What Denial Reveals in House of Leaves

House of Leaves (2000) by Mark Z. Danielewski is made up of various narratives which are intertwined in such a way that disorients readers and obscures facts. Zampanò’s analyses of the documentary The Navidson Record are compiled together with an appendix by Johnny Truant, who also adds his own footnotes to the mix— altogether published by an unspecified group or individual only referred to as “The Editors.”[1] In her analysis of House of Leaves, Nicoline Timmer states how “the different possible meanings of certain references” that all the characters make in their respective narratives prevent readers from figuring out “the ultimate and conclusive true story.” This often proves to be accurate, however, I disagree with Timmer’s other argument that the characters, specifically Johnny, are not in “full narrative control” of what they want to hide or open up about. Instead, Navidson, Zampanò and Johnny make a clear distinction between what they choose to believe as true and what they deny. In consequence, whether deliberately or not, the testimonies they deny turn out more reliable and also insightful of their darkest misgivings.

Within his academic criticism of The Navidson Record, Zampanò decisively crosses out any mention of the Greek Minotaur myth. His narrative control falters only when Johnny, an audience member Zampanò never knows about, takes the liberty of keeping the censored parts in House of Leaves. Through these recovered sections, readers learn foremost about an alternate rendition of the myth depicting the “Minotaur” as the innocent son of King Minos, locked away from the public in a Labyrinth because of his “deformed face” (110). This information alone would have merely contributed to the display of excessive analysis Zampanò becomes known for, but Zampanò’s attempt at removing this material brings up questions about his personal affiliation to the story. Johnny even takes interest in Zampanò’s history and looks into the matter. He finds a “particularly disturbing coincidence” and does not immediately elaborate except with a few comments suggestive of Zampanò suffering from a “secret anguish” and “a fire that burned him” (337). It is not until Johnny discovers another topic which Zampanò chose to expunge from his work— the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau— that Johnny reveals his theory of Zampanò having either a brother, a son or even two sons (249). One hint toward the possibility of Zampanò having a child is the deliberate alignment of a section regarding the Minotaur myth which molded the text into a human-like shape (336). The shape may only be a portrayal of the Minotaur, but its modest size and resemblance to an infant one-piece speaks otherwise. Zampanò lingers on the father-son relationship aspect of the myth despite it having little correlation to the House’s labyrinth explorers in The Navidson Record. This implies that Zampanò chose to reflect on that particular theme because he made a personal connection with it. Regardless of whether or not Johnny’s theory is correct, Zampanò’s choice to get rid of these subjects inadvertently revealed how he was haunted by a certain episode in his past.

In addition to managing Zampanò’s work according to his whim, Johnny Truant chooses to blur his own history by inserting fictitious stories into his narrative. These stories “help [Johnny] to look away” and “protect [himself]” from the truth of his deteriorating mental state and also of his disturbing past. As an example of the former, Johnny’s false anecdote of meeting up with two doctor friends in Seattle who provide him with a “miracle drug” that could “cure [his] nightmares” (509) acts as a sort of wish fulfillment. Johnny wanted to “trick [himself]” into believing he “really was lucky enough” to undergo such a revival. Afterwards, just like with his other fabrications, Johnny exposes its falsehood. This pattern of deception followed by an abrupt confession represents how Johnny is willing to openly admit that his present life is not at all stable nor healthy.

However, Johnny is more on guard over his troublesome past. Despite being locked away in the back of his mind, Johnny’s progression through Zampanò’s writings triggers the re-formation of a traumatic memory involving him and his mother. The reemergence takes a long while to complete, so the memory starts out in the guise of a “Minotaur” stalking Johnny and at one point warps into a human being with “extremely long fingers” (71) who inflicted a “long, bloody scratch on the back of [his] neck” (72). Near the end of Johnny’s journey in House of Leaves, he realizes that his mother was the ‘creature’ following him. Johnny soon denies the truth of the memory by stating, “She hadn’t tried to strangle me and my father had never made a sound” (517). He then follows up with a story that acts as truth in place of his actual memory— a mother-son tale, apparently first told by the “Doc” from Seattle who was previously established as nonexistent. This is a reversal of the sequence for truth revealing Johnny regularly uses. By purposefully placing the contrived story at the very end of his narrative, Johnny ‘tricks’ himself one final time without a subsequent contradiction. However, like he mentioned before, Johnny does not intend to ‘trick’ readers as well (509). The last part of House of Leaves is the Appendix, which includes of a series of letters sent to Johnny by his mother, Pelafina. In one of these letters, Pelafina describes the fateful incident when she made “some half-moon cuts on the back of [Johnny’s] neck” with her “long, ridiculous purple nails” (630) as she tried to choke him to death. Johnny does not blatantly tell readers what they should believe, but he provides enough evidence, such as the “Whalestoe Letters,” to conclude that a certain moment from Johnny’s history, whether it be a near-death experience committed by his own mother or not, impacted his present life significantly. It is just Johnny himself who desires to be excluded from accepting the truth.

