One thing about coming of age in the years before the internet is that you never quite lose that feeling that you're the only one who loves something. You think you're the only rabid fan. There are other devotees out there, but you can't get to them, so you might as well be as alone as, well, Rynn Jacobs in The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane.
When I discovered R.W. Watkins' View From The Cellar, a critical analysis of Laird Koenig's 1974 novel and the 1976 movie version starring Jodie Foster as Rynn (perfect casting) and Martin Sheen as creepy Frank Hallet, I was extremely pleased. Like him, I have bought several copies of the book. (One was on the "discard" table in my hometown library. I had to stifle a gasp.) I really don't want to give a synopsis of the book for fear of saying too much. I want people to read The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane themselves. It's my favorite kind of horror novel -- more psychological than gory or ghosty. Shirley Jackson would have thoroughly approved of this book.
View From The Cellar begins with some of Watkins' writings from his fanzine of the same name. I really miss the enthusiasm that went into producing zines. I love blogging, but I've never lost that feeling that it's so much more sterile. There's a long essay in which Watkins provides painstaking evidence that the film version used more than one house while filming. I love his obsessiveness, and yes, I ran to Youtube to re-watch some of the scenes where he pointed out continuity errors. This essay about the movie is interspersed with original haiku based on the storyline. The main thing that stuck out for me in watching the movie (for which Laird Koenig did the screenplay) is that Jodie Foster's Rynn was more of a victim of circumstances, while Rynn in the novel was decidedly more calculating.
I cared very little for Watkins' comparison of Rynn and Ayn Rand (mostly because I've got a huge mental block against Rand), but was riveted by his examination of the novel as a 'Jewish/Christian Symbolist Tale'. I knew that Rynn was probably Jewish, and remembered the scene in which she was studying Hebrew from a record, but all I thought about it was that she might head for Israel when she was old enough to travel alone without comment. Watkins finds religious symbolism on nearly every page.
In 1997, a stage version of The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane was published. It doesn't sound very good, according to Watkins, but I'm so obsessive I would gladly watch a production.
Like all good novels, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane ends leaving the reader with questions and wondering about the characters long after the book has been shelved. I've always wondered how things turned out for Rynn, but I don't really feel the need for a sequel. As Watkins points out, Laird Koenig is in his 80s now and unlikely to revisit his most brilliant creation. Of course, if there had been a sequel, I'd have been all over it. Perhaps R.W. Watkins might decide to try his hand at some point.
I know I wrote this earlier, but I am so pleased that I discovered View From The Cellar. It feels like a gift. The icing on the birthday cake, as Watkins himself would say, is that he is Canadian, so I can count this book for my Canadian Reading Challenge.