Sonntag, 20. September 2015

The Team is Now Complete

By now Eleanor and I with her know Hill House mostly from the outside: it's six miles of bad, up-hill road from the next (inhospitable) little town, it's surrounded by a veranda and a drive-way, it's sort of hidden (lurking?) by the hills behind it and around it and the woods covering the area from the house to the gate.

Ah. The gate. 

It isn't mentioned any more at this point of the story, but has already been established as a difficult barrier to cross to get into Hill House: sturdy iron, two locks, one locked chain - without Dudley the Disgruntled no car gets in or out, and the Dudleys have left, and will leave every evening.

So, since this is a Haunted House story, it's really just a question of time till people try to flee from the house, and, following Murphy's Law, probably at night. It may be possible for someone very determined on getting the heck out of Dodge to climb the gate, or the wall. But that would leave them with a six mile hike to Hillsdale. (Where people aren't nice to strangers, and Dudley would probably grumble about how he told them all along, but would anyone listen to him, no, city folk who think they know everything, ... until someone hit him over the head with a shovel.)

The inside is mostly unexplored so far: past the door with it's iron knocker is a hallway, with double doors leaving to the left and right, and a staircase leading to the second story. Up there isa long hallway with rooms to both sides, and at the left end another staircase, presumably a service staircase.

Beyond that Hill House is, as of yet, "Here There Be Dragons" territory. The blank piece of map to fill is a (rather uncomfortable) sitting room where Eleanor, Theodora, Dr. Montague and Luke Sanderson (obligatory family member and heir presumptive) begin to get to know each other. The atmosphere is a an interesting contrast between light-hearted chatting and joking between the four protagonists and the oppressive, dark room over-decorated in purple.

Other rooms are introduced:
  • a billiard room, right next to the entrance hall
  • a dining room which can be entered through the billiard room
  • a conservatory next to or at least connected to the purple room they are in
The team also learns from Dr. Montague (who had access to a map of the house and knows some of the rooms), that some rooms are entirely interior rooms, without windows, and what windows there are tend to be shrouded in curtains inside and shrubbery outside. For more darkness and shadows, the doors in Hill House have a habit of shutting themselves, and (Nelly and Theo already experienced this) Mrs Dudly has a habit of removing any props used to keep doors open. Expect the word "shadows" to turn up very, very often.

In the evening, the story of Hill House is reluctantly told to the three assistants (Dr. Montague's term for Theo, Eleanor and Luke), beginning with the fact that yes, the gate is locked and no-one leaves, and last person who tried leaving Hill House at night died on the way to the gates - 18 years ago at the exact at the corner of the way were Eleanor first saw the house, and had an immediate impulse to flee.

The house was build by Hugh Crain, who intended to have a large family of children and grandchildren there. Sadly, his wife died when her carriage overturned on the driveway.

 An interesting aside:
The information is only, that his wife died minutes before she was to set eyes on the house. Now, the house is visible from the last turn before the house - if you are in a car. A carriage doesn't have front windows; you'd have to stick your head out of the small side windows to see what is up ahead. That and the driveway of a rich man's a newly build house should be in pretty good condition. So I do suspect that the carriage overturned at the same point where decades later a rider was crushed by his horse, and another 18 years later Eleanor Vance had to squash the instinct to flee.

Hugh Crain re-marries two times, but both his wifes die (a fall, and Tb, then called consumption). The house is left jointly to his daughters, the elder of which remains unmarried and inhabits Hill House, first alone for a few years, then with a companing - an unnamed girl from Hillsdale. This companion / nurse later inherits the house, is immediately sued by the surviving sister (who also comes up with accusations of negligence or foul play in the death of her sister) and, after winning the law suit, pestered by her until she finally commits suicide in Hill House. Cousins of the companion inherit the house: The Sandersons, parents to the current proprietress and grandparents to Luke Sanderson. Miss Crain tried to pester them from the first day on, but they simply called the police on her, which shut her up - what a shame that the nurse didn't have the nerves to do that!

Two interesting things: the fight about the inheritance reminds me a bit of Eleanor's sister trying to monopolize their commonly owned car. And the companion / nurse is a clear parallel to Eleanor herself who nursed her own mother to her end, inspite the absence of love or gratitude.

So begins the ownership of the house by the Sanderson family. They intend to live there, installed plumbing, electricity and telephones, but change their minds after a few days, setting a pattern that would last: the house was rented out a few times, and every time the inhabitants discovered quickly that for reasons of work or other, they had to be far away, somewhere else, and cleared out. Dr. Montague is very definite on it: the house has influenced every inhabitant from Hugh Crain onwards.

Samstag, 19. September 2015

This Is Hill House, And You Are Not Welcome At All

So, our heroine has made it through a lengthy car trip and past Dudley the Despicable, and here she is, in front of the goal of her journey and wanting nothing so much as back her car out of there and get ...

... well.

Remember the thing about the half-stolen car?

Eleanor spend the last 11 years nursing her sick mother, who died recently. Apparently, all that she owns is now stuffed into a suitcase and a box in the car, which belongs to her and her sister Carrie together. Said Carrie is married, presumably the elder of the two, presumably has left the care for their mother entirely to Eleanor, and speaks of the car as "my car" as in "I don‟t think I can see my way clear to letting you borrow my car.”. She's also a master at twisting, re-defining and ignoring facts as the circumstances demand, and she, her 5-year old daughter and her comparably obnoxious husband seem to be all that Eleanor has in form of social contacts and family.

