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House of Leaves (2000) is the debut novel by writer Mark Z. Danielewski, published by Pantheon Books (ISBN 0-375-70376-4). The novel quickly became a bestseller following its March 7, 2000 release, although it had already developed a cult following through gradual release over the Internet. It was followed by the companion piece, The Whalestoe Letters (ISBN 0-375-71441-3).
The format and structure of the novel is unconventional, with unusual page layout and style (see ergodic literature). It contains copious footnotes, which often contain additional footnotes themselves; the direction of the text frequently flows in unusual directions; and some sections of the book have only a few lines of text or just a word or two on each page, arranged in strange ways, often to create (paradoxically) both an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic effect or to otherwise mirror the events in the story. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, which interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways.
WARNING: Spoiler warning!
This article contains plot, storyline, character, etc., details.
House of Leaves begins with a first person narrative by Johnny Truant, a Los Angeles tattoo parlor employee. Truant is searching for a new apartment when his friend Lude tells him about the apartment of the recently deceased Zampanò, a blind, elderly man who lived in the same building as Lude.
The rest of the novel alternates between Zampanò's report on the fictional film, Johnny's autobiographical interjections, and occasional brief notes by unidentified editors, all woven together by a mass of footnotes. There is also a fourth narrator, Johnny's mother, whose voice is presented through a self-contained set of letters titled The Whalestoe Letters. Each narrator's text is printed in a distinct font, making it easier for the reader to follow the sometimes challenging format of the novel.
(The rest of the Plot Summary includes spoilers.)
Zampanò's narrative deals primarily with the Navidson family: Will Navidson, a photojournalist (partly based on Kevin Carter), his partner Karen Green, an attractive former fashion model, and their two children, Chad and Daisy. Navidson's brother, Tom, and several other characters also play a role later in the story. The Navidson family has recently moved into a new home in Virginia.
Upon returning from a trip to Seattle, the Navidson family discovers a change in their home. A closet-like space shut behind an undecorated door appears inexplicably where previously there was only a blank wall. A second door appears next to it, leading to the children's room. As Navidson investigates this phenomenon, he finds that the internal measurements of the house are somehow larger than external measurements. Initially there is less than an inch of difference, but as time passes the interior of the house is found to be seemingly expanding, while maintaining the same exterior proportions. A third change asserts itself: a dark, cold hallway in their living room wall which, according to the laws of physics, should extend out into their yard, which it does not. Navidson films this strange place, looping around the house to show where the space should be and clearly is not. The fictional filming of this anomaly comes to be referred to as the 5 1/2-minute hallway. This hallway leads to a maze-like complex, starting with a large room (the "Anteroom"), which in turn leads to a truly enormous space (the "Great Hall"), a room primarily distinguished by an enormous spiral staircase which appears, when viewed from the landing, to spiral down without end. There are also a multitude of corridors and rooms leading off from each passage. All of these rooms and hallways are completely unlit and featureless, consisting of smooth ash-grey walls, floors, and ceilings. The only sound disturbing the perfect silence of the hallways is a periodic low growl, the source of which is never fully explained.
There is some discrepancy as to where the 5 1/2-minute hallway appears. It is quoted by different characters at different times to have been located in each of the cardinal directions. This first happens on page 57, in which Zampanò writes that the hallway is in the west wall, directly contradicting the northern direction of the hallway mentioned on page 4. Johnny's footnotes point out the contradiction.
Navidson, along with his brother Tom and some colleagues, are compelled to explore, photograph, and videotape the house's seemingly endless series of passages, eventually driving various characters to insanity, murder and death. Ultimately, Will releases what has been recorded and edited as The Navidson Record.
Zampanò's narrative is littered with all manner of references, some quite obscure, others indicating that the Navidsons' story achieved international notoriety. Luminaries such as Stephen King, Ken Burns, Camille Pagilia, and Jacques Derrida were apparently interviewed as to their opinions about the film. However, when Truant investigates, he finds no history of the house, no evidence of the events experienced by the Navidsons, and nothing else to establish that the house or record ever existed anywhere other than in Zampanò's text.
Many of the references in Zampanò's footnotes, however, are real--existing both within his world and our world outside the novel. For example, several times Zampanò cites the very real Time-Life book, Planet Earth: Underground Worlds (see page 125, footnote 159).
