I think a lot about dungeons. I have written several things about the nature of dungeons, it’s a subject that fascinates me, and I constantly read things that make me think about them from a different point of view, or that allow me to complement the ideas I already had.
This time I came up with an idea that sounds both absurd and intriguing: dungeons are angry houses.
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met nearly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
-Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
An uninhabited house (or castle, or fortress, or wizard’s tower) begins to present anomalies. Houses don’t belong to nature, they’re human creations to be inhabited. An uninhabited house begins to dream, and given enough time, the house loses its sanity and its dreams begin to present anomalies: the dream of the house invades reality in an attempt to replace what it’s missing.
Eleanor shook herself, turning to see the room complete. It had an unbelievably faulty design which left itchillingly wrong in all its dimensions, so that the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction afraction less than the barest possible tolerable length”.
-Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
The things of the dream that invade the reality of the uninhabited house modify its structure. The house longs to be inhabited, thus becoming a beacon that attracts strange things, both from the dream side and from worlds that do not belong to human reality: monsters and madmen.
The very structure of the house begins to change. With no human presence to control it and direct it at its convenience, the house changes by itself, in a cruel parody. Labyrinthine corridors separate rooms that should normally be joined, narrow corridors link chambers that should never touch.
After enough time, an uninhabited house loses every characteristic that once defined it as a house. It is now something else, something uninhabitable (at least by humans; at least by humans with a normal mind), a labyrinth, a tomb of horrors, a dungeon.
What happens to a house when it is left alone? It becomes worn, and aged. Its paint peels, its foundation begins to sink. It goes for too long unlived in. What does it think of? What does it dream? How does it look on those creatures who built it, brought it into existence only to abandon it when its usefulness no longer satisfies them? They grow lonesome. It stares for long hours into the darkness of its own empty halls and sees shadows. And they jump as they think, here, here is someone again I’m not alone. And each time it is wrong, and the hurt starts over. It may haunt itself, inventing ghosts to walk its floors, making friends with its shadow puppets, laughing and whispering to itself at the end of some quiet culdesac. It may grow angry. Its basement may fill with churning acid like an empty stomach, and its gorge may rise as it asks itself through clenched teeth, “what did I do wrong?”. It may grow bitter. It may grow hungry. So hungry and so bitter that its scruples dissolve and its doors unlock themselves. While a house may hunger it cannot starve. And so in fever and anger and loneliness, it may simply lie in wait. Doors open, shades drawn, halls empty. Hungry.”
-Kitty Horrorshow, Anatomy
Gone mad at last, the house begins to attract (or develop) strange technologies: traps, riddles, tricks. Now she dreams of taking revenge on those who abandoned her, but… how to attract them? How do clams attract men?
The house produces treasures; the anomalous inhabitants of this house are not interested in these treasures, but the humans are, and whether they decide to go themselves for those treasures they intuitively know are in there, or they send a group of adventurers willing to risk their skin for a handful of silver coins, the house will be waiting for them to attempt their annihilation or to lock them within its walls, forcing them to inhabit it again. Angry-mad houses long to be inhabited again but their longing is perverted.
And what happens when someone stays long enough locked up in an abnormal house? The house changes him. This is why a large number of dungeons are inhabited by “things” that were once human and are now just a decadent shadow of themselves, crazed and hungry, or desirous of companionship, of someone to make their doom more bearable. Robbed of their agency, they seek to impose what little power they have left on others.
And he shall look at the lesion. Now, [if] the lesion in the walls of the house consists of dark green or dark red sunken looking stains, appearing as if deeper than the wall…”
More time has passed. The structure of the uninhabited house goes from bad to worse. If at first the structure, although changed, maintained a semblance of reality or conformed, at least in general, to the laws of physics, after some more time these same laws begin to mutate inside. The house is completely sick, the house now looks like a teratoma.
Visitors (invaders) feel confused or disgusted when contemplating the stained walls of these rooms and corridors, stains that seem to float off the wall or to be embedded at a deeper level than the wall itself.
Perceptions are affected and it is not easy to know if it is due to the “psychic force” of the house, or if one is really immersed in a non-Euclidean space, or even outside space itself. The most sensible thing to do would be to destroy this anomaly, to set it on fire, to eliminate it from reality.