"It's a book about a book about a film about a house that is a labyrinth. In short, it's a book that is a labyrinth."
— One review of the book
This is not for you.
House of Leaves is a 2000 novel by Mark Z. Danielewski. What about its plot?Okay, imagine that this family is moving into a new house to jump-start their lives together. Will Navidson's a world-renowned photojournalist with lingering family issues, Karen Green is a former model with self-esteem issues, and Chad and Daisy are their two lovable children. Will decides to make this move-in a documentary of how he got his life back on track, and he mounts video cameras and microphones in different rooms of the house. About a month after they move in, the family goes to visit Karen's parents. When they return, there's a new addition to the house, a closet with a connecting doorway, between the master bedroom and Chad and Daisy's room. Furthermore, out of curiosity, Will measures the inside of the house compared with the outside to find out something startling: the inside is bigger than the outsideby one quarter of an inch...Hold on, that's not what this book is about at all. The Navidson Record is a recently-released documentary-style horror film with the plot described above, somewhat in the style of The Blair Witch Project, which opens to wide acclaim. It spurs countless theses and criticisms from academia, both for its moving themes and character studies but also for the perplexing riddle of the house and what it truly represents. Is it a throw-back to ancient customs? Perhaps the house is a Derrida-esque deconstruction of religion? Does the house, in fact, represent a vagina? A Portuguese(?) man named ZampanÚ assembles these criticisms and writes what is considered a top-notch commentary on the film and how it explores deep symbolic themes of family, tragedy, echoes, and the perceptual confusion and terror of labyrinths...Wait, that's not right either. In fact, it's about what happens when one night, Johnny Truant and his friend Lude check out the apartment of a recently-deceased neighbor. Inside, they find the apartment has had all of its windows painted black with curtains hung over them to conceal all light, and the room is sealed to keep all smells inside of it. Several parts of the room seem to have been destroyed by an incredibly strong man or some large creature. Inside, Truant finds the disheveled remains of a complex manuscript (the critical novel written by ZampanÚ) and slowly begins to piece it together, but as he does so, the world he used to know becomes infinitely more frightening...No, no, that's still not quite hitting the core of this book. Okay, the real story is about Pelafina H.Lievre, a woman who is locked up inside the Three Attic Whalestoe Institute, a mental institution. She is the mother of a lovely boy named Johnny, and she's being treated for having hallucinations and breaks from reality that caused her to harm poor Johnny. Her only love in life anymore since the death of her poor husband is her son, and she writes him a series of letters expressing regret over her past actions. In the correspondence between them, she stresses that he is a brilliant child, and that if he puts his mind to it he can achieve anything. These letters grow more and more disturbing over time as her mind begins to break down...Wait, no, that's still not right. Okay, you're interested in what House of Leaves is about, right? Well, this book is about that point directly behind your head. Don't look.Ω Don't take your eyes off this page, off the safe glow of the monitor, the comforting shapes of the letters making up this sentence. This is safe. What's behind you isn't. Keep reading these words. If you stop to look behind you, I can't guarantee you'll come out of this ordeal alive, much less sane. Pretty soon you might find yourself doubting what is real and what isn't. Pretty soon you might start to have the nightmares. One day you'll wake up to find yourself an emaciated wreck who can't trust space and time anymore. Whether something is real or not doesn't matter here; the consequences are the same. What you need to realize is that this is not for you. note If you're still confused, just note that the erratic style of this article is meant to inform you that this book is confusing as hell, but in a good way. Perhaps you can try the more straightfoward article on That Other Wiki.Or you can have some pancakes with some delightful reading.141 Unless you want to be invigorated. No...That's- it's just not- can't be- right... Source please? 142142 Via Google Translate From French: "Looking into the eyes of death is intoxicating."Not to be confused with House of Five Leaves, and certainly not with Dead Leaves. See also Poe, Danielewski's sister, whose album Haunted serves as a companion piece to the novel. Compare TlŲn, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius .
