Monday, December 5, 2011

Ghostbusters: No Rhyme or Reason

This was such a fun assignment: watching good ol’ Ghostbusters starring Dan Aykroyd, Billy Murray, etc.  It had been a while since I last saw it, but it’s one of those movies I’ve seen many times throughout my life.  A classic, for sure.  This time around it was just as enjoyable as always, but after the readings and watching other movies in our class, I couldn’t help but notice the complete lack of “reason” for not only parts of the plot, but the ghosts themselves.
For example, the people of New York City are very skeptical of the Ghostbusters.  When they’re just starting out in the abandoned fire station, members of the public call them to ask if they’re business is serious or just a joke.  Not to mention the Ghostbusters slogan, “We believe you” (or something along those lines) goes to show how they’re the subject of scrutiny, if not mockery.  Then, after they catch the ghost Slimer, paranormal activity increases in the city and the Ghostbusters become very busy.  So busy they need to recruit another colleague and become city-wide celebrities.  Now, it could be just me, but what’s the reason for this major increase in paranormal activity in the city?  I don’t believe one is supplied (though correct me if I’m wrong; I could’ve missed it), and it doesn’t seem to be tied into the main story problem of the demon Gozer entering from 55 Central Park West.  I guess we’re supposed to just buy it.
Also tied to plot, there’s a point when all the ghosts are freed from the Ghostbusters’ captivity and wreak havoc on the city.  I think this was an attempt to make things worse, as is required of all stories (or at least makes them stronger).  But you never get a sense that things have really gotten bad, except for a couple seconds-worth of ghosts inhabiting the streets of the city, eating hot dogs (Slimer), etc.  It falls flat in my opinion, because the newly released spirits never pose another problem to the Ghostbusters or the town, so it feels contrived to me.  Perhaps if they tried to get in the way of the Ghostbusters trying to stop Gozer it would be more effective.
All of the ghosts look Halloweenish, too, with no reason for why they appear and are the way they are.  Take Slimer, for example.  What is that?  Who or what did it used to be?  It looks more like an overgrown toad than a spirit that used to be a human, and what does its slime have to do with anything?  In all the works we’ve read and seen, there’s some kind of explanation – like a vortex in The Grave’s End or the brutal murders that occurred in The Overlook in The Shining – for the hauntings and the spirits’ existence and nature.  But not in Ghostbusters.  No explanation is given for where Slimer came from nor why he is the way he is.  Of course, this is a comedy, and quite a whimsical one, so it didn’t bother me.  I can’t help but think Slimer was a pun of the green slime trope we’ve seen in horror stories, even in this course (most notably in The Amityville Horror where green slime drips down the walls).  Maybe it’s even mocking the stereotype, I dunno.
I was surprised, however, based on the whimsical nature of the movie, that a fairly in-depth explanation and backstory for Gozer was supplied.  In a nutshell, it was that a mad doctor built 55 Central Park West with the intent of summoning the Sumerian god of destruction Gozer in order to destroy humanity, which according to him (the mad doctor) is too sick to live.  So concerning the main plot, an effective reason (or at least a reason) was supplied compared to some of the other movie’s ghosts/spirits and plot points.
Lastly, I want to touch on the ending.  I think it’s impossible for anyone to forget the hilarious Stay Puft Marshmallow Man that attempts to destroy the city.  But how they bring down this terrible mound of marshmallow and the threat of Gozer felt like a cop-out to me – simply shoot the gate where Gozer entered with the energy streams of their proton packs.  Okay, I know that they “merged” the streams, which they weren’t supposed to do, but it still feels like a cop-out.  So they do it at their own risk, and – surprise, surprise – IT WORKS and everybody’s okay!!! Please…Would’ve been funnier if they found a lock on the gate and just turned it or something.  Then Billy Murray could make one of his dry, but always hilarious comments along the lines of: “That’s why you need the Ghostbusters for a job like this.”  Would’ve fit in with the whimsical nature of the movie, in my opinion.
Anyway, all in all I enjoyed the movie, mainly because it's built around the laughs.  The point of it is not to have a point, I think, which makes some of the plot holes and copouts a bit easier to bear.  At least for me.  And that’s also what made it fun, and funny, to watch after reading the books and watching the movies in this course where the reason for the hauntings are carefully developed and explained.  If making a horror story as realistic as possible contributes to making it scary, removing all the realistic factors and making it more whimsical certainly makes it funnier, which is obviously Ghostbusters’s intent.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Christmas Carol: Nature of the Ghost

