Danielewiski’s Method of Reading

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewiski uses abstract layouts and abrupt changes in voice to alter how the reader engages in the novel and gathers information. When reading House of Leaves the strange layout and copious amounts of footnotes force readers to struggle to gain pieces of key information. By making it easier to skip sections of vital information with such an unsure and obstructed method of reading within the text. For example, the abrupt stopping midsentence within Johnny and Zampanó’s text makes it hard to read each story chronologically. This brings up the argument, does the method in which you read really matter, and if so how do you gain key information?

In Emily Carroll’s Margot’s Room, the chronological order in which you read the webcomic doesn’t matter; however, there is an overarching order based on clues. These clues can be detected in change in mood, color, and layout on the screen. These changes allow readers to understand the chronology. We can try and string together the events of Johnny’s and Zampanó’s text based on these clues. Without said clues, readers would have no clue how to put together the chronology of the book when basing their reading method solely on Danielewiski laid out.

The footnotes in the House of Leaves, while not as important in other novels, hold a major roles in the novel because of the three clashing voices. A lot of key information is hinted at by the footnotes; for example, the editor tries to clarify Johnny’s footnote “in an effort to limit confusion” and explain the reference to Dante within the text to the reader (Danielewiski, 4). Zampanó’s, Johnny’s, and the editor’s clashing voices all work together to help clarify otherwise non-existent or uncertain information. This essential clarity causes the footnotes to play a vital role in the distribution of information within the text. The vital information stored within the footnotes also alters the audience’s reading method by creating an abrupt or sudden stop in the flow of the story. The method Danielewiski lays out before the reader causes his audience to actively search the text for clues, rather than follow the natural flow of a narrative.

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Beast of Burden

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In Emily Carroll’s digital comic “His Face All Read” the reader is presented with a story of the narrator’s guilt and paranoia when his brother returns to their town 3 days after he was killed. The brother had been murdered by the narrator after he killed a mysterious beast plaguing the town’s animals. The brother never finds out what exactly happened to the beast or his brother, though evidence in the text signals that the beast had taken the form of the brother.

The actual killing of the brother is not seen, the act is shown with a landscape shot with a red filter. Because the death of the brother is not explicitly seen raises the suspicion that he was not killed when the narrator presumably shot him. The brother was “killed” by the narrator (his face all red with blood), but given the narrator’s look of cowardice for most of the comic, there are indications that he has little experience with firearms. This leads to the idea that he may not have killed his brother when he shot him, only fatally wounding him. The 3 day gap from the woods incident to the return of the brother is intentionally left open to interpretation, but given more textual support the reader could construe the newly returned brother to be the beast.

If one assumes the beast is not just a wolf, and possibly a shape shifting creature, it is plausible to believe that the beast could have taken the form of the brother after the incident, arrived back into town, and assumed the role of the narrator’s brother. Though the logistics are not entirely laid out, I believe this is the case when the brother’s coat is considered.

When the narrator goes home from the woods he takes a torn, blood soaked piece of the brother’s coat with him, yet when the brother returns the coat appears brand new. No one but the reader and the narrator catch onto this detail, “And I was the only one who noticed…his fine coat, it wasn’t torn.” If the beast had somehow taken the form of the brother, and tried to recreate him, then the coat would have been re constructed as well.

The vagueness of the writing, and the omission of scenes shown to the reader are intentionally left open to interpretation, part of the atmospheric horror that the comic strives to make the reader feel comes entirely from the reader’s imagination. When one takes into account small details scattered throughout the story it is clear that fan theories, when formulated with enough evidence, are endless when it comes to the fate of the brother. In reading the comic, I found that the only reason I could give for the brother’s return was the beast’s acquisition of the brother’s form.

His Face All Blood Orange: On the Unreliable Narrator of “His Face All Red”

“I can no longer sleep.

I have dreams.

His legs limp.

His face all red.

And twice I have woken 

and seen my brother

digging.

Is this guilt?