The fact that Eleanor simply made off with the car which is half hers (she paid part of the costs, but never was allowed to use it) probably hasn't improved Carrie's temper.

That, therefor, is what Eleanor would have to go back to. 

So, she steps up a few stairs onto a wooden veranda, knocks at the entrance door and meets the distaff counterpart to Dudley the Despicable: Mrs Dudley the Dismal.

As Eleanor enters the hallway, we learn through her observations and thoughts that the predominant colors of Hill House are dim, disharmonious, dark, vile and evil, with notes of over-ornate - lots and lots of wood paneling (dark), wooden floors (dark) and carved wooden doors (not light).

She is deposited in the blue room, one of the rooms in the second floor, which has two windows facing to the front of the house, and left to herself to unpack and feel discouraged by the general gloom of the house until the second guest arrives: Theodora (just Theodora), who is installed in the Green Room - very similar to that of Eleanor and connected with it by a common bathroom.   

Theodora and Eleanor become quick friends, both very different in temper, and both certainly happy not to be alone in the dismal house with Mrs Dudley. They go exploring: the veranda runs around the entire house, and in the back there's a stair leading down onto green grass dotted with grouped trees, and behind it green hills piling up behind Hill House, and path leading downhill brings them to a little brook, with wild flowers and minnows - the perfect place for relaxation. Although here, even beautiful little brooks are to be treated carefully - Theodora always fell in in her hurry to get there, and later on, despite the beautiful surroundings, both women are scared by a rabbit.

As the sun begins to set, they return to the house where they will meet the other half of the team: Luke Sanderson and Dr. Montague.

"Route 39 to Ashton, Then Route 5 Going West ...

... and then a little less than 30 miles to the village of Hillsdale."

After Hillsdale, Eleanor will be following, for about 6 miles, a very narrow country road, going up into the hills andin very poor repair.She is following directions written by her host/employer, who also advises her against asking for the way in Hillsdale, where questions about Hill House will turn the inhabitants from the normal state of "rude towards strangers" to outright hostility - in other words: from Hillsdale on, you are on gothic territory!

But for now, Eleanor has lovely trip, and while she follows the road, we follow her thoughts and fantasies: about palaces hidden by a spell and oleander bushes, about a quiet life in a home of her own, cozy, safe, with home-made elderberry wine and plum jam, polished loors, silver tea things and neighbours who like and respect her. There is a very poignant moment when Eleanor witnesses a little girl insisting on her "cup of stars", but I'm not spoiling that. It is hard not to like Eleanor, with her sympathy and interest others, her almost crushing sense of duty and her whimsical fantasies sparked by the landscape she travels through.

Added bonus for this shrinking, shy, introspective person just having escaped a life of servitude and riding a half-stolen car! (I'll come to that later.)

Hillsdale heralds a change of atmosphere - dirty, unattractive, unpleasant, and sullen: Lovecraft lite. The road to Hill House is as bad as expected, even on the way in, there are hints at this road being able to damage a car. (So what will the way out be? In a dark and stormy night maybe, with someone wounded in the back seat?) Eleanor's mood is affected by the ominous surroundings, her enjoyment in her great adventure gnawed at by doubt.

At the end of the road waits something yet more dampening (and foreboding): the gate is locked, double-locked and chained shut and worse, needs to be opened by the platonic example of the disgruntled, low-grade tyrant janitor who of course jumps at the chance of dangling his little power of the key and squeezes every last drop of enjoyment out of it. I suspect any woman who had to deal with more than 3 janitors/gate keepers / door guards in her life knows the type.

Beyond the gate (and now with a very sturdy barrier between Eleanor and the outside wall) are more trees around the road, hiding the house (except for glimpses of the roofs) and inspiring more wild fantasies in Eleanor - until the house is suddenly right in front of her, and her first thought is:

Get away from here.

Or course I couldn't resist looking for "Ashton, USA". There are 14 - little England has more! - but only one on the west coast, which is where I would expect a 80 year old (well, by now close to 120 years) victorian house. (Yep, I know, Winchester mystery house, CA.) Sadly, the west coast Ashton has no Hillsdale in close proximity; lets assume it has been swallowed by Hill House, or at least turned into a ghost town.

Welcome to Hill House

You know this one, right? Or at least of one of the three "this one"s:

1963 - "The Haunting" classic b&w movie

1999 - remake of the same, with good actors but suffering badly from being a CGI-vehicle (you know, around 2000, when CGI just went from being this amazing new thing from Jurrassic Park and was turning just affordable enough to use by the boat load, but new enough to (over)use as the main selling point of a movie)

1959 - "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson

I'm a sucker for scary stories, and for old buildings and houses, and especially for what one might call chamber play stories, were you have a few characters in an isolated environment which, wanting to or not, they slowly explore.

And now I'm immersing myself in the book, following the protagonists, especially Eleanor, as they arrive in Hill House and enter it, and I am noticing that though they speak of taking notes, they aren't. So, being a terrible quibbler who can go on and on about details and the meaning if words and secondary characters and their importance ...

... I'm following them into the house, and I'm taking notes.