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is an enduring classic, of course, and the definition or nature of the ghost I think appeals to most people’s definition of one.  Jacob Marley’s ghost describes what it means to be a spirit on page twenty: “’It is required of every man…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.  It is doomed to wander through the world – oh, woe is me! – and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!’”  I think this fits the typical definition of a ghost, because it’s the idea that spirits that have some kind of unfinished business must remain on Earth.  According to Marley, a spirit’s job is to travel the Earth and share its happiness with others, but if it doesn’t, then it must tour the Earth forever in death, watching it all, forced to miss out on the happiness it could’ve had.  The only part that seems different to me than the common definition of a ghost is the fact that the spirit must tour the Earth.  In some of the ghost stories we’ve read, like The Amityville Horror, The Shining, etc., spirits have been confined to the house or building they haunt, and I think that tends to be the case for the typical ghost.
            I really like the idea that ghosts are forced to wander the world, but I feel like it wouldn’t necessarily apply to all ghosts.  It does to Marley, and would to Scrooge, based on their lives, though, of course.  The reader learns Marley’s life was a lot like Scrooge’s on page twenty-one: “…My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house – mark me! – in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!’”  Because Marley was so confined in his life – so obsessed with money – it makes sense why he would have to wander the Earth – to see what other parts of life he missed out on.  But I feel like there would be other types of people in which that punishment wouldn’t make sense.  My initial reaction as I read this part was, What about the people who are too worldly?  Surely they exist.  I’m thinking about the people who get too swept up by everything – they travel the world and get caught up in every little thing it offers to the point where they miss out on important interpersonal relationships, or intimacy with family or even spouses.  These people shouldn’t be doomed to wander the Earth forever, as that’s basically how they spent their life and it didn’t help them with their particular plight.  Instead, they should have a more “confined” afterlife.  Perhaps be destined to follow their spouse or family members around, or be stuck in a regular family household or something.  Something that enriches their depths with people rather than a broad awareness of Earth.  Just something I thought of as I read.
            Another idea in A Christmas Carol that ties into the nature of the ghost is on page twenty-five.  After Marley’s Ghost leaves, Scrooge witnesses phantoms drifting outside his window, all moaning and full of misery.  I found it interesting how Scrooge realizes why they’re so full of misery on page twenty-five.  “The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever.”  In ways this also sounds like a typical definition of a ghost.  The idea that ghosts try to contact humans, but always have difficulty doing it, or can’t at all.  What I find interesting about this definition, though, is that the ghost tries to do it for good, to benefit people.  In most of the stories we’ve read for this class, the spirits tried to antagonize or hurt the living, although there were a couple exceptions, like in Grave’s End (well, we don’t know for sure if the spirits were benevolent or not, but they appeared to be) and The Lovely Bones (Susie, as a spirit, wants to contact people to comfort them).
And, there you have it, a common take on the ghost with a couple tweaks that makes it different.  Probably a good idea for writers of the ghost story – take an old or “regular” definition and add your own twist.
Dickens, Charles.  A Christmas Carol.  New York: Penguin Group, 2008.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Paranormal Activity: The Camera Technique

I love this movie.  Probably one of my all-time favorites.  Loved it the first time I saw it, and even though I knew what happened the second time, I still enjoyed it.
I think I like this movie so much because it feels real, like it could actually happen.  This mirrors what Scott said about what makes people enjoy a horror story: the realness of it, as if it could happen to them or somebody they know.  It’s that realness that freaks them out and makes them want to read or watch more.   I definitely got that feeling with Paranormal Activity, and I think a big part of that is because of the camera technique – the idea that it’s being filmed by somebody who’s part of the story.  I think this technique works so well for horror, because it makes the action feel real, like it was really caught on tape by somebody.  And this movie puts that to great use.
Of course, it also can be a bit of a detriment at times.  There were moments (I’ll point one out in a moment) when it seemed odd to me that they’d be filming, but I think it definitely works overall, since the character Micah films because he wants to capture the paranormal activity that has been plaguing him and his girlfriend, Katie, so to speak.  Therefore, when Katie screams off-screen at one point, it didn’t bother me that he picked up the camera and ran to try to film any kind of ghostly action that may be occurring.  Of course, it turned out to be a spider at that moment, but the scene was a nice reminder that they’re filming for a very good reason.
This movie also tackles the “Why don’t they leave?” question at least somewhat well, which is one I’ve been having problems with lately with a lot of the books we’ve been reading in our horror class.  It’s still not without holes, but I think the concept overall is pretty effective: they can’t leave (or at least there wouldn’t be any point in leaving) because the ghost isn’t in the house; it follows Katie wherever she goes.  I can buy this for awhile, but like I said, eventually it still became a bit of a problem for me.  I know Micah’s in love with Katie, but at some point I think they’d try the desperate measure of leaving – even if just for the blind hope that it really is something tied to the house.  You might as well give it a shot, right?  Things got so spooky, I figure they’d be running to friends’ for family, and surrounding themselves with other people, if not merely to feel more comfortable and supported.  But, of course, more people would make the story feel less creepy even if the strange activity continued.
By this time in the movie (towards the end), it also felt odd to me that Micah would still be filming.  I mean, they’ve caught so much activity by this time, what would be the point of any more, especially now that they’re lives seem seriously in jeopardy?  In particular, I’m thinking of the scene when Micah’s talking to Katie on the bed, and she’s speaking in an almost dreamlike state (overall, a very awesome, spooky scene).  By that point it’s obvious that she’s possessed, or at the very least something is horribly wrong with her.  Not only would I not have the camera running, but I’d be fleeing from the place like there was no tomorrow – or at least trying to get this woman to a hospital or something to be checked on (whether or I not even believed she could be helped by doctors).  No matter what, the last thing I’d be doing is filming her and then agreeing not to go anywhere, but to go to sleep, which would totally not be possible at that height of the freakiness.  Then again, that’s my opinion.  But the spook factor of the movie was so high in general that these scenes didn’t bother me that much.  I anticipate other people having differing opinions on that point, though.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Grave's End: Why Don't They Leave?

