House of Leaves

House of Leaves
House of Leaves  
The Cover of House of Leaves
2nd edition paperback cover
Author(s) Mark Z. Danielewski
Cover artist Eric Fuentecilla
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror
Publisher Pantheon Books, Random House
Publication date 2000-03-07
Media type Print (paperback and hardcover)
Pages 709 (paperback)
ISBN 0-375-70376-4
OCLC Number 41641311
Dewey Decimal 813/.54 21
LC Classification PS3554.A5596 H68 2000
Followed by The Whalestoe Letters

House of Leaves is the debut novel by the American author Mark Z. Danielewski, published by Pantheon Books. The novel quickly became a bestseller following its March 7, 2000 release. It was followed by a companion piece, The Whalestoe Letters. The novel has since been translated into a number of languages.

The format and structure of the novel is unconventional, with unusual page layout and style, making it ergodic literature. It contains copious footnotes, many of which contain footnotes themselves, and some of which reference books that do not exist.[1] Some pages contain only a few words or lines of text, arranged in strange ways to mirror the events in the story, often creating both an agoraphobic and a claustrophobic effect. The novel is also distinctive for its multiple narrators, who interact with each other throughout the story in disorienting and elaborate ways.

While some have attempted to describe the book as a horror story, many readers as well as the author would define the book as a love story if forced to add such a label. Danielewski expands on this point in an interview: "I had one woman come up to me in a bookstore and say, 'You know, everyone told me it was a horror book, but when I finished it, I realized that it was a love story.' And she's absolutely right. In some ways, genre is a marketing tool."[2]

House of Leaves has been described as a "satire of academic criticism."[3]


Plot summary

Mark Danielewski

House of Leaves begins with a first-person narrative by Johnny Truant, a Los Angeles tattoo parlor employee. Truant is searching for a new apartment when his friend Lude tells him about the apartment of the recently deceased Zampanò, a blind, elderly man who lived in Lude's building.

In Zampanò's apartment, Truant discovers a manuscript written by Zampanò that turns out to be an academic study of a documentary film called The Navidson Record.

The rest of the novel incorporates several narratives, including Zampanò's report on the fictional film; Truant's autobiographical interjections; a small transcript of part of the film from Navidson's brother, Tom; a small transcript of interviews of many people regarding The Navidson Record by Navidson's partner, Karen; and occasional brief notes by unidentified editors, all woven together by a mass of footnotes. There is also another narrator, Truant's mother, whose voice is presented through a self-contained set of letters titled The Whalestoe Letters. Each narrator's text is printed in a distinct font, making it easier for the reader to follow the occasionally challenging format of the novel (Truant in Courier New in the footnotes, and the main narrative in Times New Roman in the American version).

The Navidson Record

Zampanò's narrative deals primarily with the Navidson family: Will Navidson, a photojournalist (partly based on Kevin Carter), his partner Karen Green, an attractive former fashion model, and their two children, Chad and Daisy. Navidson's brother, Tom, and several other characters also play a role later in the story. The Navidson family has recently moved into a new home in Virginia.

Upon returning from a trip to Seattle, the Navidson family discovers a change in their home. A closet-like space shut behind an undecorated door appears inexplicably where previously there was only a blank wall. A second door appears at the end of the closet, leading to the children's room. As Navidson investigates this phenomenon, he finds that the internal measurements of the house are somehow larger than external measurements. Initially there is less than an inch of difference, but as time passes the interior of the house is found to be seemingly expanding, while maintaining the same exterior proportions. A third change asserts itself: a dark, cold hallway in their living room wall that, physically, should extend out into their yard, but does not. Navidson films this strange place, looping around the house to show where the space should be and clearly is not. The filming of this anomaly comes to be referred to as "The Five and a Half Minute Hallway". This hallway leads to a maze-like complex, starting with a large room (the "Anteroom"), which in turn leads to a truly enormous space (the "Great Hall"), a room primarily distinguished by an enormous spiral staircase which appears, when viewed from the landing, to spiral down without end. There is also a multitude of corridors and rooms leading off from each passage. All of these rooms and hallways are completely unlit and featureless, consisting of smooth ash-gray walls, floors, and ceilings. The only sound disturbing the perfect silence of the hallways is a periodic low growl, the source of which is never fully explained, although an academic source "quoted" in the book hypothesizes that the growl is created by the frequent re-shaping of the house.

