Bathroom As Horror: Here There Be Tygers by Stephen King

Toilets are inherently scary. This holds true across cultures, even though different cultures (and even genders) experience public toilets differently. Below I take a look at a short horror story by Stephen King with a few examples of toilet horror by other authors, in which the public bathroom is utilised for storytelling purposes as a horror venue.

TOILETS AND JAPAN

In the final year of the last millennium I was a university exchange student, sent to a rural part of Kyushu, one of the four main island of Japan. (Kyushu is the big one at the bottom.) I was in Japan to study Japanese language. One of my Japanese language lecturers was a sociologist and, I shit you not, his area of interest (at least, that year) was bathroom culture, and how bathroom behaviour differs between Asia and the West

I can see how he happened upon that interest. He worked with us exchange students and he must have noticed how Japanese bathroom culture is quite different from the bathroom culture of my own home countries (New Zealand and Australia).

Namely:

In Japan, you won’t find toilet doors which stop about a foot off the floor. Japanese people, in general, absolutely hate using toilets in which passers-by can hypothetically see your feet. This isn’t only to do with the fact that many Japanese toilets are squat toilets (and your entire naked butt would therefore be visible), but also to do with the fact that, once inside a toilet, you’re meant to NOT EXIST.

One of my fellow exchange students had noticed this four years earlier when I was on a different, high school exchange program in Yokohama. She called goodbye to her host mother one morning before trotting out the door to school but the host mother was nowhere to be found. Had she slipped and fallen? Worried, my New Zealand friend went looking for her host mother.

The host-mother was in the toilet (with the door closed, of course). Why hadn’t she hollered back? Later, after returning home from school that same day, my New Zealand friend caught a tongue-lashing from the Japanese woman, who believed it the height of rudeness to chase someone down to say something to them when they’re in the toilet. In Japan, if someone’s in the toilet, they are dead to you.

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Miracle Polish by Steven Millhauser Short Story Analysis

“Miracle Polish” is a (possibly) fabulist short story by American author Steven Millhauser, published in the print edition of the November 14, 2011, issue of The New Yorker.

More recently, Stuart Dybek joined Deborah Treisman on The New Yorker podcast to read and discuss this story.

This short story is a great example of:

  • An unnamed semi-reliable narrator
  • A contemporary short story which makes heavy use of fairy tale and mythological tropes
  • The colour green as motif
  • A story which operates according to kairos (a non-linear way of thinking about time)
  • An allegory for society’s addiction to more and better

We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.

Anaïs Nin
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Balloons and Bubbles in Art and Illustration

Disney Pixar Up
Here’s an example of 1960s children’s humour found in The Joke Book, illustrated by Bill and Bonnie Rutherford. There’s a lot of flight in children’s literature, with flying being one of the main wish fulfilment fantasies. There’s also a lot of floating, which is related.
Illustration by Ati Forberg from 'Attic of the Wind' by Doris Herold Lund. published by World's Work, 1966
Illustration by Ati Forberg from ‘Attic of the Wind’ by Doris Herold Lund. published by World’s Work, 1966. Flat illustration combined with line drawing.
Molly Brett (1902–1990) was an English illustrator and children’s author. Somehow this balloon looks kind of like a fruit.
Woman's Home Companion Magazine December 1939 Haddon Sundblom Cover (detail)
Woman’s Home Companion Magazine December 1939 Haddon Sundblom Cover art (detail). I’d like to see a man posed like this holding balloons.
‘The balloon seller’ Racey Helps
‘The balloon seller’ by Racey Helps, well-known for the depicting fully anthropomorphised rabbits (in Beatrix Potter tradition).
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Illustrations Of The Forest At Night

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

DENDROPHOBIA: fear of trees

HYLOPHOBIA: fear of forests

NYCTOHYLOPHOBIA: fear of forests at night

Evening (1821) by Caspar Friedrich (German, 1774 – 1840)
Giant Redwood Trees of California (1874) by Albert Bierstadt (German-American, 1830-1902). Berkshire Museum. These trees are among the oldest living things on Earth
Giant Redwood Trees of California (1874) by Albert Bierstadt (German-American, 1830-1902). Berkshire Museum. These trees are among the oldest living things on Earth
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Table Scenes in Illustration and Composition

Table scenes are notoriously difficult to film in TV and movies. Live action presents its own challenges, but static images of characters around tables aren’t exactly easy, either. They’re significantly easier when one side of the table has no one seated at it.

But tables are symbolically useful, too. A long table, with one person at each end, clearly conveys psychological distance. The ‘camera’ angle also says a lot about the relationship between characters.

Below is a collection of table scenes in art and illustration, showcasing various compositional choices.

American Boy Vintage Magazine - January 1932. As a young man digs into pie, his father shows him a newspaper advertisement saying 'Team Must Diet'.
American Boy Vintage Magazine – January 1932. As a young man digs into pie, his father shows him a newspaper advertisement saying ‘Team Must Diet’.
Marjorie Torrey
from The Charms of Monique by Francis Price, 1959, art by Joseph Bowler
This image is from The Charms of Monique by Francis Price, 1959, art by Joseph Bowler. Unusually, one character is showing her back, but her back is part of the draw.
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Cooking Over Campfire In Art And Illustration

Boys' Life Magazine September 1933 (cover art)
Boys’ Life Magazine September 1933 (cover art). Pretty sure the Native American guide is not saying ‘Here, have all this land’, despite appearances.
Hunting & Fishing Magazine July 1937
Hunting & Fishing Magazine July 1937
Charles William Hargens, Jr. (1893−1997)
Charles William Hargens, Jr. (1893−1997)

CAMPFIRE

My life has been told to me through campfire tales — stories that spill over when the fire has burned low and silence must be filled. They’re like old coats hauled from the back of the cupboard. Dusted off, aired out, good as new. My mother, Vivienne, doled them out as reward or consolation, depending on her mood. And so I came to know myself — through the telling and retelling.

Friday Brown by Vikki Wakefield, Australian author
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Catching Fish In Art And Illustration

FISHING IN FINE ART

Hugh Bolton Jones - A Good Day's Fishing
Hugh Bolton Jones – A Good Day’s Fishing
N.C. WYETH (1882-1945) The Doryman 1938. A 'dory' is a small flat-bottomed rowing boat with a high bow and stern, originally of a kind used for fishing in New England. A 'doryman' is a man who fishes from a dory.
N.C. WYETH (1882-1945) The Doryman 1938. A ‘dory’ is a small flat-bottomed rowing boat with a high bow and stern, originally of a kind used for fishing in New England. A ‘doryman’ is a man who fishes from a dory.
 N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) The Call of Spring
N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) The Call of Spring
Samuel Austin - Fishermen unloading the catch at low tide  1831
Samuel Austin – Fishermen unloading the catch at low tide 1831
Henry Scott Tuke - Return from Fishing 1907
Henry Scott Tuke – Return from Fishing 1907
Thomas Bromley Blacklock - Fisher Girls ca. 1903
Thomas Bromley Blacklock – Fisher Girls ca. 1903
William Marshall Brown - Fishing Girls ca. 1900
William Marshall Brown – Fishing Girls ca. 1900
Myles Birket Foster - Boys Fishing From a Punt
Myles Birket Foster – Boys Fishing From a Punt
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