“Wear Your Boots if You Wander Today”

“Constance made me learn the deadly ones…”

In my family, we put Stephen King in the freezer.  My grandmother put Pet Cemetery next to the cold cuts.  I put The Shining in with the frozen peas and mom’s homemade chili in Rubbermaid.  Maybe the idea was that we can freeze the characters to death.  Or that the darkness in the book will be overtaken by the coldness in the freezer.  In order to have these phobias, you have to believe in the liveliness of characters.   You may think they talk to each other in your purse when you put more than one book side by side, marked with your silly annotations.  If they’re in the freezer it’s the same thing, they’re just trying to plot how to get out.

On the moon we have everything. Lettuce, and pumpkin pie and Amanita phalloides. We have cat-furred plants and horses dancing with their wings.

Horrors and thrillers aren’t really my genre.  You’ve heard me say a thousand times, I only read pretty fiction.  Well, the sprinkler spray of blood droplets, and Carrie’s prom night screaming aren’t really pieces of gorgeous fiction for me.  They’re great fiction, don’t get me wrong, I’d just rather not experience their greatness.   It usually causes many sleepless nights.

You see, part of my problem is I’m deathly afraid of the dark.  I sleep surrounded by night lights and a just-in-case flashlight under the pillow on the empty half of my bed.  A boy shut me in a closet once and I cried, hugged myself.  When in middle school my friends played seven minutes in heaven, I would take the opportunity to go talk to the parental supervision in the kitchen and ask for a glass of water.  My mother used to creep in my room in the evenings to unfold the blankets from over my head.  What if I couldn’t breathe in the night?  I thought that if I could just cover myself all the way up then nothing could get me.  I still think that.  Not one foot will hang from the edge of the bed, not one snack for the shadows.

We Have Always Lived in a Castle by Shirley Jackson has this amazing cover with a young doe-eyed blonde holding a black cat, an older woman peeping behind her shoulder, breathing on the shell of her ear.   While the mob behind them is going all Beauty & the Beast mob, Merricat looks intently at the reader.  There’s something about the part down the exact center of her head, and the one loose lock of hair.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

That’s not even the best cover.  It seems Shirley Jackson was gifted with brilliant illustrators.  The covers are just another reason why I love this book.

I AM OBSESSED WITH THIS BOOK.  In fact, I’ve been watching Ghost Hunters for the entirety of this Sunday just to get my eerie fix.  I might even read the book again as soon as I finish this blog. The main character is a young girl named Merricat.  She seems to be the town witch.  Usually the town witch is that old woman who sits on her porch.  The town witch usually shakes her cane and angry vowels at the small children jumping rope and skipping sidewalk cracks in front of her petunias.  I guess it could be different, we did have Salem in this country after all.  Actually, wasn’t there just an article about Papua, New Guinea killing a witch? Yes, yes there was.  Proof here.  Somehow, in a world of modern technology where you can talk on video to someone 28,785 miles away, we’re still burning witches by the stake.

I am living in my house on the moon, and here, I can swim through the air.

Merricat is everything a reader wants in a character.  She’s psychologically strange.  She buries pieces of her loved ones under rocks, by creeks, in the dirt, to keep her superstitions at bay.  It’s a ritual, like when I miss my hometown, I wear an oak leaf around my neck because it makes me feel close to the soil of Raleigh, close to the spirit of it, my City of Oaks.  I bury money in the backs of drawers, sometimes I even forget where it is.  That’s just the thing though, Merricat never forgets.  She checks on her buried treasures.  She uses words as power.

Sketch by Sherri DuPree Bemis on Flickr

“I decided that I would choose three powerful words, words of strong protection, and so long as these great words were never spoken aloud no change would come” (44).

In the South, I know it’s common (as seen in Hollywood movies) for young people to ask God for something they need and then flip open the Bible to find His response.  We are such delicate little creatures here in the South that we need Psalms, or John to speak our truths to us.  There’s also people like me who read books in hopes that I need the book.  Something in my life is wrong, something is off and spinning, something is empty and needs the fill of words from a very specific novel.   I read to be fixed, tilted right again, silenced.  In Merricat’s world it’s three words, a book nailed to a tree, silver dollars, and a blanket.

When something opens, a secret is found and Merricat believes she must destroy it before it becomes actively bad.  Hence, the books in the freezer, before they unleash something actively bad into my home.

This is Jonas, the black cat.

