A Maze in Me

My father was a connoisseur of Greek myths. He told me countless times, with his silver tongue, the tale of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur. As a young girl, I fashioned myself as Ariadne, unwinding a ball of red yarn while prancing down the hallways of old country home. I dreamed of a gallant Theseus to sweep me off my feet. That is until, I learned him to be an abandoner.

I even became an architect. Blueprints clutter the floor of my current apartment in the city. I take inspiration from classical architecture; when I see Corinthian and Ionic columns, I swoon. I wake up excited to start each new day on the job. I love watching an empty stretch of land turn into an empire of diverse structures.

I embraced the myth—my father’s favorite myth. It molded me.

But I’m deathly afraid of mazes. Never have I desired to enter an extensive labyrinth or build one of my own regulations.

– – – – –

It happened when I was thirteen. There was a carnival in a neighboring town that I attended with my friends. The main attraction was the corn maze. The farmer claimed it was his best one yet. Everyone was intrigued—including me.

In the comfort of bright daylight, my friends and I entered the maze. I figured it would be a simple one. Just stick to the left. That’s what my father taught me. And he was right. In no time, we made it to the exit that was marked with a purple flag. There was nothing special or scary about it.

It was disappointing to me, but my friends simply moved on to the candy apples, the games, the zoo animals, etc., etc. I followed them around until it was just too painful. I knew it was probably all in my head but I felt the maze trying to lure me back in.

There was a voice coming from inside. Loud. Imperative.


The sky dimmed once I stepped back inside the maze.

My father’s voice entered my head again: Stick to the left.

This time, I ignored his advice. I wanted to explore this time.

Instead, I got lost. The moon was too faint of a lantern to guide me. I wasn’t afraid of the dark. But fears come to life in such an ominous place.

I wandered around aimlessly through the erratic paths. I kept telling myself I was Ariadne.

Ariadne without any red yarn.

With my eyesight down, my ears were on high alert. The wind howled. The corn stalks conversed with each other. There whispers came out as a chant, constantly growing, echoing. They were chanting in a language I couldn’t understand.

But I did understand.

Sac-ri-fice Sac-ri-ficeeee Sac-ri-fice.

I knew my father’s favorite myth too well to not understand.

I gave up on trying to be brave. I stuck to the left. Step after step. Minute after minute. Hour after hour. Yet I saw no opening. I saw no purple flag. Had the maze changed? Did the walls of corn stalks shift?

Crying out didn’t help either. I could see the faint lights of the carnival festivities from afar but I couldn’t hear anything of the people there. All I could hear was the chant.

Sac-ri-fice Sac-ri-ficeeee Sac-ri-fice.

Stick to the left. Stick to the left. Stick to the left!

Nothing could block out the chant.

I fell to the ground and clenched my ears.

When I was brave enough to let go, I was blessed with silence. Such an insubstantial blessing.

I shivered. The cold nipped at my nose, my ears, my feet. My hands felt around for something on the ground. Anything. Red yarn.

Instead, I grasped a thin stick.

I wrote a message in the dirt. A message that couldn’t be heard but could maybe be read later.

H E L P.

stuck in a maze.


I kept going, even as tears rolled down my cheeks.

A maze.                                   Amaze.                                    A maze.

Amaze me.                 

A                      maze                           me

A                      maze               in                     me

A maze is inside of me.

Get it.                                                               Out.

Let me.                                                            Out.                                                     

Rescue me.

A low growl struck me out of my crazed, cold stupor.

The chant started up again.

Sac-ri-fice Sac-ri-ficeeee Sac-ri-fice.

Another faint growl.

Against all the reason, the sound lured me in. Was it a beast in the guise of a Siren?

I crawled down the path. Left or right, I have no idea. The growl sounded in shorter intervals. Louder and louder. Even louder than the chant of the corn stalks.

I knew it was the Minotaur. It had to be.

And I knew I was the sacrifice, but I kept crawling. I just had to see…

I turned the next corner—

There was a body.

– – – – –

I woke up and they told me it was just a scarecrow. I couldn’t believe them. But I had to.

I was broken for a while, but I suffered for less than the reasonable length of time. Or that’s at least what the doctors told my father.

I got back up on my feet and continued on with life. I stayed clear of mazes. Of tight spaces. Of getting lost anywhere. Of going anywhere alone in the dark. But I still became an architect. I still listened to my father recount the tale of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur.

I also met my Dionysus. My rescuer. He helps me cope with the nightmares and never disparages it to just a ‘child’s fear’ as many have done before.