An adjacent story line develops in Johnny's footnotes, detailing what is progressing in Johnny's life as he is assembling the narrative. It remains unclear if Johnny's obsession with the writings of Zampanò and subsequent delusions, paranoia, etc. are the result of drug use, insanity, or the effects of Zampanò's writing itself. Johnny recounts tales of his various sexual encounters, his lust for a tattooed stripper he calls Thumper, and his bar-hopping with Lude throughout various footnotes. We also slowly learn more about his childhood living with an abusive foster father and engaging in violent fights at school. More information about Johnny can be gleaned from the Whalestoe Letters, letters his mother Pelafina wrote from the mental institution she was placed in after supposedly attempting to strangle Johnny, only to be stopped by her husband. She remained there after Johnny's father's death.
The Whalestoe Letters
Main article: The Whalestoe Letters
This story is included in an appendix near the end of the book, as well as in its own, self-contained book (with additional content included in the self-contained version). It consists of Johnny's mother's letters to him from a psychiatric hospital. The letters start off fairly normal but Pelafina quickly descends into paranoia and the letters become more and more incoherent. There are also several secret messages in the letters, which can be decoded by combining the first letter of consecutive words. Pelafina tells Johnny that she will be putting secret messages into her letters like this. One of the most important hidden sentences is on pg. 615 which reads "My dear Zampano who did you lose?"
Whalestoe is also an anagram for "Whose tale?" (The intended authorship of the entire book is unclear.)
It is speculated that this character is based on the famed Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. "...no one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same..." Borges is actually mentioned in the book in footnote 67 along with a menage of other writers. There is also a passage (on p. 42) from his short story, "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote".
Zampanò's trunk of written fragments may be drawn from the biography of Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. When Pessoa died, among his effects was a trunk containing tens of thousands of fragments, many attributed to his various heteronyms including Bernardo Soares, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos.
Concerning the ethnicity of Zampanò, the prevailing theory is that he was French, or served in the French Foreign Legion, and went blind during the defeat of that nation's military at Điện Biên Phủ. The following evidence is sometimes cited in support of this theory:
- The names of Zampanò's seven "lovers" are Beatrice, Gabrielle, Anne-Marie, Dominique, Eliane, Isabelle, and Claudine. Johnny writes "he apparently only brought them up when he was disconsolate and for whatever reason dragged back into some dark tangled time" (xxii). These names were not chosen merely because they sound French; rather, they were the nicknames of the seven French defense lines in the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ . One theory considering the origin of the names is that they were the names of the commanding officer's mistresses.
- Johnny tells us Zampanò was in his eighties when he died in 1998 (xxii). Therefore he was 26-36 during the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ, making him the perfect age to have served in the French Foreign Legion during that battle.
- Appendix D, "Letters to the Editor," consists of a letter that Zampanò wrote to the editor of the L.A. Herald-Examiner about the legitimacy of some rare World War II trench guns mentioned in an article the previous week. The letter is dated September 17, 1978. In the last paragraph, Zampano writes, "On a personal note, I wish to add that as I have been blind for over two decades, I had to determine most of this by feel" (554). Over two decades before 1978 puts us at 1958 at the latest, 1948 at the earliest. Too late for World War II, but early enough for the French Indochina wars, with Điện Biên Phủ almost right in the middle at 1954.
However, Zampanò is also the name of the brutish main character from La Strada, a famous movie by Federico Fellini, which, given the fact that the novel is very cinema-oriented, opens an entire new field for interpretation.
Johnny Truant serves a dual role; first as primary editor of "The Navidson Record" and our guide through the course of the story, and second as a secondary protagonist, as he informs us of the course of events in his own life.
In the beginning of the book, we are to assume that Truant (a pen name) is a normal, reasonably attractive young man who happens upon a trunk full of notes left behind by the now deceased Zampanó. As Truant begins to do the editing, however, he begins to lose the tenuous grip he has on reality, and his life begins to erode around him. He stops bathing, rarely eats, stops going to work, and distances himself from essentially everyone, all in pursuit of organizing the book into a finished work that, he hopes, will finally bring him peace.
Initially intrigued by Zampanò’s isolative tendencies and surreal sense of reality, Johnny unknowingly sets himself up as a victim to the daunting task that awaits him. As he begins to organize Zampanò’s manuscripts, his personal footnotes detail the deterioration of his own life with analogues references to alienation and insanity: once a trespasser to Zampanò mad realm, Truant seems to become more comfortable in the environment as the story unfolds.
Although arguments exist that suggest the main factors of the downfall of Johnny’s life are indeterminate or stem from his genetic predisposition for madness, or from his obvious disillusionment with life, the downward progression of the quality of his footnotes seems to reveal how his intelligence deteriorates as he delves further into Zampanò’s project.
