these self-dialogues in this novel can be seen in the journal entries that Tom recorded during the rescue mission his brother & Reston embarked on. The transformation that Tom experiences during his isolation in the abyss serves as a turning point for his morale. Tom did not descend down the stair with Navidson and Reston due to his fear of descending down the stairway. In the several days that he is camped out, Tom confronts and acknowledges his fears, but really doesn’t overcome them. Instead he works through his problems just like he would a maze, finding alternate routes and paths to get to an end point. Not all of these “solutions” are positive. When the rescue mission resulted in Navidson being trapped in the ever changing abyss, Tom was left with feelings of regret, worry, and guilt. He chose to confront the feelings by going back regressing back in his own “internal maze” and breaking his sobriety. While the house may serve as a physical maze, a majority of the conflicts in this novel deal with things on a mental level. Once again, perception plays a part.
Corona, Guillermo Lain. "Borges and Cervantes: Truth and Falsehood in the Narration." Neophiloogus. 93. (2009): 421-437. Print.
Hamilton, Natalie. "The A-Mazing House: The Labyrith as Theme and Form in Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves." Critique. 50.1 (2008): 3-15. Print.
Monday, April 25, 2011
It is a hazy day –
To whom ever this may concern, my name is Maria Reiche and I am German born mathematician/Geologist who has been living in Nazca Peru for the past eight years: Studying, discovering, and interpreting ancient works of art, that until now, was shared along side my mentor/inspiratory; professor Dr. Paul Kosok. Unfortunately however, he is no longer able to be here anymore due to old age and apparent mental state – I suppose he found it urgent and proper to return home to enjoy his remaining years. However, before he left, as he was being wheeled onto a rusty two-person passenger plane, he stopped, looked back, and said, “Do not Return Maria… we have done it all before… Escape at four… Use your mind to See and to never become falsely blind. Become truthfully Blind– for then you will See and escape…” He then reached into his shallow coat pocket and pulled out a book while conveying, “Take this book Maria, perhaps it will guide and enlighten you.” Parkinson-like, he hands me the book; a book that he says holds a collection of outlines from our personal time about/throughout our stay in Nazca: Or so he says, I have yet to open it . . . I am powerful, aware, willing, confident, and strong.
He weakly borads and departs into the hazy and darkening sky.
Nevertheless, I have found it almost unbearable and dreadful at times to just stop my explorations at his mere seemingly unjustifiable and delusional request: I feel that I must continue, no, I feel that I must unwaveringly continue! My yearn for knowledge must go forth unyieldingly to ascertain something more about one peculiar study of ours – the study of The Nazca Lines: A series of colossal carvings made into the earth. Be it for trivial or Celestial reasons, I feel I must know and explore more!
Ugh! But wait, what did he mean, “we’ve done it all before…escape at Four”? Ah, never mind.
January 2, 1948
It is an overcast day –
I am alone for the first day in eight years: By myself, I attempt to press on with my work. Non-healing to my professor’s forewarning, I shall, damn! I forgot that all of the connections we knew in town were solely through the Dr.: How am I supposed to get to the Nazca Lines or discover any new ones without any transportation!? Plus, I know I’ve never spoken a lick of Spanish to anyone in these surrounding towns before, but perhaps there’ll be something useful about transportation in the professors book? I mean – he did say it would “guide me”.
I open the book,
Page 1 –
“For the transportation and viewing of the Nazca Lines, please call Peruvian Air Force Pilot: Ángel de la Muerte – (522) 974 – 6847” 
Ah perfect! But why would he give me a, I mean his! Book that leads me right and easily too the viewing of the ancient Lines… Unless he wanted me to go?
Or maybe it's a trick!? Nah
January 3, 1948
It is a rainy Day–
I dial (522) 974 – 6847. Rinnng… rinnng… rinnnng…
Reiche: Hola, Mi nombre es María Reiche y soy socio con del Dr. Kosok
Muerte: Ah, sí! ¿Cómo puedo ayudarle?
Reiche: Me preguntaba si sería capaz de llevarme para un vuelo alrededor
de las Líneas de Nazca de nuevo hoy?
Muerte: ¡Por supuesto! no hay problema. Nos vemos aquí mañana en la pista de aterrizajeal mediodía para despegar.