It was interesting and fun reading this book after The Amityville Horror, and although it’s of course perhaps impossible to know if it’s truly real, it certainly felt a lot more believable to me than The Amityville Horror.  I think it’s because it’s quieter: the things that happen in the house are stretched over a much longer period of time, and the events don’t really escalate in craziness like they did in The Amityville Horror.  They went more in cycles: a few creepy things, then nothing, then a few more creepy things, etc.  Also, even though lots of different things happened in the house (floating objects, “suffocating dreams,” balls of light, images of people, “the Mist,” etc.), for some reason it didn’t feel like it was too much.  Again, I think the reason is because everything was stretched out over time and the “hauntings” were a lot tamer compared to the ridiculous things that happen in The Amityville Horror (green slime, red-eyed pig, etc.).  Then again, the Lutzes thought a demon lived in their house, whereas Elaine and her family always thought they were just regular ghosts or spirits, not necessarily malevolent.  So that can supply a reason for the difference in the hauntings’ nature.  Still, like I said, I found Grave’s End more believable.
Again, something I found hard to believe – like in The Amityville Horror – was the family not leaving the house.  Sure, there were financial reasons and the hauntings weren’t as intense as in The Amityville Horror – at least for the most part – but in my opinion the events were still more than creepy enough that you’d think the family would run away as fast they could.  At least, that’s definitely what I would’ve done.  Like I said, even though Elaine had financial issues, there were still places she and her family could’ve gone and stayed.  So what if they’d be cramped?  A cramped living space is still head-over-heels better than experiencing those freaky things on a somewhat regular basis.  Seriously, how did they ever sleep in that house?  After experiencing only a couple of those things I don’t think I’d ever be able to sleep there again.  Even if I were in the same room with the other family members, like the family did sometimes.  Just doesn’t make sense to me. 
Plus, Elaine is, well, sort of a wimp (not that I wouldn’t be in her position).  At one point she explains how she feels bad about always having to run to a man when things get tough, she apologizes to her daughters for being too clingy and overprotective, she gets courage to ask for a divorce after twenty-two years, etc.  She also says how she was always more freaked out about the place than her daughters.  This is what made me think she’d leave in a heartbeat, so it was another reason I didn’t buy her and her family staying there that whole time.
However, I have to admit that Elaine does give at least one good reason for why they never left, in my opinion.  Her reason is that her daughters grew up in that place, so they became used to it and didn’t want to leave, whereas the hauntings always freaked Elaine out, because she had lived most of her life in regular, “non-haunted” houses.  This works well to convince me later in the novel, but there’s still the fact that these hauntings existed when they first moved in.  And, obviously, they didn’t run from the place even after the original hauntings.  It also negates the reason they give later for not leaving because they have so many friends.  They wouldn’t have had friends when they first moved in, either.  Like I’ve been saying, I just don’t buy that they wouldn’t run the hell away from the place after experiencing just a couple of those creepy hauntings.  And lots of them happened overall!