Further, probing deeply into his own fears and anxieties, Johnny even has hallucinations that parallel those of Zampanò and members of the house search team when he senses “…something inhuman…” behind him (26). Spiraling downward into a dark labyrinth of his own, Johnny is therefore aware that his life has become unmanageable: his association with Zampanò’s task seems to have consumed him in his vulnerable state.
Pelafina H. Lièvre
Pelafina, more commonly referred simply as "P." is Johnny's institutionalized mother who appears in the appendix to the text.
One interesting thing to note about Pelafina H. Lièvre emerges in one of the many "typos" that appear in the book: in the letter written by The Director of the Whalestoe Institute alerting Johnny Truant to his mother's suicide, P's name is misspelled as "Livre" rather than "Lièvre". The word "livre" means "book" in French. Furthermore, a link between Zampanò and Pelafina is suggested within the text through both of them mispelling pieces as 'pisces', although the significance of this is unclear.
Pelafina's story is more fully developed in The Whalestoe Letters, which is included as an appendix (see above).
There are many unusual, and often disorienting, elements of House of Leaves.
One interesting feature of the paperback edition of the book is that the cover of the book is slightly smaller than the pages themselves, causing the edges of the pages to peek out of the side of the black cover. This parallels the Navidson house, which also has an inside which is larger than its outside. The gap on the paperback cover is exactly 1/4".
The text of the book is arranged on the pages in such a way that the method of reading the words sometimes mimics the feelings of the characters or the situations in the novel. While characters are navigating claustrophobic labyrinthine sections of the house's interior, the text is densely, confusingly packed into small corners of each page, while when a character is running desperately from an unseen enemy, there are only a few words on each page for almost 25 pages, causing the reader's pace to quicken as he flips page after page to learn what will happen next.
The unorthodox typography and arrangement of chapters or sections is similar to works by Milorad Pavić, allowing the reader to jump around from section to section at will while following footnotes or the multilayered narrative.
Many things are hidden within the text of the book. Going through the first letter of every footnote spells the author's name over time. Portions are written in alternating short and long paragraphs which turn out to be morse code that corespond to the text. Some codes, like the author's name, are simply fun to notice. Others actually have an impact that gives greater depth and meaning to the portion being read. One of Pelafina's letters includes a coded message apparently addressed to Zampanò, which reads: "My dear Zampanò, who did you lose?" (House of Leaves 615).
Throughout the entirety of House of Leaves (even including the cover and publishing information), the word house is colored blue (grey for non-color editions of the book and light grey for red editions), as in house, and is, in many places in the book, offset from the rest of the text in different directions at different times. Foreign-language equivalents of "house," such as the German "Haus" and the French "maison" are also blue. Red and full-color editions of House of Leaves have the word Minotaur colored red.
The reason behind this color choice is unknown. Theories abound, ranging from the blue text being intended to evoke the idea of a hyperlink, to comparisons of Navidson's name with the color navy blue, to a reference to Islamic manuscripts in which the name of God is colored (The idea that the house is god appears once in the book), or even to the color blue being used to refer to a blue screen, a theory in line with the idea that Navidson's house, like a blue screen, is fundamentally empty and without sentience or purpose, and is only filled and altered by the human consciousnesses that interact with it.
On the inside cover, where the Library of Congress information is listed, there is a note about differences in editions. In the full-color edition of House of Leaves, a struck line appears in purple in Chapter XXI.
Purple is associated throughout the novel with Pelafina, as it is the color of her long nails, and also the color of the ink Johnny is putting into needles when he has his panic attack in the supply closet.
The inside of the cover mentions a full-color "first edition" version including Braille. This edition was fictional for a long time, but Random House has recently published a "remastered, full-color edition," which is now available. The following editions are known and confirmed to exist:
- Black-and-White Edition - No colored words. Plain black text. House in grey.
- Blue Edition - House in blue. Minotaur and
struck passagesin regular black text.
- Red Edition - House in light grey. Minotaur and
struck passagesin red.
- Full Color Edition - House in blue. Minotaur and
struck passagesin red. On the jacket, A Novel and the Pantheon logo in purple. In the book, First Edition and the struck linein Chapter XXI in purple. The word Braille in the editions listing is Xed out. Appendices are full color plates.
House of Leaves originally began as a short story, titled Redwood. The idea of trees may have evolved into the Yggdrasil themes of the book.
A great amount of interaction exists between the house and the book, beginning with the title of the book, House of Leaves, where leaves is a synonym for pages, thus making the "house" a book.
