The Final Tiger

March 24, 2018

This particular expiration
was the end of the show.

He did not think of extinction.

He did not look around as if to acknowledge
similar tigers yet free, others breathing in his moment.

His memories, if he had memories,
were not of the long sentence
of his kind, now resolved.
His worrisome, glass-edged memories
would have been of the need to start
with a burst of low, leathery, unbottled

speed – acceleration and not endurance –
an angle to cut off the most
laggard of the herd. Only the most laggard.
Never the best: the best could go on,
breed, build an ever stronger species, a species
that would last past the sacrifice
of its slowest, the sacrifice of the ones
at the uncelebrated back of the pack.

His loss was foretold to us by those of us
lingering unchallenged at the back of our pack.

They are looking over their shoulders still.

Ken Poyner

machines using men

March 24, 2018

our future selves

There’s no use pretending that a standardised, time-table machine-culture has any point in common…with a culture involving human freedom, individualism and personality. So…all one can do…is to fight the future as best he can. Anybody who thinks that men live by reason, or that they are able to consciously mould the effect & influences of the devices they create, is behind the time psychologically. Men can use machines for a while, but after a while the psychology of machine-habituation & machine-dependence becomes such that machines will be using the men – modelling them to their essentially efficient & absolutely valueless precision of action and thought…perfect functioning, without reason or reward for functioning at all.

H.P. Lovecraft
Letter to James F. Morton, November 19, 1929

Food for Thought

March 23, 2018

lost boundaries

March 20, 2018

When I looked up through the web of trees, the night fell over me, and for a moment I lost my boundaries, feeling like the sky was my own skin and the moon was my heart beating up there in the dark.

Sue Monk Kidd
The Secret Life of Bees

always safe in here

March 18, 2018

And all the shelves rising up around her like book-lined walls of a fortress, safe in here, always safe in here from the world, guarded by books and all the secrets inside them, all the things hardly anyone else will ever care to learn.

Caitlín R. Kiernan

Day Closes

March 17, 2018

Across the lake
wind ripples
choppy waves
like goose bumps
thrilling over
my skin.
On shore
ducks flap wings
in a feathery applause.
Aspen leaves giggle,
like children
supposed to be asleep,
and a cricket chirps
the sunset
into basic black
trailing like a whiff
of lilac before closure.

Diane Webster

Older feminine values

March 11, 2018

Tamara De Lempicka - Le Rythme, 1924

Myth is concerned with truth, but not in any historical sense but rather the inner truths about life; as Sallustius, the last great pagan theologian in the 4th century says: ‘These things never happened, but always are.’ * In the secular age in which we live, we lack that deeply held reverence for life or sense of the sacred, and so we see earth – plants, soils, waters, animals and even other people – as if without soul or spirit: as things to be exploited for our own benefit with results which, because all things are related, are beginning to catch up with us and horrify us. Three thousand years of the patriarchy with its Abrahamic concept of man’s separation from nature is mainly responsible for this, and this is why the revival of paganism lays such stress on the Goddess presence in deity. Older feminine values are pressing to come into their own again. The restoration of the dignity of woman in religion is long overdue and absolutely crucial…

* Sallustius, On the Gods and the World

Jo O’Cleirigh
Nemeton and the sacred play of the year
Wood & Water, Spring 1980

a house on a hill

Regrettably, the ivy of literary criticism attached to Hill House has tended to obscure its finer features. Biographers, scholars, and pop-culture commentators alike have proven dubious guides, telling tales riddled with factual error and taking interpretive leaps that a careful reader hesitates to follow. The first step, then, to pushing toward a clearer understanding and appreciation of the novel involves hacking through such accrued verbiage.

Judy Oppenheimer’s hefty biography, Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson, has surprisingly little to say about The Haunting of Hill House, and the scant analysis it does offer is marred by inaccuracy. Discussing Eleanor Vance’s climactic smashing of her car “into a wall” (actually, it was a tree), Oppenheimer asserts that the protagonist kills herself “triumphantly. For it is not a defeat, far from it — in the moment she makes her decision to merge with the [house’s] dark powers, Eleanor is more blazingly alive than she has ever been in her life”. Grossly misreading the novel’s ending, Oppenheimer ignores the dismay Eleanor expresses when facing fatality: “In the unending, crashing second before the car hurled into the tree she thought clearly, Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this? Why don’t they stop me?”. Oppenheimer concludes her chapter soon thereafter with the punning assertion that Jackson’s “triumph was as total, and as smashing, as Elinor’s [sic],” and the glaring typo here does nothing to inspire trust in the biographer’s attentive reading of the novel.

In Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic, scholar Darryl Hattenhauer devotes an entire chapter to Hill House, but his study proves no more reliable than Oppenheimer’s. Hattenhauer states that the line “Fear and guilt are sisters” is an admonition inscribed by Hill House’s founding father Hugh Crain in his daughter’s primer, whereas the line is a bit of third-person narration that appears in the chapter section subsequent to the main characters’ perusal of said primer (Jackson writes: “Fear and guilt are sisters; Theodora caught [up with Eleanor] on the lawn”). Discussing the scene in which Theodora’s bedroom is defiled, Hattenhauer observes that Eleanor “apparently smears menstrual blood on Theodora’s clothing and then blocks out any memory of doing so”. But that would have to have been one deluge of a period to produce “so much blood”, and Hattenhauer’s reading of the incident in natural and psychological terms fails to explain the complete disappearance (later in the novel) of the blood smears from both the bedroom wall and Theodora’s clothing. Most problematically, when describing the author’s notes for her novel, Hattenhauer observes: “Jackson (apparently unconsciously) inscribes herself into the house. Her several sketches of the two-storey house exhibit traces of her body”. Unfortunately, Hattenhauer fails to produce any sketches to corroborate this off-the-wall theory.

Another take on Hill House can be found in Dale Bailey’s American Nightmares: The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Fiction. In this treatment, the author (a horror writer as well as an academic) seems preoccupied with legitimizing the haunted-house subgenre as a subject worthy of scholarly scrutiny. In his constant search for deeper meaning, Bailey refuses to consider the novels’ domestic horrors on their own terms: “In the hands of the best paperback novelists,” he writes, “the haunted house becomes a strikingly versatile metaphor; transcending the glossy clichés of formula, it drags into light the nightmarish tensions of gender, class, and culture hidden at the heart of American life”. Accordingly, Bailey argues that Jackson employs Hill House “as a metaphor for an oppressive patriarchal society”. He reads the novel in light of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” an 1892 weird tale in which medically-prescribed home confinement exacerbates rather than cures the female narrator’s mental and emotional woes. Jackson no doubt alludes to Gilman’s story (although Bailey fails to forge any specific intertextual links). Dr. John Montague’s plan to “rent Hill House for three months” starting in late June recalls the doctor named ‘John’ in “The Yellow Wallpaper” who likewise makes a summer rental of a Gothic manse. Montague’s wife comments as she obsesses over the titular wallpaper: It is dull enough to confuse the eye in following, pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study, and when you follow the lame uncertain curves for a little distance they suddenly commit suicide — plunge off at outrageous angles, destroy themselves in unheard of contradictions” Eleanor’s reaction to her blue-wallpapered bedroom at Hill House echoes this; scanning the perimeter of the room, Eleanor ponders:

“It had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all its dimensions, so that the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible length; this is where they want me to sleep, Eleanor thought incredulously; what nightmares are waiting, shadowed, in those high corners—what breath of mindless fear will drift across my mouth.

Yet, just because the two texts parallel each other in some regards does not mean they do so in all. Jackson ultimately appears more interested in the frisson generated by “The Yellow Wallpaper”‘s ambiguities (mental breakdown occurring in a quite-possibly-haunted setting) than in rehearsing an unmistakable feminist critique (during the extended rest cure forced upon her, Gilman’s narrator significantly comes to perceive a female figure trapped behind the wallpaper). Bailey, whose book is representative of the predominant feminist-psychoanalytical approach to Hill House, misses the mark when he targets the patriarchy as the arch-villain of Jackson’s novel. Eleanor’s problems trace back to her relationship with her unpleasant mother, not the father whose absence Eleanor regrets: during her childhood “it had seemed to be summer all the time; she could not remember a winter before her father’s death on a cold wet day”. The textual evidence further contradicts Bailey’s positing of Hill House as “the vast corrupt palace of the patriarchy itself”; with its “concentric circles of rooms” and rounded furniture, Hill House (whose very name suggests female contours) is more overtly figured as a “mother house”. Similarly, Bailey’s ultra-Freudian assertion that Eleanor “ascends the library’s phallic tower in a moment of ‘intoxicating’ sexual union with the patriarchy” overstates the case — in this scene, Eleanor (a character too sexually repressed to engage in wanton union) believes she is chasing after her “Mother”. Sometimes, Bailey should be reminded, a tower is just a tower.