House of Leaves contains examples of:
Adult Fear: There are many scary things going on, most noticeably the Nothing Is Scarier aspects. But perhaps the most insidious facet of the book's creepiness is the fact that these terrible things are all going on in a family home. And then the children start changing. And also the claustrophobia, and the steadily escalating insanity that's probably the only thing of these that's actually happening.
Anachronic Order: Used with dizzying effects in Johnny's final footnotes. They camouflage the fact that he goes back and writes the introduction to the book, then hits rock bottom, says goodbye to Thumper and finds some form of salvation after finding a band who has read his now-published writings, saying, "It's going to be alright. It's going to be alright."
Apocalyptic Log: The whole of The Navidson Record, or perhaps the entirety of the book, could qualify.
Artistic License - Physics: Discussed in-universe when Karen interviews an architect who goes off on a long ramble about how impossible the labyrinth is, just as an architectural structure. For example, if it's so massive, how does it support its own weight, especially since its parts are constantly moving? And is it large enough to have its own gravitational pull, like a planet?
Be Careful What You Wish For: One could interpret the house's behavior as a sort of twisted wish fulfillment. Holloway wanted an ultimate adventure, he got it, and lost his life and sanity in the process. Tom wanted to be as respected as his Pulitzer prize winning brother. After the house killed him, Will lamented about his failure to save Deliah and saw Tom as a hero. The Navidsons wanted to come together as a family, the house terrorized them until they ultimately did. The children were traumatized in the process and Will lost a limb and parts of his face to frostbite, but you can't deny that they were together in the end.
Bedlam House: Johnny's mother describes the Three Attic Whalestoe Institute as one of these in her letters.
Beige Prose: Occasional, used for contrast. See "A Poe t"'s comments on A Partial Transcript Of What Some Have Thought.
Played straight by the house, which starts off the inner-most plot.
Also subverted. Tom's base is a tent with meager supplies, and actual base consists of the Navidson estate.
The hardcover book itself is bigger on the inside. The cover is smaller than the pages.
Bilingual Bonus: Many occurrences, either to parody the frequent use of foreign languages in academic writing or to simply add confusion to the text. For example, Johnny states that he can't speak Latin, yet is able to allude to a Latin phrase later on. ZampanÚ provides a series of quotes he claims to be slightly different, but which are actually identical in meaning.
Black Best Friend: We don't know if Reston is Navidson's best friend, but they already know each other for some years (starting from the incident that did make Reston wheelchair-bound), and after the evacuation of the house, Reston lets Navidson stay at his place.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: In the middle of one of his crazed ramblings, Truant begins to suspect that he, ZampanÚ, and the Navidsons don't really exist and have been created by the house in some way. That sound you hear is the author laughing to himself.
Also, at one point toward the end of the book, Navidson begins reading the book. The book you're reading. The book that talks about Navidson reading a book. Navidson finishes the book before the book finishes.
Breather Episode: The transcript of What Some Have Thought is considerably lighter in tone than most other parts of the book.
Bring My Brown Pants: Tom, to cheer himself up inside the labyrinth, tells himself the joke this trope is named after.
Brown Note: Anyone who is vaguely connected to the house, even the Sheriff who tries to find Holloway and denies seeing the hallway, has tinnitus, at the very least. It's also noted that experience with the house eventually results in one of two extremes: either great personal improvement or, well... look at what happened to Johnny. There's an actual graph showing the effects of the house on people depending on exposure... and "anyone" includes you.
Lude. Truant even spies on him, and there is an extremely large list of his one-night stands... which is then followed by a list of the various ways in which all of the people of the list might have had their lives ruined. The book is just messed up like that.
Johnny seems to rack 'em up. Keep in mind that Johnny is the one telling his story.
Conspiracy Theorist: ZampanÚ fits the character type, with his tendency to prefer the incredible to the mundane; for example, he's more willing to accept the stairway is deeper than the Earth is wide than he is to just check his math.
