Thoughts about home
Home is a religion

More thoughts about "home"...

Dear Milie by Maurice Sendak

The places we've live, and the places we grew up in often have an impact (whether acknowledged or not) on our lives, our relationships, our dreams. . . and the houses we yearn for, whether real or imagined, reveal much about our inner nature. As a folklorist, I'm interested in how the idea of "home'"is expressed in traditional stories; and as a fantasist, in how this translates into modern magical fiction.

Arthur RackhamFairy tales, for example often begin with a hero propelled from his or her home by poverty or calamity; and the search for the safe haven of a new home, or the task of restoring prosperity to an old one, is central to such stories. Such tales are rites–of–passage narratives, chronicling a transformational journey from one archetypal life stage to another. Most often, the tale follows a young hero's transition from childhood to adulthood, the completion of the journey symbolized by a wedding at the story's end.

In the modern, simplified versions of the tales popularized by Disney films and children's books, the emphasis is so often placed on the romantic (and wealth accumulating) aspects of the stories that finding 'true love' (with a well heeled spouse) can seem to be what fairy tales are all about. Older, adult versions of the tales, by contrast, are focused on the steps of the hero's passage through a period of upheaval and peril — a period required to test the hero's mettle and provoke growth and self–transformation. Such tales speak to the challenges we face at any time in life (not just in our youth) when circumstances force us to leave home, either literally or metaphorically, setting us on the road to an unknown future and a new identity. Catskin, Donkeyskin, The Girl With No Hands, The Wild Swans, Hans My Hedgehog: these are all rites–of–passage narratives. Each tale begins in a childhood home that has become constricting, even dangerous, and each hero must leave this home behind in order to forge a new life in the adult world. The completion of the hero's task is marked by the traditional rewards of the fairy tale genre: a marriage, a crown, a storehold full of treasure; but the true reward at journey's end is a new–found ability to survive life's trials, transcend its terrors, and determine one's own fate.

Lorenzo Mattotti

The heroes begin in one home and end in another (or else in the old home restored and renewed), but in between these two poles is a crucial period of homelessness. Homelessness is a liminal state rich in opportunities for character change and growth, which has made it a popular plot device among storytellers both old and new. Homelessness detaches the hero from the role he or she has played in the past, strips them of identity, blurs the markers of class or rank, removes usual sources of aid and comfort, and throws them on their own resources. . .a perfect recipe for suspense, adventure, and heroic metamorphosis.

Lisbeth Zwerger

Patricia Mignone

In classical myth, the home was sacred to Hestia, goddess of the hearth and perpetual flame. Sometimes called "the forgotten goddess," Hestia rarely appears in the tales of the gods, and seems to have had few temples or acolytes; and yet she was actually the first of the goddesses, sitting higher in the Olympian pantheon than even Hera (wife of Zeus, goddess of love and marriage) or Demeter (goddess of fertility and the harvest). Although avidly courted by both Poseidon and Apollo, Hestia vowed she would never marry, dedicating herself instead to the management of Mount Olympus, home of the gods. For this, she received the first portion of tribute in the temple rites of all the other gods, and was worshipped at the hearth in the center of all houses and buildings. Each morning began with Hestian prayers as the family fire was stoked for cooking and heating; each day ended with prayers to the goddess as the fire was banked for the night. Unlike the rest of the Greek pantheon, well known for their tempers, jealousies, and quarrels, Hestia was an unusually stable goddess, revered for her gentle, calm, and forgiving nature. But lest we think of her as the Olympian equivalent of a 1950s housewife, limited to home and the service of others, she was also the first builder, the inventor of architecture, and the patron of these arts.