Reiche: ¿En serio? ¡Muchas gracias! Te veré entonces 
January 4, 1948
It is a stormy day –
Yes! I have a ride today. It’s 11:55am and I am just about to board Angel’s plane: A little rusty old thing – but still gets the job done. Hola Senorita Reiche! Hola Senor Muerte! We both board the plane, strapped into our old beat up leather seats and take off into the storm. Finally! (I think to myself) It’s about Time; a sigh of relief.
Thirty minutes later – We are here: I unstrap myself to get a better view from the plane… Ah… The only and last uncharted Nazca Line we, I mean I, have yet to explore – The Monkey.  Professor claims to have been there before.
For some reason, I begin to feel dizzy and acquire a sort of vertigo-like headache; but nonetheless, I must discernibly continue my examination.
I inspect it in its complexity of creation not only in its magnitude, but also in its attention to detail and precessional carvings. A Spiral tale, nine fingers, a line coming from the genital area, a slender outline of the whole body, and a pair of bent arms/legs. Is there a deeper meaning to all this?
However, out of everything, I am drawn to its spiral tail and nine fingers the most: Is there something even more to these???
I request Muerte to land at once. We land. I say my goodbyes and thank him for his ever too kind and surprising willingness to bring me here to my final exploration and destination.
Reiche: Adiós Senor Muerte y muchas gracias!
Muerte: Adios Senorita Reiche y buena suerte!
He sets off into the omniscient sky
I make camp at the left hand of the monkey: The five fingers. I am powerful, aware, willing, and confident. I am sheltered from the rain.
January 5, 1948
It is wet–
Today is my first day exploring this ancient geoglyph: The Monkey. I ask myself, is this of art, boredom, or just pure superiority and supremeness; we shall soon Know. I hope.
I make my way through the bent fingers and arms, looking to the sky at night to see if there may be some celestial meaning behind these shallow earth carvings… Could they be signs from above? For others, I mean before our time and even past, to use as guides in finding this specific destination? But why? And why a monkey? Is it, but mere w;t that celestial beings, if they do indeed exist, could have merely made these creations as a joke: For whomever, like myself, to be idiotic enough to come here and search for a deeper meaning? A simple, yet colossal ancient joke about evolution – “The Monkey”; while they, the possible Creators, could have a greatly vaster knowledge that there is no… God. I hope I Find or Figure out something… Enlighten me please! I am ready to Know!
Confused and in need of another answer – I take the professors book out of my leather worn backpack and look for some kind of rationalization. Any rationalization.
Reading over the professor’s notes, flipping page after page, there seems to be no direct explanation for the mysteries behind this particular carving … I grasp this as a bit troubling and misleading, because for every other geoglyph, the professor has compiled detailed chapters outlining any meaning that may come with any said individual carving. But as for this one – The Monkey: merely just a single page (page 33 – ). This page was filled with concentric spirals that filled it and its entirety: Dwindling down to an inescapable complete darkness within. An endless connection between darkness and earth – Spirals.
I stay up all night pondering this drawing: Twisting it in circles – I am mesmerized. It is almost midnight when all of a sudden, aha! These spirals represent the Tail! But why just the tail? I knew there had to be something more behind it. How couldn’t I have seen this before!? Idiot!
Relieved and feeling a little sense of self-embarrassment/accomplishment – I sleep in peace.
January 6, 1948
It is cold –
I wake up freezing, the book clenched in my skin-cracked hands: The day begins. I situate myself, decided on my plans for the remaining exploration and set off: Straight to the Tail – I suppose there must not be much meaning in the other appendages… except for maybe the Four fingers? Ah… I’ll just come back to it at another time.
I reach the tail right before three: A beautiful spiral from the sky, but merely a thin carving of dusty rocks and pebbles from down here. Shallow Earth
I start my journey
I look at my watch: It’s 3pm – that’s one loop. I am willing.
I look at my watch: It’s 3:15pm – I think that was two. I am determined.
I look at my watch: It’s 9pm – that should have been... I should have been there a long time ago. Am I hallucinating?
I look at my watch: It’s 12am – why aren’t I there yet!? I am lost!
