The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
ISBN 0-7868-9043-6 (Paperback)
The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red is a 2001 novel by Ridley Pearson focusing on the life of the fictional John and Ellen Rimbauer and the construction of their mansion, Rose Red, in the early 20th century. Built on an old Indian burial ground, Rose Red is considered haunted and mysterious tragedies occur throughout the mansion's history. The novel is written in the form of a diary by Ellen Rimbauer, and annotated by the fictional professor of paranormal activity, Joyce Reardon. The novel also presents a fictional afterword by Ellen Rimbauer's grandson, Steven.
Genesis of the novel
The novel's genesis came as part of a $200,000 promotional marketing campaign for Stephen King's Rose Red television miniseries. Marketing of the film presented the movie as based on actual events.
In 2000, two years before the Rose Red miniseries aired, the producers contracted with author Ridley Pearson to write a tie-in novel, to be titled The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red, under the pseudonym "Dr. Joyce Reardon" (one of the main characters of the miniseries). The novel presented itself as nonfiction, and claimed to be the actual diary of Ellen Rimbauer (wife of the builder of Rose Red). The work was originally intended to be an architectural book featuring photos and drawings of the fictional Rose Red house with the supernatural elements subtly woven into the text and photos, but Pearson (building on several references to a diary in King's script for the miniseries) wrote it as Ellen Rimbauer's diary instead. Inspired by the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project, King came up with the idea of presenting the novel as a real one by having "Dr. Joyce Reardon" edit the "diary." King also inserted a reference into the book's foreword that a "best-selling author had found the journal in Maine", so that fans would be misled into concluding that King had written the work. The ruse worked. Fans and the press speculated for some time that Stephen King or his wife Tabitha King had written the book until Pearson was revealed to be the novel's author.
To help promote the miniseries and further blur the line between reality and fiction, the book contained a link to a fictional "Beaumont University" Web site where "Dr. Joyce Reardon" was alleged to have taught. The site contains in-universe promotional material as well as an easter egg page with diary entries that were "censored" from the main book.
Intended to be a promotional item rather than a stand-alone work, its popularity spawned a 2003 prequel television miniseries to Rose Red, titled The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer. The novel tie-in idea was repeated on Stephen King's next project, the miniseries Kingdom Hospital. Richard Dooling, King's collaborator on Kingdom Hospital and writer of several episodes in the miniseries, published a fictional diary, The Journals of Eleanor Druse, in 2004.
The novel relates the building of the Rimbauer house (which is eventually named "Rose Red") in 1906 by John Rimbauer for his new wife, Ellen, as a wedding present. John Rimbauer owned an oil company, and used much of his wealth to build the mansion, which was in the Tudor-Gothic style and situated on 40 acres (160,000 m2) of woodland in the heart of Seattle, Washington, in the United States. The site was a Native American burial ground (a common motif in early works by author Stephen King). The house appeared cursed even as it was being constructed: Three construction workers were killed on the site, and a construction foreman was murdered by a co-worker.
Various entries in the fictional diary also describe Ellen Rimbauer's naiveté regarding sexual matters. In sometimes graphic language, the novel's "diary entries" discuss Ellen's sexual relationship with her physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive husband; her growing awareness of her lesbianism (or possible bisexuality; the novel is unclear); her friendship and sexual relationship with Sukeena; the birth of her children; and her growing dislike (even hatred) of her misogynistic, arrogant husband. The novel portrays Ellen Rimbauer as a victim of sexual repression and Victorian morality.
History of Rose Red
The diary reveals how, while vacationing in Africa during the construction of her home, Ellen Rimbauer fell deathly ill and made the acquaintance of Sukeena, a local tribeswoman who nursed her back to health. Ellen and Sukeena became close, and Sukeena accompanied the Rimbauers back to the United States to work full-time at the fully completed Rose Red. The Rimbauers had two children, a son named Adam, and a daughter named April (born with a withered left arm that Ellen blamed her African illness on). Bizarre deaths and unresolved disappearances began to occur at the house. Many maids disappeared and one of John Rimbauer's friends died of an allergic reaction to a bee sting in the solarium. John Rimbauer's business partner (a homosexual man whom Rimbauer had cheated out of his part of their oil fortune) hanged himself in the parlor in front of the Rimbauer children. Six-year-old April also disappeared in the house, never to be seen again. Sukeena was the last person to see April alive before she vanished and was tortured by the local police after being suspected of April's "murder". After April was gone, eight-year-old Adam was sent off to boarding school and kept away from Rose Red. Soon John Rimbauer (whom his wife suspected of adultery) committed suicide by throwing himself out the stained glass window from the mansion's tower (an event which the reader learns later was actually murder, committeed by Ellen and Sukeena).
