Spooky fireside stories about subconsciousness

House of Leaves by Danielewski, Mark Z.
When I pick this up a few years ago I didn’t know what I was embarking on. I didn’t know the story would haunt me, that it would taunt me from the bookshelf next to the bed, that everyday occurrences would remind me of it’s oddity, that it would become the pretentiously thick book i’d ‘recommend’ but only to ‘certain people’ who could ‘handle the contents’.
No spoiler warning necessary because there’s nothing to give away, but a warning that this book is a panic attack in waiting. It can be stressful to read in that it is relatable and palpable. Evoking these emotions is not always desirable depending on what else is happening in our lives. This piece of literature is nihilist in that the story twists and turns and disconnects from the pages as it leaps into life. I had to remind myself this is nothing, it’s only a story.
Each character set, in their intersecting dimensions, spelunks into the multifaceted realms of subconsciousness. Whether subconsciousness is told thru Johnnyz journey to sobriety in LA or whether it’s thru the impossible depths of the Navidson’s country home this book toys with my sense of reality and fiction. By recommending this book I feel like the minotaur in the hedge-maze quoting The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto 3, “abandon hope, all ye who enter here!”
I’ve never been to LA so elements of Johnnyz story are lost on me. What I enjoyed about it is the magical realism of the house. In this house, the Navidson’s and friends reveal that an average hallway door leads to a depth that goes as deep as the mind of the person who enters. The family and friends end up losing themselves by exploring this bottomless hallway.
This summer, I decided to reread this book outside while camping rather than inside a tiny Colfax adjacent apartment. Sitting comfortably in my robe after a day of hiking, I’d tend to a fire (before the fire ban) and as nighttime enveloped the Rocky Mountain landscape I read aloud to the moose how Will Navidson’s team wondered into the the darkness of the void, flowing down accordion stairways only to return with less certainty over reality,

From page 85, ‘”It’s so deep, man, it’s like it’s almost dream like.”
This last comment is actually not uncommon, especially for individuals who find themselves confronting vast tenebrific spaces. Back in the mid-60’s, American cavers tackled the Sotano de las Golondrinas, an incredible 1092ft hole in Mexico’s Sierra Madre Oriental. They used rope, rappel racks, and mechanical ascenders to make the descent. Later on, one of the cavers described his experience: “I was suspended in a giant dome with thousands of birds circling in small groups near the vague blackcloth of the far walls. Moving slowly down the rope, I had the feeling that I was descending into an illusion and would soon beome park of it as the distances became unrelatable and entirely unreal.”

As House of Leaves can get seriously spooky I paired it with Dark Horse’s Creepy presents Alex Toth
This compilation of Toth’s work in Creepy and Eerie comes from 1960-80s. I ended up reading this stuck in my shaded tent on a super sunny afternoon at the campsite. I only meant to avoid the heat of the day but it was such a fun read I kept going until dark.

If you’re also gleening Toth’s work to study how horror writing worked a few decades ago here’s what I found: The stories themselves are okay. They’re cuter than they are nightmare inducing. It’s worth noting that each panel packs in a lot of story and in only a few pages the overly dramatic stories are wrapped up neatly. What’s fun are the narrator’s transitions and the variations in the art styles. Overall, it reminds me of the Crypt Keeper hokey-cheesy stories that belong in the back of a smut mag to remind the ooglers that there are supernatural consequences to human debauchery.

Speaking of consequences to debauchery. I was still craving horror when i returned home from this camping trip and so lept into my library and into the pages of Junji Ito’s No Longer Human. Originally a novel by Osamu Dazai, this story, like Johnnyz narrative in House of leaves, touches on the drunken side of subconsciousness. The characters are written and then drawn out in a way that is difficult to like or dislike. Each person seems all too real and all too fictional. The circular text follows comic strip and smut artist Yozo Oba across his lifespan drawing ties from his experience of sexual abuse as a child to his substance abuse as an adult. These experiences inevitably alter his relationship with his family and with the community. As the story plays out like an opera there is a overarching subconsiousness to the book that dwells on the strong connections of how each person’s life is communally and individually constructed.

P 252-253

While rereading No Longer Human in this cool, dark apartment, resting from the intense high altitude sun, I also rewatched the film Maleficent with Angelina Jolie, Sharlito Coplay, Elle Fanning and a terrific cast & crew directed by Robert Stromberg in 2014. Giving backdrop to the evil queen of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, the retelling of this old story builds empathy for her angry vengeance. Rather than drunkenness or drugs or exploring the wondrous depths of grief like the Navidson’s as the catalyst, subconsciousness in Maleficent is viewed from the traumatized lens of having lost consciousness at the hands of another person. This film has that trademark empowerment that comes with A. Jolie’s film presence. She brought a depth to this fantasy role that leaves us with space to think about our own felt traumas with room for neither pity for our vulnerability to harm nor the placation for our desires for revenge.

Thanks for reading and as always Raise hell peacefully, Anne Arkhane

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