I look at my watch: It has stopped: Time has stopped… where am I? I am.. Marisa? Meghan? Ma… ma…?
… I am dizzy
_ _ _ _ _ _, 1948?
It is… –
I think I am here: The End of the Tail. I feel nothing, yet I feel everything. I do feel like I have been here before; perhaps the professor was right? What was his name again? How long have I been… here? Why is my memory fading me so? I look down at my hands: Wrinkled and worn - I am older.
What is happening to me!?
I feel so weak… Like I need to be in a wheelchair… I step once more… I have reached the middle, Finally! Shit!
I fall: I do not scream. I am comfortable.
it is… –
I have been falling what seems forever; be it seconds, hours, or days – I cannot tell. I feel myself becoming more aware with each and every passing moment (however long that may actually be) and recognizing that I myself is the only one to blame for this misfortune: I didn’t listen to the Professor’s warning about staying away. Why didn’t I listen? However, even though I may have not listened, I do not understand why he believes we have been here before? But wait! “escape at Four” does that have anything to do with the four fingers of the monkey? But what? And how am I now supposed to escape when I have been falling to my imminent demise in this Circle of… Circle of… Circle of Death? Just like on page 33. 
I think I See a light
Yes, it is a light! It’s so bright and beautiful
Air begins to rush pass my face and the space around me becomes illuminated
I am Enlightened! I can See! I am Aware! I bet the professor must have escaped right before stepping foot into the center: This must explain his sudden deterioration in health and age: Of course!
Therefore, this is not a Circle of Death, but rather… one of Life
I am falling from the sky… I see all the beautiful geoglyphs…ah, the fresh air whisping by my face... I see The Monkey… I am back… My descent slows and I land softly on the Four Fingered hand: The right hand of G.. The Monkey.
I black out
I wake up soon after, on a warm layer of rock and sand: I am at the Four Fingers – I am back
Wait, the four fingers? Didn’t the Professor say something about this? Explain, encourage, ah! Start Exploring at The Four Fingers that’s it! It couldn’t have been anything else. Besides, that had to be right because as I turned to the Chapter, or rather page, about The Monkey in the professor's book, I came across this seemingly pointless scribble of a spiral: perhaps he was just bored? 
I flip the page for the first time
In the very top right corner, in black ink, there is a passage quoted from a book that was read to me when I was a child back home in Germany: It was from Gold and Gods of Peru by Hans Haumann. It said, “…Four Fingers – a distinct and direct representation of a unique Peruvian God…Rebirth” (28) and that was all
Does this explain how I got here then? Was I reborn? I’m I here for a purpose? Does it mean this is the Right Hand of God? It must be! Beautiful
Must I continue with my exploration though? I must, I should, I will! Why else would I have been brought back? There must be something more that I must know! I am powerful, aware, willing, confident, and strong… I set off…
I reach the tail: I am powerful, aware, willing, and confident
I take one loop: I am powerful, aware, and willing
I take two loops: I am powerful and aware
I take three loops: I am powerful
I reach the center: I am… weak... old
I am Aware again: Just a little more than last
Will I ever have the will and strength to leave after being “reborn back to the hand of god”? Or will I have to press on? Continuing my endless cycle delving into the tail of life and death? Yearning for something more, yearning for an unquenchable thirst of knowledge: Gaining a bit more each time – but unable to ever escape. Is it worth it? I wonder how many times the professor had to fall? Oh the unfairness.
I wake up soon after, on a warm layer of rock and sand: I am at the Four Fingers… I set off… I reach the tail…weak... old... Shit!
“Ángel de la Muerte – (522) 974 – 6847” is translated into "Angel of Death – (Lab) yri – nths"
Reiche: Hello, My name is Maria Reiche and I am partners with Dr. Kosok
Death: Ah, yes! How can I help?
Reiche: I was wondering if I could take a flight around the
Nazca Lines again today?
Death: Of course! no problem. I will see you here tomorrow at noon on the runway for takeoff.
Reiche: Really? Thank you! I will see you then.
: Actual Photo Taken by Maria Reiche
: ← after viewing this for 15 seconds, come IMMEDIATELY back to reading the paper
Haumann, Hans. Gold and Gods of Peru. Milwaukee: Random Library, 1980.