After all this, I still fear the Minotaur.

But I know he’s not invincible.

– – ♥

Johnny’s Love Life

From the beginning of House of Leaves, Johnny Truant displays problems with intimacy. This problem is shown through the opposition of his myriad of sexual relationships to his lack of meaningful and loving relationships with women, even when women seem to be interested in him. Though this lack of meaningful relationships could be Johnny’s choice, it is clear that he wants something more when he expresses his desire to have a family and a lifelong love with Ashley and in his love letter to Thumper. This lewd behavior could also be attributed to Johnny’s close friendship with Lude, whose sexual conquests are detailed by Johnny at may points throughout the novel, but Johnny’s experiences with Zampanò’s notes for House of Leaves have a more prominent effect on Johnny’s love life. These notes deteriorate Johnny psychologically, make him extremely paranoid, and lead to the destruction of his closest relationships.  This effect seems to be limited to Johnny in terms of the people who have interacted with the house since in the end, the house leads Karen Green and Navidson to resolve the problems in their relationship and become closer than ever. Since the house is said to reflect the psyche of anyone who enters it, it effects Johnny differently than it effects Karen and Navidson. Just as the house forces Karen and Navidson to confront the problems  within themselves to repair their relationship, Johnny  must confront his inner demons. In their interactions with the house, Karen and Navidson view the house as the monster because it is what seems to be keeping them apart, but for Johnny the monster is himself. Johnny’s reading of Zampanò’s House of Leaves leads him to viewing himself as a monster, and by extension make him incapable of love through his isolation from the rest of the world, much like the minotaur.

The House as a Inkblot

The act of reading Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves requires the reader to abandon any certainty in the idea of certainty. The degrees of separation between the house found in the Navidson Record and the reader creates a sense of skepticism in the ability to effectively communicate anything meaningful about the house. From the very beginning we understand the impossibility of reaching an absolute truth, as the entire novel is centered on a film adaptation of a fictional movie dictated by a blind man. Yet even when one accepts these certain impossibilities, our understanding of the House of Leaves isn’t truly our own, as it is inextricably bounded to the other voices in the Navidson Record, be it Zampano, Johnny, or the score of footnoted authors. In this way the reader is asked to make sense of a giant game of telephone, or more accurately a conference call, but the source itself (the house) may not even be something that can be coherently defined or understood.

Even in this mess of impossibility and ambiguity, the reader continues in his attempt to understand. The act of reading implies an intention to seek order, or at least a sense of closure. And so the various interpretations of the voices presented to us in the Navidson Record begin to take on a new meaning, as each can be seen as an individual’s attempt to define the emptiness of the house. As the house stubbornly refuses to offer up anything concrete, each interpretation of that darkness can be seen as a manifestation of the interpreter. In this way the interpretations are more revealing of the interpreter than the object being interpreted. As Zampano himself says, the house acts as a sort of Rorschach test, with each voice filling that empty space with their unique context.

The Voice Inside: Explanation Post

In Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, trauma plays a central role through its effect on characters’ psychological condition as well as its influence on characters’ actions. The concept of trauma theory reveals that trauma is often not experienced as it occurs, but rather through the repetitive cycle of re-experiencing repressed memories of the past that form in response to external stimuli. Just as Johnny unwillingly relives the abusive treatment of his foster father after reading of Chad’s swollen face in The Navidson Record, my poem depicts a girl that experiences the trauma of her rape at a park years after it took place. I reveal how the characteristics of the scene cause her repressed memories to surface. Emotions associated with recognition come flooding back with increasing speed as the environment becomes more familiar. I also demonstrate that when the event is both forgotten and repressed or not recognized by the individual as a trauma, the actual experience has an existing yet more limited effect on the individual’s mental and emotional state. Just as Karen experiences severe claustrophobia caused by an unknown event, suggested as the result of being forced into a well by her father, the girl in my poem chooses to follow the path to the left without any reason other than an innate feeling. The girl is unable to understand the full impact of her trauma until her memory allows her to face it.

While most of the characters in The Navidson Record endure some form of traumatic experience through disturbing encounters, stressful events, as well as physical injury associated with the house on Ash Tree Lane, I believe the aftermath of the incidents, the true trauma of recollection, has yet to impact the survivors. I believe Navidson, despite his will to move forward, will continue to experience his trauma. An unexpected burning out of a light bulb or the growl from a neighbor’s dog could call to mind the horrible events that took place inside the darkness of the house.