Conveniently Interrupted Document: Very frequently, with Johnny spilling ink on the pages of the manuscript or things like that. Interestingly, information which isn't important to the plot also sometimes gets damaged as well.
Covers Always Lie: The reviews on the back of the book about this "funny, moving, sexy" romance. Or maybe we're all missing the point of this love story by making it out to be horrifying. According to the author:
"I had one woman come up to me in a bookstore and say, 'You know, everyone told me it was a horror book, but when I finished it, I realized that it was a love story.' And she's absolutely right. In some ways, genre is a marketing tool."
Creepy Child: "Daddy, I wanna play always hallways!" And other instances; for example, at school all the kids are told to draw their houses. The Navidson children turn in pieces of paper that they colored several coats of black, with monsters in the margins. They have more at home. They're completely black.
Darkness Equals Death: Literally. When Holloway dies, the darkness descends on him and consumes him. ZampanÚ is extremely vague about it.
Documentary Of Lies: The reviewers who theorize endlessly about The Navidson Record, or are consulted about its content, take it entirely for granted that it's this trope. Except for Stephen King, who wants to visit the house.
Fauxreigner: Is ZampanÚ French, Portuguese, or Spanish? He recites the names of French positions at Dien Bien Phu lost to the Viet Minh, suggesting that he was in the French Foreign Legion and therefore a Frenchman of foreign birth.
Fictional Media: To a ridiculous extent that could pass as a parody or Deconstruction. The entire book is a Fictional Document analyzing another unpublished Fictional Documentcommentating on a fictional film. Note that all of ZampanÚ's work is fictional in-universe, as well, to the great confusion of the editors and Johnny Truant.
The Film of the Book: Averted — Danielewski has received numerous option offers (often proposing quite generous sums), but has refused all of them, mostly on the grounds that the various studios' proposals for how to adapt the book tend to miss the point (such as by adapting only Navidson's story, and omitting Johnny, ZampanÚ etc., altogether).
Footnote Fever: You've got footnotes from Johnny Truant, ZampanÚ and other editors, plus footnotes within footnotes within footnotes, in one part even making an entire "window" in the book. Soon after that window, the footnotes start going off in weird angles and, should you actually bother to follow, forming actual labyrinths. Some footnotes are re-referenced hundreds of pages later, and some of the more important ones get their own symbols.
Foregone Conclusion: The book continuously tells you that Navidson made it out of the house to edit the footage together.
Found Footage Films: The Navidson Record bears many traits of this genre. Although it was not exactly "found", considering that Navidson and Karen did survive to tell (and edit the footage of) the tale.
Going by the Matchbook: One of the countless reviewers of The Navidson Record thought that he could locate the house via a screencap of Navidson's matchbook. Nope. It did merely lead him to a bar in England which Navidon has visited years ago.
Gratuitous Foreign Language: There are entire paragraphs written entirely in German and French throughout the book, as well as untranslated chunks of The Divine Comedy and bits of Latin and Greek, plus various others. Johnny even comments on the pretentiousness of Zampano dropping in bits of foreign language where they don't seem to serve any purpose other than making him look erudite.
Hope Spot: When Johnny comes across his two doctor friends who take him in and nurse him back to health. Except that was just a lie.Or was it?
Also when Navidson miraculously escapes the labyrinth on his own and the family makes preparations to leave once and for all. And then the house takes a turn for the yandere.
A little before that is the bit where Navidson and Reston unexpectedly find Jed and Wax. Jed had been convinced he was about to die and was overjoyed to see friendly faces coming to rescue him. A second later, Holloway's bullet rips through his skull.
A House Divided: Soon after discovery, Navidson's lover begins to snap and fight with Navidson, Navidson's associates begin arguing constantly (to the point that one of them goes completely nuts, and the children get more violent.