Or is this my brother, whole, not a double?

And if so…

Why won’t he turn to look at me?”

“His Face All Red”, a comic by Emily Carroll, follows the story of a man who murders his brother in the woods near their town, only to have him return alive and apparently unscathed three days later. The story is ambiguous about whether the “man” who returns truly is his brother, or if he is somehow connected to the mysterious beast who, up until recently, had been attacking the town’s livestock; but what is equally ambiguous is whether the protagonist himself is altogether trustworthy. The way the main character is portrayed throughout the story implies that he may be an unreliable narrator, and whether or not the reader decides to trust him shapes their interpretation of the events that follow.

From the beginning of the comic, the protagonist, who remains unnamed along with the rest of the characters, is portrayed as an outsider. In social settings he is always shown sitting off to the side by himself while his brother mingles, and he is never depicted with friends or companions of his own. When he first volunteers to hunt down the beast that has been threatening the village, the townspeople all laugh until his brother offers to go with him. It is never specified why the townspeople treat him this way, but it is clear that he does not hold their respect. The protagonist’s social isolation and probable low social status within his small village communicates that there may be something “off” about him that causes others to distance themselves.

Another hint is the paranoia the protagonist displays both before and after murdering his brother. When the pair first enters the forest to kill the beast, our main character describes passing a tree “with leaves that looked like ladies’ hands” and a stream “that sounded like dogs growling”, which his brother dismisses as simply a “common oak” and a “babbling brook”, respectively. The fact that he perceives these things as somehow vaguely threatening despite having lived next to this forest his whole life is strange to say the least – and quite telling of the protagonist’s mental state, not to mention the fact that he goes on to murder his brother without a second thought (and without changing his facial expression).

After he murders and disposes of his brother he claims that he “feared another attack”, which comes across as odd since his brother had already killed what he thought was the beast, and he himself had just killed his brother. Who does he think is going to attack him? At that point his brother had not returned from the woods, so it is unreasonable to assume that he’s afraid of his brother retaliating. These demonstrations of paranoia paints the protagonist as someone whose perceptions of things may not be entirely accurate.

Finally the twist ending – the main character finds that his brother’s body is still in the hole where he dumped it despite his brother having returned to the village safe and sound. This forces the reader to decide: is the protagonist crazy, or are there supernatural forces at work? It’s entirely possible that the “brother” the protagonist sees return to town is a manifestation of his own guilt over killing his brother in cold blood. Seeing that he never really interacted with the people around him all that often to begin with, it doesn’t seem implausible that he is imagining these events, where the townspeople rejoice at the return of his brother from the presumed grave, as a coping mechanism, and that his fantasy remains unchecked because of his very limited social interactions. Or, alternatively, he may never have killed his brother at all, and he only imagined that he did because of the intense jealousy he feels for him: the fact that his brother’s “corpse” appears to move at the end of the comic may be alluding to it being another one of his nightmarish perceptions of what is in actuality something commonplace. Either way, the comic makes a solid case for an unreliable narrator, which makes for a thought-provoking reading experience.

Em Carroll and the Impact of Interactive Storytelling

Em Carroll’s “MARGOT’S ROOM” is, first and foremost, a choose-your-own-adventure story (with the story leaning deeper into horror as the comic develops). From the first page, the reader is prompted with a poem and a choice: Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 11.15.35 PM

Aside from the immediate unease offered by the grisly scene presented by the first page of the comic, the necessity of the reader’s choice to engage and the “path” travelled by the scrolling patterns of the major contributors to the overall dread and horrific impact. The conceit of horror films and animated horror series is that you are being told a story; you passively accept the images, sounds, and dialogue of the tale, and your engagement is limited to your mere presence. Em Carroll, through her use of interactive choice and unpredictable scrolling, removes the passivity of the audience and forces them to choose to immerse themselves in the story and walk (with keystrokes) through the panels of the comic.