Final Revision 1
Lit and Contemporary
Freedom of the Reader; Johnny is the Framer
The passage on page 42 Danielewski quotes Miguel de Cervantes from his work in Don Quixote. He provides us with two passages that seemingly look to be identical. Dealing to interpretation has been a common theme we, as the readers, have dealt with when reading House of Leaves. Danielewski has allowed for us to realize we cannot always live off the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” On page 42 we see this style again with Danielewski. He does as Borges using two exactly the same passages calling a different meaning.
When I was reading the passage on page 42 I found myself rereading and rereading trying to find a distinction I could put my finger on of the two passages. After the two passages Johnny’s reaction seemed similar to mine. He chose to attack the phrase “exquisite variation,” wondering how two quotes that can be exactly the same and yet be described as a variation. I believe the variation Danielewski is finding is in the interpretation. Finding a variation in what the passages will mean to someone can vary.
In a footnote on page 42 you read, “Suffice it to say Menard’s nuances are so fine they are nearly undetectable, though talk with the Framer and you will immediately see how haunted they are by sorrow, accusation and sarcasm.” Then on page 94 Borges says, after writing the same passages as Danielewski, “Historical truth, for Menard, is not “what happened;” it is what we believe happened.” Are Menard nuances are fine in a way he is simple minded? I found it interesting when Danielewski capitalized the word Framer, as if that is a name. A comparison of Menard and the Framer, from a believable person in Menard, yet a Framer who is described on a level on different ends of the spectrum. Described as being filled with sorrow, accusation and sarcasm. I found a framer in three words is describing mostly all people. Sorrow and sarcasm are interesting to describe an individual, sadness and grief but also irony and mocking. My interpretation of the two identical passages in House of Leaves is similar to the description of the Framer. When searching for a meaning of the two passages, I believe it’s the delivery in which the passage is given.
The framer to me seems to have a similar description to Johnny. Johnny shows numerous times throughout the novel of being filled with sorrow, accusation, and sarcasm? As Danielewski describes the framer I believe he is describing what Johnny means to the reader.
Sorrow is a feeling that to me seems to be mildly common among most people. In your life sorrow or sadness is a feeling that most will experience. This feeling though can be experienced to certain degrees or levels. I believe there are situations that call for more sorrow than others. For example a death may cause someone more sadness than the library having the book you want checked out. Johnny expresses his sadness a lot throughout this novel, on page xi in the introduction when we first meet Johnny,
“For a while there I tried every pill imaginable. Anything to curb the fear. Excedrin PMs, Melatonin, L-tryptophan, Valium, Vicodin, quite a few members of the barbital family. A pretty extensive list, frequently mixed, often matched, with shots of bourbon, a few lung rasping bong hits, sometimes even helped. I think it’s pretty safe to assume there’s no chemicals I need. A Nobel Prize to the one who invents that puppy.”
This quote explains the emotional roller coaster Johnny takes us on throughout this novel. In his explanation of the drugs or chemicals he is using I believe he is trying to mask the sadness emotions he feels from his life. Johnny seems to be always expressing desperation, the first line of this quote, “…I tried every pill imaginable,” the sign of a desperate person for some sort of answer. He seems to be a painter mixing colors on his pallet to hopefully find a tint to perfectly fit into his masterpiece. Danielewski is a creative writer that uses Johnny’s exploration through his drug use to show his constant need for emotional cover-up. In the paragraph on page xi Johnny also uses his always-witty sarcasm, when he offers a Nobel Prize to a person who can invent a chemical to fix all of his problems.
Following the two passages Johnny gives an interesting reaction that I felt I could relate too. His first attack on “exquisite variation,” he seems angry. The feeling of frustration with finding a distinction between the two seems to come over him. After a quick fight for a meaning, he seems to search for his discrepancy. “I just kept reading both pieces over and over again, trying to detect at least one differing accent or letter, wanting to detect at least one differing accent or letter, getting desperate in that pursuit, only to repeatedly discover perfect similitude, though how can that be, right?” says Johnny in describing his frustrations of differing the two exact passages. Through this entire paragraph like we have seen before in Johnny, the same sentence separated only by commas, is the one sentence. In this quote in particular Johnny seems to have a similar feeling of the description of the Framer. You seem at the beginning anger and frustration than into this quote I felt a sense of sorrow from Johnny. He seems disappointed and grieving that his search for a meaning is merely impossible. Yet he, in the same sentence, changes his train of thought and goes into the other end of the spectrum into sarcasm.