There is some discrepancy as to where "The Five and a Half Minute Hallway" appears. It is quoted by different characters at different times to have been located in each of the cardinal directions. This first happens when Zampanò writes that the hallway is in the western wall (House of Leaves 57), directly contradicting an earlier page where the hallway is mentioned to be in the northern wall (House of Leaves 4). Johnny's footnotes point out the contradiction.

Navidson, along with his brother Tom and some colleagues, feel compelled to explore, photograph, and videotape the house's seemingly endless series of passages, eventually driving various characters to insanity, murder, and death. Ultimately, Will releases what has been recorded and edited as The Navidson Record.

Will and Karen purchased the house because their relationship was becoming strained with Will's work-related absences. While Karen was always adamantly against marriage (claiming that she valued her freedom above anything else), she always found herself missing and needing Will when he was gone: "And yet even though Karen keeps Chad from overfilling the mold or Daisy from cutting herself with the scissors, she still cannot resist looking out the window every couple of minutes. The sound of a passing truck causes her to glance away" (House of Leaves 11–12).

Zampanò's narrative is littered with all manner of references, some quite obscure, others indicating that the Navidsons' story achieved international notoriety. Luminaries such as Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Douglas Hofstadter, Ken Burns, Harold Bloom, Camille Paglia, Hunter Thompson, Anne Rice, and Jacques Derrida were apparently interviewed as to their opinions about the film. However, when Truant investigates, he finds no history of the house, no evidence of the events experienced by the Navidsons, and nothing else to establish that the house or film ever existed anywhere other than in Zampanò's text.

Many of the references in Zampanò's footnotes, however, are real—existing both within his world and our world outside the novel. For example, several times Zampanò cites an actual Time-Life book, Planet Earth: Underground Worlds (House of Leaves 125).

Johnny's story

An adjacent story line develops in Johnny's footnotes, detailing what is progressing in Johnny's life as he is assembling the narrative. It remains unclear if Johnny's obsession with the writings of Zampanò and subsequent delusions, paranoia, etc. are the result of drug use, insanity, or the effects of Zampanò's writing itself. Johnny recounts tales of his various sexual encounters, his lust for a tattooed stripper he calls Thumper, and his bar-hopping with Lude throughout various footnotes. The reader also slowly learns more about Johnny's childhood living with an abusive foster father, engaging in violent fights at school, and of the origin of Johnny's mysterious scars (House of Leaves, p. 505). More information about Johnny can be gleaned from the Whalestoe Letters, letters his mother Pelafina wrote from The Three Attic Whalestoe Institution. Though Pelafina's letters and Johnny's footnotes contain similar accounts of their past, their memories also differ greatly at times, due to both Pelafina's and Johnny's questionable mental states. Pelafina was placed in the mental institution after supposedly attempting to strangle Johnny, only to be stopped by her husband. She remained there after Johnny's father's death. Johnny claims that his mother meant him no harm and claimed to strangle him only to protect him from missing her, etc. It is unclear, however, if Johnny's statements about the incident — or any of his other statements, for that matter — are factual.

The Whalestoe Letters

This story is included in an appendix near the end of the book, as well as in its own, self-contained book (with additional content included in the self-contained version). It consists of Johnny's mother's letters to him from a psychiatric hospital. The letters start off fairly normal but Pelafina quickly descends into paranoia and the letters become more and more incoherent. There are also secret messages in the letters which can be decoded by combining the first letters of consecutive words.


