The Haunted Mansion had an unquantifiable mystique even before it was finished. The building that would eventually introduce guests to the 999 happy haunts who inhabited its walls was left largely unfinished for almost a decade, as projects like the World’s Fair in Queens would occupy Walt Disney and his team of Imagineers. In that time the Haunted Mansion was something that remained tantalizingly out of reach: You could see it but you couldn’t go in.
And the Mansion itself was designed with a series of trapdoors that allow for interpretation. The attraction’s frightful and fun collection of interwoven set pieces meant that you could read into certain moments and create your own interpretations of the scenes playing out in front of you. The Haunted Mansion isn’t just something that you experienced at Disneyland, it is something, like those hitchhiking ghosts, that follows you home.
It’s this mystique that makes the Haunted Mansion such a cultural force–there are additional attractions around the world, a feature film adaptation with Eddie Murphy, video games, merchandise, and a limited comic book series. And it’s the same mystique that makes two new books so much fun to read. They extend the magic of the attraction both by highlighting the experience directly and cultivating the atmosphere that the attraction evokes.
The first book, The Haunted Mansion, is essentially a picture book set to the “Grim Grinning Ghosts” song that’s played during the graveyard sequence of the attraction (the song that features lyrics by brilliant Imagineer Xavier Atencio and music by Buddy Baker). In The Haunted Mansion, James Gilleard embellishes those lyrics with wonderful illustrations and, as an added bonus, the book comes with an audio CD that has the original attraction’s narration and music. If you’re like me and sometimes need a jolt of Haunted Mansion goodness, you’ll find yourself reaching for it often.
And whether you’re a relative Haunted Mansion novice or someone who can recite whole passages from the attraction, you’ll appreciate the care and artistry that went into this book. Opening it, you’ll see the wallpaper from the Mansion and in the early pages, before the story proper begins, lovingly illustrated renditions of the famous “stretch paintings.” The subsequent pages have all your favorite happy haunts: psychic medium Madame Leota, the waltzing specters, the Hatbox Ghost (his head in his hatbox), killer bride Constance, the singing busts, and, of course, the hitchhiking ghosts. Even the tiny bride makes an appearance. “Hurry ba-aaack,” the caption reads.
The Haunted Mansion is an absolute delight. Older fans of the attraction will appreciate the artwork and all of the references to the original. Just looking at any of the pages will transport you back to the Mansion–you can practically feel your Doom Buggy moving through that cobwebby expanse. Part of what makes the attraction so fun is that it’s something that everyone can enjoy. The book evokes those same feelings.
The other new Haunted Mansion-inspired book, Tales from the Haunted Mansion: Volume 1 is entirely different both structurally and in tone. But the effect is the same: It manages to expand the Haunted Mansion experience in a way that feels very much in line with the original attraction.
Tales from the Haunted Mansion is set up brilliantly. It’s “told by the mansion librarian Amicus Arcane” (actually writer John Esposito), who informs us that we’ll be following the “Fearsome Foursome,” a quartet of middle-school-aged kids who are obsessed with monsters, zombies, and ghosts, and who try to out-scare one another with a series of interlocking tales. In its overarching structure, and in the way that it builds to gags and twist endings, it resembles the original attraction.. In a particular bit of self-awareness, Willa, Tim, Noah, and Steve, interact with the librarian and critique each other’s stories until, of course, there’s a big reveal suitable to the original attraction. You’ll have to read the book to see what I mean.
As far as readers go, Tales from the Haunted Mansion is aimed more squarely at the middle school set (but, as with The Haunted Mansion, anybody can read and enjoy it). There are less direct allusions to the original attraction in this book, and the scares are more intense. It should also be noted that the illustrations, from wonderful artist Kelley Jones are really, really wonderful. There are several references in the book to old school horror comic books, and Jones’ illustrations evoke that mood perfectly. But don’t worry–the book never gets too scary and maintains the gleefully ghoulish tone of the attraction.
These books extend the magic of the Haunted Mansion attraction, both by directly adapting the source material and by maintaining its spooky spirit. They will delight both casual fans and Haunted Mansion diehards. Just remember: Mortals pay a token fee … rest in peace, the haunting’s free …