Merricat also believes in going to the moon, the deep poison of certain mushrooms, breaking things when the air turns helter-skelter, and her damsel in distress sister Constance.  At first, I didn’t particularly warm to Constance.  I thought she was hopeless and a bit too flowery for me.  As the book grew, I realized that Merricat was the flower and Constance was the lady knowingly giving up her freedom to the insane.  Merricat is such an intense character that you release everyone else from being normal and start to believe that her psychotic is normal.  Her superstition is normal.  SHE is normal.

I’m trying desperately not to ruin this book for you.  I expect every single one of you to read this book or I will throw a redheaded tantrum.  Let the beast take over, ride to the moon and have a cup of tea, watch it crash to the floor and break into tiny little porcelain mirrors.  Maybe you’ll see yourself differently in the split halves.

“On the moon we have everything. Lettuce, and pumpkin pie and Amanita phalloides. We have cat-furred plants and horses dancing with their wings. All the locks are solid and tight, and there are no ghosts.” – Merricat

19 thoughts on ““Wear Your Boots if You Wander Today”

  1. gajenn says:

    I’ve read other S.Jackson books and loved them; haven’t read this but LUCKILY we have it at work and I just added it to my “to buy” pile for later this week after mid-terms are done. Yay!

    • Cassie says:

      Isn’t she amazing?! There’s a new book I just found coming out in 2013 by her and Francine Prose. I have a feeling it’s Prose finishing Shirley Jackson’s unfinished book since she died a while ago. I am SO PUMPED. I just emailed Penguin for a review copy so fingers crossed! : )

  2. Elizabeth Harper says:

    What a magical post! I’m going to reread it in the morning with my coffee to be sure I haven’t missed anything. I wish I’d thought to put Stephen King in the freezer. Face down under the bed was not nearly effective enough to keep the scary clowns in ‘It’ from disturbing my dreams.

    • Cassie says:

      Aw thank you dear! I love it that you’re going to reread the post – that just made my day. : ) Stephen King needs a dark room all by his lonesome. Maybe a dark room with a freezer and a locked chain around the belly of the freezer. I think that might do.

    • Cassie says:

      I loved the illustrations as well. You need to read something by her! She’s creepy in the most perfect way. It’s as if she writes literary horror. : ) She’s her own genre.

  3. Bea says:

    It’s true, I am your Mother, but I still so loved this post. It was authentic you. Yes, we do tend to freeze our ghouls in this house, and what can I say, it seems to work. Our minds do not dwell on the undead, they are tucked in the freezer, and they can’t come out until we are willing to let them out and continue reading.
    I had to read the blog aloud to your Father, because I knew he could appreciate your descriptive wording.
    Thank you and keep writing!
    One last thing, bring the book home so we can read it.

    • Cassie says:

      Oh mother. Thanks for always reading my blog. : ) I’m sure daddy had something to say, I hope he has a story for me…or four…about Grandma Dolly now. Since I hold this one so high on my list.

      I’ll bring the book home! Daddy may like this one. We can finally find one we both love.

  4. Amanda says:

    I love how creepy Jackson is. The Lottery was one of those short stories forced on me in high school that I ended up enjoying…probably because of how completely twisted it is. I’ve got the Complete Works on my TBR list. I’ll have to move it up now.

  5. Jenny says:

    This is the wondrousest of Shirley Jackson’s books (that I have read so far). It’s so creepy and moody and twisty and weird. The Haunting of Hill House is good but not AS good, and The Sundial is very weird and funny, but again not as good. Oh why didn’t Shirley Jackson write a hundred novels instead of just six of which I can only find four?

  6. Shay. R. says:

    Ahh, thank you for unintentionally reminding me to check this book out at the library! I’ve always liked Shirley Jackson, and yet never got around to reading this book yet.

    • Cassie says:

      I hope it’s there waiting for you and you enjoy it as much as I did. There’s nothing better than walking into the library and having the book you need just sitting there waiting for you. It’s like a bus station for words.

  7. cross(stitch)yourheart says:

    Sounds like an excellent book. I think I fall on the other side of the spectrum than you though in terms of horror books. In my family we keep stephen king on the bedside table and read ghost stories instead of fairy tales before bed. Now that I say it out loud (well, type it I guess) my family might be kind of strange…

    • Cassie says:

      I’m going to read that soon and I want to read her full collection of short stories as well. I taught my students “The Lottery” this semester and they really liked the twist at the end!

  8. Kahlin Holmes says:

    I am rereading this one for the second or third time. I think I did the same thing: read it once and picked it up and immediately read it again.

    A wonderfully eolquent and insightful accolodae for this book.

    I feel like WHALITC should sit on my bookshelf and be friends with characters in
    Karen Russel’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Joyce Carol Oates’ Firefox


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