Johnny's story

Johnny Truant

Johnny Truant serves a dual role, as primary editor of Zampanò’s academic study of The Navidson Record and protagonist as revealed through footnotes and appendices.

In the beginning of the book, Truant appears to be a normal, reasonably attractive young man who happens upon a trunk full of notes left behind by the now deceased Zampanò. As Truant begins to do the editing, however, he begins to lose the tenuous grip he has on reality, and his life begins to erode around him. He stops bathing, rarely eats, stops going to work, and distances himself from essentially everyone, all in pursuit of organizing the book into a finished work that, he hopes, will finally bring him peace.

Initially intrigued by Zampanò’s isolative tendencies and surreal sense of reality, Johnny unknowingly sets himself up as a victim to the daunting task that awaits him. As he begins to organize Zampanò’s manuscripts, his personal footnotes detail the deterioration of his own life with analogous references to alienation and insanity: once a trespasser to Zampanò's mad realm, Truant seems to become more comfortable in the environment as the story unfolds. He even has hallucinations that parallel those of Zampanò and members of the house search team when he senses "…something inhuman…" behind him (House of Leaves 26). Spiraling downward into a dark labyrinth of his own, Johnny is therefore aware that his life has become unmanageable: his association with Zampanò’s task seems to have consumed him in his vulnerable state.

Aside from simply functioning as an editor and protagonist in the novel, Johnny is also presented as an unreliable narrator. The reader is warned of this unreliability early in the novel by one of Johnny's footnotes in which Johnny responds to the problem of Navidson's broken "water heater." After a long liturgy about the need for warm water, Johnny says, "Is it just coincidence that this cold water predicament of mine also appears in this chapter? Not at all. Zampanò only wrote "heater." The word "water" back there—I added that" (House of Leaves, p. 16). It is unclear if Johnny changed other parts of the text and failed to inform the reader. Near the end of the novel, Johnny presents a story of his salvation at the hands of friends as truth, but later recants, saying, "I just made that all up. Right out of thin air" (House of Leaves, p. 509).


Zampanò is the blind author of The Navidson Record. Danielewski made Zampanò blind as a reference to blind authors Homer and Jorge Luis Borges.[4] Additionally, his blindness acts as one of the key mysteries of Johnny's section of the novel: How and why did a blind man not only write a monograph about a movie, but a movie that is highly visual in nature?

Little to no information is given explicitly about Zampanò's past, blindness, or personality. Only vague clues are given throughout the story to suggest at aspects of his past:

  • On page xxii, it is mentioned that when he was in a bad mood, Zampanò would ruefully repeat a series of female names: Beatrice, Gabrielle, Anne-Marie, Dominique, Eliane, Isabelle and Claudine. These were the names of seven of the French Union Forces' defensive positions at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, a devastating defeat of the French by Viet Minh soldiers, which led to France's withdrawal from French Indochina. Among the French defenders were troops from the French Foreign Legion.[5]
  • In the appendices, a letter appears that Zampanò wrote to a California newspaper, warning its readers that a local arms merchant is falsely selling shotguns as having been manufactured during World War II; Zampanò then goes into a lengthy discussion about the difference between WWII shotguns and their successors, down to various tactical schematics and shotgun markings; he says that he uncovered the weapons dealer as a fraud by feeling the guns. Earlier in the book, passing reference is made to Johnny and Lude finding a shotgun in Zampanò's apartment that matches the WWII era shotgun Zampanò describes in his letter.
  • In one of Pelafina's letters to Johnny, she strangely addresses Zampanò using the code she created to be read by Johnny, asking: "My dear Zampanò, who did you lose?"
  • The endpapers of the US hardcover edition of the novel contain hexadecimal characters, which are actually an AIFF audio file of an excerpt from Poe's track "Angry Johnny" when saved as a file in a hex editor.[6]

"Zampanò" is also the name of the protagonist (a traveling entertainer) in the 1954 film La strada, which was directed by Federico Fellini.[7] The character of Zampanò was played by actor Anthony Quinn. In 1964, Quinn starred in the film Lost Command, which opens with the end of the battle of Dien Bien Phu.

