“It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in”*
Halloween is fast approaching and it’s time, once again, to consider tales of horror and the supernatural. As a rule I don’t go for scary things. Certainly I abhor the current trend of movies that substitutes gore for character and content. In fact, when I’m in the mood for shivers, I usually return to old favorites like Shirley Jackson or Algernon Blackwood. Ambrose Bierce is just too creepy for me. Still, there’s nothing so good as a haunted house, is there?
“No Human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice.” (Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House)
It fits this picture pretty well, doesn’t it? And then there’s this one:
“Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil. In the case of the latter, no particular feature need betray them; they may boast an open countenance and an ingenuous smile; and yet a little of their company leaves the unalterable conviction that there is something radically amiss with their being: that they are evil. Willy nilly, they seem to communicate an atmosphere of secret and wicked thoughts which makes those in their immediate neighborhood shrink from them as from a thing diseased.” (Algernon Blackwood, The Empty House and Other Stories)
Aside from the fact that those two passages are remarkably similar (albeit Jackson’s is notably better), they both emphasize the possibility that a house can simply be bad from the start. Nowadays, I suppose, we’d say the feng shui needed work. In any case, there’s no denying that people react to places and that some places seem intrinsically creepy.
Even Jane Smiley recognizes that,
“There’s nothing more haunted than a house. Doesn’t matter where, how grand, how small, made of brick, straw, stone, or gingerbread, whether perfectly cared for or blown to bits. Beings gather there. Every house is a planet, exerting gravitational pull. Every house is in a dark wood, every house has a wicked witch in it, doesn’t matter if she looks like a fairy godmother…”
She seems to be trying to capture the house as a trap for “accumulated human experience”, but I don’t see why that has to be negative. I LIKE the patina of age and use. The only houses I’ve ever been in that really bothered me were the perfect, everything-in-its-place, carpeted-to-silence, and as impersonal- as-a-hotel type of house. They are as soulless as the people who live in them. Now THAT’S scary.
Give me a crumbling haunted house any day. At least it was once a home.
*Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House