Cinderella by Edmund Dulac

In fantasy literature, as in fairy tales, many stories begin with the loss of a home, and this is precisely what thrusts the protagonists into the world. Some stories, like L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz or J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, rest on the main protagonist's fierce desire to go home again; in others, they must find or create new homes for themselves in far distant lands. In Diana Wynne Jones' Charmed Life, for First edition cover art for Charmed Life (Greenwillow, 1977)example, young Janet chooses to remain in the magical world of Chrestomanci; in Pamela Dean's "Secret Country" books, some of the children never return home again; and Austin Tappan Wright's great utopian novel Islandia revolves around a hero pulled between loyalties to his old and new countries. In fiction, as in myth, it's that in–between period of wandering and homelessness that allows for adventure and metamorphosis, propelling characters out of their settled ways of life and into their new roles as heroes. In children's fantasy, many adventures begin when a child's usual home is disrupted — when they're sent off to live with relatives, or transplanted to a summer cottage, or sent off to boarding school, etc. It's interesting to note that a number of these tales — The Owl Service by Alan Garner, for example, or The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken — were penned by writers who grew up in England during the Second World War, a time when children were regularly sent away from home to escape German bombers. Displacement, once again, creates a space that is rich in narrative possibilities, with the added bonus that once the parents are off the scene, the young protagonists are thrown onto their own resources.

Alan Lee

What I love best are those fantasy novels where the houses themselves are a source of enchantment, reminiscent of the fairy towers and haunted chateaux to be found in folk tales. The masterwork in this mini–genre is the "Gormenghast" trilogy by Mervyn Peake, in which an entire epic world is created beneath one rambling, crumbling roof, but there are plenty of other fantastical houses I'd also love to have a good wander in: such as Tamsin House from Charles de Lint's Moonheart; or Crackpot Hall from Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda; or Edgewood from John Crowley's Little, Big. In such books, domestic spaces regain their aura of the numinous, connecting us, in our everyday lives, as we sleep and wake and cook and clean, to the realm of the gods, the fairies, the ancestors, and to worlds of magic.

Alan Lee

What are your favorite magical houses in fiction, fairy tales, or myth? And what houses haunt you, real or imagined? Here are two of the real houses that I love and often dream of:

First, Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire, the country house of William Morris, his wife Jane, and Dante Grabriel Rossetti (Jane's lover) at the turn of the 19th century:

Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire

Kelmscott Manor

Kelmscott Manor

Kelmscott Manor, News From Nowhere

Second, Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, the country house of the painters Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf's sister) and Duncan Grant, in the early half of the 20th century. The house was shared, over the years, with assorted spouses, lovers, children, and Bloomsbury friends...and is now preserved by the Charleston Trust.




Entrance to the walled garden, CharlestonThe art above is: "Dear Milie" by Maurice Sendak, "Catskin" by Arthur Rackham,  "Hansel & Gretel" by Lorenzo Mattotti, "Thumbelina" by Lisbeth Zwerger, "Hans My Hedgehog" by Patricia Mignone, "Cinderella" by Edmund Dulac, a hobbit house from The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook by Alan Lee,  and a "Gormenghast" painting by Alan Lee. Portions of the text here are drawn from my article "The Folklore of House and Home" (2008). For more on magical houses, visit Grace Nuth's Domythic Bliss blog. For more thoughts about "home," listen to the beautiful  "Homesickness" program on Ellen Kushner's Sound & Spirit radio series.


I am haunted by the house of my childhood. It was a big old thing hunkered down amongst wooded hills - too big for us, and therefore much of it lay unfurnished. I loved those empty spaces where the wind and the forest shadows crept in to tell me stories. And yet, it was a scary place too sometimes, ghost-ridden and lost in its own sorrows.

Perhaps because of this my favourite fictional houses are the old, wild, oversized houses like Thornfield Hall, Gormenghast, the Beast's castle, and Nyx's bog house in The Sorceress and the Cygnet.

'Home' as encapsulated by country, is obviously different to 'Home' as encapsulated by an architectural structure of whatever sort. The political/military actions of Home-as-country often worry me deeply, and the love that is felt for Home-as-country can be manipulated and corrupted by those who wield political and military power. Imperialism, war, blind and unthinking nationalism can all result from this cynical utilisation of a powerful emotion.

But Home as a structure or place in which childhood was experienced, where the space was shared with loved ones or where the demands and duties of the outside world can be (literally) shut out, is obviously an entirely different matter. If we were lucky and there were none within its walls that could compromise that sense of safety, or indeed none beyond its walls that could break in and do us harm in whatever form, then it was a haven and a refuge.