Even within The Navidson Record documentary, there are denials of truths later accepted by the audience because of overarching evidence. For instance, Will Navidson purposefully conceals the identity of “Delial” for much of TNR; Once he enters an inebriated state, he writes a repentant letter to his wife and exposes the hidden insecurities and secrets of his life. Navidson’s long-lasting silence on the topic is a form of denial because it is a rejection of Delial’s presence in his life ’. Navidson’s reserve leads Navidson’s wife, Karen, and many others to assume that Delial is a former lover. Instead, Navidson is hiding a truth he considers worthy of even greater shame. Being the subject of a photograph that should be considered Navidson’s finest achievement but is actually his biggest regret. Delial becomes, as Zampanò referred to her, Navidson’s “albatross” (17). Based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the albatross represents a severe burden one carries in consequence of a wicked deed. In Navidson’s case, he can’t forgive himself for spending precious minutes on taking a photo of Delial instead of trying to save her (393). This is the only instance out of the three narratives where the truth is ultimately accepted by both the audience and the narrator. Therefore, general agreement compared to one-sided denial is, admittedly, more effective in solidifying truths, yet also less discerning of someone’s inner workings.

Throughout the three core narratives of House of Leaves, denial proves to be a psychological mechanism for each one to get rid of the culpability for a transgression or a grievance toward another person. Thus, the denied truths tend to disclose more of the enigmatic histories of Zampanò, Johnny and Navidson than facts that are given without contradiction and dispute.

[1] Since all these sources come together as one final, real product, I will consider each narrative as ‘real’ and existent.

Bibliography

Danielewski, Mark Z. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.

Timmer, Nicoline. “Johnny T.” Do You Feel It Too? The Post-Postmodern Syndrome in American Fiction at the Turn of the Millennium. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010. 243-297. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 360. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014. Literature Resource Center. Web.

In The Place of Houses

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, published in 2000, is a fragmented, analytical biography of a strange, possibly haunted house delivered as a collaborative dissection of a “found footage” horror documentary. Danielewski’s novel presents the reader with a myriad of questions, one of the most prominent being “What is the house?” Incorporating the postmodernist Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacara and simulation into our reading of House of Leaves as a ghost story, we can interpret the house itself as being the “ghost” of the story and Johnny as being the one haunted by it. By examining these two theories, we can see how the application of the simulacra shifts the focus of the novel from the ontological nature of the house to the pattern of transference that the story of the house follows. The application of Baudrillard’s theory allows the house to be read as an entity that requires transference from person to person to accomplish a haunting, behaving like a virus that requires movement from host to host in order to perform its function.

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Inside the Labyrinth

In his novel House of Leaves (2000), Mark Z. Danielewski alludes to the myth of the Cretan Minotaur as a tactic to emphasize Johnny Truant’s entrapment by his past. Through the process of compiling Zampano’s fragmented manuscript of The Navidson Record, a documentary film that discloses the Navidson family’s encounter of a horrifying maze, repressed memories of Johnny’s past begin to surface. While the Minotaur, a deformed child, is sentenced to walk a physical maze, Johnny is forced to navigate the hidden secrets residing within the labyrinth of his own mind. While Katharine Cox’s article, “What Has Made Me? Locating Mother in the Textual Labyrinth of Mark Z. Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves,’” argues that Johnny’s character parallels the Minotaur through his psychological imprisonment by the concealed memory of his mother’s abandonment, Cox’s analysis can be extended to include additional circumstances of abandonment, parental neglect, physical deformity, and isolation conveyed through Johnny’s assessment of his life by memories, his present condition, and a dream that further exemplify Johnny as the Minotaur and emphasize his inability to escape.