The entire story requires being actively unpacked by the reader to be told; once again, this aspect of MARGOT’S ROOM is one of the defining horror elements. The chapters that best display the interfacing of this narrative style and the scrolling involved in the comic are chapters V and II.

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While very difficult to capture, we see that at this point in Chapter II there is a near-physical “drop” in the story. The reader has to adjust their scrolling, changing the orientation of the comic and providing a sense of dread at the literal descent in the narrative path – again, a descent that the reader chooses to follow, which heightens the suspense of the unfolding dialogue.

This combination of effects is felt the most in Chapter V, where the reader reaches the “climax” of the story. There are three more of the drops mentioned earlier, and following the trail of the panels is at its most difficult and unsettling in this chapter. The discordant movement of the story from panel to panel drags the reader further and further down the screen, at times losing them in the blackness of the background page until they manage to stumble upon another unsettling panel of the murder at the end of the story.  This physical element breaches one of the only sanctities found when regarding horror: the fact that you are completely disconnected, physically, from the story. Carroll’s uses of the discussed techniques creates deep intimacy between the story and the reader, allowing the comic to transcend the flat, distant nature of horror media.

Jealousy and Delirium in His Face All Red–An Analysis

Emily Carroll’s web-comic, His Face All Red, focuses on two main characters—the Narrator and his Brother. Neither is named in the story, therefore I have capitalized their titles for referencing purposes.

The Narrator immediately builds sympathy for the Brother by describing him as handsome and trustworthy, while painting himself as envious and unpopular. Due to an unreliable narrator, the only thing I can tell for certain what is true are his emotions, as his story may have untruthful elements pertaining to events and appearances. For example, it is not clear if when the characters pass by a tree and stream whether the descriptions are simple similaic descriptors, or if the trees and streams in this fictional world actually look and sound like that.

After the Narrator kills the Brother, he is celebrated for slaying the beast that was terrorizing the village and is given his Brother’s animals. He seems content here, as he notes he dreamt of nothing. One part of the story is that the Narrator is the only one who notices the Brother’s coat is not missing the piece he ripped from it. If the Narrator really did take a piece and show it to the townspeople for proof of his Brother’s death, why then was he the only one who noticed? I suppose everyone could have been too overcome with joy to notice for themselves. This is peculiar nonetheless.

The Narrator seeing the Brother at night digging could be a hallucination or an actual event, but at this point in the story he is just as confused as the reader, if not more so due to him not being entirely normal/sane at the beginning.

In the hole the Brother was deposited into, the Narrator comes across a body. Personally, it was hard for me to tell if it was the Brother’s or not as all that was shown was some hair and an eye (and the outline of his jacket I suppose). It is possible that it could be the Brother: the Narrator had just finished asking why the Brother who had come back does not look at him, implying his Brother usually does. The eye shown looking at the Narrator in the final scene could be a reference to that. It could possibly be any sort of dead body. What the Narrator finds may not even be real; he could be imagining whoever/whatever he found down in that hole, as his mind is clearly not in the best shape.

Monster vs. Brother: Color and Other Recurring Narrative Strategies

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One of the most intriguing mysteries readers may find themselves pondering while reading “His Face All Red” is the ambiguity surrounding when the murdered brother is the beast, and when he is himself. Emily Caroll uses a number of storytelling devices to facilitate this narrative vagueness including recurring phrases, color selection, and the specific placement of visual indicators.