The old (unfortunately sexist and nationalistic) saying of "An Englishman's home is his Castle", summed up for generations the nature of home. In literature, my favourite home is 'Bag-End'. A cosy, hobbit hole with all its connotations of womb-like safety is perfect. But my own childhood home was neither hobbit hole nor castle; it was a small terraced house in an industrial city, haunted by regiments of family pets that had 'passed on' - mainly cats..., the dogs, rabbits, mice and budgies seemed content to rest quietly. So many good things happened there, but so too did tragedies and sadness. And for me that is the nature of Home; whatever architectural form it takes it's the experience lived within its walls that make it Home with a most definite capital 'H'.

I am haunted by a house in a recurring dream, a house that I do not recognize. The house sits on a lake, surrounded by trees. It is always fall, the trees bare. Carpets of yellow and orange leaves are ankle deep. The rooms of the house open up like a fan, like pages unfolding again and again out of a book. There is always a sense of something hidden. Something lurks outside, beyond the picture window and between the trees. It is not safe. But it is the house I return to in dreams.

Fictional houses I would like to visit: the Riverside house in Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint series, Davis Cooper's house in the desert mountains in The Wood Wife, the house by the woods in Patricia A. McKillip's Solstice Wood, and theSpiderwick Estate in the series by Holly Back and Tony DiTerrlizi, which my boys especially love. It occurs to me that three of these are houses in America, while one is in an imaginary city. Perhaps it is easier to imagine places as magical when they are not just around the corner.

But there are also two real houses here in England that are magical to me:

The artist G.F. Watt's house in Guilford. I haven't seen it since the renovation, so I hope it hasn't lost its charm.

Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm in the Lake District.

I love these posts on home, Terri. Whether home refers to landscape, country, house, or all three, it's a subject I'm deeply interested in too.

Ooh yes, fantastic houses, all of them.

Your childhood sounds amazing. As a child, I always wanted to live in a house so big that some rooms stood empty. But as an adult and mother, I'm not so sure I'd want the responsibility of taking care of them all.

Every year before Christmas, I read Wind in the Willows', for poor Mole out in the snow, catching the scent of his home and feeling a tugging on his heart to go there. Dulce Domum, indeed.

I love houses, in fiction and in life. Green Knowe is a great favourite (interesting to see the actual house appearing again in fiction in another guise, in the sequels to Dorothy Sayers novels by Jill Paton Walsh).

The Abhorsen's house in Garth Nix's Sabriel is a place I'd love to know more about. I'm sometimes frustrated that the author created such a wonderful, mysterious, evocative place, yet allows the reader so little time there. Other times - most times - I think this is utterly right. I get to fill in the details and imagine the stories myself.

In fiction it's Rivendale and has been since the first time I read the Hobbit. In real life it's my Bubby's house. It still appears in my dreams 55 years later. A large two story with attic (which I was never allowed in) sitting between a lot with Bubby's kitchen garden and a lot with a wild garden where I played whenever possible.

When I am haunted by home, it is often in this season of winter when frost and freeze ripples to a homes which were warm and freeze limited to the shaved ice we ate to cool off from tropical Decembers.

It's not so much the dwellings in my past that haunt me. As a writer my sensitivity is tickled by many images and sensations. Today it was the warmth of Women Jugglers that landed me 'home.' Writing from a Quonset Hut which is home to me, the silly thing that pins together is how juggling women and a new layer of warmth for a frozen winter pin together come with comfort. I write about it here, and offer this as a cross-the-borders journey home.

LOve this post! I too dream of Kelmscott and this year we made the pilgrimage. The thing that I remember most was the sight of William Morris's coat hanging on a door. His daughter May used to wear it after he died. The house is wonderfull,the village beautiful and the willow walk along the Thames where they all walked was magical.
When I was little I often wrote stories and always it seemed to be about finding a warm,cabin in deep woods and feeling safe.