In the process of transcribing The Navidson Record, Johnny recollects repressed memories of his past that indicate experiences of abandonment analogous to that of the Cretan Minotaur. Triggered by the film, Johnny embarks on a “journey of remembrance” and reveals that, like the Minotaur, he was left alone in his adolescence (Cox 4). However, his encounter with familial dissonance and the uncertainty of what lurks within the Navidson’s house prompts the emergence of violent hallucinations of asphyxiation as well as apparitions of an unidentifiable being, often referred to as a “her” and depicted as “disturbingly familiar” (Danielewski 28). These episodes of stifled breathing from sensations of piercing “[finger]nails” indicate that Johnny’s life of desertion stems from more than simply the incarceration of his mother and the early death of his father (Danielewski 27). Through a reflection of his mother’s written confession, sent from The Three Attic Whalestoe Institute, Johnny slowly uncovers that, like the Minotaur, he was abandoned through “the destructive bond between [parent]…and child;” ultimately fated to suffer the consequences precipitated by a mother’s “monstrous desire[s]” (Cox 12). The Minotaur, bearing the hideous appearance of a beast, exhibits the head of a bull and the body of a man as a product of its mother’s sinful act of infidelity. Afraid to taint his reputation, King Minos, the Minotaur’s father, proves unwilling to “accept” that the “heir to…[his] throne” will be of illegitimate birth and that the future face of Crete will be one of terrifying deformity (Danielewski 110). As a result, King Minos forcibly hides the Minotaur from society inside a labyrinth, exemplifying an act of rejection that leaves the Minotaur to grow up without a parental figure. Similarly, to safeguard Johnny from the hardships and misery of everyday life, Johnny’s mother attempts to strangle him. Although Johnny’s mother perceives death as a “gift,” a freedom from the “pain of living,” and considers her deed an act of love, her murderous desires and violence warrant incarceration by Johnny’s father (Danieleswki 629, 630). Consequently, with an absent mother living in an asylum, Johnny is completely alone when a car accident suddenly takes his father. While the underlying cause resides with the mother, in each story it is the reactive decision of the father that proves the catalyst for abandonment. As a result, Johnny’s childhood is marked by years of abandonment and an inability to develop familial relations as he transfers time and again among foster families. With each new home Johnny maintains the status of a “guest[,]…living with” yet never becoming part of the family (Danieleswki 92). Through tantrums of “throwing things,” runaways, and school expulsions, Johnny is perceived as a beast for causing trouble (Danielewski 587). Just as the Minotaur was spurned for its abnormal appearance, Johnny is rejected for his abnormal behavior. Both Johnny and the Minotaur exist as black sheep, unable to fit within the mold of societal norms.

After uncovering the hidden truth of his childhood abandonment, Johnny reveals physical scars of parental neglect and consequently, further epitomizes the Cretan Minotaur through his beastly appearance. Johnny is finally able to “retrace [the] history” of his deformity to his “familial ties” with a derelict mother and an abusive foster father (Cox 7). Although both Johnny and the Minotaur were disfigured involuntarily by the choices of another, the Minotaur was born malformed whereas Johnny acquired marks of trauma. In addition to the “half-moon” scars on the back of his neck from his near death experience, Johnny wears sleeves of “horror [that] swee[p]” the length of his arms from a childhood accident involving spilled oil by the hands of his mother (Danielewski 20). Displaying scars from a foster father that span beyond a “broken…and discolored front tooth,” white marks on his legs, and a discolored line “intersecting [his] eyebrow,” Johnny parallels the Minotaur’s freakish and monstrous appearance (Danielewski 130). Although Johnny subconsciously attempts to lock away the memories of his traumas as a mechanism of self-protection, his physical disfigurements, like the walls of the Minotaur’s maze, act as a constant reminder of the horrors of his past.

As his attachment to The Navidson Record grows, Johnny further exemplifies the Cretan Minotaur not only by his daily routine that shapes his present state of isolation and physical deterioration, but also through his entrapment generated by paranoia. Johnny possessed a nearly unvarying daily schedule that consisted of clubs and one-night stands prior to his discovery of The Navidson Record. However, it is not until the “transformative effects of…Zampano’s writing” both impact Johnny’s cognitive stability and alter his way of life that he acknowledges a sense of imprisonment (Cox 5). Although his interest in the documentary initially proves to be mere “curiosity,” reading inconsistently, Johnny reveals that now, due to a growing obsession, both hours and days disappear in the “twist” of sentences, scenes, and patterns of the fragmented “scrap[s]” (Danielewski xviii). As a result, Johnny, in response to the fear that suddenly appears tugging at the back of his mind, becomes increasingly closed off from and unaware of the existence of the outside world; ultimately paralleling the incarcerated state of the Minotaur. While the Minotaur is secluded from society by the inescapable pattern of a physical maze, a sentence resulting from the trepidation of others, Johnny is isolated by his own terror, escalating confusion, and apprehension that accompany the arrival of unexplained memories of which he has no recollection. In his anxiety regarding the condition of his social standing, King Minos fabricates accounts of Athenian deaths and “publicly” frames the Minotaur as the bloodthirsty monster culpable (Danielewski 110). With walls meant to “conceal” and the “residents” of Crete “never get[ting] too close to the labyrinth,” it becomes clear that societal paranoia and fear for individual security are what confines the faultless Minotaur to its prison (Danielewski 110). Through a display of claustrophobia, impaired breathing, and hallucinations of “a stalking [and approaching] monster” that threatens to cut his throat, Johnny is similarly overwhelmed with paranoia (Cox 13). With the former routine of his life incapable of providing comfort, clarity, or an escape from the memory of a near-death experience that haunts his present, Johnny reverts solely to Zampano’s manuscript for answers. Johnny turns away from his personal relationships by missing calls, trashing phone numbers, and forgoing social outings. As Johnny further detaches himself out of fear from the outside world, he exemplifies a state of entrapment both within his home and in a lifestyle of deleterious behaviors as he traverses the maze of his mind. In “nai[ling] his windows shut” and layering his doors with locks, “chains,” and “storm proof” precautions, Johnny rarely leaves his apartment (Danielewski xviii). Unable to sleep or keep up with the demands of daily living, he appears “pale and weak” (Danielewski 404). Along with the deformities induced by his childhood, Johnny’s protruding bones and sickly demeanor highlight a bodily deterioration that mirrors the monstrous appearance of the Minotaur.