Pelafina H. Lièvre

Pelafina, more commonly referred to as simply "P.", is Johnny's institutionalized mother who appears in the appendix to the text. Her story is more fully developed in The Whalestoe Letters.

Minor characters in Johnny's story

Lude: Johnny Truant's best friend, Lude is also the one that informs him of Zampanò's vacant apartment. Lude is a minor character, but some of his characteristics and actions are important in understanding Johnny. Lude assists Johnny many times in obtaining phone numbers of girls when they visit bars, clubs, and restaurants. Several times, Johnny mentions that he wishes he hadn't answered Lude's call late at night. Every time Johnny and Lude are together they seem to involve themselves in difficult situations.

Thumper: A stripper who is a regular client of the tattoo parlour where Truant works. Although Johnny has encounters with many women, he remains fixated on Thumper (whose real name is eventually revealed to Johnny but never to the reader) throughout.

The Navidson Record

Will Navidson

Will is the central character in The Navidson Record subplot of the novel. A stint in the army early in his life leads him to a very successful career as a photographer, primarily in war-torn parts of the world; his role as an impartial documentarist of war affects him deeply. Later in his life, he moves to the eponymous house (located in the southeastern Virginia countryside), in an effort to find "[a] place to drink lemonade and watch the sun set", a place to "once and for all stay in and explore the quieter side of life" (House of Leaves, p. 9). However the unnatural events that occur thereafter have a profound effect upon him and his relationship with his partner, Karen.

Karen Green

Karen is Will's partner and a former fashion model. She suffers from crippling claustrophobia, and throughout the novel refuses to enter the labyrinth within her house. She also seems to be extremely insecure regarding her relationship with Will; he is 'her rock,' though it is confirmed that she had at least three long-term affairs during the course of their relationship. Curiously, the events of the novel only seem to reduce her dependence on Will (as well as contributing to the eventual dissolution of their relationship). It is speculated that, during Karen's childhood, her stepfather once took Karen and her sister into a barn in their backyard. He put one sister in a well while he raped the other, and vice versa. This event is widely considered to be the cause of her crippling claustrophobia. However, several footnotes and comments about the incident question this claim (another of many examples of the use of an unreliable narrator in the novel). In the aftermath of the events in the house, she becomes an unlikely editor, approaching many real characters (including Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Hunter S. Thompson, Douglas Hofstadter, Harold Bloom, and Jacques Derrida) for comment on The Navidson Record, albeit comment within the fictional universe of the novel. Eventually, she is reunited with Navidson after she conquers her claustrophobia and saves him from the abyss of the labyrinth.

Tom Navidson

Tom is Will Navidson’s somewhat estranged fraternal twin brother; Tom is a carpenter with substance addiction problems, who is markedly less successful than Will in his personal and professional life. After approximately 8 years of little contact, Will contacts Tom when he notices that his house is larger on the inside than the outside. A section of the novel, called "Tom’s Story" is a partial transcript of documentary evidence and radio communication with the outside world during his vigil within the labyrinth, which he spends alone with his radio, waiting for Will. This section is referred to in the book as a "sometimes funny, sometimes bizarre history of thoughts passing away in the atrocity of that darkness" (House of Leaves 252). He often refers to "Mr. Monster" and many of the jokes and anecdotes he provides are religious in nature. However, in a test of his true character, he bravely saves Will's kids from being swallowed by the house but is swallowed himself.