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Amityville Horror: Similar Elements to Other “Haunted House” Novels

I think what’s most interesting about this book is that even though it’s supposed to be real, it contains so many of the same “elements” as some fictitious “haunted house” books.  And in this post, I’d like to explore some of those elements.
One is the idea of a certain place in the haunted house that is “particularly haunted.”  What’s interesting is that this book has a few (rather than just one).  Strange things always seem to happen in the sewing room (flies accumulate, the window slams on one of the kids’ hands, etc.), and there always seems to be something odd affiliated with the boathouse and the red-walled room in the basement.  In Hell House, a particularly evil energy emanates from the chapel.  In A Haunting on Hill House, it’s the nursery.
Another is the object that keeps moving or shifting position.  In this book it’s the four-foot ceramic lion.  It reminded me a lot of The Shining with the lion-sculpted shrub (although all the shrubs moved and what not).
The house’s history also gives possible explanations for the hauntings, like in a lot of novels.  For example, on page 122 George unearths information about the house being built on land the Shinnecock Indians used to enclose the sick and dying.  He also uncovers information about the past owners of the house performing Satanic rituals in the red-walled room involving slaughtering animals, such as pigs.  The history of fictitious places in horror novels also offer possible reasons behind the hauntings, too, like the murders in the suite of The Overlook in The Shining, or the intense debauchery Belasco and his guests participate in in his house.
There are also lots of potential explanations for the hauntings in general, something I plan on exploring in my final project.  In addition to the histories of the house, the weather is sometimes a potential reason (they have frequent storms that could explain why the windows and doors are blown open).  Father Mancuso’s account of the hauntings (he becomes very sick whenever he even thinks about the house) is also called into question.  On page 255 Father Ryan “wanted to know if Father Mancuso thought the recurring affliction could be psychosomatic.  Wasn’t it possible that his emotional state could be influencing his rash of illnesses?”  George also experiences some things like being levitated or his wife levitating – all while he’s in a “dream-like state.”  So who’s to say he wasn’t just dreaming?  To draw the similarities to fictitious stories, The Haunting of Hill House offers a few potential reasons, too: not only a history, but also the odd architecture of the house might explain why doors open and close.  Not to mention the main character, Eleanor, exhibits signs of not being totally sane, which makes you wonder if you can even trust her account of what’s happening in the house at all (similar to Father Mancuso’s potential psychosomatic experience and George in his “dream-like state”).
Even though there’s no scientist in The Amityville Horror like there is in A Haunting of Hill House and Hell House, George states how he thinks it can all be explained by science on page 123.  When asked by his wife Kathy if the house is haunted, he replies, “’No way…I don’t believe in ghosts.  Besides, everything that’s happened around here must have a logical and scientific explanation to it.’”
The Amityville Horror also makes use of the “imaginary friend” concept.  The younger daughter, Missy, sees and speaks with Jodie, a pig who is supposedly her imaginary friend – until George and the rest of his family see the pig outside the window in her room.  George also sees the pig (or pig-related things) a few other times.  This type of thing is used a lot in fiction.  A couple movies I can think of are The Others, in which the young daughter sees a boy around the house, a sort of “ghostly presence.”  Even though we didn’t watch it for this horror course, The Exorcist also employs the same idea.  The main character, a young girl, has an imaginary friend who turns out to be Satan, who’s possessing her.
There’s even a similarity to the movie Ghostbusters in The Amityville Horror.  In the movie, there’s a green blob of a ghost that leaves slime on whatever it touches.  There’s no green ghost in The Amityville Horror, but green slime makes an appearance on page 226: “On every wall in the hall were green gelatinous spots, oozing down from the ceiling to the floor, settling in shimmering pools of green slime.”
Even though this post has been mainly comparing this supposedly true story to fictional stories, I find it interesting that there are also a few similarities between this book and another allegedly true “haunted house” account, Grave’s End.  Examples include the fact the houses were built over a burial ground, they both contain a well, etc.  So The Amityville Horror contains a lot of elements from both fictitious and nonfiction accounts, I guess.  Makes you wonder if it’s real after all or just a hoax.  Who knows?

Works Cited

Anson, Jay.  The Amityville Horror.  New York: Pocket Books, 2005.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Lovely Bones: A Few Things