Although Johnny embodies the animalistic features and seemingly violent nature of the Cretan Minotaur in a dream, the account demonstrates a compassionate portrayal of his character, for like the Minotaur, his perceived savagery proves misunderstood. As Johnny dreams, he “wander[s] lost” (Cox 4) among the seemingly familiar “dead ends” (Danielewski 403). While Johnny expresses the belief that he has been searching the corridors for years, it is not until he undergoes a bodily change that this frequent dream exemplifies a “nightmare of self-evaluation” (Cox 6). As the threat of death from a drunken frat boy’s swinging ax prompts Johnny to physically transform into the figure of a Minotaur, “sprout[ing]” course hair, “long, yellow fingernails,” and an “enormous bulge” on his forehead, it becomes apparent that, like the Minotaur, Johnny takes the form of a monster as a result of external forces (Danielewski 404). Despite the creature’s “gentle” nature, only consuming Athenians who died of starvation lost in the maze, the Minotaur is cast as a villain through King Minos’ “secre[t] execut[ions]” and fallacious claims of his child’s barbarous acts (Danielewski 110). Although the Minotaur is “nearly murdered” by a criminal, it is unable to muster enough brutality to survive (Danieleswki 111). The Minotaur’s inhuman countenance that resulted from its mother’s indiscretion along with a cruel identity determined by its father supersede its benevolence, forcing the it into the role of a feared beast. Although Johnny typifies the mentality and appearance of a monster, expressing a decision to “carve out” the frat boy’s innards, he reveals that true savagery is also not of his innate nature (Danielewski 405). Johnny’s reaction represents one of defense, generated by a situation of survival. Through an acknowledgment of the “melted” appearance of his hands in the moment prior to his transformation, it is apparent that Johnny’s “appall[ing]” marks of disfigurement, resulting from his relationship with his mother, exemplify external factors that begin to change how he is perceived in the eyes of others (Danielewski 403, 404). As people turn their gaze from Johnny’s scars and his emaciated state, “stunned” and “incredibly uncomfortable” at his unsightly appearance, it is revealed that Johnny is perceived as abnormal (Danielewski 296). However, it is not until Johnny becomes consumed with the external force of a growing paranoia that he is viewed as both lesser than human and frightening. Afraid of losing Zampano’s manuscript, a potential key to his confusion, Johnny primitively and aggressively “spr[i]ng[s] forward…[as if] by instinct to fend off his best friend (Danielewski 324). In fear of an approaching attack, Johnny becomes disassociated with society and secures himself within his apartment, epitomizing a beast hiding among the darkness. Although Johnny buys a gun for protection, the degree of his terror proves both disorienting and dehumanizing. With desires to implement pain by hand and “rip open” flesh by his teeth in a fight, Johnny further exemplifies the characteristics of an animal (Danielewski 296). However, along with an initial claim that blood and brutality “disturb” him, Johnny condemns his thoughts of violence as atrocious and “unspeakable” (Danielewski 249, 497). Johnny, innately benevolent, identifies with the Minotaur for his misunderstood character. As a result of the past, the present environment, and how others choose to see them, both the Minotaur and Johnny are mistakenly distinguished as monsters.

In House of Leaves, Mark Z. Dainelewski highlights that Johnny Truant parallels the mythological Cretan Minotaur. Johnny, suffering from a past that haunts his present, is condemned to a life of entrapment. While the Minotaur is physically bound to its prison, unable to break free, Johnny wanders the corridors of his subconscious, lost among the hidden truths.

Works Cited

Cox, Katharine. “What Has Made Me? Locating Mother in the Textual Labyrinth of Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”” Critical Survey. Vol. 18. N.p.: Berghahn, 2006. 4-15. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Danielewski, Mark Z. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. 2nd ed. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.

