Book Pilgrimmages: American Gods and The House on the Rock

Sure, books are all about taking you places without physically travelling at all, but what about books you love that take place in real location? Wouldn’t it be really cool to visit these places yourself? Sometimes, you can, and that’s  exactly what I did with the House on the Rock.

When I first read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, I assumed he made up the House on the Rock. It sounded so strange and fantastical, exactly like the sort of place he would create for his mythic America in the novel. Then, in an afterward section, he clarified that it was indeed a real place, which surprised me. Still, I would have no idea how detailed and accurate Gaiman’s depiction of the house would be until years later, when I visited it for myself.

The House on the Rock was one of the most amazing, bizarre places I’ve ever visited. I came away from it not even fully certain how to describe my experience. I decided to refresh my memory of the part the location played in American God’s and reread the small section wherein Shadow and Mr. Wednesday meet with other old gods at the House. When I read the passage just after my visit, I was shocked to find that Gaiman’s words almost perfectly captured every detail of the strange setting, even down to minuscule mechanical displays and and features.

I couldn’t get many decent pictures of all the strange and eerie spectacles at the House on the Rock, because they liked to keep their mood lighting nice and low, and there was so much going on in any given room that even with the flash on I couldn’t capture it all. Still, I took some interesting photos, photos I think are even cooler when you pair them up with Gaiman’s brilliant descriptions of the same spots and props. I may have had a hard time putting to words what I saw in the house, but Gaiman was brilliant, as always.

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“Prim-Lipped Victorian china dolls stared in profusion through dusty store windows, like so many props from respectable horror films.”

Yeah, this is just one close-up glamour shot of a single creepy doll that I was especially sure wanted to watch me while I slept. There were many, many more, and I laughed to myself when I read this quote, happy the eerie Neil Gaiman agreed with me that these dolls belonged in a horror movie.

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“They went farther in, down a red corridor, past rooms filled with empty chairs upon which rested violins or violas that played themselves, or seemed to, when fed a coin. Keys depressed, cymbals crashed, pipes blew compressed air into clarinets and oboes.”

Yes, Shadow was also right to later note in the same passage that the automatic bows on the string instruments don’t always seem to be actually playing the instruments. As far as I could tell, the musical rooms were a mixture of prerecorded songs, and actually played instruments. You can tell a few instruments are really being played because a recording would sound better, actually in tune and all that. The whole picture, no mattered how manufactured or not, is a strangely beautiful one, emphasis on strange.

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they came to a room called the Mikado, one wall of which was a nineteenth-century pseudo-Oriental nightmare, in which  beetle-browed mechanical drummers banged cymbals and drums while staring out from their dragon-encrusted lair. Currently, they were majestically torturing Saint-Saen’s Danse Macabre.”

I was not sure what to call the House’s creator’s fixation on Eastern decor, but in many cases, pseudo-Oriental nightmare was very fitting, both in the unfortunate level of exotic fetishist attitude House creator Jordan exhibited in these displays, and in the way that they genuinely inspired fear and nightmares in me, and probably other guests as well. I would also say “majestically torture” is exactly what these strange robots do to the famous tunes they’ve been created to play.

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…a room that went up for many stories, the center of which was filled entirely with a replica of a great black whalelike beast, with a life-sized replica of a boat in its vast, fiberglass mouth

Yeah, technically the whale beast isn’t in this photo. This is instead the gigantic octopus fighting the three-stories high whale statue, because this house is so crazy that Mr. Gaiman was underselling it on occasion. It was also legitmately difficult to get a decent, well-lit picture of the whale because it was so big, that I couldn’t get enough of the thing in frame to give you a decent idea of what monster you were looking at.

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“…above them hung dozens of angels constructed rather obviously from female store-window mannequins; some of them bared their sexless breasts; some had lost their wigs and stared baldly and blindly down from the darkness.”

Okay, so the angel in this picture, if you can make out against the riot of opulent details in this photo, has both her hair and clothes in this picture, but it was still amusingly obvious that she and her many sisters were probably bought from a Out-of-Business department store, and the wings look incredibly simply and fake as well, but with so many of those strange beings in the same room, amongst all the the other decor, they were still strangely awe-inspiring.

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“And then there was the carousel. A sign proclaimed it was the largest in the world, said how much it weighed, how many thousand lightbulbs were to be found in the chandeliers that hung from it in Gothic profusion.”

Yes, the carousel, the climactic centerpiece of Gaiman’s tour through the house. It is as outrageous and beautiful as he makes it sound, but I didn’t sneak on to ride it, so I’ll never know if it can take you into some other godly dimension or something like it did in the book, but Gaiman was incredibly accurate in his description of the rest of the House, so this could very well be true. Someone just has to go to the House on the Rock, jump the barrier around the carousel, ride one of the crazy animals, and let me know what happens. Thanks in advance guys, really appreciate it.



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