The Voice Inside

Two paths beckon me home,

but I always choose to turn left.

A preference formed by a voice in my head,

that tells me I will be safe.

Years pass, my route unchanging,

escorted by what? suspicion?


I can see down the road where the other kids go,

a passage that leads to a park.

How unthreatening it seems and my paranoia misplaced,

I quiet the urge to turn away.

Curiosity compels me to walk right,

but instinct tugs me back.

Heal. Toe.

I trudge forward, my body leaden,

slowly shuffling…dragging my feet.

My eyes wander, my focus is uncontrollable,

looking ahead, glancing back, searching.

There is something familiar about the curves of the road,

that leaves me feeling nauseated.

I can’t breathe.

Cringing at every sound,

I shrink beneath my clothes and fold inward on myself.

I hug my stomach with a shaking hand,

I place the other over my heart.


After counting to sixty,

I finally uncurl my spine and lift my head.

A swing set.

“Shhh…be a good girl for me.”

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.

Trauma, Obsession, and the Importance of a Haven

The lack of a safe space in House of Leaves is a motif for many characters, namely Johnny and Navidson. Starting with Johnny in the Introduction, he says that all he wants is “a closed, inviolate, and most of all immutable space” (p.xix). The reader slowly learns (though is never sure what is true) about Johnny’s traumatic past with his mother, father, and foster father. He bears physical scars from it; he has been repressing what happened to him his whole life. Putting all of his energy into transcribing Zampano’s notes gives Johnny a purpose; his obsession of completing the project consumes him but also garners his ultimate hope that whatever he believes is following will stop so he can be at peace. Johnny never sees the house on Ash Tree Lane, but it haunts him. For example, shortly after starting his transcription, he starts speaking in metaphors that relate back to the house: “Inside me, a long dark hallway…continued to grow” (p.49). His apartment is not a haven, as he repeatedly points out in his rapidly degrading mental state; he more feels stuck there than safe. He struggles to find his place.

When the reader is introduced to Will Navidson, all he wants is to settle down after his tumultuous career. “Personally, I just want to create a cozy little outpost for me and my family. A place to drink lemonade on the porch and watch the sun set” (p.9), he says. Navidson is haunted by a subject (Delial), a starving child that he photographed (and won the Pulitzer Prize) but did not help. He is consumed with guilt and trying to find a way to live with it. All he wants is to document his return to normalcy; he gets anything but that. Although it starts out the way he hoped, peace does not last long with The Navidson Record’s title character (and his family). Once the house’s mystery is presented, Navy tries to solve it thinking it will become the haven he’d hoped for (and needs) in the end. However, he also battles himself throughout the book. He constantly defends his obsession with the house (to Karen mostly) by saying “…going after something like this is who I am” (p.389). He can’t deny that he is intrigued by the dangerous closet hallway and the anomaly consumes him. In the midst of trying to solve the mystery, he attempts to seek solace from Karen (who is cold and not a source of peace) and Tom (who Navidson looks up to, but any solace that was found in him is dissipated when he is swallowed up by the house).

The lack of a haven leads these characters to put their energies into solving the mystery of the house, which leads to insanity and despair, but ultimately to resolution. Both Johnny and Navidson seem calm and contented with their lives at the book’s conclusion after the house has imploded, therefore not plaguing their minds any longer. Both have found their safe space.

House of Leaves and Poe (dominykasbytautas and shanemichaelgordon)

Parker, Bridgette. “Haunted Goth-Pop.” Inception. 2005. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. <http://www.inception-magazine.com/winter03/reviews_haunted.htm&gt;.

This article mostly talks about Poe’s album Haunted and how it relates to her family’s past and as well as her brother’s book, House of Leaves. It informs that after their father passed away, they found a box of cassette tapes full of recordings of their father speaking. Poe uses samples of these tapes throughout her album and directly references her dad’s death in the song “Exploration B”. The article also continues by mentioning some direct correlations between Haunted and House of Leaves, such as using a song titled “5 and a ½ Minute Hallway” and many other similarities.

Peraino, Judith Ann. “Flights of Fancy.” Listening to the Sirens : Musical Technologies of Queer Identity From Homer to Hedwig. Berkeley: U of California, 2006.

Judith Peraino identifies and analyzes how music has been throughout history in shaping society and traditional roles, as they relate to gender and sexuality. At the same time, she makes specific references to different types and forms of music, breaking down the structure to show how harmonies, chordal structures and instrumentation work in bringing together the ideas of the artist. The referenced section, Flights of Fancy, focuses on power and its use within music, whether from hearty, bravado vocalizations to underutilized approaches to traditional instruments (such as the piano and violin). By bringing in references to modern day rock songs (like Bohemian Rhapsody) and comparing them to older-time operas, Periano makes it easy for the reader to see the similarities between the works and their respective themes.

