In the summer of 2007, my friend eric_hinkle loaned me his copy of James Stoddard's The High House. Delighted as I am with magical houses that also serve as characters in their introductory novels, I did not read The High House as much as devoured it. The result was a review on Amazon.com that though fanboyish to the extreme, I meant every word:
I do not yet know what book has been kicked out of my Top Five list, but one has in order to make room for James Stoddard's The High House (Aspect Fantasy: 1998).
Imagine if you will, a huge mansion that within its walls and halls and rooms holds worlds upon worlds, mysteries upon mysteries, with no end in sight. Imagine a Master of the House with three main responsibilities: maintain order within the House's myriad realms; protect all of this creation against the Anarchists, a group of people dedicated to overthrowing the house; and maintain a balance between Old Man Chaos and Lady Order, two archetypes that dwell within the house and in their absoluteness are creatures of surprising horror. Also, imagine a house where the Last Dinosaur, untamed and hungry, lives in the attic and the basement is filled with man-eating creatures that disguise themselves as furniture.
And there is still much, much more.
The High House is not a Christian allegory. It is a novel set about a fantasy world immersed in the reality of the Christian worldview with the basis for its paradigms solidly Christian:" ... like all of Creation, the High House is a Parable. As for who built it, some say God is the Great Architect; some say the Grand Engineer." Brittle gave his wry smile. "And some say He once was a carpenter as well. I can explain no better."
Yet, the message of the book is not beaten into you with a crowbar, but explained gently within the relationships of those who have been given the responsibility of caring for the High House. Along the trip we learn that life is not a caricature to be endured, but an adventure to be lived with all of its passions and wonders and, yes, even danger.
I have always been an avid fan of supernatural houses and The High House now forms part of my mental neighborhood sharing property lines with Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland, Richard Forsythe's Bishop's Landing, and Charles de Lint's Tamson House (Moonheart).
The High House is a nice place to visit and you just might want to live there.
Sad to say, the book is out of print, but when I started interviewing authors for this blog, I was committed to find Mr. Stoddard and if need be, beg him for the privilege of an interview. I found him and he is a most gracious individual.
1. Tell us about yourself?
I grew up in the Panhandle of Oklahoma and currently live in a hobbitish village in a canyon in West Texas. I write part-time and teach Sound Engineering for my regular job. I love teaching, old fantasy novels, the original Twilight Zone, and playing guitar and piano. I am perpetually fascinated by beautiful sentences and the process of writing. I have a lovely wife willing to encourage a creative mind, and a son and daughter, both married. My daughter has three children. I've been published in several professional magazines, and had two of my short stories appear in Year's Best anthologies.
My website is here.
2. What authors inspired you?
Ray Bradbury was a huge, initial influence, a genius of a writer. I recently reread some of his short stories and they really hold up over time. I was saddened to hear of his recent passing. Later influences were Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Lord Dunsany, Mervyn Peake, and William Hope Hodgson. But, after Bradbury, the central influence was Tolkien. I was fourteen or fifteen when I read The Lord of the Rings, and it has had a lifelong influence.
3. How did the The High House come about? What is the story behind the story?
When I was a child, my father bought a quarter-section of farmland, which happened to have an old house on it. I used to play in it while dad worked. It had a basement and a creepy attic; and I soon discovered there is nothing quite as mysterious (or scary) as an empty house. Beginning in college I started having reoccurring dreams concerning it. In the dream, I and several of my friends are being pursued by some bad guys through the house. The dreams are the opposite of frightening, because my friends and I always know where the secret doors and hidden rooms are, and can watch our pursuers through peepholes and secret windows. I invariably wake from the dream feeling tremendously empowered. I wanted to recreate the feeling of those dreams in a book, and I started the story in college, but soon realized I wasn't ready to tell it. Many years later I finally wrote The High House.
I quit having the dreams for several years, but they eventually came back, though I'm not usually being chased by anyone, and several things about the house have become standardized. In the northwest corner there is always a secret door and narrow stairway leading to an immense attic. And another room even beyond that. The house of my dreams isn't as large as Evenmere, the infinite mansion in my book, but it's a wonderful place to visit.
4. What sequels are planned for The High House?
Both The High House and its sequel, The False House are out-of-print, but readers keep asking me about a third volume, so I recently finished it, and my new agent is shopping all three books around. (I've asked fans to post positive reviews on Amazon--potential editors like to see that.) I've actually rewritten The False House--there were some things I felt needed redoing, so the new version will be somewhat different. I've gone back and forth on the title of the third book, but at this moment am calling it The Winking House. Of course, editors often change book titles.
5. What is your relationship, if any, with William Hope Hodgson? Is The High House a distant cousin to The House on the Borderland
That's a question I'm not sure I can answer. The House on the Borderland, if an influence, was a subconscious one. I read it in college the first time, and only learned to appreciate it later. Whether it was in the back of my mind when I wrote The High House, I don't know. I did recently publish a short story on Andy Robertson's Night Land website, which attempts to tie Hodgson's life together with the events of three of his novels: The Night Land, The Ghost Pirates, and The House on the Borderland. (In reality Hodgson had a rather dramatic life, going to sea as a cabin-boy at age 13, opening one of the first fitness centers in the world, and dying in World War I, killed by a German shell.) It was a fun story to write, and is available for free here. Just click on The Last Road Maker.
6. Would you say The High House is a Christian fantasy, or a fantasy that takes place in a Christian universe?
When I wrote it I didn't set out to write a 'Christian' novel at all. (I think it's a shame that if C. S. Lewis's space trilogy were published today, it would be placed in the Christian section of the bookstore, as if only Christians could enjoy the books.) The basic premise of my novel is that Evenmere, the High House, is a Victorian mansion that is the mechanism that runs the universe: the candles must be lit or the stars go out; the clocks must be wound or Time stops. As the book progressed, I realized the initial premise begs the question: Who built the house? As is the way with most writers, the answers came from my own beliefs, as reflected by the beliefs of the hero. But just as in real life, not everyone in Evenmere agrees with him. In the third book, there are characters with various theories on how the house was built--aliens? Magnetic forces? Spontaneous construction? In his book, Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton asks the question, "How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?" To the best of my ability, The High House reflects that view.
7. Tell us about The Night Land, A Story Retold
William Hope Hodgson wrote The Night Land in 1912. It begins in the 17th century, but quickly moves to the far future, where the sun has gone out, leaving the surviving humans in a seven-mile high pyramid in an enormous canyon. Forces of Evil surround the pyramid, waiting for the force field to die, so they can prey on the humans. The hero, Andros, learns that his long-lost love is in another pyramid far across the Night Land, and he journeys there to bring her home. It's a love story, a fantasy, a science fiction epic--in my opinion one of the great books, but it is mostly unread because Hodgson chose to write it in a difficult, archaic language of his own invention. I've loved the book and wanted to bring it to the attention of modern readers, so I spent several years, off and on, rewriting it. Writing of the original, one internet reviewer said something to the effect that: if by the final chapters of this book you're not jumping up and down, having a totally cathartic experience, you probably lack the basic characteristics to be human. I feel the same way about it. It's a wonderful book; and I hope I've done it justice.
James Stoddard's Amazon Page
His Facebook page