House of Leaves is also the same title that Zampanò originally uses for his manuscript. Additionally, at the end of the book, when Navidson is falling through nothing inside the labyrinth, he reads a book supposedly called House of Leaves, burning the pages for light as he goes along. On page 551 though, it can be seen that the tape cut out before the name of the book could be seen, so "House of Leaves" was put in there for sake of irony.
As a key part of House of Leaves' fixation with academic, intellectual writing and obscurity in general, there are countless quotations and phrases strewn throughout the book in numerous other languages, ranging from Latin to Spanish to Old English. Some of these are translated, but many are not. A few of these phrases include:
- The first page of the book has the words "Muss es sein?" and nothing else written on it. This is almost certainly an allusion to Beethoven (see String Quartet No. 16 in F major). This is German for, literally, "Must it be?" This can also be interpreted as "Do I have to?", "Does it have to?", and other questions in a similar vein.
- Page 590 has the French "C'est vraiment triste," meaning "It's truly sad."
- Page 592 has the Italian "bambino dell'oro," meaning "child of gold."
- Page 595 has the Old English "Micel biþ se Meotudes egsa, for þon hī sēo molde oncyrreð," a quotation from the poem The Seafarer meaning "Great is the fear of the Lord, before which the world stands still."
- Page 599 has an Old English quotation from the poem Battle of Maldon meaning "Heart must be braver, courage the bolder / Mood the stouter, as our strength grows less."
- At different times, Truant says: "Known Some Call Is Air Am". Although it appears to be a random string of words, it is actually phonetically equivalent to "Non sum qualis eram" which is Latin and means "I am not as I was".
Note: While there are many theories on various aspects of House of Leaves, there is no overarching theory capable of completely explaining House of Leaves. It is convoluted on purpose, and many theories that are suggested by the book contradict and/or overlap each other.
The story of the Navidson Record is told through the blind Zampanò's written criticism of it, and Zampanò's writing is in turn filtered through Johnny's editing and expansion of it, which is then finally given to the Editors; through these multiple levels of conflicting realities.
Danielewski goes out of his way to further blur the lines of what is real and what isn't, and of who is writing what. There are many arguments, based on various parts of the text which blur who is writing what, that all of House of Leaves (or all of it excluding the Whalestoe Letters, for some theories) was written by a single character within the series.
Danielewski has stated many times that House of Leaves is a book that revolves around three characters, three narrators: Zampanò, Truant, and Pelafina. However, he has also insisted that Pelafina "is more pervasive throughout the book than most people recognize . There is even evidence to suggest that Pelafina is the in-story author of the entire novel.
The primary piece of evidence supporting Pelafina's authorship of the entire book is her font. As shown in The Whalestoe Letters, Pelafina's font is written in Dante. Other than in the Whalestoe Letters, the Dante font appears on two more pages in the book. The first is the title page, which says "House of Leaves, written by Zampanò, introduction by Johnny Truant." The second appearance is on the last page, which concerns Yggdrasil, the great ash tree in mythology that was at the center of the world.
Aside from this, there are considerations of why the font "Dante" was chosen. Many references are made throughout the novel to the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who wrote the epic Divine Comedy, most notably the journey through Hell described in the Inferno. Dante serves as the narrator of the Divine Comedy, arguably leading to the inference that Pelafina is the true narrator of House of Leaves. However, this interpretation still leaves open the question of who is Dante's guide through Hell (Virgil in the Divine Comedy), or Navidson's house, or the book itself: Zampano? Truant?
There are also theories that the Whalestoe letter on page 633 resembles Dante's map of Hell, though there are just as many theories that it resembles a spiral staircase, a tornado, or a blown-out torch with smoke rising up.
The book's actual authorship by Mark Z. Danielewski is a hazy presence within the story as well. While Danielewski obviously wrote the book in reality, whether he also wrote the book within the storyline of House of Leaves is yet another of the mysteries of the book.
Danielewski's name is encoded in the footnotes at several points: his full name in the first letters of footnotes 27-42 (p. 22-42), and his last name in the first letters of footnotes 46-53 (p. 41-43). This subtle yet complete shattering of the fourth wall is made even more surprising by the way it violates the narrative on every level and frame of reality (except Pelafina's, though that one's authenticity is called into question in other ways as well): within the two sequences, footnotes 27-32, 37-39, 46, 48-49, and 52-53 are Zampanò's, 33-34, 36, 40-41, 47, and 50 are Truant's, and 35, 42, and 51 are the Editors'. It seems that either one of those three entities must have heavily edited the other two's to create the pattern, or one of them (or someone else, like Pelafina or Danielewski himself) must have created their narratives entirely.