An Overview of Horror and the Occult (lilicecilia & patriciaoldani)

By, M. K. (1991, Nov 08). “Horrors! or, why people love being scared.” New York Times

This article discusses a novel, The Thrill of Fear, written by Walter Kendrick about society’s love of horror and the occult. The article was helpful in determining an original motive for the obsession with horror dating back to the 18th century. With this article we were able to make discoveries about the emergence of horror that we did not know before having to do with the fear of death, and the transformation of death into something predictable and possibly even avoidable. The article led us to believe that horror was used as a coping mechanism for Western cultures to face death head on and overcome it through the stories.

Cherry, Brigid. Horror. London: Routledge, 2009.

This novel had a lot of background information on the horror genre, especially in regards to film. We mostly looked at the first part of the book dealing with the form and genre of horror. In this part of the novel we were also given a list of different types of horror genres that pertain to different types of people. That was very helpful as different types of horror are certainly appealing to different people. The novel helped us to understand how horror has been and continues to be used as a way of voicing opinions on social, cultural, and political issues. We were given many examples of horror films that had hidden social meanings that we were unaware of before, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street being representative of the dangers of the selfish parents from the “me generation” in the 70s. This novel also gave us information on why horror has lasted so many years and will continue to last for years to come. It has to do with the social and political meanings as well, because as they change so does the genre which makes it flexible and adaptable. The novel also reiterated that part of the novelty of horror is that it makes you feel afraid for your life in the safety or your own home or a theatre, which is quite paradoxical. Finally, this novel briefly touched on the issue of the violence and psychotic behavior that is seen in horror novels, films, and video games nowadays, and how it is creating violent tendencies in young adults as they are the prime audience for horror. This insight was really interesting as it is a relevant topic that is discussed frequently in today’s society, including our class.

Straub, P. (1979, Apr 01). “People are talking about: Boom…in horror.” Vogue, 169, 272-272, 308.

This article presented another possible motive behind the obsession with horror films: childhood. All of the arguments that we found in our research are so different, yet each one is relevant and plausible. This argument had to do with society’s inclination to revisit our childhoods in some way or another, in this particular case with horror. It pointed out that children are vulnerable and will believe anything, from ghosts to Santa Clause, and therefore we as adults use horror to recreate that vulnerability and gullibility. The article also reiterated that society has become increasingly enamored with horror and the occult.

“Why Do We Love Horror Films? A CU Professor Explains.” News Center. 22 Mar.2013.

This video is an interview with an English professor and horror novelist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He voiced yet another motive for the obsession with horror, one that is different from all of the others. Professor Jones believes that horror stories satisfy an innate need within our human nature to fear something. He argues that hundreds of years ago we had disease and wild animals to fear daily; our lives were never truly safe back then. Today we live in a society that is relatively safe, and Jones argues that we created fictional monsters and terrors to fill that need of fear. This was a particularly interesting insight, as it had never crossed our minds when thinking about horror. Once we had happened upon it though, it made a lot of sense and helped to better our argument.

Boris Burglaries Revisited

Entering the small town of Boros, Illinois, the first thing I noticed was the lack of human presence. I have been called into the newly turned ghost-town, to investigate the string of letters that have led to the disappearance of a young Bill Heron. At first glance, the police deemed the letters to be a burglary tactic. After the families started to move out, they decided to further the investigation. This is why I am here.

After viewing the letters addressed to Heron, I suspect the person has a wide knowledge of small town affairs. Since he/she seems to know so much, I suspect them to be a close member of the community. The only people who have not left the town are the stubborn families who have inhabited this town since the day it was founded.They have told me first hand that they are determined to stick it out even with the letters still circulating. With any luck, I wish to recreate Heron’s stakeout in a newly purchased house of my own. I have a good feeling the perpetrator is still residing within the neighborhood. I don’t have any pretenses about tricking the perpetrator into believing I belong in this neighborhood or establishing the same level of intimacy as existed between them and Heron. All I need is a letter of my own for further analysis.

The perpetrator seems to be using the letters to instill the fear of forgetting and being forgotten. In technical terms, this often ignored phobia is called Athazagoraphobia. Heron begins to panic when he realized his personal belongings are missing. Heron begins to understand, as his stuff is being taken or disappearing, that when everything is gone, he will no longer leave a mark on this world. A mark that says, “Hey! Bill Heron was here.” He came to question his own existence after all traces of him were wiped out, especially from the places – with his family and friends and in his memories – where his connections were deepest.

[The perpetrator’s use of Athazagoraphobia leads me to believe that he/she is of an older generation who has already been forgotten, and as a result, currently resides in the town – forgotten by time and the other townsfolk.]

