I have a "doctor's" appointment today at three p.m., which means we have to leave at 2:30 p.m., which, considering I didn't wake up until 11 a.m., rather screws any chance for a productive day. Of course, I had all of yesterday at my disposal and managed not to be very productive. Despite the "eureka" of Sunday, doubts remained. I sat and stared at the words that were not getting written. I reread Bruno Bettelheim's essay (1975) on "Little Red Riding Hood" (which doesn't hold nearly as much water with me as it once did). Spooky and I talked through various aspects of The Wolf Who Cried Girl. I discovered a perfect epigraph, which is about as close as I came to actually writing.
Here's the piece on The Red Tree I mentioned on the 14th, courtesy Rob Suggs (I'm pretty sure this is a different Rob Suggs than the guy who writes all those creepy Xtian books for children, by the way):
My mother used to tell us about wonderful books she saw when she was growing up in the thirties. They were mysteries whose final solution could only be seen by working a jigsaw puzzle that came with the book. I’ve never been attracted to the sterile neatness of straightforward mysteries, but I do like the idea of having lots of thinking and fitting to do after a book is complete. The Red Tree gives me that.
Many readers, of course, want to do anything but think—before, during and after their reading. All should be neatly wrapped up, as with the multiple weddings at the end of an early Dickens. But I’ve always loved Aickman. The best ghost novel ever written, for my money, is The Haunting of Hill House; I see The Red Tree as a Hill House for these times (realizing, of course, that there are many other inspirational texts; they’re obvious throughout, and even cataloged in the afterword). This is Algernon Blackwood’s great-granddaughter describing what happened in the forest behind Hill House, perhaps.
At the end, we know that Eleanor has had more than a homecoming; she doesn’t simply belong at Hill House, but it is who she is. The yawning corridors are the compartments of her psyche. Or, as a shade told Jack in The Shining, “You have always been the caretaker.” So it is with Sarah Crowe, a name so reminiscent of A Little Princess of Frances Hodgson Burnett; what irony there. (The Red Tree is more like a twisted Secret Garden, which also contains Freudian landscaping).
Sarah, like Jack and Eleanor, has come home forever, without knowing it. Her identity merges with the little house in the big woods, and isn’t that what really happens when we’re deeply depressed? We dig into some dark hovel, hating it even as we find sanctuary there. The Wight house is the architecture of clinical depression. There is the main floor, where Sarah lives out her conscious, day to day existence, sitting at a kitchen table, gazing out at a strangely frightening world that should be a beautiful one, and not working. In the elevated place above her, we find the artist. The artist is a younger, more physically beautiful spirit who comes down occasionally to converse with the conscious Sarah; to love, to quarrel, to walk together. The artist’s version of a ghost story (in a book of many kinds) is notably neat, uplifting, symmetrical to the point of ringing false. Constance tells it in the 1901 “Steps” tale. We’re never certain whether to believe it; real terror, as Sarah knows on the main floor, is never so tidy.
And then, at the bottom of it all, is of course the cellar. It is the place where Sarah is least comfortable. The artist is youth and beauty and hope, but at the foundation is something much the opposite: shocking age, rank decay, and despair. Abandon hope all ye who enter here: to explore is to become lost. It is truly this event which begins the ending for the doomed heroine of the novel. As we come to the final chapters, the puzzle pieces begin to assemble themselves, and Sarah faces truths she cannot live with. To leave the house would be an irrelevant action, because what is inside her cannot be thrown off like an old skin; and the artist has made its last showing and vanished. The attic is not only a place of dust again, but Sarah believes it to have been one all along.
The readers, of course, know better. They have been tipped off from the very beginning that it is Constance who is a real, living person and Sarah who now belongs to the ages. Here is the sadness: our suspicion that Sarah is a far better artist than she knows, and has allowed herself to be consumed by her own depression.
Much more, of course, can be said about The Red Tree, particularly in its traditional elements of terror and the supernatural. Like all fine books, there are multiple layers here. I hope many more volumes along these lines will follow.
This is, by the way, the very first reader, to my knowledge to hit upon the origin of the protagonist's name, that I borrowed it (albeit in a slightly altered form) from Frances Hodgson Burnett.
If you've not already, you should have a look at Spooky's most recent doll, which you may see at her Etsy shop, Dreaming Squid Dollworks.
As for last night...a bath, and I washed my hair. I did a couple of short scenes in Insilico. Played a little WoW. When I finally crawled off to bed, Spooky read me Robert McCloskey's Burt Dow, Deep-Water Man (1963). As we were trying to go to sleep, we played a sadistic game that consisted of lodging the theme songs of television sitcoms in one another's heads.