Bailey is not the only horror author to make a nonfiction study of Hill House. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King devotes considerable space to Jackson’s novel, which he lauds as one of the only two (Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw being the other) “great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years”. King’s comments are not devoid of error — even as he extols the brilliance of Jackson’s opening paragraph, he flubs the analysis of the lines. Jackson begins: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality, even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within – “. The implication here is that Hill House has been subjected to too much absolute reality, but King misreads the passage and claims that the house “does not exist under conditions of absolute reality; therefore it does not dream; therefore it is not sane”. Also, for all the admirable rigor King demonstrates in mapping out the novel’s various interpretive possibilities, he falls disappointingly short in his commentary by ruling out one particular reading: “the one thing we can be sure of is that there are no actual ghosts in Hill House. None of the four characters come upon the shade of the companion flapping up the hall with a rope burn around her ectoplasmic neck”. This last statement is true enough, yet signals how easily Jackson’s subtlety can mislead — just because the author is not so blunt as to let a ghost manifest front and center in the novel does not mean it is not there haunting Hill House.

King’s denial of a ghostly presence in Hill House represents the fundamental flaw in the literary criticism of Jackson’s novel. Time and again over the past half-century, the strange happenings at Hill House have been explained in either psychological (i.e. as the unconscious projections of the disturbed and telekinetically-gifted Eleanor) or vaguely-supernatural terms (i.e. the house itself has been malevolently-sentient since its construction). Marvin Kaye, in a bibliographical appendix to his anthology, Ghosts, qualifies his inclusion of The Haunting of Hill House, which is “technically a twisted story of haunted people”. Critics Dara Downey and Darryl Jones conversely assert: “The manifestations themselves, their multifarious nature, and the fact that they almost never take visible form, all imply an amorphous malevolent force, without origins or motives”. A closer reading of the novel, though, exposes the limits of such polarized perspectives, which jointly overlook the fact that Jackson has scripted a bona fide ghost story. Lenemaja Friedman is a rare critic who holds that “the reader must accept the possibility of ghosts…all members of the party share in seeing and hearing the same manifestations, which are not the product of any one person’s imagination”. But one can still take another step beyond Friedman’s generic discussion of “the spirits of the house”. For all her crafted ambiguity, Jackson embeds key clues within her text that point to a specific ghost haunting the premises. After fifty years’ worth of confusion, the time has surely come to identify (the origins and motives of) Hill House’s resident revenant.

Joe Nazare
Haunting Anniversary: a half-century of Hill House

Tied to other realms

March 4, 2018

river crossing

For as long as I can remember, I have been tied to what I call other realms. My childhood is filled with amazing yet what many would call unexplainable experiences…hearing voices of those who are not physically present, feeling a presence not physically there and even seeing someone who is but a reflection in appearance. I have even seen those who look so much like a physical person I mistook them for one.

I have had numerous encounters with things beyond this plain of existence yet I still find it difficult to name these experiences. I am extremely reluctant to label myself or to try to define those things that might not have a definition. I have shied away from using the word gifts yet for those of us who are sensitive to these encounters I guess gifts are a good name to use.

I am fascinated by all the experiences I am so fortunate to have. I remember feeling both nervous and excited by the footsteps of those I could not see in my grandmother’s attic. I would eventually leave the comfort and sanctuary of my grandmother’s bed to investigate. As I approached the attic door I did my best to be quiet, to be cautious and not alarm those whose footsteps I could hear. Slowly I reached out my hand and as soon as my fingers touched the delicate doorknob all was silent. Imagine me thinking I could sneak up on ghosts, spirits or magical creatures. It seems humorous to me now however I took it quite seriously then.

Xntric Raven
The Lady on the Stairs


March 3, 2018

Engines lie
Rotting and rusting
In the sands
Roar no more to the
Sounds of freedom to
The flock of birds under
A carbon sky.

Clinton Van Inman