Though the reliability of Zampanò and Truant's narratives is regularly thrown into doubt in House of Leaves, this is one of the only points in the book where even the Editors' perspective is called into question.
However, the inclusion of this code may not be intended to be part of the larger mysteries of the book; it may be nothing more than a way for Danielewski to play with his readers, or for him to make it clear that House of Leaves is ultimately just a book.
In the paperback version, the first two pages, one of which reads "Mark Z. Danielewski's" are poorly bound and seemingly meant to fall out. With the pages intact, the first couple pages read "Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves by Zampano Edited by Johnny Truant". With the pages missing, it reads "House of Leaves by Zampano Edited by Johnny Truant".
Although the book is notably not entirely in Truant's font, it has been hypothesized that the book is written entirely by him as some sort of letter to Pelafina. There are apparently several similarities between Zampanò and Truant-- similar scarring (pg. 48?), corresponding traits (lack of friends/family, etc.), and a penchant for ginger ale.
Typographical and spelling errors
There are many spelling mistakes in House of Leaves, the most common being Truant's tendency to use "alot" in place of "a lot" and "would of" in place of "would have." Truant goes out of his way to ensure that readers will pay careful attention to any mistakes they see, as he says that he avoided correcting some of Zampanò's errors where they added to a deeper understanding of the man. This philosophy can be applied to other errors in the novel as well.
What seems to be a typographical error occurs in the second paragraph, third sentence of page 320 when Zampanò uses the first-person pronoun in place of the third-person one while writing about Tom Navidson: "He might have spent all night drinking had exhaustion not caught up with me." As Truant suggests repeatedly throughout his narrative that Zampanò made the entire book up, this "typo" seems to affirm that. The significance of this subtle error has been widely debated.
The word "pieces" is misspelled as "pisces" three times in the novel. One is in one of Pelafina's letters, at the bottom of page 599; another is on page 41 ("Pan, being the god of civility and restraint, tears her to Pisces"), and another on a photograph on page 552 ("the derivates seem to point to primary sense 'to wound, tear; pull to Pisces'"). This shared, unusual mistake between Zampanò's writings and Pelafina's Whalestoe Institute Letters is one of the strongest indicators that a single person (presumably Pelafina) wrote both, or at least had access to both (as well as a desire) to edit them and include the baffling error (presumably Truant).
It is worth noting that there are many times when "pieces" is not misspelled when used by Johnny and Zampanò (p. v., xiii., xvii., 6, 11, 17, 42, 69, 71, 84, 86, 87, 93, 111, 122, 147, 162, 248, 249, 296, 333, 337, 354, 367, 379, 385, 390, 405, 548), and even one time when Pelafina spells the word correctly, on page 635: "There are so many pieces to make sense of, the doctors all warn me to just put aside the last two years."
The significance of the specific typo itself is unknown. It may simply be a random mistake which Danielewski made and found to be more mythically resonant and interesting than most of his typos, and which he thus left in (and perhaps re-used more just to add to the mystery). It may also have genuine thematic significance, though there is no consensus as to how.
The check mark
The check mark that appears on the lower right hand corner of page 97 is one of the most subtly baffling mysteries in the entire book. It is generally considered to be an obvious reference to page 609, Pelafina's letter requesting Truant to "Place in [his] next letter a check mark in the lower right hand corner. That way [she'll] know [he] received this letter."
Furthermore, some argue the check mark is a direct allusion to SOS, a theme prevalent in chapter VIII: "SOS ... A wireless code-signal summoning assistance in extreme distress..." (pg. 97). Like the SOS signal, the check mark is a code which, when transmitted, provides assurance rather than assistance. Also interesting, the quote comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, which was sent to Johnny by his mother around the time Raymond was assigned his guardian (pg. 591), whose violent behaviour Johnny was target to during his late childhood.
This check implies that Pelafina has a strong presence throughout the House of Leaves, whether Truant is writing what he seems to be or not, and the check mark remains a mystery even if we assume that Pelafina is an author.
The check is also generally used as some sort of proof that the book is a letter to Pelafina and that Truant is the author, although he could have just as easily added the check in editing.
Pelafina's letters are first mentioned in the novel in an Editors' note suggesting that that readers see the Whalestoe Letters following Truant's panic attack, in which he injures his toe. This is meant to link to one of Pelafina's early letters, where it says:
- "Also remember, love inhabits more than just the heart and mind. If need be it can take shelter in a big toe.
- A big toe for you then.
- I love you."
