We have changed our privacy policy. In addition, we use cookies on our website for various purposes. By continuing on our website, you consent to our use of cookies. You can learn about our practices by reading our privacy policy.
© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The House of Dies Drear

The House of Dies Drear


by Virginia Hamilton

The House of Dies Drear Chapter 1 Summary

  • The House of Dies Drear begins with a dream that Thomas Small, the main character, is having.
  • In the dream, Thomas is walking in a forest he's walked in many, many times.
  • He's following a trail he believes was made by the Tuscarora people.
  • (Tuscarora people are a Native American tribe. You can read about them here.)
  • Suddenly, Thomas realizes that the evergreen trees he sees are much larger than he's used to; they are humongous.
  • This doesn't bother him, but the intense piney smell is too much – he feels soaked in it.
  • In the dream Thomas, cuts a huge tree branch from an evergreen tree that has fallen, and then he makes a mark on the wood "with one of his whittling [or carving] tools" (1.1).
  • A man comes down out of the huge tree and tells Thomas to "Stay back" (1.3). Then he throws away Thomas's tree branch.
  • Thomas tells the man, "Papa says you will do […] but I don't say it. We are going anyway" (4).
  • The man tells him, "Caroline is for you. Stay back" (1.5).
  • (This isn't supposed to make sense, at least not yet. It's your standard dream gibberish. See "Dreams" in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for discussion, and what we think the quote means.)
  • Then, the man tries to grab Thomas. His arms are covered with lots of curly white hair. His eyes are red, and glowing, and he's also breathing fire.
  • Thomas finds a pair of stilts, puts them on, and tries to run, but falls forward into the pine needles on the ground.
  • The man grabs Thomas by the ankles, and now Thomas is actually afraid.
  • He wakes from the dream, also waking his little brothers in the process.
  • They are twins and are leaning against him. Thomas has no idea where he is.
  • The dream, he thinks, was nice and scary. He knows it took place at his home.
  • Thomas knows the man, but he can't quite put together who he is.
  • Looking out the car window, he knows where he is again, and smiles about it.
  • He's in a car, on a rainy Saturday in March, somewhere on the Blue Ridge Mountain Highway.
  • It's his thirteenth birthday and he is far away from home.
  • He has a moment of sadness, thinking about the house and all the relatives he and his family are leaving behind.
  • Thomas's father invited Thomas's Great-grandmother Jeffers to move with them, but she wanted to stay.
  • She'd told Thomas's father that she didn't think the North could be better than the South. Thomas's father had said he didn't think it could be worse.
  • Even though there weren't lots of kids for Thomas to play with at his old home, he still liked it.
  • He found pleasure walking in the woods and talking to Great-grandmother Jeffers.
  • Sitting in the car, watching the rain, he's gets homesick for the woods, but tells himself he'll like living in Ohio.
  • Bored in the car, Thomas asks his dad to describe the new house, one more time.
  • Mr. Small (Thomas's dad) was tired of driving but set on getting to the new house by the afternoon.
  • The house, Mr. Small, tells Thomas, "has gables, and eaves, and pillars" lots of windows, and "a veranda [porch] all the way around on the outside" (1.39).
  • Thomas says he thinks it sounds like "a plantation house" (1.40).
  • Mr. Small says it's different than that.
  • Mrs. Small says there is something "sinister" (threatening, evil) about the house.
  • They didn't know she was awake and listening to them.
  • Thomas tells her he knows she's just as eager to come to a new place as Thomas and his dad are.
  • She smiles, even though she's nervous about living in a house that used to be a station on the Underground Railroad.
  • (As you probably know, the Underground Railroad was the name given to a network of people who helped slaves runaway to freedom. Read more about it in "Setting" and check out lots of great links in "Best of the Web." For even more, check out Shmoop's guide to "Abolitionism.")
  • Anyhow, Thomas wants to hear all about the Underground Railroad and the house.
  • His dad says the new town has a good college in it, but that the house isn't in town. (1.51).
  • Continuing, his dad says that he never got complete copies of the floor plan of the house. Apparently, it's full of "hidden rooms" (1.52) and nobody knows how many.
  • His dad thinks it's weird that the plans came up missing.
  • Mrs. Small says that she knows there's something strange about the house.
  • Mr. Small gives his wife a look, and she drops the subject.
  • Mr. Small tells Thomas that the new house is in a pine forest, like their old house.
  • Then he tells Thomas that the house has an "air of desolation" (1.60). ("Desolation" means extreme sadness.)
  • It's near the town, but there are no other houses close by.
  • Thomas says he wishes they would get there. He really hopes he likes the new house. That would be the best birthday present.
  • For his birthday, he'd gotten a book about the US Civil War, the Underground Railroad, and slavery. He skims the book now, not noticing his brothers sleeping against him.
  • The book says that some forty thousand slaves had passed through Ohio on their way to freedom in Canada.
  • Thomas already knows lots of things about slavery. His father is teaches history and specializes in the Civil War. He taught it back in their home in North Carolina and will teach it now in Ohio.
  • Thomas thinks that some of those forty thousand slaves probably stayed in Ohio, for whatever reason, instead of going all the way to Kentucky.
  • He asks his dad if he thinks any slaves from North Carolina passed through Ohio.
  • His father is a bit surprised by the question, and can tell Thomas has been reading the book.
  • He says that definitely some of the slaves from North Carolina (which is part of the South) must have gone to Ohio.
  • Thomas is excited to read the rest of the book.
  • He even considers waking up the twins, Billy and Buster, and reading it to them. They can only understand a little, but they love it when Thomas reads to them.
  • They also love pine, but they can't carve yet, the way Thomas can.
  • Thomas is so good at wood carving that people often showed up at their North Carolina home to buy carvings from him.
  • Most of his stuff he kept for himself.
  • When he carved something for Billy or Buster, they always knew which one it was for, without him having to tell them.
  • Thomas knows that they are truly excellent brothers.
  • He also knows that if the new house is haunted, his brothers will know it and tell him.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...