Distorted Houses In Illustration

There’s a style of house, popular in Hallowe’en illustration and in children’s books about witches, which looks distorted and crooked. You know it when you see it. This house is a creepy inversion of The Dream House, so it is always two-storeyed with an attic, and you just know it has a basement as well.

Why is it crooked and distorted? It might have been abandoned once, then reclaimed by a marginalised person (a witch). The walls sag. This building has not been maintained and may collapse at any moment, but it doesn’t. It blends into its landscape, reclaimed by it, and is alive in the way a landscape is alive. In stories, these houses are frequently characters in their own right. Its gables look like the hooked nose of its evil inhabitants.

Bad things happen inside such houses.

In the sprawling, half-timbered mansion in the affluent suburb of Swinly Dean, Aristide Leonides lies dead from barbiturate poisoning. An accident? Not likely.

In fact, suspicion has already fallen on his luscious widow, a cunning beauty fifty years his junior, set to inherit a sizeable fortune, and rumoured to be carrying on with a strapping young tutor comfortably ensconced in the family estate. But criminologist Charles Hayward is casting his own doubts on the innocence of the entire Leonides brood. He knows them intimately. And he’s certain that in a crooked house such as Three Gables, no one’s on the level…

The houses in the illustrations below look like they’ve had the pinch and punch treatment in Photoshop:

View of Cagnes, ca. 1924–25, Chaim Soutine

Old Witch, Little Witch Girl, Weeny Witch, and two real girls in a fantasy that blends the worlds of reality and imagination. A Halloween classic about the power of make-believe., originally published in 1960.

The Little Crooked House by Margaret Wild and Jonathan Bentley
See my analysis of this picture book here.
House of the Screaming Fiends Baffling Mysteries magazine December 1952
Amling's Haunted House, Melrose Park, IL, 1950s
A photograph of Amling’s Haunted House, Melrose Park, IL, 1950s
LES DESSOUS DE LA VILLE (1985) Francis Masse curved building
LES DESSOUS DE LA VILLE (1985) Francis Masse. Okay so “curved building” rather than “crooked house”.

On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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