Another, subtler link, however, is to the end of the Navidson Record, in which Navidson remarks that the one good thing that has come from his adventure is that his toe no longer bothers him; previously, he had suffered from itching and rashes on his toes, caused by stress. This may be a reference to him putting his trauma behind him, while Truant's injured toe is indicative of his continuing to be haunted by his mother. It also suggests a link between Navidson and Truant's characters, even though in most aspects of their personalities and stories they are quite different.
This does not necessarily suggest Pelafina's authorship, of course, if Truant is the true author of the Navidson Record, which is always another nagging possibility when considering cross-references between The Navidson Record and The Whalestoe Letters, considering that Truant is the obvious link between each.
Toes can also be linked to the "Pisces" references. In a classic astrological depiction of the zodiac placed upon the microcosm of man Pisces governs the feet/toes.
Pelafina as Karen
Near the beginning of the Navidson Record, a psychological profile of Karen, Navidson's wife, points out her emotional trauma as a teenager from a possible rape by her step-father, which she buried by "practicing her smile in a mirror" until it reached the point where it was perfect.
In one of her letters to Johnny, Pelafina closes by saying: "Practicing my smile in a mirror the way I did when I was a child." The significance of this link is still a mystery.
It is possible that Pelafina was also the victim of rape, perhaps providing another link to Karen. In the encrpyted Whalestoe letter, after a description of the 'rape' of her carried out by the institute's staff, she indicates it was not the first time: "your mother was raped (again)".
If one pays attention to the dates, the two could not possibly be literally the same, as Pelafina is writing her letters in the late eighties from Whalestoe while Karen is living with Navidson in New York. Pelafina dies in '89, while The Navidson Record is created in '90. (Of course, a literal equation of the two characters is also problematic due to their existence on two different levels of reality within the novel.) This does not, however, discount the clear echo between the characters. The extent to which Danielewski intends for Karen to be seen as an echo of Pelafina (or vice versa) is a question not particularly affected by a rational analysis of dates; the relationship between the characters is far more symbolic than this.
Zampanò and Pelafina's relationship
One of Pelafina's letters (p. 615) includes a coded message (in the first letter of each word in the second paragraph between "many" and "evil?") apparently addressed to Zampanò, which reads: "My dear Zampanò, who did you lose?"
There are also similarities between Johnny's revelations about losing his mother, and the original partial release of the Navidson documentary, "The 5 1/2-minute hallway."
Throughout the explorations of the Navidson house, an unnerving, low growl seems to follow the explorers. This growl is implicitly associated with the Minotaur of Greek mythology, thus making the house a form of the labyrinth of the Palace of Crete—and Navidson as Theseus, complete with fishing line in place of a spool of thread.
The growl eventually seems to be revealed as a noise accompanying the destruction of inanimate and dead matter within the Navidson house, as well as the shifting of hallways and rooms. The house naturally cleans itself of everything except living humans; ropes and other objects, along with corpses, are destroyed by the "Minotaur," and living animals seem to be immediately rejected by the house, and are transported out of the house into the front lawn whenever they enter it.
However, the Minotaur also seems to be a presence in the story beyond this, if only in the minds of the characters; it is implied by a set of strange gashes in the floor of Zampanò's apartment that the Minotaur somehow killed Zampanò, and Truant is subsequently haunted by paranoid fantasies of being pursued by a horrible monster. This may reflect an actual menacing supernatural force surrounding Zampanò and his work, or it may be a psychological projection of the fears of the characters onto the void, imagining horrible things where there is nothing, and thus creating their own monsters; a similar theory is one of the most popular explanations for how and why the house reacts to humans as it does.
The Minotaur is explicitly mentioned only in a number of digressions in The Navidson Record in which Zampanò explores the mythological concept, much as he took the time to explore the mythology (as well as the science) behind the echo. These passages are immediately noteworthy because they are all either in red text or appear as struck passages (
like this), depending on the version of the book. This device is apparently to reflect passages which Zampanò attempted to destroy, but which Truant was able to restore. Zampanò's reason for trying to blot out all mentioning of the Minotaur is never explained, though Truant speculates that it was a final, desperate attempt to escape the beast that would soon kill him.
Orpheus and Eurydice
The Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is another myth subtly referenced in the book. The themes of the myth are certainly comparable to many of those in House of Leaves, with Navidson traveling to a gloomy "underworld" of sorts, driven to madness by Delial rather than Eurydice, though Navidson's ending is less tragic. One could also interpret the myth's relationship to the Navidson Record in the opposite way: with Navidson, who becomes trapped in the house, as Eurydice, and his wife Karen, who confronts her claustrophobia and returns to the house to save him, as an Orpheus of sorts who actually succeeds in rescuing her love.
