Thirty Notes on the Literary Architecture of the Panic Room

Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

  1. A Panic Room is also known as A Safe Room; the panic room falls under the architectural category: “Private Room” which includes A.) all bathrooms such as Jack and Jill who went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, B.) the bedroom, C.) the guest room, D.) the nursery (despite access through the nursery window), E.) the suite, and F.) the closet (walk-in or not — categorized as private even if the person has “come out”).
  2. Wikipedia instructs, “See Also”: Bomb Shelter, Blast Shelter, Fallout Shelter, DUCK AND COVER and/or Storm Cellar. Chicken Little reported: “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
  3. In L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the storm cellar is accessed by a trapdoor in the floor of the one-room farmhouse; the house blows away before Dorothy can crawl to safety. Baum writes: “Once Toto got too near the open trap-door, and fell in; and at first the little girl thought she had lost him. But soon she saw one of his ears sticking up through the hole, for the strong pressure of the air was keeping him up so that he could not fall.” OBSERVATION: the storm cellar becomes the storm.
  4. In the 1939 MGM film, The Wizard of Oz, the storm cellar is located away from the house; when the tornado comes, Aunt Em (who is now more affectionately called Auntie Em) distresses over the missing girl — calling for Dorothy several times before Uncle Henry makes her take cover. When Dorothy attempts to enter the storm cellar the doors are locked from the inside and the wind so strong and loud no one can hear her calling or kicking at the entry — she must retreat into the house for it is the safest structure available in her moment of Panic.
  5. Panic is a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking, replacing it with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frantic agitation consistent with animalistic fight-or-flight reaction. Panic may occur singularly or manifest suddenly in large groups as Mass Panic (closely related to herd behavior) — and the Lord Jesus is our Shepherd. The English term “mob” was derived from the Latin phrase mobile vulgus meaning “the fickle crowd” — as in Mob Rule, as in the Bandwagon Effect, as in lynching; Atticus Finch is a hero in To Kill a Mockingbird because he thinks for himself and stops a lynching. Witness protection involves a very complex construction — the Safe Rooms involved include a brand new identity, as well as house. HYPOTHESIS: Panic is related to shape-shifting.
  6. Example of literary Mass Panic, Fahrenheit 451. Mass Hysteria, rooted in Gilman’s yellow wallpaper, the Salem Witch Trials. The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
  7. Architects and city planners try to accommodate the symptoms of Panic, such as Herd Behavior, during design and planning, often using simulations to determine the best way to lead people to a safe exit and prevent congestion (also known as: Choke Point), or Stampede. Never yell “Fire” in a crowded theater.
  8. Mythology: the word Panic derives from the Greek, “pertaining to shepherd god Pan.” Literary reincarnation: Peter Pan and The Lost Boys. The terminology for safe rooms on a ship is “citadel”; constructed in a concealed location, commonly employed on warships, the use of citadels on civilian ships is increasing as countermeasure against piracy (Captain Hook) and/or hostage-taking.
  9. Features in a Panic or Safe Room may include: cell phones, land-line telephones, transceiver radios, security cameras, alarm systems, peep holes, escape shafts, flashlights, blankets, first aid kits, water, packaged food, self-defense tools, firearms, gas masks and a portable toilet.
  10. Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster and K-Stew, is an American thriller (2002).
  11. Panic Room, Welsh band who released their debut album “Visionary Position” in early 2008. FIELD QUESTION: What do visions or the visionary have to do with Panic/Safe Rooms? Is the uterus a Safe Room? How is it a Room of Panic? The most common treatment for Hysteria was being bedridden (despite the wishes of the woman).
  12. “Hide and Seek” is a popular game played by children. If games serve as role play, “Hide and Seek” is role play for a future involving the Panic Room.
  13. Panic Rooms are often hidden behind Mirrors: Alice falls through a Looking Glass and into Wonderland. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who is the fairest of them all?” — the Mirror becomes the Scrying Glass.
  14. Panic Rooms are often hidden behind Wardrobes: Lions and witches live beyond the wardrobe. OBSERVATION: while adults retreat to the safety of a Panic Room, children seek the safety of make-believe instead. QUESTION: which is the safer place to go?
  15. Panic Rooms are often hidden behind Fireplaces: Santa Claus and Dr. Seuss’s Grinch enter into the houses of children via Chimney; the Brothers Grimm recorded a less common version of “Little Red Riding Hood” where the girl and her grandmother lure the wolf down the Chimney to boil him alive in the hot pot of broth below. Victorian literature explored the exploitation of children as apprentices to Chimney Sweepers in works such as The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and William Blake’s poems, “Songs of Innocence” and “Songs of Experience.” Mary Poppins celebrated a new brush system that eliminated the need for child labor, causing Dick van Dyke to cheerily sing, “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” In the casebook, Studies on Hysteria, Josef Breuer discovered the psychoanalytic technique “free association” while working with his patient, Anna O. (pseudonym for Bertha Pappenheim); Anna O. called the process “chimney sweeping.”