Billy Reston

Billy is an engineer and a friend of Will's, whom Will enlists early on in the story to help him try to find a rational explanation for the house's oddities. Billy uses a wheelchair, having been paralyzed from the waist down in a freak engineering accident in India; Will happened to be on the scene and took a photo of Billy moments before he became paralyzed. Billy came across the photo after his accident and kept it as a reminder that he was fortunate to have survived. Once the house's irregularities become more extreme, Billy joins Will and Tom in a thorough analysis; after Holloway and his men go missing, Billy, in spite of his handicap, insists on joining Will on the rescue mission, navigating the maze in his wheelchair. He eventually saves Will and Holloway's men from Holloway by engaging in a firefight with him, holding him back long enough for the house to "consume" Holloway. Billy survives the journey into the maze, but suffers persistent cold spells afterward as well as sustaining damage to his wheelchair.

Holloway Roberts

Holloway is an experienced explorer whom Will contacts in an effort to properly explore the labyrinth beneath his house. Holloway is presented as the consummate outdoorsman: He has successfully engaged in numerous expeditions which would have killed normal men, and is an expert in all forms of survivalist equipment, from spelunking gear to firearms. He engages in two brief explorations of the labyrinth before deciding to take his men on a third, prolonged expedition, prior to which they load themselves up with enough food and water to last several days and enough provisions to—they believe—safely guide them back home. During the course of this exploration, Holloway's resolve slowly deteriorates, until the house's bizarre architecture leads him to believe an image he sees down a hall is the "monster" stalking them when, in fact, he is actually looking at his own men; he shoots one of them, and, upon realizing what he's done, suffers a complete psychological breakdown and tries to murder them. Eventually, the house "traps" him by sealing him inside a series of locked chambers; alone and insane, Holloway records a series of unsettling final messages on a video camera before filming himself committing suicide. The tape of his death is recovered by Will from the labyrinth. The seconds leading up to the end of the tape reveal that either 1) Holloway's corpse is devoured by the "monster" he is convinced is real or 2) Holloway merely disappears into the blackness of the house.

When the House begins to attempt to harm the others late in the novel, Reston calls out Holloway's name. Whether Holloway had some influence on the house's actions (before or after his suicide) is left ambiguous.

Minor characters in The Navidson Record

Kirby 'Wax' Hook: Another explorer of the labyrinth in Navidson's house. He is ultimately shot in the shoulder by Holloway; however, he goes on to survive. The House leaves him with limited functionality in that shoulder, and an inexplicable case of impotence. However, after Navidson reenters the House for a fifth and final exploration, these symptoms disappear. Wax has a reputation as a flirt, who constantly attempts to hook up with women. He kisses Karen Green, a scene which Will later witnesses on camera.

Jed Leeder: The third explorer of the labyrinth in Navidson's house. He is shot by Holloway in the jaw, killing him nearly instantaneously.

Chad Navidson: Will Navidson and Karen Green's son, the older sibling. Around the times of the explorations, Chad is described as becoming increasingly aggressive and wandering.

Daisy Navidson: Will Navidson and Karen Green's daughter. During the explorations of the house, Daisy is described as suffering from echolalia.


There are many unusual, and often disorienting, elements of House of Leaves.

One feature of some paperback editions of the book is that the cover of the book is slightly smaller than the pages themselves, causing the edges of the pages to peek out of the side of the black cover. The gap on the paperback cover is exactly 1/2 inch (The initial difference in size between the inside and the outside of the house in The Navidson Record is actually 1/4 inch, soon after becoming 5/16 inch, and so on).


Page 134 from the book House of Leaves, an example of the typography used in the novel.

The text of the book is arranged on the pages in such a way that the method of reading the words sometimes mimics the feelings of the characters or the situations in the novel. While characters are navigating claustrophobic labyrinthine sections of the house's interior, the text is densely, confusingly packed into small corners of each page; later, while a character is running desperately from an unseen enemy, there are only a few words on each page for almost 25 pages, causing the reader's pace to quicken as he flips page after page to learn what will happen next.