Orpheus is briefly mentioned by Truant in Footnote 34 on page 28, from a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke called "Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes." However, the myth is most obviously acknowledged in Pelafina's letters. On page 604, Pelafina compares her son to Orpheus as follows:
- "The way you turned your back on your mother and only looked back twice, not that twice shouldn't have been more than enough, after all once was too much for Orpheus, but your lookings seemed to signal in my heart some message of mortal wrong."
This comparison of Orpheus to Truant, and thus Pelafina to Eurydice (and the Institution to the underworld) is arguably sustained by what most fans consider a subtler reference to the myth on page 628, which includes the words "or free us with a glance" ("Orpheus with a glance") and "you rid a sea with dance" ("Eurydice with dance"). This interpretation is supported by the line "and banish love to verse," as Orpheus was most legendary for both his love, "banished" when he failed to save Eurydice, and for his song and poetry.
The page also includes the lines "for an only child is the chance / to end this wicked curse-", possibly another plea from Pelafina for her son to save her from the "underworld."
Of the number of words hidden in the first letters of various lines throughout the novel, this is the only one directly mentioned. (The only direct reference to this code is to be found in Pelafina's letter dated April 27, 1987, at the bottom of page 619.) It is said in chapter XXI by the band Liberty Bell to be found on page 387; indeed, to be precise, in the line "That house answers many yearnings remembered in sorrow." The significance of Thamyris is perhaps negligible, though he was famed as a singer, which would link to Danielewski's sister Poe, whose lyrics are also used by Liberty Bell.
There are numerous references to Yggdrasil, the great world-tree of Norse mythology. Some believe that the house itself is meant to be a representation of that tree, with the enormous, elaborate labyrinth as its roots.
The most obvious reference to this mythological archetype is that Navidson's house is located on Ash Tree Lane. In older versions of House of Leaves, the house was originally situated on Oak Tree Lane, and it was presumably changed as the Yggdrasil imagery rose in prominence.
Yggdrasil, and trees in general, may also serve the function of unifying a central theme and metaphor of House of Leaves: the comparison of books (such as House of Leaves itself, and The Navidson Record) and houses (such as Navidson's house).
"Leaves" is a synonym for the pages of a book, thus making the actual book a house of leaves. Trees are used to create both houses and paper for books.
The fact that the final page of House of Leaves has the word Yggdrasil highlights the great importance and connection between the mythological tree and elements of the novel. Below the name is this poem:
“What miracle is this? This giant tree.
It stands ten thousand feet high
But doesn’t reach the ground. Still it stands.
Its roots must hold the sky.”
The Yggdrasil itself is a giant ash tree and according to Norse mythology held beneath its roots the nine worlds of the universe and three magic wells. These wells feed the roots of the tree and it is the mythology of these wells that reveal startling parallels with House of Leaves.
In Norse mythology, the chief god Odin traveled to Mímisbrunnr, one of the magical wells which held the fountain of Mimir. He traveled under the name Vegtam the Wanderer. In order to gain wisdom and drink from the well, Odin sacrificed his left eye. In a later legend, Odin, while seeking eighteen magical runs, was hung from Yggdrasill for nine days and nights in order to gain the wisdom of the nine worlds.
The legends and sacrifices of Odin and other Norse gods are very similar to the story of Will Navidson, particularly in his final exploration into the labryinth. The “O” beneath the poem on the last page could very well stand for Odin, revealing the parallels between him and Navidson. Much like the gods had to make sacrifices to Yggdrasil, Navidson was also forced to make sacrifices before he could leave the house:
“the price he paid for living was not cheap. Frostbite claimed his right hand and clipped the top portion of one ear. Patches of skin on his face were also removed as well as his left eye.” (523)
At the end of his final exploration into the labrynth, Navidson sacrificed his hand, his left eye and part of his ear, which greatly mirrors some of the elements of Norse mythology. Whether Navidson gained some form of wisdom or insight like the god Odin is still debatable.
A note concerning Ash Tree Lane. In the United States, I located 15 roads named Ash Tree Lane.
