Books

House of Leaves Explained-All the References

As some of us know, Mark Z. Danielewski’s seven-hundred-and-nine-page epic about a place beyond all dimension and comprehension (a term also applicable to what your cat thinks when you have to put it in a crate to take it to the vet), House of Leaves, has a large amount of fictional citations, false references, and made-up quotes peppered throughout.  

However, between the passages of trickery and fantasy, there are some pieces of media lovingly tucked away in House Of Leaves that exist, at least in our reality, that can be identified with a keen eye.

To spare you the time of combing through some of the more drab and fake footnotes that there would be innumerable amounts to pour through, (but then again, would you be here if you didn’t want to know about them?)  I’ll just tell you now.

Pages from House of Leaves

Photography

The references on page three to various types of photographical based manipulation are all real and worth a read up on. The Cottingley fairies Arthur Conan Doyle was so enamoured with were pictures supposedly taken of fairies. Kirlian photography was commonly thought to be a method used to capture auras, and Ted Serios’ Thoughtography was a series of photographs in which the man mentally transferred images onto photo paper, a power he discovered reportedly through hypnosis. As for Alexander Gardner, he was a civil war photographer who took photos of post-battle carnage at Gettysburg, the photos references presumably from A Harvest of Death. Psst! All of these photos, despite existing, were steeped in controversy, as they had each been manipulated or included deception in some way.

The Books of House of Leaves

As for real literary references, on page one hundred and thirty one the readers are treated to a large block of text, right off to the centre of the book itself, which seems to list them. Footnote 167 describes a piece entitled Vertical Influence. Nothing came up on that one. There lies mention of an author, Candida Hayashi, who isn’t the first inventive fake name that appears in House of Leaves. On page one hundred and twenty six, a footnote gives us the name Nupart Jhunisdakazcriddle, and mentions their fictional book, Killing Badly, Dying Wise. I’m sad these people and their books aren’t real.

After this fake book, we are treated to a listing of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, in which… Now tell me if this sounds familiar, an old spooky house crumbles and collapses presumably into the hell that spawned it. See any similarities? 

Consider the dubious sounds that existed in that great negative space in House of Leaves (SPOILERS) that drove Holloway insane enough to shoot his fellow explorer and its likeliness to that maddening noise that suggested inexplicable life under the floorboards in the Tell-Tale Heart. Or the Pit and the Pendulum, a story in which a pit is the final resting place to many an unfortunate few. Pairing that with the cold, dark descriptions of the inside of the house on Ash Tree Lane, which is the deathbed to a good chunk of Navidson’s exploration crew, we get an idea of just how many of Poe’s works feature dying in houses and going inside houses only to go insane in houses.

Book Cover from House of Leaves

Then, right next to it is Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting.  The book’s full title is The Haunting of Hill House, and yet here it is only listed with the first two words of the title. The Haunting of Hill House incidentally, is probably one of the best and loneliest books out there if you ever want to delve deep into (again) themes of a house, but one that is evil, that latches onto the protagonist and won’t let go. In fact, there’s a quote that appears almost in the beginning of the book that invites the same chills that the twisting halls and growly dreamscapes inside the house on Ash Tree Lane give us.

“Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting Of Hill House

Whatever we presume walked in the House on Ash Tree Lane, truly walked alone too, I bet.

Next mentioned we have Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, an American Gothic novel all about religious fanaticism, pure bad luck, and familial drama. In the book, nothing seems to go right for the Wieland family, with spontaneous combustion, sickness, and hearing voices being the main blights that plague them. This piece of literature was, in 1798, its own original birthing place for the iconic family drama, an Amityville Horror and contrasted with the woes Navidson experiences alongside his children and wife, it seems pretty aptly placed in this section.

Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer arrives a line afterwards, with surprisingly melancholic tones. Here is the book of alienation and existentialism, (and when I say “the” book I don’t mean “a” book) about a man who spends more time reading than socializing (hmm, know anyone like this?). The main character in The Moviegoer has a personality that demands of him the fantastical, yet leaves him stranded in the mundane. This novel seems more sad than it is horrifying, set to the off-beat malaise of New Orleans, and you certainly won’t find it in the gothic horror section at a library. But, seeing how it deals with the same themes of Camus’ The Stranger when it comes to isolation and an inability to relate, it’s easy to understand that the same isolation in The Moviegoer is inside House of Leaves too. 

Between Dante’s Inferno, Paradise Lost, Conard’s Heart of Darkness and Stephen King’s The Breathing Method, (Go right to Different Seasons, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars) there’s a real enough feast in these passages, enough to gain insight into inspirations and past flirtations House of Leaves has evidently had with horror and classical literature.


And here, finally, miles away from the Spiral Staircase of truth and the Great Dining Room of fiction, we stop our adventure for a ways, reader, as abruptly as we entered this grand hallway we found in a non existent closet. As while there is so much more to discover for yourself in the book (as many others have done), I think enough ground has been covered away from the growls that permeate this wretched place that we’ll be safe for the night inside the House on Ash Tree Lane. Got your matches? Great. Throw them out and let’s sit in this dark together, all the while knowing between us, even against our own logic, how real this place is for you and I.