In Johnny’s testimony to the passages from both Miguel de Cervantes and Pierre Menard that both are identical but search for distinction he is frustrated and bothered. In the style of Danielewski he shows Johnny’s feelings in the illustration of run-on sentences. The entire paragraph is one sentence. In this style you find it similar to the time Johnny is on ecstasy. From his reaction the drugs and his loss of control of the situation Danielewski shows his emotions through the use of this style. The entire two pages once he is on the drugs is one sentence. I believe Danielewski is trying to rely the emotions Johnny is feeling through his style and run-on sentences as Johnny’s mind is running away with him.
In, The A-Mazing House: The Labyrinth as Theme and Form in Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, by Natalie Hamilton she takes an approach of comparing Danielewski to the labyrinth as a symbol for the novels style. The labyrinth is a perfect comparison when thinking about Johnny as a person, his emotional maze he tries to take the reader through. Hamilton says, “Johnny Truant enters his own labyrinth through Zampanò’s text, but readers are also allowed access to additional material about Truant in the Appendices by way of his mother’s letters and his poems.” Hamilton interested me in the comparison of Johnny and his emotional craziness to that of a labyrinth. Yet later she goes on to add a comment by a reviewer of Danielewski Allen Ruch, “when Truant begins probing deeper into his own fears and anxieties, not to mention hallucinations, his words start acquiring a believable urgency, conjuring a chilling image of a young man descending into his own dark labyrinth.” Ruch’s comment begs the question of Hamilton, from Johnny’s constant hallucinations if the Navidson Records are a creation of Zampanò and if Zampanò is not a creation of Johnny to help him deal with his emotions. Johnny becomes an unreliable source in this novel when his creditability of the Navidson Records, is questioned.
Danielewski uses two identical passages to create a different meaning. To the eye is the passages the same? The answer is obviously yes; I believe the passages are symbolisms for Johnny. The passages are the same yet given in different contexts. Johnny physically is the same person yet beneath the surface he hinds many emotions masked by the situations he puts himself into. When a reader first reads the passages like Johnny we look for a difference. If we look at Johnny in one situation versus another he physically looks the same. Johnny doing drugs and Johnny sober looks to the eye as an identical person, consequently under his physical appearance it’s vastly different.
In conclusion finding a meaning of two exactly identical passages being different is like finding the state in which Johnny has put himself. As a reader interpretation is up to you, this is the freedom of being a reader. Through the symbolism of Hamilton, the labyrinth offers an imagery of the structure of this novel and Johnny himself. The use of labyrinth as a theme parallels the literary works of Borges, in which the second passage of the two Danielewski uses. Although sometimes confusing and difficult, it is up to the reader to find what it means to them. I’ll go back to my original opinion of these two identical passages not to “judge a book by its cover.”
Mark Z. Danielewski refuses to comment on why every word “house” in his House of Leaves in printed in blue. Critics have made connections to media, especially the internet, but Danielewski asserts that it is each individual’s right to make of it what one wishes and therefore cannot impose his own meaning. In one perspective of the novel, my perspective, every house is blue in order to thematically represent heaven and the hope of not only entering heaven but of a better life while on earth. Once understanding this concept, different passages in the book can be better understood, such as Karen’s short film and the children’s drawings.
In a critical examination of House of Leaves, Jessica Parker illustrates how the novel cannot only read by itself, the experience lies also with the accompanying website, second text The Whalestoe Letters and music (107). Because of this take she likens the blue words of every house to that of hyperlinks on the internet, like the interaction of different sources on a vast variety of knowledge since the novel is not only out of order but constantly linking back on itself in different scenarios (108). However, Parker goes back on herself when including an interview with Danielewski; he states that the “blue color of ‘house’ is not meant to invoke digital technology but rather to represent cinematic effects” (121). Cinematic effects such as special effects to illustrate fantasy worlds (like the film The Matrix) or cinematic effects such as subtle color changes to illustrate differences in society (Pleasantville)?
