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Issue #134 - October/November 2006

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The Little House of Horrors

By Cheryl Morgan

It is May, and WisCon. Mike Levy and I are browsing the shelves of A Room of Oneís Own, Madisonís feminist bookstore. Mike pulls a book of the shelf. "Have you read this?" he asks. "It was recommended to me by Jeff VanderMeer. It is quite extraordinary. And so it is.

Extraordinary, adj

1. Beyond what is ordinary or usual

2. Highly exceptional; remarkable.

American Heritage Dictionary

Life isnít all roses being a celebrity couple. He, Will "Navy" Navidson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist. She, Karen Green, is a top model. He spends way too much of his life rushing off a short notice to risk his life in search of interesting photos. She spends his absences consoling herself in the arms of her many suitors. Eventually they agree that something must be done. They buy a country house in Virginia and move in with their two children. Navy starts a project making a home movie about their new life. He hopes it will distract him from adventures. Instead it provides valuable documentary evidence that The House they have bought is not a normal house at all. Normal houses do not spawn additional hallways overnight.

Zampanò was eighty years old when he died. He was perhaps an archetypal fanatic, for he had devoted most of the latter part of his life to writing a book about his favorite movie. The Navidson Record is deservedly one of the worldís most famous horror movies. Although the footage was shot by amateurs, one of those amateurs was an award-winning photojournalist with a genius of an eye for shot composition. And then there is the mystery surrounding the film. Will Navidson and Karen Green continue to this day to maintain that the film is a truthful record of actual events. Certainly the people who died in it have never been seen again. And there is one compelling piece of evidence. Hollywood professionals attest that producing special effects of that quality would have cost millions: money that Navidson and his associates clearly never had.

So Zampanò devoted his life to writing a book about the film. It is part fan eulogy, part academic study. It covers all of the many areas of controversy surrounding the film, and occasionally takes off into lengthy diversions on subjects as diverse as the architecture of mazes, the physics required to explain what Navidson has filmed, and Biblical parallels to the relationship between Navy and his brother, Tom.

Somewhat by accident, Johnny Truant came into possession of Zampanòís papers after he died. It wasnít something Truant was planning to do. Life was too good. He and his pal, Lude, had a nice life going cruising parties in Los Angeles. They took lots of drugs, they had lots of sex with lots of (mainly artificially) perfect women. They had no thought for literature, or even for horror movies. But Truant made the mistake of starting to read the book, and thus he made three discoveries. Firstly, rather like the notorious Necronomicon, Zampanòís book holds a curious fascination for those who read it. Second, aside from a small group of women who had helped Zampanò transcribe his thoughts, no on had ever heard of The Navidson Record. The famous people supposedly interviewed by Zampanò, or in the film, responded to Truantís enquires with bemusement or anger. And finally, Zampanò needed his cadre of female assistants because he, the great movie critic, was totally blind. Perhaps that explains his fascination with Navidsonís tale of a journey into bottomless darkness. If, indeed, Navidson ever existed.

House of Leaves, a book edited from confused notes left by Johnny Truant, cannot possibly have existed. After all, Will Navidson took a copy of it with him to read on his final expedition into The House. He finally got to read it as he lay dying of hunger and exposure somewhere deep within the infinitely extensible bowels of the building. There being no light in the depths of The House, Navidson first exhausted his matches, and then began to burn the pages he had already read as a source of light. At this point he became seriously irritated with Truant, or whoever the author was, because someone had made the darned book very difficult to read.

Not only is House of Leaves a book by a crazy person, edited by a crazy person, and about the adventures of a crazy person, it is also very oddly structured. It must have driven the production department crazy. The text wanders all over the place. It turns upside down and sideways. It expands and contracts. It litters the pages like autumn leaves. Chunks of it are in foreign languages. Many people who try to read House of Leaves will end up throwing the book against a wall. Will Navidson couldnít, because where he was at the time there were no walls.

And the text has footnotes. So do the footnotes. Have footnotes, that is. Some of the footnotes to the footnotes have footnotes. The editors have helpfully set the footnotes in different typefaces so that the reader can tell who is footnoting who, which is important because both Zampanò and Truant were occasionally in the habit of footnoting their own footnotes. Besides, Truantís footnotes tend to ramble over several pages. He seems to think it important to tell us the story of his life as well as tell us about Zampanòís book.

Like the great wyrm, Orobouros, also known as Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent, House of Leaves spends a lot of time eating its own tail.

Which is perhaps significant. This has nothing to do with the plethora of footnotes, but if you look carefully you will see that House of Leaves is, stripped of the centuries of civilizing influences of folklorists that went into creating Susanna Clarkeís beautiful confection, simply the tale of how Will Navidson became the Raven King. Read the final page again if you donít believe me.

There is no such film as The Navidson Record.

There is no such book as House of Leaves.

There is no such person as Mark Z. Danielewski.

Everything I say three times is True.

House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski - Pantheon - trade paperback

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Emerald City - copyright Cheryl Morgan - cheryl@emcit.com
Masthead Art copyright Steven Stahlberg (left) and Gerhard Hoeberth (right)
Additional artwork by Frank Wu & Sue Mason
Designed by Tony Geer
Copyright of individual articles remains with their authors
Editorial assistants: Anne K.G. Murphy & Kevin Standlee