“Stephen King: The Art of Darkness” – The Haunted House

David | Jan 1, 0001 min read

Another element Winter discusses in his analysis of King is the haunted house. What strikes me as most interesting with this is that, while I think Winter does a good job of identifying the various ‘haunted houses’ in King’s works, he never seems to talk about what the idea of ‘setting as character’ directly.

For context, Winter identifies the following as noteworthy ‘haunted houses’:

  • The Martsen House in ‘Salem’s Lot
  • The Overlook Hotel in The Shining
  • The Agincourt Hotel in The Talisman
  • The Dark Tower in The Dark Tower series *

The last one is my own addition. At the time of Winter’s writing, The Dark Tower was still in its infancy, with only the first book having been published. And, as I look back over King’s works, there’s definitely other minor places (settings) that would also qualify as ‘haunted houses’, but these four represent to me the most important aspect.

Haunted Houses are a prime example of setting as character. Each of these ‘houses’ plays an active part in their story to varying degrees. The Martsen House is an active attractor for “Mr. Barlow”. It is a shadow in the Ben Mears’ past and a shadow on the town in general. It draws Mr. Barlow for no other reason than evil attracts evil.

The Overlook Hotel, likewise, is an active attractor. It is the archetypal bad place, an accumulation of all the bad things that have happened in its history. It is this bad history that connects it with Jack Torrence, who has his own bad history. As with ‘Salem’s Lot, evil again attracts evil. The two ‘characters’ actively feed off each other to escalate the story towards its conclusion.

The last two are different, in that I wouldn’t necessarily classify them as evil. But they do represent haunted houses as characters in the sense that they are weak points where other worlds show through, and the nature of that weakness provides them active parts in their stories. Both structures serve to demonstrate that there are multiple worlds, multiple universes, of which the current settings for each story are only a small part. They demonstrate this for the reader, but they also seem to actively influence those worlds, as if containment or reflection of the ‘multiverse’ somehow has endowed them with ownership and life.

It’s only been a year or so since I’ve started to consider working with the idea of ‘setting as character’. But it wasn’t until reading Winter’s book that I considered the specific setting of ‘haunted house’ as a character. It’s a natural fit, I think, one I’m surprise I didn’t connect with before.

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