Hello again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! I’m here today to sing the praises of a horror author you might not be familiar with, but whose work you might enjoy. You know how people fangirl-squeal over H.P. Lovecraft? H.P. Lovecraft fangirl-squealed over William Hope Hodgson.
Yeah. That’s right.
Born November 15th, 1877, Hodgson was the second of twelve children, three of whom would die in infancy. At the age of 13, he tried to run away and become a sailor, only to be caught and returned to his parents — where his father gave permission for Hodgson to be apprenticed as a cabin boy. Hodgson’s time at sea would influence his later career as a writer, and during his lifetime his stories of maritime adventure were what he was best known for. Many of these nautical yarns would be tinged with supernatural horror, a theme he would become known for later on.
Most noteworthy of of these sea tales, for our purposes here at the Bloodsprayer, are the novels The Boats of the “Glenn-Carrig” (Hodgson’s first published novel, 1907) and The Ghost Pirates (1909).
“Glenn-Carrig” is, at first, a straight-forward tale of survival and adventure as “The Glenn-Carrig” goes down following hitting an underwater rock, and the survivors make their escape in two lifeboats. They soon find themselves tangled in the Sargasso Sea, and struggling to survive. Their survival is made more precarious by the presence of strange, albeit not necessarily supernatural, monsters, including a giant octopus that some theorize to be an predecessor to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. As the book is set in the mid-1700s, it is written in an archaic style, that some readers may find tiresome to plow through.
The Ghost Pirates, despite its title, deals with entities that may or may not be the ghost of long-dead buccaneers; the narrator suspects that the “sea-devils” that commandeer and later sink the ship he’s serving on may be extradimensional entities, though his speculations on what allowed them into this dimension are brief and vague.
1908 saw the release of Hodgson’s novel The House on the Borderland; the novel tells the story of a solitary man (and his dog) who rents an abandoned house in the wilds of Ireland. He soon discovers that this house sits on a patch of land where the fabric of dimensions is thin, and occasionally, pig-like monsters slip through into our reality to terrorize the narrator and his dog. This is perhaps Hodgson’s most accessible novel, language-wise. And for my fellow Lovecraft-fans out there, you really must check this out. Everything Lovecraft later did in terms of atmospherics and exploring themes of man’s isolation in a cold, uncaring universe begins right here with The House on the Borderland. Everyone talks about Poe and Dunsany’s influence on Lovecraft, but for my money no one influenced his work more than William Hope Hodgson.
1910 saw the publication of the first of Hodgson’s short stories dealing with his character Thomas Carnacki. Carnacki is perhaps the earliest attempt in fiction to utilize a scientific approach to the supernatural, as Carnacki (the spiritual predecessor to Drs. Spengler, Venkman and Stantz) utilizes such tools as an “Electric Pentacle” in his combating of malevolent spirits. It is with the Carnacki stories that I advocate new readers begin familiarizing themselves with the work of Hodgson; they’re easy reads, they’re short, they’re clever. Carnacki’s got a lot of knowledge and technology and guts on his side, but sometimes the ghouls are more powerful then he’s prepared for and he’s forced to run for his life.
In 1912, Hodgson unveiled The Night Land, a science-fiction-horror novel that maintains an impact to this day; it tells the tale of a 17th-century gent who, grieving over the death of his wife, has a dream in which he experiences the time when his spirit and hers will be reunited — millions of years in the future, when the sun has burned out, Earth is warmed solely by geothermal forces, and humanity’s dwindling numbers dwell within a single gigantic pyramid. Outside this pyramid, in the titular Night Land, fearsome monsters, some of them big enough to make Godzilla look like a pipsqueak, lurk, trying to lure humanity to their doom via telepathic messages. Like “Glenn-Carrig”, the archaic style Hodgson adopts will leave some readers cold, but I think it’s a worthwhile read.
Described above is only a small sampling of the prolific Hodgson’s work. Unfortunately, Hodgson’s career would be cut short by the First World War, of which he was a casualty, dying to shrapnel in Ypres in April 1918, with accounts suggesting bombings on either April 17th or April 19th as being the cause of his death. He was 40 years old.
Lovecraft devoted quite a few paragraphs to Hodgson in his magnum opus, Supernatural Horror in Literature, from which I shall quote briefly:
Few can equal him in adumbrating the nearness of nameless forces and monstrous besieging entities through casual hints and insignificant details, or in conveying feelings of the spectral and the abnormal in connection with regions or buildings.
The House on the Borderland (1908) — perhaps the greatest of all Mr. Hodgson’s works — tells of a lonely and evilly regarded house in Ireland which forms a focus for hideous otherworld forces and sustains a siege by blasphemous hybrid anomalies from a hidden abyss below. The wanderings of the Narrator’s spirit through limitless light-years of cosmic space and Kalpas of eternity, and its witnessing of the solar system’s final destruction, constitute something almost unique in standard literature. And everywhere there is manifest the author’s power to suggest vague, ambushed horrors in natural scenery. But for a few touches of commonplace sentimentality this book would be a classic of the first water.
Mr. Hodgson’s later volume, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, consists of several longish short stories published many years before in magazines. In quality it falls conspicuously below the level of the other books. We here find a more or less conventional stock figure of the “infallible detective” type — the progeny of M. Dupin and Sherlock Holmes, and the close kin of Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence — moving through scenes and events badly marred by an atmosphere of professional “occultism.” A few of the episodes, however, are of undeniable power, and afford glimpses of the peculiar genius characteristic of the author.
Astonishingly, Hodgson’s work has experienced only the slightest of adaptations for the big screen, the most prominent of which being his short story The Voice in the Night, adapted by Ishiro Honda as the tokusatsu extravaganza MATANGO, better known to US audiences as ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE.
All of Hodgson’s works have fallen into the public domain, and are available free to read at Project Gutenberg, Wikisource, or your other public-domain-literature source of choice.
Tags: Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, H.P. Lovecraft, Matango, Supernatural Horror in Literature, The Boats of the "Glenn-Carrig", The Ghost Pirates, The House on the Border Land, The Night Land, Tribute, William Hope Hodgson