As the novel's plot progresses, Ellen Rimbauer and Sukeena continued to live in the house and became very close. After a life-changing seance, Ellen came to believe that if she never stopped building the house, she would be immortal and never die. So Ellen used nearly all of her dead husband's fortune to enlarge the home significantly over the next several decades. According to Ellen, the house telepathically speaks to her in secret and tells her what it wants constructed (a plot element reminiscent of the real-life construction of the Winchester Mystery House). To keep Rose Red happy, Ellen does everything the house tells her because it promises to give back her daughter April one day if she does. However, mysterious disappearances continued: Deanna Petrie, a glamorous actress and friend of Ellen's (who was also rumored to have had a sexual relationship with her) vanished within the house while attending a party in the 1940s. A few years after, Sukeena disappeared and only Ellen and a few servants occupied the property. By 1950, Ellen herself went missing in her home at the age of 80. Only servants resided in the house, but all left one by one out of fear, thus making Rose Red an abandoned and uncompleted establishment.
In the fictional afterword, Ellen Rimbauer's grandson, Steven Rimbauer, notes that Ellen herself disappeared in the house in 1950. (This is where the fictional diary entries which comprise the novel's body end). The "afterword" also relates that, for several years after Ellen Rimbauer's disappearance, only servants occupied Rose Red but eventually all left out of fear. Adam Rimbauer inherited the house and lived there for a short time with his wife, but left after witnessing several paranormal events and allowed the house to be abandoned. After Adam Rimbauer's death, his wife sold off many of the home's antique furnishings. She generated some income by permitting the fictional "Seattle Historical Society" to give tours of the house; these ceased in 1972 after a participant disappeared while on a tour of the mansion. Investigations of the grounds and structure were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s to seek an explanation for the strange sounds, lights, and other phenomena alleged to have occurred there. But these ended, and the house fell into disrepair. In all, 26 people disappeared or died at Rose Red.
The novel's "afterword" concludes by relating that a paranormal investigation into Rose Red by Dr. Joyce Reardon led to the deaths of several participants, and the home was demolished to make way for condominiums.
The companion novel was a hit, rising high on several bestseller lists. For example, it debuted in the #4 slot on USA Today's best-selling fiction list in January 2002, and in the #15 slot on The New York Times' best-selling fiction list. It rose to #1 on the Publishers Weekly best-selling fiction list for the week ending February 16, 2002.
The book was not widely reviewed. USA Today called the book "clever, beautifully detailed fiction." The Daily Evergreen qualified its review, but declared: "Considering everything, this book was quite entertaining. It's one of those books that is difficult to stop reading. The scare element wasn't too terribly high, but the fact Pearson and King marketed the book as an authentic diary makes it all the more enjoyable to read." But the Christian Science Monitor gave it an "Unfavorable Review" rating, unhappy with the book's violence and explicit depictions of sexuality.
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- Reardon, Joyce. "The Diary of Ellen Ribauer (archive)". Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- Reardon, Joyce. "Missing Diary Excerpts". Archived from the original on 7 March 2008. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
- Eleanor Druse is a key character in Kingdom Hospital, much as Dr. Joyce Readon and Ellen Rimbauer are key characters in Rose Red.
- Stephen King novels which feature Native American burial grounds include The Shining and Pet Sematary. See: Badley, Linda. Writing Horror and the Body: The Fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996. ISBN 0-313-29716-9; Wiater, Stan; Golden, Christopher; and Wagner, Hank. The Stephen King Universe: A Guide to the Worlds of the King of Horror. New York: Macmillan, 2001. ISBN 1-58063-160-6
- Magistrale, Tony. Hollywood's Stephen King. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. ISBN 0-312-29321-6
- Seipp, Cathy. "Cathy's World: Rose Red." United Press International. January 23, 2002.
- "This Week's Picks." The Washington Post. January 27, 2002.
- Barcus, Jordan. "The Mystery of Rose Red." Tulsa World. July 26, 2002.
- "Bestsellers." Providence Journal-Bulletin. January 17, 2002.
- "Reader's Guide: National Best Sellers." Chicago Tribune. February 17, 2002.
- Plucker, Carrie. "Murder Mystery a Bit Overdone." The Daily Evergreen. September 19, 2005.
- Ellington, Christy. "The Monitor's Monthly Guide to Hardcover Fiction Bestsellers." Christian Science Monitor. March 7, 2002.