Hypocritical Humor: ZampanÚ alleges that the Weinstein brothers left a particular sequence out of the theatrical cut of The Navidson Record because it was too self-referential. This, in a book where half the book is just one character commenting on the other half.
Jitter Cam: ZampanÚ mentions that this trope is averted whenever Will Navidson himself was filming, him being an expert photo- and cinematographer and all. Naturally, the quality of the framing rapidly diminishes whenever anyone else is doing the filming.
Kill It with Fire: The house, if you read into the subtext. In context, it's outright stated someone tried to burn the Navidson house down after it was sealed off — it failed.
Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Anne Rice, Stephen King, Harold Bloom, Steve Wozniak, Walter Mosley, Stanley Kubrick and Camille Paglia among others...
Leave the Camera Running: Navidson is described as doing this more than once, a notable example being the 46 seconds following Holloway's death, which makes his sudden disappearance as the house consumes him before the viewers' very eyes all the more frightening.
Magic Realism: To an extent. While the characters recognise something is clearly very wrong with the house, ZampanÚ prefers to discuss what is going on in the characters' heads in long narrative sections, which Johnny notes several times are actually not very academic.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Johnny may seem like a vulgar druggie, yet he is actually quite an intelligent man. It is heavily implied in the book that he wrote the Pelican Poems during his travels in Europe.
The book is printed in four colors, although there are some variations between the different versions.
Normal text is printed in black, and the word "house" always appears in blue, including in the title, copyright information, etc.
Mythological references are in red, as are struck-out passages which are, according to Truant, things ZampanÚ wanted to leave out. They are usually passages that are at least vaguely threatening to the reader. "Minotaur" may or may not be struck out, depending on if it's used in one of the aforementioned mythological references.
Purple is used only three times, but it's supposedly very important. It's used on the cover for the words "A Novel", "First Edition", and towards the end of the story: "[...], that I'm remembering now, [...]" Bear in mind that: a) Johnny associates purple with his mother, b) purple is made by combining red and blue, and c) the story he's remembering is about a mother trying to care for her brain-damaged newborn in the hospital before it dies.. Make of that what you will...
The Chroma Key reference means that the house is meant to be an entity that is projected on to. Zampano, Johnny, and the readers all project as much into the house as Navidson or Holloway.
On some pages, the lines are typed at angles or go around the edges of geometric shapes, with the rest of the page being white space. Other pages are blank except for footnotes.
In the typographically screwiest section of the book, two sections of red text are shaped like a key (introducing the Greek mythos of the Minotaur) and a lock (speaking about finding truth in documentaries.) Either this is the point of the novel or an elaborate red herring.
Physical God: Sort of: at one point Navidson expresses the view that the house is God. Whether it fits this trope depends on whether you think the house is sentient or not, or whether you think it matters.
Post Modernism: Maybe the book, is, in fact, the labyrinth. There certainly isn't a labyrinth anymore after Navidson burns a copy of House of Leaves. With perhaps an equal degree of straight and parody of post-modernism. Of course, it's impossible to actually parody post-modernism so the effect just becomes even more recursive which becomes even more the point.
Rape as Backstory: Karen...possibly. Although her estranged half sister told the world that the two of them were raped by their stepfather, she never confirms this. But it's hinted to be the source of her fear of the dark.
Eventually Truant's studio apartment has all-black walls covered in random scraps of paper with drawings of empty black hallways on them, homemade soundproofing made of egg cartons, aluminum foil covering the windows, and tape measures on every wall so he knows the minute the place starts expanding.
ZampanÚ's room also counts. Boxes of paper and scraps, some of which are littered onto the floor, and the strange gouge marks all over the place.
Rule of Symbolism, references, highlighted in various colors and Fonts, such as to the Greek labyrinth and The Minotaur, to make SURE we don't miss them. Not to mention several more layered references to various mythologies. Oh, and the poem of Yggdrasil at the very end.