Boris Burglaries

 

“Mysterious and Violent Letters

Disrupt Small Community”

Anonymous Letters and Unsourced Burglaries Simultaneously Emerge in Northern Illinois

       A series of anonymous and often violent letters have been appearing in the small locale of Boros, Illinois. As a part of the growing trend in “pocket neighborhoods”, the place has enjoyed relatively low crime rates since its founding and exemplifies the close-knit community approach. Thus the emergence of these unsourced letters, directed towards the town’s residents, comes without any sign of a precursor.

       “I don’t know who would send these letters,” said one of the recipients. “I’ve lived here all my life. If someone wanted to contact me, they could just walk a few steps and be at my door.”

       The strangest part of the letters is not the vague, unsettling tone, it is rather the mention of numerous family heirlooms, knowledge of personal affairs, and references to long-time childhood friends.

       The local police on the scene believe the letters are a diversion tactic for widespread burglary. Although no deaths have been reported, some of the victims have notified officials about missing large volumes of personal belongings. The burglaries so far have only occurred in households that have received the cryptic letters.

       I managed to track down someone who had received one of the letters roughly a year ago. Though his story appears to align with everyone else’s, Bill Heron, 28, offers a different account of what has happened since he first started receiving the letters.

       “It started out subtly enough, but I had this feeling from the first letter that I was being targeted,” Heron recalls. “I mean, whoever this malicious person is said I would be forgotten, what kind of burglar says that?”

       “A few keys went missing, my leftovers were gone, then my grandmother’s urn just vanished.” Heron soon noticed that other people were losing things related to him in any fashion. Shortly after the letters, his parents called citing that they couldn’t find any photographs of him. A few weeks later, he stopped getting calls altogether. “People don’t recognize me anymore. I tried to frequent bars and restaurants. I called friends, relatives, and friends to my relatives. Nothing. My parents won’t answer my calls.”

       Wanting to confirm the foreboding messages in the letters, Bill decided to perform a stakeout, gripping tightly onto his most prized possessions. “I remember the letters very clearly. They said that the next thing they would take would be the last. I didn’t know what to expect.”

       “Everything I owned was all piled up into one location with only one entrance. When it was nighttime, I just remembered darting my eyes back and forth between the windows and that doorway. I sat alone for hours. Even when the light went out, I remained. Still, I could hear everything outside. Then, I felt a strong pull coming from all directions. I checked behind me, to the left and right, only to see in my field of vision all of my possessions, then nothing at a blink. In the morning, there appeared to be a large black residue where the items used to reside. I couldn’t clean it out. I just left. I filed the police report, left the neighborhood, and just continued on with the rest of my life.”

       Although Heron and others like him had their own stories, it seems that I’ve lost contact with them, and most of the letters they had left with me have somehow been misplaced. For the other families in Boris, they have recently begun to move out in fear of literally losing everything, dwindling their population ever since.

Redacted Anthology: Student Essay

Melvin Rodgers

Dr. Melinda Smith

E568: Independent Inquiry

1 December 2015

Teenage Wasteland: The Mysterious Case of Taylor Henderson

Academically, there has not been much research on games, video or otherwise, in the span of modern academia, and even less to actually merit much attention. There is, however, the rare strange case that piques the minds of students, professors, and enthusiasts alike when it comes to the unknown. Events such as these are still only talked about in the most secluded of circles, and even then only a percentage of those will come to publish works on the odd cases. Such events are speculated upon and scrutinized with such vexation by all parties that they become something even further removed from reality. Esoteric in nature, these instances certainly seem more supernatural than our understanding of normal laws of truth and physics might allow, however wildly they may present themselves. Such is the bizarre circumstance of Taylor Henderson, a young lady that descended into madness after curiously acquiring an unidentified video game. Though never explicitly stated, the game obviously caused a decline in her mental and physical state, which is apparent in entries from her blog that she maintained for about four months.

Early in 2015, Taylor began a blog to chronicle the events of her life. Blogging has quickly become a way for youths to diary their daily lives, though publicly instead of privately. Perhaps Taylor had made a New Year’s resolution to write more, as recent studies have linked journal writing with higher critical thinking skills 1 . Perhaps others she knew had also started blogs, and the engagement in this activity represents nothing more than a desire to conform to social norms. In any case, there exists a record, however slight, of events which transpired due to a mysterious video game. Though Taylor’s entries may seem lethargic, and apathetic at best, her posts suggest she had a knack for learning, was quite studious, and would do whatever she could to improve her grades. However, through a close examination of Taylor’s diction and underlying tone, it becomes apparent that the dedication to her studies does not solely stem from a thirst for learning. In her expression that “good grades are [her] only ticket out of here when [she] graduat[es],” Taylor not only implies a general dissatisfaction and discontent with her current life circumstances, but also insinuates that education is the key to her happiness. Taylor suggests that she would leave if she could, but lacks a “ticket”, the resources, to do so. Therefore, Taylor perceives knowledge as her escape. Her educational success exemplifies the “wing wherewith [she] can fly to heaven” 2 . Although Taylor does not disclose the details required for bliss, she insinuates that her present state of residence does not satisfy her vision of paradise.