Since special effects have no place in written media, understanding Danielewski to mean ‘cinematic effects’ like that of Pleasantville—where the film gradually gains color as the community becomes less naïve and less disillusioned to the teenage empowerment—House of Leaves and its colors begins to strike a deeper chord. Martin Brick, in a critical essay on the novel, asserts that the blue is in actuality a modern version of rubrication (the medieval tradition of highlighting certain words in red for emphasis and power) in order to catch the readers’ attention but not demand authority (paragraphs 3 & 4). While Brick makes no conclusion as to the meaning of such blueness, Katherine Halyes connects the blue of the text to “the blue screen of a movie backdrop onto which anything can be projected, then the text is attempting to project into this space the linguistic signifiers for everything in the world, as if attempting to make up through verbal proliferation the absolute emptiness of the House as a physical space” (792). Case and point being that there are multiple ways to interpret Danielewski’s use of blue for every written “house” from internet hyperlinks to medieval script, to film projection.
Stemming from the final film projection, and its ability to be nothingness with the possibility of what’s to come, the blue “house” has stood out to mean the endless expanse of hope and even its vague end of a heaven. As the beginning screen to any film the blue projection offers similar features: the open possibility that anything may follow, the hope that this following will be pleasant to behold, the reaching goal that the ending will suffice our needs throughout the film…This is similar to needs in life: for life to go smoothly, the boundless hope people carry throughout it, and the goal of reaching and/or achieving all that life has to offer. This perspective of the color blue can be seen throughout its different positions within the novel.
Heaven is defined as the overarching goal to an “ethereal and gentle place” after life as Danielewski describes it during Navidson’s dream (398). In this dream Navidson is in a bare room with nothing but a well that has a long slide attached to the bottom, where the water usually is. He understands that to go down the well and fall forever down that slide is like a hell, a forever in agony and never reaching any sort of end, however, “if he has lived a good life, a blue light will carry him to some ethereal and gentle place” (398). He will go to heaven, because of this blue light. In addition to this, when Navidson is in the house he is on the verge of dying from exposure, he sees another blue light. This light is the last thing audiences can see—that presumably Navidson can see—before the next shot comes of Karen cradling Navidson out on the front lawn (489, 523). Inches from death he sees this blue light and is transported to the safety and security of the outside world again. In both instances, the blue light can be seen as a symbol for heaven. In the first, it is literally transporting the dead into another world and in the second example Navidson leaves the hell of the frigid, black house to life again. Heaven is the place in which one yearns for.
In a similar vein to the first example of Navidson’s death dream and transporting people to heaven, a third example has nothing to do with Navidson but merely the act of dying. In a side story made up by Johnny, he describes the baby “with holes in its brain” born with severe health issues (518). This baby was also born cyanotic. Blue. The baby lasts mere days before dying with miracle-like fashion: before the doctors have a chance to disconnect the life-support, the mother whispers her permission for him to “go now” and he flat lines the next instant (521). This baby had more or less been born already half-dead, caught between the earthly world and heaven, which was illustrated through Danielewski’s description of his birth as cyanotic. This follows the previous examples of blue pertaining to heaven as an otherworldly place. The final example brought to light is in the letters from Johnny’s mother. She describes her dream of Johnny as if he were water, “so beautiful and elegant and all blue...Gods assembled around [him] and paid their respects” (592). Once again, blue in the sense of otherworldly, even godly, like heaven. And heaven is a place of paradise, of every positive thing imaginable, of a world of good, nice people, a place of hope (for what is life without hope for the future?) and thus blue has roots in projecting hope throughout House of Leaves as well.