I return to a very old cottage, young by British standards but 130 years on Lake Michigan is ancient. It was in the family, my grandmother's cottage, but my parents saw that too many siblings and too many grandchildren would have trouble sharing it, so they sold out and built their own cottage. I've learned to love the new cottage, but still--in my dreams, the old one is home, it is where I return to, in dream, story, shamanic journey.

It had an upper story devoted to sleeping, with a far back bedroom where you had to walk through other rooms to get there--but it was built when rooms were only for sleeping, so it made sense. Tall, wide windows below, narrow horizontal windows above, nestled in dark hemlocks and pines, facing a Great Lake. Coconut husk carpet, open studs where we could put shelves for books, and a screened porch that wrapped around half the house.

I put it in a mystery I wrote but never sold. I imagine it will show up again, someday, since I always return, even with no claim to it. My cousins don't know it, but that is always home.

I'm haunted by this large, brick, three-story house on a hill in rural Ohio, where I used to have to go up the back steps by myself at night to bed. We lived there during my wonder years. When I dream about that house, it's never quite the same as it was in real life, but has another layer of mystical, terrifying secrecy, always just out of reach. Maybe some day I should try writing it into a story, but I haven't often wanted to go there during my waking hours.

In fiction, I'm with Stuart Hill: Bag End was the first thing that came to mind, though I also really would like to go to the professor's house in the Narnia stories.

My heart sings and I am soothed by wood focused houses with furnishings, supplies and decoration coming from a hand made bent, with the house surrounded by farmland like those found in the movie Sweet Land, the story Sarah, Plain and Tall, and many in Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. I would also need a wood cook stove and a claw foot tub. I am really a child of the Northeast, USA...but somehow I feel called by the plains. I think it has something to do with the lack of close, visible neighbors, the less tamed openness and space outside of the house that New England lacks. I have travelled to and around New Mexico and I do not resonate with wild, open desert space as much....

Thank you for these wonderful, evocative responses, everyone!

My mind goes to Carl Larsson.

I've seen photographs of the Larssons' beautiful house in Sundborn (and his many paintings of it), but I've never actually been there. One day, I hope...

My goal for Bumblehill (the small house that we currently live in, and are still in the process of rennovating) is for it to have a Carl-Larsson-in-Devon feel to it. There is still a ways to go, but these things take time....

My last house (Weaver's Cottage) was more of an Arthur Rackham kind of place, but it seems to me that each different house you live in demands its own aesthetic, if you listen to it closely.

Green Knowe, yes!!!

I also love the houses in Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time, and Elizabeth Marie Pope's Sherwood Ring.

Weaver's Cottage seemed magical and I loved the photos that you posted. Yes, I agree, each house can let you know what it wants to be. When I moved into my current house, friends kept asking what I would do with it, and I kept saying that I needed to wait until the house let me know.
By appearances, I thought rustic western.....but it surprised me one day with Karl Larsson. It's a work in progress for sure....trying to learn rosemaling for the beams.
There are some videos showing Sundborn but I don't have a link.
Good luck with your renovating, hope to see pictures someday. Always loved the idea of 'home as canvas'.

P.S. Have you read his autobiography? It was published by Penfield Press in 1992.

I love how you've framed Rossetti as Jane's lover, as if he wasn't an artist in his own right, heh.

Home is problematic to me as growing up it was never a safe, or warm, or comfortable place. I still don't know if I've ever had a home proper. Maybe a little when I rented the tiny house in Boston, but it wasn't mine, really.

As for fictional ones: Bag End of course, especially as they did it up so beautifully in the movie; I've also always loved long rambling homes that are so big half the rooms go unused. I don't remember which Charles de Lint book it was (Moonheart maybe?) but there was a large house in there that was pretty much a character; I remember the Silkwater Kitchen in it. I always dream about big houses too and exploring them, or finding new rooms in this one, the childhood home now cleaned up and warm. I suppose Jung would say those kinds of dreams are about exploring your self.

When I play the Sims I'm always making those kind of houses that just go on and on and on. All those rooms means you're guaranteed solitude, maybe?

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