Monday, November 10, 2008


Mark Danielewski’s book House of Leaves paints quite a picture for the reader. His description of the unnatural hallway that randomly appears in the Navidsons’ home shows the reader in many examples how unstable it is. The walls shift constantly, making it virtually impossible to navigate through its maze, and its emptiness allows such change. An excerpt from page 120 tells us that “unoccupied space will never cease to change simply because nothing forbids it to do so. The continuous internal alterations only prove that such a house is uninhabited.” However, “no one has yet to disagree that the labyrinth is still a house. Therefore the question soon arises whether or not it is someone’s house. Though if so whose? Whose was it or even whose is it?” (121) As the story continues, it becomes clearer that the more time the explorers spend in the labyrinth, the more it becomes a house.

In Navidson’s first exploration of the hallway, although he does not discover it right away, the walls have shifted dramatically throughout his journey. At one point he hears a sudden harsh growl, which spooks him, and he realizes that he might not be able to find his way back in the dark. He tries to retrace his steps, and in an effort to mark where he has been he leaves a penny on the floor. After one direction down the long hall fails and ends with another growl, he backtracks. “Only now he discovers the penny he left behind, which should have been at least a hundred feet further, lies directly before him” (68). The labyrinth’s layout is consistently changing because it is uninhabited. Navidson is the first person to investigate it, and luckily he finds his way out after a short while. He does not spend enough time in there to inhabit it. The next exploration proves that more inhabitants are turning the labyrinth into a house.

As Holloway, Jed, and Wax take their time to explore it, they notice that at first the walls are moving often. However, the more time they spend in there, the less the walls seem to move. They are able to mark where they have been, which stays constant throughout their voyage until “when Holloway’s team finally begins the long trek back, they discover the staircase is much farther away than they had anticipated, as if in their absence the distances had stretched” (122). Because they are spending a long period of time in the maze (they are literally living there, camping out, eating food, drinking water, etc.), they can be considered inhabitants. However, their absence is what allowed the staircase to move father away. If they had been there, the walls may have moved, but it is likely that it would not have been so drastically modified. And when Navidson, Reston, and Tom go in to find Holloway, Jed, and Wax, the labyrinth becomes even more stable.

As Navidson walks down the stairs, he quickly realizes that the gigantic staircase that Holloway’s team climbed down is not gigantic at all. “Based on Holloway’s descent, Navidson had estimated the stairway was an incredible thirteen miles down. Less than five minutes later, however, Tom and Reston hear a shout. Peering over the banister, they discover Navidson with a lightstick in his hand standing at the bottom – no more than 100ft down” (159). Instead of an incredible staircase that grows in absence of inhabitants, Navidson discovers that while he inhabits this area, the staircase is not the obstacle he expected. On page 166, it is explained that his “rapid descent reflects his own knowledge that the Spiral Staircase is not bottomless.” Because he knows that there is an end, he is beginning to understand the way the labyrinth works, and it is changing less often.

In the beginning of the explorations, before anyone inhabited the hallway, the layout was constantly changing. However, as more and more people spent more and more time there, they discovered that it is not as unstable or forever in motion as they at first suspected. What they perceived to be a strange maze has quickly become a house in which they are the inhabitants.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

This argument, as you presumably know by now, at least, becomes stronger as the book goes on - at least up to the point when things start disappearing around Navy. In fact, the way that things disappear rather than simply solidifying is the obvious counterargument to what is an interesting and worthwhile idea.