The unorthodox typography and arrangement of chapters or sections is similar to works by Milorad Pavić, allowing the reader to jump around from section to section at will while following footnotes or the multilayered narrative.

Continuing the ergodic nature of text-reflecting-tale, the chapter in which Navidson, Karen, and Reston hear a knocking from somewhere deep inside the house, a knocking patterned after the Morse code emergency signal SOS - three short, three long, three short - the text itself is broken into a similar pattern. The breaks are often arbitrary, sometimes even in mid-sentence, and done seemingly for the sole purpose of imitating the SOS signal.

It has been noted that the font used for the narratives of different people is relevant. Johnny's font is Courier, Zampanò's font is Times, the Editors' font is Bookman, and Pelafina's font is Dante.


Many things are hidden within the text of the book. Going through the first letter of footnotes 27 through 42 spells the author's full name; the first letter of footnotes 46 through 54 spell his surname. Portions are written in alternating short and long paragraphs which turn out to be Morse code that correspond to the text. A seemingly random list of names on pages 64–65 (Second Edition) produce a code when the first letter of each of the individual's last names are added together, spelling out the phrase "A LONG LIST [o]F VISI[o]NARIES" A letter from Pelafina to Johnny on pages 620-623 (Second edition) contains seemingly randomized capital letters strewn throughout it, which, when combined, spell out the phrase, "A FACE IN A CLOUD NO TRACE IN THE CROWD." (House of Leaves 621-622) Some codes, like the author's name, are simply fun to notice. Others actually have an impact that gives greater depth and meaning to the portion being read. One of Pelafina's letters includes a coded message apparently addressed to Zampanò, which reads: "My dear Zampanò, who did you lose?" (House of Leaves 615)


Throughout the entirety of House of Leaves (even including the cover and publishing information), the word "house" is colored blue (gray for non-color editions of the book and light gray for red editions), as in house, and is, in many places in the book, offset from the rest of the text in different directions at different times. Foreign-language equivalents of house, such as the German Haus and the French maison, are also blue. Red and full-color editions of House of Leaves have the word Minotaur and all struck passages colored red.

On the inside cover, where the Library of Congress information is listed, there is a note about differences in editions. In the full-color edition of House of Leaves, a struck line appears in purple in Chapter XXI.

Purple is associated throughout the novel with Pelafina, as it is the color of her long nails, and also the color of the ink Johnny is putting into needles when he has his panic attack in the supply closet.

The inside of the cover mentions a full-color "first edition" version including braille. The following editions are known and confirmed to exist:

  • Black-and-White Edition—No colored words. Plain black text. House in gray. No Braille. Black and white appendices.
  • Blue EditionHouse in blue. Minotaur and struck passages in regular black text. No Braille. Black and white appendices.
  • Red EditionHouse in light gray. Minotaur and struck passages in red. No Braille. Black and white appendices.
  • Full Color EditionHouse in blue. Minotaur and struck passages in red. On the jacket, A Novel and the Pantheon logo in purple. In the book, First Edition and the struck line in Chapter XXI in purple. The word "braille" is replaced with seven Xs. Appendices are full color plates.[8]

A further edition printed on the inside of the cover, named "Incomplete", promises "no color, no Braille, (and) elements in the exhibits, appendices and index may be missing". It is unclear if any such editions exist.

Danielewski leaves much of the interpretation of the choice of colors up to the reader, but he has mentioned in an interview that the choice of the color blue is in part drawn from how it is used in filmmaking.[9] The use of color in Danielewski's next full-length novel, Only Revolutions, is even more prevalent, with four colors other than black used throughout (also, the word house is also printed in blue in some sections of this novel).