The poem opens with a dark-red tint coloring the image in the panel. It is revealed to us that this is not the narrator’s brother, and that he had killed his actual brother. We cut to see a goat, a victim of the beast, covered in blood, another occurrence of red. The narrative flashes back to reveal information about the town and the characters, establishing that the narrator is feeble and the brother has all he desires. In referencing the beast’s emergence from the woods, the narrator claims in a parenthetical aside “most strange things do.” Following that, the narrator and his brother go into the woods to hunt the beast. When they locate it, the narrator hides while the brother confronts the wolf off-panel. This is when the dark-red panel shading returns for the first time since flashing back, flooding a panel while the brother kills “the beast,” which turned out to only be a wolf. The dark-red hue returns once again when the narrator makes another parenthetical aside to claim that the villagers would only be grateful “to him (brother).” There is another red flash as the narrator murders his brother off panel. He emerges from the wood, dragging his brother’s corpse behind him with his face covered in blood. This is an occurrence of the dark-red color existing inside the narrative of the piece. The narrator returns home a hero and comfortably slips into a guilt free routine, until his brother emerges from the woods unharmed. Here, there is a return to the phrase “most strange things do,” once in reference to the beast and now in reference to the brother. The panel now tints dark-red whenever the brother is in frame. The narrator cannot sleep and has dreams of his brother’s red, bloody face. In a last attempt to reconcile reality from delusion, the narrator returns to the hole he buried his brother in and finds his corpse with his face still red. The corpse turns and looks the narrator dead in the eyes, and the poem concludes.

The proposed theory, as substantiated by the above evidence, is that the beast became the brother while the narrator was hiding. The narrator uses the parenthetical aside, “most strange things do” to describe the beast’s emergence from the wood, and uses it again when referencing the brother’s emergence. This is a deliberate literary inclusion to indicate the beast’s presence. After the brother returns as the beast, he is seen almost exclusively through a dark-red tinted lens. This is not the only occurrence of red being used to signify the beast throughout the comic. Red blood covers the face of the beast’s first victim, one of the brother’s goats. The screen also flashes red at the deaths of both the wolf and the brother, suggesting that they were also victims of the beast. They both appear with their faces covered in blood. Red is traditionally used in literature to indicate aggression and intensity. The panel turns red during the second parenthetical aside. Essentially, the beast became the brother when the wolf was supposedly killed, using the wolf as a distraction. After the brother/beast is put back into the hole, most likely serving as a lair of some kind due to its return later in the comic, he emerges and returns to the village transformed as the brother. His panels are largely tinted red throughout his encounters with the narrator. When the narrator returns to the hole at the end of the passage, the red returns as he goes further down the hole, only to find the monster, face covered in red, still waiting for him.

The Brother’s Fate in His Face All Red

In Emily Carroll’s His Face All Red, the reader is left open to interpretation of the ending. To decide whether the main character’s brother is dead or not, and if he is the beast. Many small details of the comic can allow readers to propose the theory that the brother is in fact not dead. The first piece of evidence readers encounter, is when the main character is describing his brother’s house. Which is said to have a lilac bush outside of the house, later in the comic the main character says the mysterious hole in the woods also smells of lilac. This clue many not seem important but after the brother revisits the same hole, he finds a man who looks similar to his brother, resting within. As readers have not been made aware of the sleeping arrangements within the brother’s house at the beginning narration of the comic, thus we do not know if the brother has been  sleeping in the house or has been sleeping in the hole. The lilac smell coming from within the hole, can cause the reader to assume that the brother sleeps within the hole, and is in fact the beast.

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The Reader gain the final piece of evidence when the main character is shown dragging his “dead” brother towards the hole within the woods. The face of the brother is shown with his eyes still open. The same faces is shown when the main character finds the brother within the hole, after the main character “killed” him. The illustration of the brother with his eyes open after “death”, allows a reader to assume the brother is still alive as most illustrations of people who are presumed to be dead are drawn with their eyes closed.

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Emily Carroll seems to have ended the comic with many questions unanswered, but the subtle use of clues within her illustration, and the way she uses narration to describe little details, allows the reader to come to a conclusion of the brothers fate.

His Face All Read: Showing, Not Telling

One of the oldest maxims of writing is the simple statement, “Show, don’t tell.” In her comic, His Face All Red, Emily Carroll applies this principle to her illustrations and uses the reader’s intuition to streamline and focus her narrative. Much of the subtleties regarding the character relationships are communicated through her illustrations rather than the character’s words. Take for instance the younger brother’s subordinate position in the community relative to his brother, which is depicted in the sizes of their homes.houseThe same information can also be seen in the very first frame, in which he is depicted in the far right of the frame, isolated from the community.tavernIn this way we are given detailed information about the characters from a single frame that would take a paragraph of narration to convey.