1 Ashtree Ln Apalachin, NY 13732 2 Ashtree Ln, Cheraw, SC 29520 3 Ash Tree Ln, Colton, CA 92324 4 Ashtree Ln, Dayton, OH 45414 5 Ash Tree Ln, Harrisonburg, VA, 22801 *** 6 Ash Tree Ln, Helment, CA 92545 7 Ash Tree Ln, Hockessin, DE 19707 8 Ash Tree Ln, Houson, TX, 77073 9 Ash Tree Ln, Irvine, CA 92612 10 Ash Tree Ln, New Canaan, CT 06840 11 Ashtree Ln, North Billerica, MA 08162 12 Ash Tree Ln, Schenectady, NY 12309 13 Ash Tree Ln, Shiloh, OH 44878 14 Ash Tree Ln, Washington, VA 22747 *** 15 Ash Tree Ln, White Haven, PA 18661 *** Note, as it is well known, the house is in Ash Tree Lane is located in the state of Virginia.
Two roads in Virginia bear the Ash Tree Lane name.
The first in Harrisonburg, VA, 22801.
I believe this location is more representative of the road the house is on. There are many houses that are aligned in a typical neighborhood one may expect to see in a regular city. The Google Maps version is available  here. A more crisp and higher resolution image is offered at Microsoft's Teraserver site  Each of the houses appears to have some amount of land one could consider a backyard and appears to be more typical of the geographical location that is presented in the book.
The second is in Washington VA, 22747.
I found it quite interesting when I checked Google Maps, it did not offer zooming beyond a 2000 feet view. This typically means that it is in the country when there are not higher resolution photographs available. You can see a satellite via Google Maps of the road  Microsoft Teraserver offers a different aerial shot of the road from 4/2/1997, which is located  The Teraserver image is more defined and one can see it appears to be a rather desolate area, as if it were in the country. It is surrounded by heavy forest northwest and southeast at the entrance to Ash Tree Lane.
It's possible that one of the most telling aspects of the story isn't explicitly mentioned in House of Leaves; namely, the ideas of Jorge Luis Borges. There are many similarities between Danielewski's work and the works of Borges, prominently labyrinths, and the nature of reality. In particular, Borges' story The Garden of Forking Paths contains the line: "The book and the labyrinth were one and the same." The Garden of Forking Paths is even mentioned in footnote 167.
Borges' story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius deals with a fictional world intruding on our real world, a theme explored in House of Leaves. Borges also experimented with literature that took a nonexistent work as its main subject. In his essay, The Approach to al-Mutasim, Borges wrote a review of a book that existed only in his own imagination; in his essays, "An Examination of the Works of Herbert Quain" and "Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote", Borges critiques the works of two imaginary authors. Finally, in one story Borges describes the efforts of a Wikipedia:shaman to create a son for himself purely through the power of his imagination; on page 543, Zampanò speculates about creating a son for himself who will "fulfill a promise I made years ago but failed to keep".
Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman is also similar in theme and style.
The central story of Navidson's exploration of the house is Lovecraftian in theme, and the referencing of non-existent texts to produce an illusion of authenticity is a common feature of HP Lovecraft's work.
The house at One Ash Tree Lane can be compared to other famous houses, "haunted" and otherwise, around the United States.
The Winchester Mystery Houye in San Jose, California, is a sprawling mansion that includes hallways leading nowhere. It is said to be haunted. This is particularly notable because Danielewski lived only an hour north in Berkeley, California, while writing House of Leaves.
House of Leaves was accompanied by a companion piece (or vice versa), a full length album called Haunted recorded by Danielewski's sister, Ann Danielewski, known as Poe. The two works cross-pollinated heavily over the course of their creations, each inspiring the others in various ways. Poe's statement on the connection between the two works is that they are parallax views of the same story. House of Leaves references Poe and her songs several times, not only limited to her album Haunted, but Hello as well. One example occurs when the character Karen Green is interviewing various academics on their interpretations of the short film "Exploration #4"; she consults a "Poet," but there is a space between the "Poe" and the "t," possibly suggesting that Poe at one point commented on the book. It may also be a reference to Edgar Allan Poe.
The album Haunted also draws heavily from the novel, featuring tracks called House of Leaves, Exploration B and 5&1/2 Minute Hallway, and many less obvious references. The video for Hey Pretty also features Mark Danielewski reading from House of Leaves (pages 88 - 89), and in House of Leaves, the band Liberty Bell's lyrics were also songs on Poe's album.
The band The Fall of Troy have a few songs lyrically referencing House of Leaves, including "You Got A Death Wish, Johnny Truant?", and "The Hol[ ]y Tape...". The Fall of Troy's labelmates, Circa Survive, have a hidden track on their full-length debut unofficially titled "House of Leaves (Blues)". Their singer, Anthony Green, is a fan of the book. "House of Leaves" is also the title of a song on the defunct UK band earthtone9's Omega EP. There's also a UK metalcore band Johnny Truant, which shares the name of the book's protagonist.