I hate to say I found this book kind of boring, but that’s personal taste, of course.  I think I find it so because there wasn’t much mystery going on.  We already know who the murderer is, so that mystery’s off the table.  I have to admit that as I read, I was hoping the main tension of the book was going to be how the murderer, Mr. Harvey, is discovered.  That would’ve worked fine by me (and would’ve been unique as far as I’m concerned).  I thought that author Alice Sebold would have him almost be caught many times, have us on the edge of our seats as Suzie’s family barely misses discovering an essential clue and what not – and then I imagined finally being satisfied when they nab that damn bastard in the end.  But, sadly, most of the book chronicled the disintegration of Suzie’s grieving family.  BOR-ING.  I wanted some more action and close-calls, but people who enjoy more of a quieter, emotional ride will find this book enjoyable.
I want to draw an interesting parallel between this book and the movie The Others.  Like The Others, the protagonist of this book, Susie, is a ghost.  The protags from both the movie and the book also share another similarity: they need to make a realization in order to be get peace and be set free.  In The Others, Grace Stewart and her kids needed to realize that they’re dead and that the “intruders” in their house are living people who have moved in.  Even though they eventually decide to fight for their house, the ghosts at least come to terms with the fact that they’re dead.  Susie, on the other hand, will be set free with a different realization, as Franny in heaven tells her on page 120: she needs to stop wondering why she was killed instead of somebody else, stop wondering what’s going on with her loved ones and how they’re feeling on earth, etc.  Once she lets that emotional baggage go, she can finally be set free.  I thought that was an interesting twist, but it makes sense when it comes to ghost stories, as a common “trope” of ghost stories are that ghosts have some kind of “unfinished business” or “emotional turmoil” they weren’t able to solve in life.
I thought the villain of The Lovely Bones, Mr. Harvey, was interesting, too.  He’s somewhat sympathetic, which I think is important for all villains in stories these days, so all us writers need to remember that!  Don’t get me wrong.  As readers we hate Mr. Harvey for the whole book, but he becomes more three-dimensional and human (perhaps making him even scarier) when we see how he hates killing people (even though he does it) and that he’d rather kill animals than people because they’re at least “lesser beings.”  Either way, he’s still killing, so obviously readers are going to hate him, but we can at least empathize on a small level with the fact that he hates doing it and would like to “minimize” his killings if at all possible.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Others: A Pill of Trouble

            I really enjoyed this movie, especially the séance scene at the end.  What an awesome twist, and I have to admit I totally didn’t see it coming.
            During this movie a very small part stood out to me from the standpoint of a writer/storyteller.  It’s the scene where the housekeeper gives Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) a pill for her migraines, but this is around the time in the movie when the housekeepers are acting a bit odd.  Therefore, Grace is suspicious of this pill, presumably thinking the housekeepers are pulling one over on her, so we see her pour it out in the sink when the housekeeper is gone from the room.  For a horror movie, this little snippet kind of works double-time.  For one, it can offer or at least suggest a potential reason for the hauntings (something I want to write my final paper on – the different types of ways to suggest a potential reason for the hauntings in a horror story) – perhaps the housekeepers have been messing with Grace, giving her pills that muddle her mind.  Or perhaps they have something else in mind entirely.  However, it’s also just an example of regular old great storytelling that can be used in any story – a small hint of potential trouble.  At the end of the movie, I thought back to that moment and realized – “hey, that pill really didn’t have anything to do with anything.”  But what made that part so effective is that it got the viewer wondering if it did – if it all came down to those pills or if the housekeeper was purposefully messing around with Grace for whatever reason, even if it didn’t even tie directly into the hauntings.  Like I said, it was like a small “dose of potential trouble.”  I think this is something for us storytellers to keep in mind no matter what genre we write in.  Even if there’s a possibility for trouble, why not hint at it, even if it doesn’t wind up holding any water?  It will keep the viewer/reader guessing, not to mention intrigued about the possibility of trouble.  Like Michael Arnzen has told us many times, “Trouble is interesting.”  So perhaps it’s always a good idea to keep that in mind and add a little “pill of trouble” to our stories from time to time (I’m coining that phrase lol).
            I also wanted to add another point about this.  It’s also much better for these “pills of trouble” to be of action rather than a character’s internalization.  In a story I’ve been writing, I realized that I sometimes insert these “pills” via a character’s thoughts, which is not nearly as effective as action.  For example, it would have been far worse for Grace to have simply wondered to herself (though, obviously, it would be tougher to do this in a movie than a book), perhaps in a room by herself, “Hmmm…those ‘migraine’ pills – I wonder if they’re not what they seem.  Maybe they’re not really migraine pills, but something bad – some kind of poison the housekeeper is giving us!”  But that’s not nearly as effective as having her be suspicious when the housekeeper actually gives her the pill, and having Grace outwardly question them before dumping them into the sink.  It feels like much more of a real threat when it’s part of the action than when she’s just thinking it.  Plus, it makes the reader wonder about the nature of the pills – makes them think about what they could really be, which is far more effective than the character wondering.
            I wanted to bring up another part of the movie just because I was a bit confused by it.  It’s the part where the father comes home from the war.  This part seemed odd and kind of like it was just stuck in there to me based on the way Grace finds him.  She’s out in the woods near the house and randomly runs into her husband – all by himself.  As a viewer, I was like, “Oh – come ON.”  It just seemed way too random and kind of silly – how could he be all by himself so close to the house?  Of course, by the end of the movie I guess it makes sense, since Grace, her kids, and her husband (I think) are all dead, so theoretically their spirits (including his) can go and be wherever they want, but I don’t feel like the addition of the husband added much to the story.  Maybe I missed something, but instead it made me cry foul at that part, which is obviously not what you want to do unless you have a VERY good reason for it, and I don’t feel like this was a good reason.  Could be just me, though.  Did anyone else find that part far-fetched (even though it eventually did make some sort of sense) or kind of silly?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Shining: Wasps, Wasps, and More Wasps