Carroll complicated the “show, don’t tell” principle by conversely using it to intentionally add ambiguity to her story. Take for instance the two instances in which she saturates the frame with red. The first time, when the older brother kills the beast, the death of the beast is taken as definite fact.beastBut the central crux of this comic’s mystery lies in the reader’s interpretation of the next instance of this device, during the murder of the brother.Capture3Here the story can branch into a multitude of different directions. The brother could truly be dead, and some shapeshifter goes on to take his place. The brother could have survived, and through some unknown circumstance ends up untouched back in the village in three days time. By not directly showing the murder of the older brother, Carroll allows for multiple explanations of the plot and creates a narrative with a unique flavor for every individual reader. First she establishes the practice of communicating definite fact through illustration, and later turns that concept on its head by intentionally obscuring the absolute truth of the narrative.

Just as an interesting aside, the film Valhalla Rising, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson) does a very similar thing of filling the frame with red to imply violence and/or murder.Untitled

Margot’s Room Analysis: The Power of Obsession

Used/Uploaded by: VenusGrace17

Obsession is a type of behavior that usually connoted negatively and is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal.” In Emily Carroll’s digital graphic novel, “Margot’s Room,” this ongoing theme is emphasized greatly through both the narrator’s and her husband, Gilles’, lives and behaviors throughout the story. As the reader follows the story, it is clearly evident that the wife has issues distinguishing between reality and fantasy due to her downward, obsessive spiral. Gilles suffers as well but has a more generic aftermath (distancing oneself, marriage issues, etc.) of his daughter’s death while the narrator suffers from something darker.

In Part I, Flowers, the husband is seemingly happy, or aloof, despite that his future wife’s father, his ex-boss, had just passed away from an unspecified illness. There is also the possibility (that many readers interpret) that either he killed his boss in order to have his wife all to himself, or that it could have been the other way around, she killing her father to be close to him: both being signs of obsessive behavior.  However, in this part, the main focus is on how the narrator keeps speaking of her feelings in the past while juxtaposing them with the present’s, and how she is obsessed with the death among her loved ones. The last frame records her saying “he promised he’d live forever,” emphasizing the inability to move on, and her focus on death. So even in the first frames we meet the pair, there is already something uncanny about their relationship and the odd manner they deal with death.

In Part II, she cannot move on from her daughter’s, Margot, death and wonders whether she could have done anything to prevent it. At this point, it’s fairly evident that her obsession with her daughter’s death is what drove her husband away, despite his efforts to comfort her.

Part III presents the same obsessive behaviors that the narrator had previously exhibited and she herself notes that she spends most of her time alone waiting for her husband’s return. In addition, Gilles also begins to spend a longer time away from home since he was very affected by the death of his daughter and his wife’s conduct. At this point, it’s also evident that he is obsessed with Margot’s death as well and also becomes an unreliable narrator, especially when his wife discovers the villagers never saw him at all, thus, invalidating his alibi.

The narrator’s obsession with her daughter is elaborated upon in Part IV when she endlessly ponders on the life Margot did not get to fulfill, asking herself whether it “was it kindness in the end?” Obsession often clouds a person’s mind with intense anxiety and can be the reason why she drove her husband away from her and caused him to “change.”

The power of obsession is what allowed the narrator to murder her husband, she did not see anything realistically anymore and neither did he since she was plagued with illnesses and deaths. Just as the monsters that Gilles saw in the woods could have been a representation of the obsession they have possessed from dwelling on the death of their daughter. Whether or not it was a supernatural occurrence or their own insanity, their obsession with Margot’s death brought them to these circumstances, and ultimately drove the narrator to murder her beloved husband.