Category Archives: Doors


Of all the images of the Queen published following her recent death, one caught my attention in particular – a photograph taken by Annie Leibovitz in 2007. It shows the Queen in full Garter Robes and diamond tiara in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.

The composition is unusual. The seated figure fills approximately an eighth of the frame, in the bottom right hand corner. Bright sunlight streams into the room from a window on the Queen’s left, highlighting her silver hair and diamond tiara, her rich robes and chains of office. It’s a portrait designed to reinforce the power and authority of the monarchy, and the setting certainly complements that intention. The room is elegant, lavishly furnished with red and gold brocaded chairs and settees. The carpet is richly patterned, the walls are adorned with decorated pilasters, mirrors reflect and re-double the splendour, and the chandeliers drip crystal teardrops.

But on the far wall behind the Queen, a huge doorway opens a dark interior. The details of the next room can’t be seen clearly, but it creates an uneasy absence in the centre of the picture, making the room appear uncomfortable and insecure, and despite all the chairs, I don’t think I would like to sit in there for too long. Or go through the central door.

The reproduction of the photograph I was looking at wasn’t a good one, so I went online to find a copy that I could examine in detail. Here’s an image that allows just that:

But something strange is going on. I didn’t notice at first that the Queen is not alone. In the far left corner of the room, a woman stands behind a chair, and she looks uncannily like Elizabeth as a much younger woman. The same figure, the same hairstyle, and around her neck the pearls the Queen always favoured. Stranger, the woman is standing in front of a large mirror, but her back isn’t reflected.

There’s another odd thing – the mirror behind the woman reflects a light source from a window which should be on the left wall, opposite the window where the Queen sits on the right – but the light doesn’t reach the space in the left foreground of the image. The way the mirror reflects the room creates an unstable image, as the eye alternates between seeing it as a mirror and as an opening through the wall to the room beyond.

And finally, and most creepily, there are two dark-suited men just discernible in the mirrors, one each side of the doorway. The one on the left must be standing against the left wall – but he’s not in the “real” space of the image. The other seems to be directly behind the viewer of the portrait – that’s us. Don’t turn around, but is he there now?


I mentioned in my last post that I’d been reading Hilary Mantel’s memoir Giving Up the Ghost  – do try and read it if you can.

When Hilary is six, the family moves into a haunted house.  “Our daily life,” she says, “is hushed, driven into corners. We move in a rush between the house’s safe areas, and the ones less safe, where, as you enter a room, you get the impression that someone is waiting for you.”

When I read this, I was taken straight back to my own childhood and visits to my grandmother’s house.  On the ground floor, a stained-glass paneled front door led into a dark passage, from which the front room, the stairs, the kitchen and the living room at the back of the house were accessed.  There were also two doors which opened onto steps down into larder cupboards, one on either side of the kitchen door and at right angles to it, and you had to pass between these to get to the kitchen.  I remember family Sunday lunches at grandma’s; afterwards, in winter, we would all gather in the living room in front of the fire to watch tv.  But when you wanted to go to the loo, you had to leave this place of safety and run down the hallway and up the stairs and back again, as quickly as you could, because there was something behind those larder doors that was intent on catching you, and you could always feel it watching as you ran by.

As quickly as you can!

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Thomas Ligotti is an American writer of strange, disturbing fictions, which linger in the mind long after you’ve finished reading.  He has been compared to the horror writers H P Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, and since 1982 he’s been winning nominations and awards for his work.

His 2008 collection of short stories Teatro Grottesco is an unsettling one.  Although they appear at first sight to be about the routines and rituals of “normal” life, details soon accumulate that twist our perception of the world he is conjuring into existence.  Several of the stories share a very similar environment – a remote “northern border town” which inhabits a  post-industrial landscape, semi-derelict and decaying.  Very little can be seen – the stories are usually set at twilight, or during the night, or in a miasma of permanent fog.  The street lights, when working, are dim.  The inhabitants work at pointless and repetitive jobs – processing endless forms or constructing strange metal artifacts with no understanding why they are doing so.  They are overseen by managers and foremen, who may or may not be human, and who mysteriously appear and disappear, possibly at the behest of the Quine Organisation, a company that also controls the medication upon which everyone relies. Continue reading