We hate getting to the end of a book we like. Either we don’t want it to end, or we don’t want to be reminded that it was all only in our heads. Good stories and good characters are like french fries; we always want more than will fit in the bag. The Get Lit Off the Page series explores ways people extend literature into other forms.
The first elements that might come to mind when thinking about novels are plot and characters, but the places are the water in which they swim. The maybe-haunted manor house, the Mines of Moria, Hogwarts, Wonderland, the secret garden, Cannery Row – whether or not the place exists, good books make them feel real, and we might even long for them. There are tons of bars and restaurants with spaces right out of books – we’ve written about a few… 3 times. Ever been on a hike through a thick forest, suddenly stopped and thought, “Man, this is like Mirkwood”? Or seen inside a hoarder’s apartment and thought, “Ah… just like Miss Havisham’s”? It’s a lightning feeling – whoa, it’s real! It’s one reason we want to actually go to historical places. It’s not just to see Italian art, for example, because we can see a lot of it at the Getty, but we want to be in the place where it all happened, to walk the same streets or visit the wretched hovels of those artists. New Zealand tourism boomed not only because it’s extraordinarily beautiful, but because it is as close as we can get to Middle Earth. It’s why Disneyland feels magical, but Six Flags not so much (though it’s getting better).
But those are large-scale environments, good for visits when/if you have the extra cash. Exciting to anticipate; agonizing to leave. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in one of those reenactment villages, where you toast your bread on an open flame and then spend the rest of the day churning the butter for it, you can’t inhabit or explore those places in an extended way.
What we do have access to are our own homes, garages, offices, backyards, and so on. We already arrange these spaces, whenever possible, to create certain feelings or thoughts – they’re just usually pretty mundane: this is the living room, it sort of gives you that… living room feel. Even with a little sophistication, Oooo mid-century modern – okay, some folks are just really into either geometry (those angles!) or the feeling of an era. Sure, there’s something to be said for not being 24/7 surrounded by anything more specific than “cozy” or “sleek” – maybe you don’t want your living room to always feel like you’re on the deck of the Hispaniola. Fair enough. But what about those other spaces?
In our “Operation Young Reader” post, we talked about using a themed space to encourage your kid to read. Junior high teacher Kyle Hubler had the same idea with a Harry Potter theme, and actually did it. Caroline Bologna gives us a nice peek at Hubler’s Harry Potter classroom in her HuffPost story.
Going way beyond just setting out some items from his personal Potter collection, he spent weeks covering the walls with either stone or brick “wallpaper” and the ceiling with hand-prepped black plastic trash bags spattered with white paint drops to create a sort of night sky. He has created a Hogwarts-y environment that his lucky lucky lucky students get to hang out in every single day. This guy: what a rad teacher. You can hear him suss out more details on Episode #338 of MuggleCast. His kids aren’t even that familiar with the Potterverse yet. Do you imagine when they’re old enough they won’t start tearing through it?
The thing about what Hubler did is that though of course it wasn’t free, it also didn’t cost a bajillion dollars. You don’t have to go the grotesquely wealthy route. With some patience and pains-taking, you can do amazing things with visits to yard sales, thrift stores and your own damn workshop (which could just be you, parked in front of whatever Netflix bingefest, handicrafting some battered lace and a melty wedding cake for your “Miss Havisham tea nook”. And sure, maybe splurge a little on some insulting china from Miss Havisham’s.)
If you have an ugly garage, could you give it some Shelleyesque accents? A Tesla coil here, a set of wall-mounted levers there: why not? You’d be able to enjoy that “mad scientist” feeling while oiling your lawn mower or sorting Christmas decorations – or whatever you do in your ugly garage. When people come over, notice the weird knobs, switches, gears, tubes on the wall, and say “dude, what is-“, you can bellow “DON’T TOUCH THAT YOU FOOL!” In that moment, you’ve given them a whiff of classic horror literature they’ll never forget.
Do you have a weird basement?
Let Edgar, Howard, and Stephen be your interior designers, please. Here are a few ideas just off the top of my head:
– A second basement on the floor of the basement (an illusion, of course): a set of doors on the floor or a ring of bricks with a circular lid – locked! for the love of God! – like in Lovecraft’s Pickman’s Model.
– A sewer grating or two where the wall meets the floor, with eyes or something, like in It.
– Actually, any door, real or fake, with a gnarly old lock on it, will give you a certain uncanny feeling.
– Or a false wall– or hastily made one- like in “Cask of Amontillado”
– Fake roots “growing” down from the ceiling. Maybe there are some bones mixed in there, with some character accents: armor? pirate treasure? a funny hat? Ask yourself, who was buried on your property, under that now-missing tree, decades before your house was built? WHO?!
– What about some cool, timed, sound/lighting effects? Stay just this side of corny.
You could split the difference between a completely transformed, fully immersive space and a more conventional design. Let’s imagine you’re into noir fiction. You could start with some period furniture: pieces that turn the eye, but could just be taken as the merest of antiques – until someone pulls out the desk drawer, and there’s a .38 Special – ! – Alright, maybe not a real one, but there it is, in case that dame Trouble shows up. And on the wall? Your PI license, proving you have the right to take photos of that cheating husband and his secretary, at least as far as the City of Los Angeles is concerned. Is that the Maltese Falcon on the mantle? Ah – and I see you have the latest LOOK magazine – September ‘ 48? A hat rack with a fedora? A (fake) old school water heater? Kick your feet up on the desk, and you’re Phil Marlowe, and this is your office.
I had a friend whose dad owned a DC 3, the old workhorse passenger plane you see in Indiana Jones movies or that paratroopers jumped out of during WW2. He could’ve just made it shiny and conventional — but instead, he recreated the interior exactly how it would look in the 30s or 40s- complete with brochures, cocktail equipment, LIFE magazines- it was amazing. It felt like time travel.
Okay- the question Why? Comes to mind. Also, for the Angelenos Who the hell has a basement? Or a house? Or a DC3? But you could apply the same ideas – and certainly much better ones – anywhere, just for the joy of creating something. Not every book has distinct, evocative design elements, and certainly you would only go to all of this trouble for your favorite literary obsessions. But consider it. What’s your kid into? Could you enhance the experience of your business? Could it just be a fun project for you and your creative peeps?
Given some patience and ingenuity, you can do anything.
Other posts in this series: