Mirror, mirror, on the Wall… Robert Bloch’s “The Hungry House”

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Deal Me in 2014 Short Story Reading Challenge – week 8

This week, I drew the four of spades, which led me to a ghost story, Robert Bloch’s “The Hungry House,” published in 1951. (My complete roster of 2014 stories for this challenge may be viewed at https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/my-2014-short-story-reading-challenge/ ) I own this one as part of the anthology, “The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories.” Bloch is probably best known for writing the novel “Pyscho” in 1959. Maybe you’ve seen the movie.

(Below: Robert Bloch)

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Anyway, the luck of the draw this week led me to a story which turned out to eerily complement the first story I read of DMI2014, Steven Milhauser’s “Miracle Polish.” Both involve mirrors. While Milhauser’s story has a protagonist who becomes obsessed with mirrors and his reflection in them, Bloch’s story features a house once occupied by a woman, now long dead, who shared the same affliction. Mirrors are her pathway of choice to haunt the living and perhaps influence them to “do things.”

The young couple who moves into this house is unaware of its history, but both soon (individually) notice that they’re not alone. Both hesitate to tell the other anything for fear of seeming silly, but things begin to come to a boil when the husband finds an old, locked closet full of mirrors in the attic and later when they host a party for other couples in the neighborhood, which provides their spectral roommate more people to play with. I enjoyed the story, but it was far from being the best I’ve read in the genre. I wasn’t able to find the story available anywhere online, I’m afraid. If you’re interested in reading it, I’d recommend “The Weird” anthology mentioned above – well worth purchasing for all the other great stories it contains.

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Have you read any of Robert Bloch’s works? What are some of your favorite ghost stories?

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10 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    February 23, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    Jay, “Psycho” is still one of the scariest movies I’ve seen!

    What struck me about this story was that the couple started to realize things individually and were afraid to tell the other. Seems like that could have made for some great situations.

    -Dale

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 24, 2014 at 8:13 am

      Hi Dale,
      I agree regarding the film, Psycho. Maybe not the scariest part, but certainly among the creepiest for me is near the end when Norman/Mother is sitting in the holding cell and we hear his/her inner dialogue.

      I’m sure the “being afraid to tell others about a ghost” theme has occurred in other reading of mine. It makes sense in this story, especially for the reason Candiss mentions below.
      -Jay

      Like

  2. Candiss said,

    February 23, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Reading your post and Dale’s comment, I realize how fitting it is that the couple was afraid to tell each other what they were seeing/experiencing. Just like someone obsessed with how he or she looks in a mirror, they were too concerned with how they would look to the other if they said anything. I like the author’s use of this symbolism – the preoccupation with keeping up some sort of perceptual appearance.

    I’ve never read the book Psycho, but the movie was certainly powerful. I know I read one Bloch story decades ago – “The Hell-Bound Train.” The details are fuzzy for me, but I recall enjoying it. (All I know is it contains a train bound for Hell, natch, an orphan who makes a Faustian deal, a pocket-watch, a series of unhappy events and a bunch of dread on the part of the reader. I think there was a twist at the end, too. I should revisit it.)

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 24, 2014 at 8:17 am

      Hi Candiss,
      That’s a great observation on the “fear of telling” theme. I’ve really enjoyed my pair of “mirror stories” from DMI. Milhauser’s story was stronger, but this one certainly had its moments.

      I have read very little of Bloch. I did run across a lot of great magazine covers from his writing for the pulps days. I wanted to include one in the post, but wasn’t sure which cover photo’s magazine included this story.

      I’ve made a note of “The Hell-Bound Train” for consideration in next year’s DMI. 🙂

      -Jay

      Like

  3. February 24, 2014 at 11:57 am

    In regards to your second question about ghost stories–have you read “The Jolly Corner” by Henry James? I haven’t read either the Bloch or the Milhauser stories you mentioned, but this James one might fit in a little bit. I’m pretty sure you can find it on the internet.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 24, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve read a lot of Henry James but not that one (that I can recall anyway). I should probably look it up and read it to complete the “hat trick.” 🙂

      Like

  4. February 26, 2014 at 11:15 am

    I’ve read quite a bit of Robert Bloch. At his best, he’s quite good. Unfortunately, he’s a somewhat inconsistent. The novel Psycho is much, much different from the movie, but still one of his best works.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      March 2, 2014 at 7:53 pm

      I’ve never read of any his longer works, just a few short stories, as he appears in several of the anthologies I own.

      Like

  5. Joe said,

    May 26, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    This was a creepy story. I wouldn’t mind seeing it adapted to the big screen. I found it in a compilation called “Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural” which is a great collection of stories.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      May 28, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Thanks for the visit and comment, Joe. Creepy is right! Thanks for the recommendation on that collection, I’ll look for it!
      -Jay

      Like


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