Although Taylor’s blog, “Dissocalledlife,” was not updated regularly, it disclosed detailed events in her day-to-day life. Taylor’s early posts were school-centric, as most teenage girl blogs are 3 , and revealed that her life was otherwise ordinary. Simple statements regarding school or plans for the day imply a normalcy that, while unsatisfactory to Tailor, was routine “as always.” However, Taylor’s posts begin to change when an anomaly arrives in the form of a package on a Sunday morning. The occurrence was considered unusual not only in regards to the day of the week, but also due to the lack of address, return address, or stamp on the package. Despite her implied grievances that accompany what she thought was “another [similarly] boring day,” it is interesting to note that Taylor hardly reacts to the strange event and responds with a standard attitude of disinterest. Unaware that this day would lead her down a path of breakdowns, physical sickness, and emotional instability, Taylor gives little thought to the occurrence. Out of mere curiosity, Taylor tries to turn the headset on. Taylor proves unsuccessful and sarcastically thanks whomever left it on her porch. In doing so, she misses an opportunity to implement a comma, saying, “thanks a lot for the piece of junk secret admirer” instead of the more correct “thanks a lot for the piece of junk, secret admirer.” This could be attributed to common teenage lapses in judgement and grammar, however, Taylor herself states that she has a 4.0 GPA, and it seems unlikely that, based on her prose and diction, she would commit such an error. Could she be thanking someone–a higher power perhaps–for the “secret admirer” (with “junk” functioning as an adjective and not a noun) and not necessarily the package itself? There is no more mention or hint of anything similar anywhere else in the blog, effectively making this a moot, and ultimately inconclusive, question.

There is much debate about whether the package in fact contained anything at all. This argument is often extended to question whether the package itself existed 4 , insinuating that Taylor was delusional all along. Although she claimed to have pulled out a sort of headset, there was never any picture of said box, nor pictures of its contents, namely this device, posted anywhere in her public blog. While it is hard to imagine that someone would fabricate a story as elaborate as Taylor’s, there is no proof to back such claims; for what little evidence that does exist contradicts such a theory.

Taylor’s discovery of a switch on the headset five days later comes in a post labeled “Eureka!” The headset is implied to be some type of virtual reality video game. Despite an initial claim of aversion to independent activities, Taylor immediately exhibits a strong gravitation to the game and plays for four hours on the first day. Along with Taylor’s behavior, an expression that the video game is “amazing” and that it “feels like it was made for [her]” foreshadows an infatuation that will only grow stronger with time and the consequent onset of a series of troublesome happenstances. Curiously enough, Taylor’s family has removed all traces of the game’s name from the blog entirely. The last entry of the blog–written by Taylor’s family–states that this was done to “ensure that no one will suffer as she did.” As the parents distance themselves and refuse all questions regarding this mysterious note, it becomes apparent that the truth is not only upsetting, but also unspeakable.These reactions of real emotions suggest that the blog cannot be the musings of an insane individual. The Henderson family was again contacted for further questioning on the matter, but they refused to comment on the subject. One can only speculate as to what happened to Taylor, or what happened within the Henderson household during the spring of 2015.

Taylor’s abnormal behavior continues and within a few days, she begins to act increasingly more out of character. Taylor forgoes a night of sleep to remain actively engaged with the game. Although this behavior proves unusual for Taylor, it is not outside the norm for other teen gamers 5 . Stanford’s own Dr. Richard Jenkins has done extensive research on youth culture and the rise of gaming mentality in the past decade. In his paper The Addictive Properties of Modern Video Games, Dr. Jenkins states: “It is not atypical for a teenager to ignore sleep, remain glued to their television screen, and take a quick slumber before heading off for a full eight hour day at school” 6 . As time goes on Taylor shows signs of dependency on the game and begins using it as a reward, a Pavlovian conditioning technique. In one instance, she treats herself to “a few rounds”  for slimming down and fitting into an old pair of jeans. Here we see Taylor falling into what Jenkins calls “a certified path to self destruction.” Taylor is so hooked on this game that she is unable to see the dangers in her sudden weight loss. It is soon revealed that along with a physical transformation, Taylor also begins to exhibit signs of mental and emotional degradation with suddenly high levels of anxiety, an inability to eat, and a propensity for violence. Although these symptoms begin to take their toll on Taylor’s health, she is unable to break free from the grasp of her desires.