The check mark

A check mark inexplicably appears on the lower right hand corner of page 97, in a segment of Zampano's book, and immediately precedes the beginning of Zampano's unusual textual formatting. Near the end of the book, a letter from Pelafina to Johnny contains the request that he "Place in [his] next letter a check mark in the lower right hand corner. That way [she'll] know [he] received this letter" (House of Leaves 609). The purpose of the check mark, and its relation, if any, to Pelafina's letter, and why it appears in Zampano's manuscript, is never addressed in the text.

The check mark is not present in the UK edition of the book.


House of Leaves originally began as a short story, titled Redwood.[citation needed] "Redwood" is also referenced in relation to the cats who have started dying and disappearing: "Redwood. I saw him once a long time ago when I was young. I ran away and luckily, or no luck at all, he did not follow me. But now I cannot run and anyway this time I am certain he would follow" (House of Leaves 547). Zampanò's linking of the cats' disappearance with Redwood could be a connection to the disappearances that occurred in the house and the elusive being which seems to haunt the halls.

A great amount of interaction exists between the house and the book, beginning with the title of the book, House of Leaves, where leaves is a synonym for pages, thus making the "house" a book.

House of Leaves is also the same title that Zampanò originally uses for his manuscript. Additionally, at the end of the book, when Navidson is falling through nothing inside the labyrinth, he reads a book supposedly called House of Leaves, burning the pages for light as he goes along.

Also notable is an untitled poem in Appendix F, seen below:

"Little solace comes
to those who grieve
as thoughts keep drifting
as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves

Moments before the wind." (House of Leaves 563)

Foreign languages

As a key part of House of Leaves' fixation with academic, intellectual writing and obscurity in general, there are countless quotations and phrases strewn throughout the book in numerous other languages, ranging from Latin to Spanish to Old English. Some of these are translated, but many are not. A few of these phrases include:

  • "Muss es sein?", German for "Must it be?" or "Does it have to?" (House of Leaves 1). [see Beethoven's String Quartet No. 16]
  • "C'est vraiment triste", French for "It's truly sad" (House of Leaves 590).
  • "bambino dell'oro", Italian for "child of gold". "bambino dell'oro" literally means "child of the gold", referring to a specific type or amount of gold. A more appropriate translation of "child of gold" is "bambino d'oro" (House of Leaves 592).
  • "Fuit Ilium." Latin, meaning "There once was a Troy" or "Troy was, but is no more" or "the place is gone."
  • "Ira furor brevis est." Latin for "Anger is a short madness." A line from the Roman poet, Horace (House of Leaves 597).
  • "Micel biþ se Meotudes egsa, for þon hī sēo molde oncyrreð", from the Old English poem The Seafarer, meaning "Great is the fear of the Lord, before which the world stands still" (House of Leaves 595). Later, there is a quotation from the poem The Battle of Maldon, meaning "Our hearts must grow resolute, our courage more valiant, our spirits must be greater, though our strength grows less" (House of Leaves 601).
  • "Honi soit qui mal y pense." French. It is the motto of the Order of the Garter and means "Shamed be he who thinks evil of it." (House of Leaves 601).
  • At different times, Truant says: "Known Some Call Is Air Am". Although it appears to be a random string of words, it is actually phonetically similar to another line from Horace, "Non sum qualis eram", Latin for "I am not as I was," or more aptly said, "I am not what I used to be."

First-page insert

In the color editions, the first page of the book is a photograph of numerous items scattered on a flat surface. These items include pills, rulers, a broken compass, bullet shells, photographs (the same ones found in Appendix III), and scraps of paper. There are drops and smudges of a red liquid on most of the items. In the center of the picture is a note in Johnny's typeface that suggests "altering the whole thing" and to "kill both children".


House of Leaves contains rather large appendices. As appendices are generally more common in works on non-fiction and text books, this section is part of the format that immediately sets the book apart from contemporary fiction. Some entries are integral to the story, such as Pelafina’s letters in Appendix II-E, while others provide background on the characters, such as Zampanò’s letter to the editor.