Poe. Haunted. Poe. Rec. 31 Oct. 2000. Poe, 2000. CD.

The album, Haunted, was recorded and produced by Poe (Anne Danielewski) and released on October 31, 2000. The album is a tribute to her father and connected to her brother Mark Danielewski’s book House of Leaves. The album addresses themes such as death, loss, fear, feeling lost, and a multitude of others. The album is to be viewed as a soundtrack to House of Leaves, with both publications even featuring the same images inside of them.

Childhood Innocence in House of Leaves

In House of Leaves, the characters of Tom, Daisy, and Johnny can be connected through their childhood innocence. Poe’s album Haunted directly helps us find a link with the characters with her songs Dear Johnny, Lemon Meringue, and Spanish Doll. Each song helps us understand each character better than how they are just represented in the book. For example, Dear Johnny is a short song with only the lyrics “Johnny dear don’t be afraid. I will keep your secret safe. Bring me to the blind man who, lost you in his house of blue”. The lyrics have a motherly tone to them, with the use of Johnny instead of John and with the reassurance that there is no need to be afraid. It also makes a direct reference to Zampano with the blind man lyric. Tom’s mention of lemon meringue in House of Leaves is mirrored in the song Lemon Meringue by Poe, which talks about life as being bitter and how there must be a way to make is sweeter. Tom gets along especially well with Daisy and Chad in House of Leaves and always is at odds with his brother. Tom talks about how he would love some lemon meringue and he also performs shadow puppets with his hands on the walls for the children. Daisy, in House of Leaves, is not afraid of the house. Her and Chad run through it and play hide and seek, but she does have a Spanish doll which helps her feel safe. Beginning with the first line of Poe’s song Spanish Doll, she sings of Daisy from her perspective. The line is “this place feels so unfamiliar, and yet I know it well”. This is about the house and ever since the phenomena of the closet and hallway, the house is beginning to change into something Daisy considers foreign to her understanding. Although Johnny, Tom, and Daisy all exist in either a different time or are of a different age, they are all connected through the house and their childlike innocence.

The Whalestoe Letters (brookeborglum and caroline yong)

Cox, Katharine. “What Has Made Me? Locating Mother in the Textual Labyrinth of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves.Critical Survey 18.2, Friends and Family Figures in Contemporary Fiction (2006): 4-15.

This article focuses on how the confusing and changing layout of the labyrinth in Danielewski’s House of Leaves relates to the dysfunctional relationships between characters in the book. Specifically, Cox describes how Johnny’s perception of his mother develops as Johnny reads through The Navidson Record. Cox shows how Johnny’s analysis of Zampano’s writings allows him to reestablish memories of his mother in his mind. The article also details on how Johnny and Pelafina tie into mythological references (specifically about the Cretan labyrinth), relating them to certain characters in Greek myths. For instance Johnny is compared to Icarus while his mother, in context, refers herself as the “old Sibyl of Cumae.”

Pressman, Jessica. “House of Leaves: reading the networked novel.” Studies in American Fiction 34.1 (2006): 107+.

In this article, Pressman focuses on the supplementary texts and multimedia works which connect to Danielewski’s House of Leaves, such as The Whalestoe Letters, an album called Haunted, and different forums across the Internet. The article summarizes the background of The Whalestoe Letters and how the novella introduces two new narratives in the Foreword (Walden and Waheeda Wyrhta) as well as Pelafina Lièvre in the letters. Pressman also explains the placement of certain “clues,” such as altered typography, throughout the external texts for the purpose of analysis and decoding in order for readers to interact with the story outside of just reading the original book.

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.

In this essay, Timmer discusses Danielewski’s use of multiple narrators connected to each other in House of Leaves while leaving room for an extra narrative— the voices and analyses of the readers. One specific section of the essay called “The Madmother in the Attic,” Timmer refers to The Whalestoe Letters in order to describe the relationship between Johnny Truant and his mother, Pelafina Lièvre. The essay zooms in on how Pelafina’s voice, through her letters to Johnny, impacts her son’s own prose style and uneasy emotional states. Timmer also touches on the possible burden Pelafina puts on her son whenever she expresses her intense need to hang onto Johnny while she is locked away in the Whalestoe Institute.