Monday 4 October 2010

Musing on haunted houses

This picture was taken during our holidays in the Lake District, in Keswick. The austere, sinister beauty of this house struck me as perfect for a haunted house. "If that's how your mind works" said my wife when I told her this earlier this evening, and I have to put it as a great unknown line (number 12 if you are counting) before going any further. I will also put here a disclaimer: I have no interest here about "real hauntings", which I don't believe in. This post is about the haunted houses of folklore and literature.

I am reading ghost stories these days and it got me thinking about the haunted house as a theme and a dramatic setting. Ghost stories are probably more often set in houses, however old, than in ancient castles. There are a number of theories about this: both haunters and haunted can be perceived as intruders, stories are scarier when a familiar, seemingly secure environment reveals a malevolent presence, etc. If you are into literary analysis, you can can read the introduction of The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories by Michael Newton: there is a good part of the text that reflects about the significance of haunted houses. I have my own theories about them: for authors and readers, everyday life must have felt sometimes opressive and because of its very banality threatening. Having ghosts invade familiar environment could have been a way to introduce through fiction ecitement in the desperately boring nature of the life of ordinary people.  The same motivation might be at the basis of many claims of real hauntings: you appear more heroic if you said you struggled against the Forces of Darkness than if you tell your investment in a house was a poor decision.

There is a problem with haunted houses as a setting: when things start getting ugly, why wouldn't the tenants leave? The threatening environment is limited to a closed space. Writers have to be inventive to keep their characters in the place: the house is in a secluded area and blocked from external help, or the characters want to be there to see for themselves if the house is haunted, or something of the sort. I often wonder how I would deal with haunted houses if I ever decide to write a horror story. I dabbled with the plot device when I was playing Call of Cthulhu, but not all that much. During my days in Liverpool, I dreamt of turning the house I was living in in a haunted house in a short story. I had the perfect setting, sadly no plot ever came to my mind. Maybe one day I will give it proper thoughts. This post is a start.


The Artful Gypsy aka Wendy the Very Good Witch said...

Ooh...great post Guillaume! And a wonderful image as well. And tis' true that it is definitely how MY mind works, so I would have thought it to look 'haunted' as well. Go figure!

And you're right...why is that those being haunted never just get the heck out of there while the getting is good? Because then the story would end...and what fun would that be? If you and your wife have other such photos from your travels, be sure to post them some time! :o)

Gwen Buchanan said...

Looks like the acoustics would be great to sing opera in too... maybe an opera singer(you) could live there in your story. why not combine all the things you love...

Guillaume said...

@Wendy-The motivations of the haunted to stay in the house is something that obsessed me.
@Gwen-Now there's an idea.