Science Cannot Comprehend Phlebotinum: Double Subverted. The stuff from the walls inside the labyrinth in the house actually can be chemically analyzed and consists of normal elements. But the results make no sense in context and only make things more baffling — the age of the stuff varies all the way back to older than the solar system.
Serious Business: The Navidson Record. Everyone who's anyone, and most people who aren't, have analyzed, reviewed, or called attention to it. It's also, apparently, an extremely studied film in psychology, and has numerous theories about why Navidson, even though he knows the danger of the house, keeps descending into it. Except that, even within the universe the book purports to be from, there is no evidence the film ever existed, and none of the people ZampanÚ quotes about it have ever made those statements.
Sex Montage: There's a brief part where Johnny reviews a list of Lude's sexcapades of the past month, many of which involve some rather eyebrow-raising activites (golden showers, wetsuits, threesomes, etc.). However, Johnny immediately deconstructs this trope by imagining a tragic backstory for each girl (abortions, rape, Parental Incest, prostitution, and so on). It's that kind of book.
Sir Swears-a-Lot: Johnny. This even becomes a plot point when Johnny makes up several journal entries and then mocks the reader for believing them, saying that we should have at least been tipped off by the lacking of foul language in the fake entries.
Snuff Film: One of the footnotes describes a film that drew just as much attention as The Navidson Record called La Belle NiÁoise et Le Beau Chien, noted for its depiction of the murder of a little girl with "comic reality." The film garnered rave reviews and was universally considered a classic of arthouse cinema... until it was discovered that the filmmaker actually killed a young Lithuanian girl to create it.
Stealth Parody: It has been suggested that the novel might be so complex and strange because Danielewski is just messing with us.
Straw Feminist: Camille Paglia. She's calm and talks about how the house represents "the feminine void" when Karen talks to various celebrities, artists, journalists, critics, and professors about the house, and what it represents, but when Truant tries to verify their stories, out of the two responses he gets, Paglia's is on a postcard that says "Fuck off".
Stylistic Suck: As one of his amanuenses complains, ZampanÚ writes "like a freshman" who should get a C- at best, conveying his scanty insights in a tone of lofty certainty, dragging in basic summaries of well-known subjects, attempting to impress with irrelevant precision and lengthy quotations, and in general b.s.-ing for all he's worth. It's implied this is intentional on his part.
Surprisingly Happy Ending: Or at least bittersweet, and only for the Navidson family: Navidson manages to make it out of the final expedition alive, despite the House spawning bottomless pit after bottomless pit and eventually trapping him in infinite darkness. He gets out, the kids return to normal (mostly), marries Karen, and moves away. The House itself is cordoned off.
The index of the book feels the need to list several words (exactly one hundred, as it happens) with a "DNE" (as in "Does Not Exist") label instead of a page number. Presumably because these words don't exist. At least a few of them do, however — "Yank" appears in one of the Whalestoe Institute Letters, and "galleries" can be found on page 119. Some words listed with DNE are also symbolic, e.g. defenestration, the act of throwing someone or something out of a window.
In several pages of the book, there are multiple sidebars that describe what architectural features are NOT found in the labyrinthine sections of the house, resulting in the author taking multiple pages to say "The labyrinth in the house has featureless black walls, floors, and ceilings, and does not resemble any particular architectural style. Picture that. In your dreams."
Tempting Fate: Tom, while alone at the top of the Spiral Staircase, keeps poking fun at "Mr. Monster" and the house in general. When he finally musters the courage to descend the stairs, the whole thing stretches vertically, while the opening at the top scrunches up into an oval before becoming circular again. Tom justifiably shuts up and climbs back out to the top.
Tentative Light: The climax. In an interesting twist, Navidson burns a book titled House of Leaves to give him light. And in doing so, he may have saved himself. Possibly.