Later, now the end of February, Taylor becomes increasingly and noticeably irritable. School had been the subject of many of her posts up until this point and, while perhaps not entirely positive, was at least met with a begrudged enthusiasm. However, this post at the end February marks a shift after which any and all mention of school is done so out of indifference, very uncharacteristic for a 4.0 GPA student. Although she seems to logically acknowledge her breaks in character, she at the same time shows a profound sense of lethargy in facing them. The video game is not mentioned in this section, but obviously has had a profound effect on the girl by now. Mood swings and violent outbursts do not usually occur in teens this suddenly after so many years of normalcy. Taylor succumbs to inner desire triggered by the video game once again, letting it feed her information in a symbiotic relationship.

Over the next month we get a taste of the supernatural effects this game is purported to have through Taylor’s exhibition of delusional actions and worrisome thoughts. She never states if she is under any spell or if she is terrified by anything in particular, aside from sudden paranoia, but it is apparent through her diction that she is not herself, and has become severely afraid of not only the unknown, but also the familiar. In one post, How is this possible?, Taylor describes her attempts to destroy and get rid of the game only to find it sitting on her bed waiting for her. She makes a claim in this post that she is scared. Now, one could take this post at face value and believe the claims that the game not only refuses to burn, but also constantly materializes back in the owner’s room. The answer to this mystery lies in her surrounding posts where Taylor discusses her malnutrition and deterioration. Several posts disclose that she is unable to sleep, unable to eat, and constantly sick to her stomach. It is clear that Taylor is not in a sane or healthy state of being. Therefore, it is not difficult to conclude that this degradation from malnutrition and exhaustion could easily lead to hallucinations and paranoia. She exhibits lapses in judgement and perception not only through an engagement in unprovoked arguments with her parents, but also in her declining academic performance. In one of her last posts, Taylor notes her inability to focus on even the most minute of things. This, combined with everything she has been experiencing so far, including vomiting and severe anxiety, emphasizes an even greater dependence on the game than the reader might have realized. It becomes obvious that it is all she can think about, yearning for something more, but can only find darkness. This video game, whatever it is, proves to be a strong influence and certainly contains some sort of supernatural power. Although there have been instances of video game dependency in the past, there has surely never been anything to this extreme. Taylor’s inability to process even her own thoughts clearly, much less her own food, are a product of her gollum-like attitude towards the game. She becomes reclusive and hostile. Once again, the reason for this must be the game itself, as normal video games of any kind do not cause these odd behaviors, and this game appeared in her life just before Taylor’s mental, emotional, and physical decline began.

What follows is a terrifying incident that only serves to further prove her psychological breakdown. Taylor goes missing for a week. Although her parents yell at her for disappearing, screaming for answers, Taylor is completely bewildered and cannot provide an explanation. She has no recollection of leaving home, how her clothes got muddy, when it rained, or even what day it is. It can be assumed that at this point Taylor has endured the detrimental effects of malnutrition and insomnia for well over a month, thus sending her body into a meltdown that caused her to black out and enter a fugue state.When asked for comment via email, Dr. Chad Richardson, MD of Sacred Heart Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles said something like this would be, “very odd. The human body can only survive for so long under such circumstances. This girl should have been on the very edge of death, or far past it as far as I’m concerned” 7 . The only post following this disappearance is Taylor’s celebration that she has found her game once more. One month later, Taylor’s parents create an ambiguous post with little explanation, a digital death knell for the recipient of that cursed game.

Whatever the end result of this ordeal was, it assuredly was not good.The sad distress of the final post by the family screams heartbreak and agony. Coupled with Taylor’s descent into psychosis due to the game, it is almost astonishing that the rest of the Henderson family did not go mad themselves. Perhaps whatever this game is only affects teenagers. If so, how? And more importantly, why? Taylor’s week long absence from her home is also concerning. Questions remain on where she went and how she survived on her own being as malnourished as she was without proper funds, resources, or cognitive stability. Whatever video game has been redacted from her blog certainly tormented this girl and twisted a good student into someone who has not been heard from in months, and may never will be.

 


  1. See New York Science Journal Vol. 43 
  2. Shakespeare – Henry VI part 2 
  3. As stated in the article “Teens and Blogs” in TechDaily vol 9 issue 3 
  4. For example, in “Taylor Henderson’s Psychosis” by Fred Williams, published in Psychology Now! vol. 3 issue 5 
  5. From “Study Shows Teens like Games” in GameMan Magazine issue 86 
  6. “The Addictive Properties of Modern Video Games” Jenkins, Richard. Stanford. 2012 
  7. Personal interview