I enjoyed The Shining on the whole.  As with a lot of Stephen King books I read, I felt like it dragged for a good portion of the book, as he goes into excruciating (and sometimes seemingly needless) detail to the point where I just want the story to move forward.  But toward the end, I was all in, especially since the whole novel had built up to the moment when Jack Torrance would go insane and swing that sledgehammer around.  I was hungrily waiting for that moment, wanting to witness the steps that led up to it, not to mention the actual event itself.
However, despite all the supernatural and admittedly pretty cool stuff going on in this book, the part that “horrified” me the most wasn’t any of that.  Not to mention it happened early in the novel.  It was the part where Jack is ripping away the rotted shingles on the roof, gets stung by the wasp, and pretty much prays that that the rest of the wasps don’t swarm him.  Luckily, they don’t, but it’s the concept that Jack may have killed himself if they did that really stabbed fear into my heart.  After getting stung, he thinks about how he probably would have hurled himself off the top of the Overlook out of fear if the wasps were stinging him – how he wouldn’t even be really thinking, just reacting out of pure fear.  I found my horror at this point interesting for two reasons.  The first is that, like I said, this is such a normal thing.  There are no supernatural elements, it hits so close to home.  This could easily happen to me on the roof of my own house – like right now, if I happened to be pulling off rotted shingles.  The other thing is that this terrible demise doesn’t even really happen.  I was horrified purely based on the concept.  I have to admit that was pretty cool, and it taught me a lesson in horror and storytelling: sometimes you don’t even have to show something horrible happening.  Just the idea that it could happen or even the concept by itself can be horrifying.  Something to remember when trying to entertain those damn readers.  Interesting…
On another note, there are obviously lots of allusions to wasps in this book.  Not only does Jack Torrance discover a hive on the roof and get stung, but the wasps make a “magical” reappearance in his family’s suite, there’s a flashback to a time when Jack’s father killed a wasp hive, and the noises that things make in the Overlook remind Jack and Danny of a wasp’s buzz (such as the motor of the snowmobile, not to mention the machine looks like a wasp itself), among other things, probably.  Throughout the whole book, I tried to figure out what the significance of the wasps was.  I’m not really sure I was all that successful.  I think the idea behind them is how somebody can become overwhelmed by an emotion and, as a result, do something by accident without being aware of what they’re doing.  I think that goes back to the first scene on the roof when Jack is stung.  He thinks about how fear could have overcome him and, without even meaning to or realizing it, he could have fallen or even jumped off the roof.  Eventually, that’s kind of what happens to Jack at the end of the book, except it isn’t fear that overcomes him, but anger.  I kind of see the Overlook as a giant wasp’s nest.  It’s full of lots of wasps, or angry spirits, that just want to sting people.  Therefore, they all “sting” Jack, who then becomes enraged and tries to kill his family, all the while clearly unaware that he’s doing it, and obviously doesn’t really want to at his core (he is the flawed protagonist, after all).  A moment that convinces me of this is on page 494.  It’s a moment that’s kind of like the calm before the storm: it feels like the hotel is just about to erupt and go crazy, all its spirits coming out to play and wreaking havoc on Jack’s family.  On that page, Danny “hears” the spirits: “It was like the somnolent hum of summer wasps in a ground nest, sleepy, deadly, beginning to wake up.  They were ten thousand feet high.”  Makes it sound like Danny and his family are on the roof where the wasps are, and they’re just about to wake up and cause some serious harm…
Anyway, does anyone else have any ideas behind the whole wasp thing?
Source: King, Stephen.  The Shining.  New York: Pocket Books, 1977.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ghost Story: Misleading Prologue?