That Was the Last Entry: The last entry in the notebook which is all that remains of an Eighteenth Century winter expedition which journeyed in the same area where the house would eventually stand: "Ftaires! We haue found ftaires!" note "Ftaires" should be read as "stairs", because the old-fashioned elongated "s" ('ſ') that looks like a modern "f" was mistranscribed by one of the interlocutors.
Title Drop: In The Navidson Record and one of ZampanÚ's miscellaneous poems. And not just Title Drop but Self Drop — Johnny runs into a band (the real-world book's author's sister's) on his search for the house which has read House of Leaves, including footnotes and edits by Johnny and The Editors.
Time Abyss: The Labyrinth: the deeper you go down the older it gets. The oldest sample Navidson tests turns out to be much older than the solar system itself.
Unintentional Period Piece: By the book's 2000 publication, Johnny's 1990s Slacker persona was already borderline dated. As time moves along, he increasingly resembles an ill-conceived beatnik or hippie stereotype from the media of earlier generations.
Unfunny Aneurysm Moment: Very early in the story (page 10 or 11), Navy throws away a bit of Karen's hair that's stuck in a brush, and Karen jokingly states that she'll go bald one day and need that hair. In the story's epilogue, she's in remission from breast cancer.
Unreliable Narrator: All of them — there are at least three, one of whom introduces himself by recounting an outlandish story he told a group of girls. He further admits that he regularly makes up such stories and at one point admits that one chapter was an outright lie, and then laughs at you for believing it.
One chapter is dedicated to scientific analysis of various materials recovered from the house. Sounds like it would answer a lot of questions, right? Well, Johnny says he accidentally destroyed most of the manuscript for that chapter. That's not the Unreveal, though — right after the missing analysis it's stated there was nothing unusual about the materials. Except for the part that the different samples were from different ages, up to the point that part of the labyrinth is older than the solar system and is the same material as asteroids. Basically the house is just saying "screw you(r mind)" at any attempts at making sense of it.
Meanwhile, at various points in the story, there will be footnotes asking the reader to refer to some document numbered Exhibit One through Six — all six exhibits have no actual content and are just notes by ZampanÚ to remind himself to write them.
Karen Green had apparently traveled the world and showed the exploration films to various celebrities, such as Woz, Stephen King, Hunter S. Thompson, among others, and recorded their thoughts of it, and what the house means. Truant decides to contact these celebrities — all he gets is a letter from a composer who claims he never heard of Karen or the house, and an insulting postcard from a feminist Karen interviewed. And yet, a French-Israeli author had seen proof of the interviews...
Finally, there's Navidson's Dream #3, which is described as "more troubling and by far most terrifying" and otherwise made to sound interesting. It's entirely missing, but instead we get the genuine reveal of Johnny finally remembering one of his own nightmares.
The World Tree: A poem refers to Yggdrasil, the world-linking tree of Norse mythology. Whether the implied connection to the house is literal, figurative, or just the latest in a long list of mind screws is unclear.
Who's on First?: When Navidson, Tom, and Reston go into the house to find Holloway, Tom puts the radio to good use.
Radio (Navidson): If it gets too much for you, go back. We'll be alright.
Tom: Fuck yourself, Navy.
Tom: Doesn't he go around autographing lightbulbs?
Tom: Never mind. Over. Out. Whatever.
Writers Cannot Do Math: ZampanÚ certainly can't. His acceleration calculation that claims the stairway is deeper that the circumference of the Earth makes the minor error of forgetting terminal velocity. Navidson would probably have noticed something off about a quarter traveling at 65,500 miles per hour, given it would have hit the ground with the energy of a stick of dynamite. Accounting for terminal velocity would make the depth of the hole even greater than the circumference of the Earth.
Your Mind Makes It Real: ZampanÚ posits that the house changes its configuration based on the mindsets of those inside it. He describes how Holloway wanted a big adventure, so the house presents itself as expansive; whereas Navidson wanted to find everyone inside quickly and thus got a much shorter trip.