As the aforementioned example of Navidson on the verge of death in the house, one could say the blue light he saw could represent hope of rescue or escape. The theme of hope through rescue or escape back to a better place is also illustrated through Johnny. At points it is obvious Johnny is having mental problems ranging from paranoia to schizophrenia, and at one point he even visits a doctor (assuming a psychiatrist) who prescribes him “chalk-blue” pills (179). Regardless of the fact Johnny does not take them, the pills offer a way out of his madness, a hope for a return to sanity, a hope of a rescue or escape from insanity. Danielewski wrote these pills to be blue in order to convey such messages. Other examples illustrate this subtle mention of hope through the color blue as well. Such examples include Johnny’s initial dealings with Thumper and Karen’s hand mirror. In his initial dealings with Thumper, after the initial shock and passion, Johnny describes Thumper through his minds projection: “hips curving like coastal norths, tits rising and falling beneath her blue sweatshirt the way an ocean will do long after the storm has passed” (52). Her sweatshirt is blue. He has hope for her, hope of fucking her. This hope is just like Karen’s hope of dismissing the demons of her fourteenth year. As noted by a fictional article in House of Leaves, Karen had once been “exuberant, feisty, charming, independent…and most of all fearless” when she was fourteen, but by fifteen had shut up inside herself and wasn’t as outgoing (58). In order to maintain her composure, however, she would practice her smile in a little blue hand mirror, in hopes to avoid looking as if she held demons. For her, the hope was to return to normalcy.
Taking such a perspective on the color blue and how it is projected in different parts of the text to connect to heaven and hope, offers different interpretations of other aspects of the text that also incorporate color. Two specific incidences—Karen’s short film and the children’s drawings—can be put into new perspectives through the ideals of hope and heaven.
Karen begins her work on a short film when she leaves the house in Virginia with the kids, but does not see Navidson. In their separation she creates a film on his life, starting with his parents and family life, snaking through his experience overseas, and lastly ending on his family with him holding his daughter up to the sun (366-368). In a first read this is a documentary on his life; she makes it of him because she misses him; audiences are fully aware of his life and psychological stance. When taken into account the aspect of blue, one notices the film starts with a blue screen (“so in the first black frame, what greets [audiences] is no sinister but blue”). Not only is the short a documentary about Navidson, but it is Karen’s hope for a future again with him, regardless of her previous ultimatum. At this point readers are aware of her sentiments towards Navidson, but are questioning her following through on leaving him since he journeyed into the house. At this moment when the first blue screen appears, the doubts disappear, readers know that she wants him back, misses him, yearns for the family life with him again, the heaven of their peak years. In conjunction with Hayles and her blue meaning the beginngin projection to a film theory, the blank blue frame in the beginning of films offer all of this hope for the future yet to come.
Secondly when readers come across the chapter dealing with the children’s drawings in chapter eight, the first and second glances are not so similar. Both children are asked to draw pictures of their houses, just as normal schoolchildren are. In Chad’s drawing there is a large black square taking up more than half of the page and it is surrounded by terrifying creatures (tigers, dragons, wolves) (313). In Daisy’s drawing there is another black square—though this time mixed with cobalt—surrounded by creatures (314). Upon first reading it seems demonic, both of these drawings, and while they are quite disturbing, there is something beneath the initial reaction. When combining with the theory that blue represents hope and heaven, the wolves from Chad’s drawing that are protruding from “cadmium woods” and Daisy’s square “composed of several layers of black and cobalt blue” are in essence yearnings for peace (313, 314). In both scenarios, to include blue, means including a layer of hope and this hope is pointed to what the children want more than anything: not to be afraid any longer. The black abyss of the house has the entire family out of whack and people are getting hurt, the children in their nativity want nothing more than the peace of normalcy again, which is reflected within this blue stain on their drawings.
Through the use of blue throughout his novel, Danielewski illuminates layers of meaning behind his already layered text. The blue of every “house” stands out to point readers to look and notice the other colors within the novel and from there connect them to each reader’s own perspective. Blue has connected throughout the novel with ideas of hope and longing, of the endless reach of one’s own hope in this world, and for that of the world beyond, whatever that world may be. In realizing such a connection the novel reads differently as a whole, but specifically when blue is concerned minutely in deep passages (such as Karen’s short or the children’s drawings). With this new perspective other themes pop from the otherwise obvious scenes. Danielewski not only writes his House of Leaves, he paints it.
Brick, Martin. "Blueprint(s): Rubric for a Deconstructed Age in House of Leaves." Philament. The University of Sydney. http://sydney.edu.au/arts/publications/philament/issue2_Critique_Brick.htm.
Hayles, N. Katherine. 2002. Saving the Subject: Remediation in House of Leaves. American Literature, 74, 779-806. Retrieved from Project MUSE.