Several places in the text refer the reader to the appendices. For example, the Editors suggest that in order to better understand Johnny, the reader should turn to the letters from his mother (House of Leaves 72). Other entries appear to contain only disorganized fragments that could not be fit in elsewhere. These fragments, including poems, photocopies of scraps of paper, collages, notes, quotes, etc., may contain clues to some of the novel’s mysteries, such as the Ground-Air Emergency Code sheet in Collage #1 which may relate to some of the symbols used to denote footnotes. On the whole, however, these clues are seldom conclusive and often contradictory. For instance, the section on Zampanò's notes include a chapter title for Chapter XXI, and although Zampanò's notes were in the "first edition" appendix, Chapter XXI, which includes only a diary from Johnny and nothing about the Navidson Record, is stated to not have appeared in the "first edition" at all. However, this may mean in the flow of the narrative that the contents of Chapter XXI were eradicated by Truant and replaced by his own notes.


An index is included at the end of the book, although it is not complete or even entirely accurate. Not all important words are indexed, incorrect page numbers are listed for some words, and some words have the notation "DNE". There are also such inconsequential words such as and, only, so, in, for, can, and all listed. There is no clear definition provided for "DNE", however it also appears elsewhere in the novel, while discussing true north and in a collage (House of Leaves 121 and 582). "DNE" is used as an abbreviation for "does not exist" in calculus for undefined limit values or non real function solutions. There are precisely 97 words in the index listed with the notation "DNE", which some have linked to the Checkmark placed on Page 97.[10]

Companion works

The book was followed by a companion piece called The Whalestoe Letters, a series of letters written to the character Johnny Truant by his mother while she was confined in a mental institution. Some (but not all) of the letters are included in the second edition.

House of Leaves was accompanied by a companion piece (or vice versa), a full length album called Haunted recorded by Danielewski's sister, Anne Danielewski, known professionally as Poe. The two works cross-pollinated heavily over the course of their creations, each inspiring the other in various ways. Poe's statement on the connection between the two works is that they are parallax views of the same story. House of Leaves references Poe and her songs several times, not only limited to her album Haunted, but Hello as well. One example occurs when the character Karen Green is interviewing various academics on their interpretations of the short film "Exploration #4"; she consults a "Poet," but there is a space between the "Poe" and the "t," possibly suggesting that Poe at one point commented on the book. It may also be a reference to Edgar Allan Poe.

The album Haunted also draws heavily from the novel, featuring tracks called "House of Leaves", "Exploration B" and "5&½ Minute Hallway", and many less obvious references. The video for "Hey Pretty" also features Mark Danielewski reading from House of Leaves (pages 88–89), and in House of Leaves, the band Liberty Bell's lyrics were also songs on Poe's album.


  1. ^ One such footnote references Not True, Man: Mi Ata Beni? by Eta Ruccalla. Another references "All Accurate" by Nam Eurtton. Note that "Eta Ruccalla" is "All Accurate" backwards, and "Nam Eurtton" is "Not True, Man" backwards. For more examples of fictional books referenced in House of Leaves, see list of fictional books.
  2. ^ Wittmershaus, Eric (2000-05-06), "Flak Magazine", Profile,, retrieved 2008-07-19 
  3. ^ Poole, Steven (2000-07-15), "Gothic scholar", Guardian Unlimited,,5917,343421,00.html, retrieved 2007-03-04 
  4. ^ Borges: Influence and References: Mark Z. Danielewski. Retrieved March 15, 2007.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Exploration Z,, retrieved 2010-06-06 
  7. ^ Reader's Guide, Random House,, retrieved 2007-02-10 
  8. ^ DanSRose (2006-05-22), "Comprehensive guide to printings/editions/ISBNs etc.", MZD Forums,, retrieved 2007-02-10 
  9. ^ Wittmershaus, Eric (2000-05-06), "Review of House of Leaves", Flak Magazine,, retrieved 2007-02-10 
  10. ^


Further reading

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