I’ve known Heathcliff for a long time.
I met him in the pages of Emily Brontë’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights, when I was only nine years old. That’s a hard novel for nine-year-olds to read, but my mother was an English professor, and hard novels were the only kind she owned. During the summer, I would start out playing with my dog, Brit (the inspiration for the German shepherd robot in my book, The Sky Inside). Then I would walk around our neighborhood, looking for other bored kids to play with. But sooner or later, I’d run out of things to do, and I’d sit down with one of my mother’s hard novels.
That’s how I met Heathcliff.
If you’ve never read Wuthering Heights, it’s a strange, creepy story. Near the beginning, on a snowy night, a ghost named Cathy comes knocking at the window of Heathcliff’s house, begging to be let in. It turns out that twenty years ago, Cathy and Heathcliff were childhood sweethearts, but when she decided to marry someone else, he ran away from home. Cathy died a few years later, blaming Heathcliff for breaking her heart.
(Heathcliff disagreed. He blamed her for breaking his heart.)
Now Heathcliff’s a grown man—a grim, silent man—with a mansion and a farm and the two children of his most hated enemies living in the house with him. But underground, Cathy misses him, and he misses her. Even in death, they don’t want to be parted.
This is a picture of Heathcliff and of Cathy in her grave from the book I read when I was nine.
Wuthering Heights scared me half to death. But it didn’t just scare me. It fascinated me! I wanted to find out more about these two sweethearts and their pledge to remain true to each other after death.
Emily Brontë, the author of Wuthering Heights, doesn’t give many clues about that. She doesn’t tell readers where Heathcliff is from, how he got his money, or what promises he and Cathy have made to each other. She doesn’t even give a hint about whether she thinks Heathcliff is the hero or the villain. We readers have to decide that for ourselves. And readers have been arguing about it for over a hundred and fifty years—ever since the book came out.
So I decided to write my own story about Heathcliff, to explain where he’s from and what he wants out of life and why he intends to stay on earth after he dies.
In my book, Heathcliff is a little boy. He hasn’t met Cathy yet. What he does meet in my book are ghosts. Here are some of them:
Because my story is creepy too! It gave me nightmares when I wrote it, and readers have already been telling one another on the Internet not to read it at night.
I think that’s a good thing! It means my book matches Wuthering Heights. When I was nine years old, I didn’t dare to finish that book after dark.
(Top illustration by Fritz Eichenberg, from the Modern Library edition of Emily Brontë’sWuthering Heights, published in 1950.)