  16. Panic Rooms are often hidden behind Bookcases: Anne Frank penned The Diary of a Young Girl while in hiding. The 500 square foot apartment where she and seven others hid was called the Secret Annex —  the entrance concealed by a Bookcase. They lived there for two years and one month before they were discovered by the Gestapo.
  17. Safe, a noun, meaning “chest for keeping valuables.”
  18. Other fairytales which explore the Safe or Panic Room are: “Rapunzel,” and the tower in which she is kept. One can’t help but consider Blue Beard —  more than a fairytale, Blue Beard was once very real. He not only gives his new wife the keys to every room in his palace, but the keys to his safe. He tells her she can access any room she wants except for one. As we know, she cannot resist; she unlocks the Forbidden Chamber where she finds the corpses of his previous wives. THE LEGEND: Blue Beard practiced a divination practice called anthropomancy; he read his future by disemboweling his wives and interpreting the ways in which they cried and/or bled out.
  19. Safe, an adjective, is defined as “uninjured, unharmed, intact, whole, not exposed to danger, free from risk.”
  20. QUESTION: Does The Secret Garden count as a Safe Room?
  21. OBSERVATION: the adjectives Panic and Safe are antonyms. For example, Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of Her Own” is a safe place for women writers; however, this space may cause Mass Panic in a patriarchal society.
  22. As with any architecture, socioeconomics can affect the Panic/Safe Room. A simple Safe or Panic room is usually a glorified closet; generally the door is replaced with an exterior-grade solid-core door complete with a sufficient deadbolt and long screws to resist battering. SIDENOTE: a battered woman requires more than a Safe Room; she will need a Safe House instead.
  23. The ceiling of a simple Safe/Panic room should be reinforced or gated to prevent entry from crawlspaces, heating systems or attics. Basement Safe Rooms can be constructed with all walls being made from concrete.
  24. Celebrities or government officials can afford Safe Rooms made from reinforced steel, Kevlar and/or bullet-resistant fiberglass; often these Safe Rooms employ separate telephone lines and systems for ventilation.
  25. On January 1st, 2010 a Panic Room was instrumental in saving the Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard from an axe-wielding Islamic fundamentalist attacker who wanted to kill the artist for his controversial depiction of Muhammad. SIDE NOTE: in Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining, Jack Nicholson’s character also wields an axe (it appears there was no Safe Room in The Stanley Hotel); NOTES FOR FURTHER RESEARCH: what is a supernatural Safe Room made from? As a child, my mother used to surround my bed with a protective dome built by her hands and maternal love — invisible, it protected me from the Bogey Man.
  26. Designed to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency criteria, a Safe Room is a hardened structure which provides “near-absolute protection” in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes; the occupants of a FEMA Safe Room have a very high probability of being protected from injury and death. SIDE NOTE: Selah Saterstrom’s latest work has to do with slabs, and the architecture of these simultaneous tomb stone/blank slates left in New Orleans in the wake of the catastrophe, Hurricane Katrina.
  27. Bunkers are glorified Safe Rooms designed to withhold from natural, nuclear, biological and chemical attacks; military bunkers feature operation rooms and cafeterias. Due to the underground nature of these bunkers, windows are often painted onto the walls to prevent claustrophobia and/or Panic.
  28. Do-It-Yourself: In Stephen King’s Cujo, the mother uses her car as a Safe Room; her son does not survive. The reoccurring theme in horror narratives is to try and find a Safe Place; often these “safe” spaces are proven unsafe by the villains/ monsters. This speaks to the universal need to survive; theologically, Heaven could be seen as the one true Panic Room.
  29. The architecture of the Safe and/or Panic Room speaks to the psychological states of hyper-vigilance, paranoia, fatalism and mob-mentality. It is involved with notions of the apocalypse. Contemporary graphic novels and television shows concern themselves with the idea of the world coming to an end; survivalists populate the worlds represented in The Walking Dead, Jericho, Night of the Comet, Survivors, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The Cold War, Zombies, and Y2K. Survivalism is a movement of individuals or groups who are actively preparing for emergencies as well as possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales ranging from local to international (and sometimes universal). Survivalists often have emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, prepare for self-sufficiency, and build structures that will help them survive or “disappear.”
  30. When they disappear, where do they go? Do they go to Narnia or Wonderland or Never, Never Land? Or do they go to Heaven?

Sarah Elizabeth Schantz lives in Boulder, Colorado where she is a writer, an artist, and a mother/stepmother. She has panic attacks on interstates, airplanes, and in grocery stores that are larger than necessary (which is most of them). Sarah has won the following literary awards: 1. First place for fiction in 2011, Third Coast. 2. Fall 2012 Orlando Prize for Short Fiction hosted by A Room of Her Own. 3. First place winner of Monkey Puzzle’s 4th Annual Flash Fiction Award (2012), and 4. Fiction winner of the 2012 contest hosted by the feminist press known as Saturday’s Child. Her work is featured in Hunger Mountain, Midwestern Gothic, Alligator Juniper, Bombay Gin, the Los Angeles Review, and a few others. Sarah collects owl pellets, Lotus slippers, antique doilies, porcelain dolls, old cologne/perfume bottles, and the occasional brass or ceramic swan.