Overall, I enjoyed Ghost Story.  I think mostly because of the dynamics of the Chowder Society.  All the old men who make up the group are well-drawn and very likable.  I felt like I was following the stories of four (perhaps five with Don Wanderley; we never really know Edward) protagonists, and that was a good thing in this instance!
I think that one of the more interesting, though potentially confusing, aspects of the novel is the prologue.  I don’t know if it did this for other readers, but I feel like it misled me.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – well, it is in a sense.  I will explain shortly.
The prologue starts off with a man (Don) who has kidnapped a girl and clearly intends to kill her, though he has a problem doing such a thing.  On page four of the prologue, I got the sense that he wasn’t in charge of what happened to the girl, though: “The child was sleeping with her back straight against the seat, her mouth closed.  She appeared to be perfectly composed.  He still did not know what he was going to have to do to her.”  The fact that he’s uncertain what he needs to do with her made it sound to me like he wasn’t the only person involved, that he was perhaps doing this as part of a “job” for somebody else.  This was only confirmed for me on page eight when Don asks the girl if she’s ever heard of Edward Wanderley, Sears James, or Ricky Hawthorne.  I figured these were the other men somehow involved in this murder, that they were the ones who wanted her dead.  In a sense that’s true, but not really.  In reality, as we learn later (as in, at the end of the novel), they don’t even know that Don’s kidnapped this girl and is going to murder her.
Nevertheless, this initial “misleading” made me think throughout the entire novel that the ghost that haunts and attempts to kill off the Chowder Society is the little girl that Don supposedly killed in the prologue.  I kept trying to make the connection back to her, kept trying to figure out why the Chowder Society had had to kill this little girl, kept trying to find connections to that horrible deed, especially since the members of the Society seemed like such nice men who I wanted to root for.
Anyway, looking back, I realized that I was totally wrong with this assumption.  It wasn’t even possible, since the Chowder Society doesn’t even meet Don until later in the book, so how could their supposedly “collaborative” murder of the young girl take place in the past? Looking back, I think part of the reason I was confused is because the full identity of the man in the prologue (Don Wanderley) is only mentioned once.  Peter Straub then refers to him as Wanderley after the first time, and as we know, there are a few Wanderleys throughout the story (Edward, David, and Don), so that helped to confuse me.  If I had gone back and confirmed that Don was the murderer of the little girl, then I would have known that it couldn’t have been a past event.  But going back is not my job as the reader, of course.  Also, this book is just full of characters (might I say even bursting?) – right from the beginning – so it was easy for me to forget exactly who was in the prologue, especially with the Wanderley confusion (the Chowder Society starts off talking about Edward Wanderley, who is dead, then segways into sending a letter to his nephew Don).  Maybe I’m just easily baffled.
Either way, I was convinced the Chowder Society had killed the young girl a long time ago for a special reason, that they had been blackmailed into doing it or something (which would explain Don’s apparent hesitancy or difficulty in actually killing her).  That’s why I was surprised to learn that she wasn’t the ghost at all.  It was Eva Galli, a shapeshifter-woman who they accidentally killed in their youth.  This made me really want to draw a connection to the young girl who died in the prologue, whom there appeared to be no clues drawn to, and I was finally satisfied to learn at the end that she was the shapeshifter reborn.  At least I got my answer, though I felt like I had been misled throughout the entire book.  In a way it was a good thing, because a big reason why I kept turning the pages (aside from the fact this is my school assignment) was to finally find out why the Chowder Society apparently kidnapped and killed this girl.  But then again, that’s a bad sign for Straub, because he made things a bit unclear, at least for me.
Was anyone else “misled” or confused by the prologue or was it just me?

Source: Straub, Peter. Ghost Story. New York: Pocket Books, 1979.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hell House: Similarities in Characters but a Difference in Conclusions

