Down a Dark Hall
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Cover of the 2011 revised edition of Down a Dark Hall.
|Genre||Young adult fiction, thriller|
|September 1974; revised April 2011|
|Media type||Print (hardcover & paperback)|
|Pages||199 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||0-316-19546-4 (first edition, hardback)
ISBN 0-316-09898-1 (revised edition, paperback)
|LC Class||PZ7.D9117 Iak|
Down A Dark Hall (1974) is a novel for young adults by Lois Duncan. It is a supernatural/suspense novel and is the only gothic fiction she has written so far. It tells the story of a girl who was sent to a boarding school by her parents where only four students were admitted including herself.
After Kit's mother remarried Dan, Kit is forced to attend Madame Duret's Blackwood Boarding School. Kit originally planned to attend school with her best friend, Tracy, but Tracy was not accepted despite her having better grades. The school is far out in the country, and when Kit first laid eyes on the deserted and ancient building, she felt something dark emanating from the school - something evil. She is further disturbed to find that her room only locks from the outside and that there are only four students attending the school: Kit, Sandy, Ruth, and Lynda. The faculty consists of only Madame Duret, Professor Farley; used to work at Madame Duret's school in England, and Jules; Madame Duret's son who teaches piano.
The girls begin to discover new talents, which manifest most prominently as they sleep. Lynda, who exhibited no artistic ability before attending the school, began to paint landscapes on a professional level and sign them "T.C." Ruth finds herself able to understand and practice extremely high-level math and science. Sandy, Kit's closest friend at Blackwell, often brings her sonnets she claims were dictated to her by a woman named Ellis. The girls finally realize what is happening to them after Kit wakes up at the school's piano in the middle of the night, playing a piece she has never heard before and being recorded by Jules. She forces Jules to tell her what is going on at the school, why the students suddenly possess so many new skills, and why they only come out in their sleep.
Blackwood, Jules explains, targets young people with the ability to connect with the other side and that each of the students selected has some form of this gift. Madame Duret brought these girls to Blackwood because the spirits of diseased owners walk its halls, giving it a thin barrier between this life and the next. It is here that she can use the girls to channel great minds of the past - artists, musicians, writers, mathematicians, scientists - and continue the work they could not finish before their death. Kit begs him to let them leave, afraid of what these connections could mean, but Jules refuses.
Kit tells the other girls (minus Lynda, who has locked herself in her room to paint) what she discovered. They realize that Lynda must be channeling American painter Thomas Cole and that Emily Brontë under her pen name Ellis Bell has been contacting Sandy. As the girls investigate this new information, they discover that Professor Farley has been hoarding their letters instead of mailing them and that if they do not leave Blackwood before Christmas vacation, the psychic bonds will be permanent and they will never be free from the harassment of the dead. In a final effort to escape the school, Kit slips a letter to Blackwood's former cook and tell her to get it to Tracy Rosenblum, even though the woman likely has no idea who this is or how to reach them.
One night after the lights go out, Kit sneaks off to Madame Duret's office to call for help. Jules follows and catches her, and they stumble across a horrific painting done by Lynda. Jules looks through Madame Duret's files, which are in French, and discovers that the girls at his mother's previous schools all died or went insane. He finally agrees to help the girls escape. Jules and Kit confront Madame Duret with their findings as Sandy and Ruth look on. Sandy and Ruth throw what they have done into the fire, angering the spirits and causing a fire that soon engulfs the entire house. Once everyone has made it safely outside, they realize that they left Lynda in locked in her bedroom. Kit goes back to save her, while Ruth and Sandy throw rocks at her window. She finally convinces Lynda to jumps to safety from outside her door, but realizes that she is trapped in the burning house. The apparition of Kit's father leads her out of the house, where Tracy's family is waiting outside to take her home, having received her desperate letter.
Katherine "Kit" Gordy - The book's main protagonist. She is sent to Blackwell while her mother and new step-father go on their honeymoon in Europe. Although she has no musical skills, the spirits summoned by Madame Duret choose her as their present-day composer. With the help of Jules, Kit is able to free the students from the school.
Jules Duret - Madame Duret's son and Blackwell's music teacher. While is at first in line with his mother's plans, he vows to help the girls escape after he discovers the horrific fates of all of Madame Duret's previous students.
Madame Duret - The headmistress of Blackwood. She believes that she is called to help the great masters of the past continue their work from the grave by using the students in her school to channel their talents. For this purpose, she chooses only girls with psychic abilities and absentee parents as her pupils.
Ruth Stark - She is initially excited by the opportunity to continue the work of brilliant scientists and mathematicians. However, the knowledge that she will either die young or go mentally insane quickly changes her mind.
Lynda Hannah - The daughter of a film star, Lynda has led a sheltered life. She isn't very bright or talented, which causes her sudden aptitude for painting to surprise everyone, especially her best friend Ruth. She first channels Thomas Cole, but it is implied that she later channels artists of a much darker and twisted nature.
Professor Farley - The only teacher at Blackwell other than Madame Duret and Jules. He is a strong supporter of Madame Duret's cause, willing to sacrifice the lives and minds of unremarkable young girls for the sake of art and science.
On her an April 18, 2012, update to her website, Twilight series author Stephenie Meyer stated: "My production company, Fickle Fish, has acquired the option to Lois Duncan's novel Down a Dark Hall a while back. [...] Not too much information to share as yet, but even in this early stage, it is still very exciting. I grew up reading and loving Lois Duncan novels, and I can't believe my good luck that I get to be involved with this project. Down a Dark Hall was my favorite of her novels (though it's a very close race with Summer of Fear and Stranger with my Face), and it gave me some serious nightmares when I was nine." While Lois Duncan posted this on her webpage: "The film rights have been optioned by Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight books. If you’ve read those books or seen the movies you know that Stephanie Meyer loves scary stories, and I’m thrilled to discover that mine are among her favorites. [...] [Down a Dark Hall is a ghost story, and if it’s scary enough to give someone like Stephanie Meyer nightmares, you’d better plan to sleep with a night light."
- Meyer, Stephenie. "The Official Website of Stephenie Meyer (see April 18, 2012 entry)". The Official Website of Stephenie Meyer. stepheniemeyer.com. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
- Duncan, Lois. "Lois Duncan - Welcome!". Lois Duncan. Retrieved 6 July 2015.