While reading Hell House by Richard Matheson, it was tough not to draw comparisons between it and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, particularly when it comes to the characters of the stories.  There’s no doubt that Matheson took some of the traits and identities of Jackson’s characters and injected them into his own.  The most obvious one is probably the scientist who goes to the house in order to discover the truth behind the hauntings.  In Hell House, it’s Dr. Barret.  In Hill House (note the similarity in the name of the house in the titles, too), Dr. John Montague.  Both of their jobs are to unravel the source of the hauntings, and they both attempt to do it from the standpoint of a scientist: they believe that science, rather than supernatural or spirit-related phenomena, can explain it. 
In both books, there’s the character who has a direction connection to the house prior to the start of the story.  In Hell House, it’s Fischer, who is the sole survivor of the tragedies of the house in the past.  In Hill House, it’s Luke, whose aunt owns Hill House.
Eleanor from Hill House is also a little like Edith from Hell House.  They come from bitter mothers or at least a troubled family past.  Eleanor had to look after her mother throughout her life, and because of that felt she was denied having her own life, whereas Edith’s mother influenced her negatively as well, as is revealed on page 110 of Hell House: “Edith twisted on her back and glared up at the ceiling.  What’s the matter with me, anyway? she thought.  Just because my mother told me sex is evil and degrading, do I have to fear it all my wife?  My mother was a bitter woman, married to an alcoholic woman-chaser.”  Both of them have to deal with their similar family pasts at their respective haunted houses.
In Hell House, Florence is similar to two characters from Hill House.  By nature she believes strongly that spirits or supernatural phenomena are responsible for the hauntings of Hell House.  This is very similar to Dr. Montague’s wife in Hill House, Mrs. Montague.  Both have strong personalities in that they believe they are undeniably correct about the fact that the house is being haunted by spirits (of course, you could say that the scientists are equally stubborn in their beliefs, creating great tension in the stories).  Florence keeps trying to open up and communicate with the spirits of Hell House, particularly Belasco’s son, whereas, similarly, Mrs. Montague arrives at Hill House with a planchette, which is used to communicate directly (or at least somewhat directly) with spirits.
Florence is also like Eleanor from Hill House in that she “goes insane,” so to speak.  In Hill House, it eventually becomes apparent that Eleanor has lost her mind.  She’s walking around the house at night, hardly aware she’s doing it and not even knowing where she’s going.  She also hears voices in her head, etc.  The same can be said about Florence.  Because she is so open to the “spirits” of Hell house, she is constantly speaking with them (the other characters usually don’t have actual conversations with them), and eventually even becomes possessed by a spirit (Belasco).  While that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s lost her mind, she certainly has lost control of it, since Belasco takes it over and makes her do certain things that she wouldn’t normally do (such as attempting to have lesbian love with Edith).  To some degree all the characters become a bit possessed or at least influenced by Belasco and do certain things they’re not aware of, so there’s a little of Eleanor in everybody, but Florence by far gets the brunt of it.
This leads me to my last point: the differences in conclusions between the two books.  In Hill House, the reader never learns what actually happened to Eleanor.  Did she truly go mad or was there really a “ghost” or “spirit” that influenced her, etc.  In Hell House, the reader is given the exact reason for the hauntings: a corrupt, egotistical spirit with a Napoleonic Complex named Belasco is in charge of everything.  All the loose threads are wrapped up, and the reader is left satisfied.  At least, that’s how I felt.  I much prefer the ending to Hell House to Hill House, because I got what every story promises: a reason for everything.  I can sleep at night knowing what really happened at Hell House, but, sadly, I’ll never know the truth about Hill House.
Source: Matheson, Richard. Hell House. New York: Tor, 1999.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Eleanor in Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

I think the most interesting thing about this book has to do with how the protagonist, Eleanor, is somebody we can relate to – for most of the story, that is.  She has her good traits and her bad, but we sympathize with her despite her good traits.  The reason is because we pity her.  Even though she steals her sister’s car to go to Hill House and lies about her apartment in the city to the other characters at the house, we realize that she does these things because of her “broken” family life (she had to take care of her miserable/terrible mother) and we root for her to find companionship at hill house.  The fact that she’s so desperate to find companionship – the fact that that’s the only reason she’s going to Hill House in the first place – is so pitiable it makes the reader (or at least this reader) like her.  Her likability also factored in for me when she observes/judges Theodora, who is pretty vain and spoiled.  In comparison, Eleanor seems very kind and down-to-earth.
However, despite the fact the reader sympathizes with her and how down-to-earth she is, she goes through a transformation into being pretty much outright insane and unreliable.  At one moment (well, most of the story) I believed everything she says – the fact that she didn’t write on the walls or spray blood (whose blood, anyway?) in Theodora’s bedroom, but toward the end of the book she has clearly lost her mind.  She even starts wondering how the other people in the house can hear certain noises when they are going on inside her head!  Toward the end she also wanders around the house aimlessly on her own, and the other characters need to coax her down from a dangerous stairwell in the nursery.  She clearly loses her marbles!  What is fascinating is that Shirley Jackson keeps us right inside Eleanor’s head all throughout the story and her transformation.  Which means that the reader goes from feeling grounded and comfortable with Eleanor to feeling like she’s completely unreliable.  This was such a fun part of the book for me, because it threw me for a loop.  And it didn’t happen suddenly, either.  Eleanor would think a couple thoughts that made me think, What the heck? Where is this coming from?  But I would still go on believing her, that she was sane and reliable, and then suddenly it dawned on me that she had completely lost her mind (I’m not sure when, exactly, her thoughts and actions just became too much and I knew she’d gone off the deep end). 
What also made it fun was that not only could I no longer believe her perceptions of the world and the house and events at the moment, but it made me wonder how much I could believe anything she’d said in the past at all.  I mean, could I believe anything she had told the other characters or even the reader via thoughts throughout the entire story?  Now that I think about it, I have the feeling that this might annoy some people.  The fact that now they wonder if they can buy anything she’s even said could be frustrating, because it might spawn the question, Why did I even read this if the main character is insane and isn’t even relaying the story accurately?  But I personally find it fun, because I had been totally fooled (and I appreciate being fooled lol), despite all the warnings (for example, the fact that she lies to the other characters and what not even before she’s clearly lost her head).  That has to be difficult to achieve, and I think Jackson pulls it off quite well.