Monthly Archives: July 2012

WHH: Master of the Weird and Fantastic by H.C. Koenig


In June, 1944, the very first publication that collected articles about William Hope Hodgson appeared.  It was THE READER AND COLLECTOR, Vol. 3, No. 3, and was produced by legendary collector H.C. Koenig.  A member of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association and the National Amateur Press Associate, THE READER AND COLLECTOR was Koenig’s contribution and was published occasionally.

In this particular issue, Koenig collected a series of essays about Hodgson and introduced many readers to this then ‘unknown’ writer.  These seven articles (by a variety of writers including H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Ellery Queen and Fritz Leiber) have rarely been seen since 1944.  Through the generosity of Gene Biancheri (son-in-law of the late HCK) I have obtained a photocopy of this rare publication.  Over the next few weeks, I will be reprinting these essays which, for many of them, will be their first reprinting in over 60 years.

The first article in this publication is an introduction by H. C. Koenig himself.  In it, he explains how he came to discover Hodgson and why he became such a champion of WHH’s work.  Informative and entertaining, Koenig’s love for the material shines through.  In transcribing this article, I have retained Koenig’s original typing style (which is why there are so many italics throughout) so that the essay is presented the same way that Koenig presented it in 1944.  Incidentally, the footnotes shown here were actually indicated with astericks in the original publication.  Because of the formatting difficulties with blogs, I have changed them to footnotes instead.

Enjoy!–Sam Gafford

William Hope Hodgson:
Master of the Weird and Fantastic

By H. C. Koenig

In 1931 Faber and Faber published an anthology of ghost stories under the title, “They Walk Again.”  The tales were selected by Colin de la Mare.  Most of the stories included in this splendid anthology were by well-known writers such as Blackwood, Dunsany and Bierce.  Many of them were familiar to the inveterate reader of ghost stories – “The Monkey’s Paw”, “Green Tea”, and “The Ghost Ship.”  However, one new story was included in the book; one comparatively new name was included in the list of authors.  The story was “The Voice in the Night”, a horrifying and yet pathetic tale of human beings turned into fungoid growths; the author was William Hope Hodgson.

Who was William Hope Hodgson?  I had a vague recollection of some short stories in old pulp magazines.  I dimly remembered a book of short stories about a ghost detective.  That was all.  But, it was sufficient to start me on the trail of one on the great masters of the weird story.  Letters to various readers and collectors of fantasy in this country produced negligible results.  Except for one or two of the older readers of weird stories, the name of Hodgson meant nothing.

I consulted Edith Birkhead’s excellent study of the growth of supernatural fiction in English literature, “The Tale of Terror” (1921) in an effort to get some information about Hodgson and his writings.  I found references to Pain, Jacobs, Le Fanu, Stoker, Marsh, Rohmer and a host of other writers of weird tales—but no mention of Hodgson.  I searched through H. P. Lovecraft’s informative essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (in its original form)1 without success.  Hundreds of titles were covered.  Among them I found “Seaton’s Aunt”, “The Smoking Leg”, “The Dark Chamber”, “A Visitor from Down Under” and many other tales—unfamiliar and unfamiliar.  But not a single one of Hodgson’s stories was discussed—or even mentioned.  I paged through numerous anthologies—by Bohyn Lynch, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Sayers, Montague Summers, T. Everett Harre and Harrison Dale—but the name of Hodgson was conspicuous in its absence.  Then followed a period of time during which I traced him through innumerable bookstores in EnglandPercy Muir of Elkin Matthews, London, took an interest in my search and obtained several of Hodgson’s first editions for me.  He also put me in touch with Dennis Wheatley, the writer of English thrillers and an admirer and collector of Hodgson.  As a result of these contacts, I learned the Hodgson had written a number of stories which compared very favorably with any of our modern weird stories; tales which ranked high in the fantasy field and which deserved far more popularity and publicity than they had ever received.

Hodgson was the son of an Essex clergyman.  He left home as a youngster and spent eight years at sea.  During that time he voyaged around the world three times, visiting all sorts of places.  Incidentally, he received the Royal Humane Society’s medal for saving a life at sea.  For some time before the World War he and his wife lived in the south of France.  When war broke out he returned to England (at the age of 40) and was granted a commission in the 171st Brigade of Royal Field Artillery.  Two years later, in 1917, he went to France with his battery and was soon in the thick of the fight; his Brigade doing splendid work at Ypres.  At the time the Germans made their great attack, in April, 1918, he with a few other brother officers and non-commissioned officers successfully stemmed the rush of an overwhelming number of the enemy.  Shortly thereafter, Hodgson volunteered for the dangerous duty of observation office of the Brigade.  On his first missions, he was killed by a shell.  And thus, a most promising literary career came to an abrupt ending.

I never could understand why his work was so little known to the general public.  It was curious and unfortunate that he had become so engulfed in oblivion.  And so, I started my campaign to obtain recognition for Hodgson in this country.  For over ten years I have preached the gospel of William Hope Hodgson; by word of mouth, by letters and in articles.  For years I have circulated my little collection of Hodgson’s first editions all over the country.  California to Rhode Island, Oregon to Florida,Wisconsin to South Carolina.  To readers and writers and editors.  Year after year I have kept up the campaign.  Slowly but surely I began to get results.  Hodgson’s name began to appear in the amateur fantasy magazines.  Requests for Hodgson’s stories began to creep into the readers columns of the professional magazines.  And, requests for a loan of Hodgson books began to multiply.  Then came the break for which I was waiting patiently.  An appeal for Hodgson’s stories came from Miss Gnaedinger of Famous Fantastic Mysteries.  A copy of “The Ghost Pirates” and several short stories were soon in her hands.  Then followed months of anxious waiting.  Copyrights had to be settled.  Mrs. Hodgson had to be located, a far from easy matter.  A splendid cover, illustrating one of Hodgson’s novels, and painted by Lawrence was being held, pending the settlement of copyrights.  Unfortunately, due to the long period of delay, this illustration was never used in Famous Fantastic Mysteries.2  I had just about given up hope when Mrs. Hodgson was located and the copyright obstacles were removed.  Then, in the December, 1943 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Miss Gnaedinger published Hodgson’s short story “The Derelict”.  This was followed by the novel “The Ghost Pirates” (cut by 10,000 words) in the March, 1944 number.

I am extremely grateful to Miss Gnaedinger and her associates for taking the lead in reprinting some of Hodgson’s stories.  But, I am not so easily satisfied.  I will not rest content until I have seen every one of his books reprinted in some book or magazine in this country.  Until that time comes, however, we will have to be content with those of his books which we are able to locate in the second-hand book shops.  (It is not an easy matter.)  A complete list of Hodgson’s books may be of some assistance to the weird fan.  For the benefit of the collector I am also giving the name of the publisher and the date of publications.

  1. “The Boats of the Glen Carrig”, a novel published by Chapman & Hall, 1907.
  2. “The House on the Borderland”, a novel published by Chapman & Hall, 1908.
  3. “The Ghost Pirates”, a novel published by Stanley Paul, 1909.
  4. “The Nightland”, a novel published by Everley Nash, 1912.
  5. “Carnacki, the Ghost Finder”, short stories, published by Everley Nash, 1913.
  6. “Men of the Deep Waters”, short stories, copyrighted in U.S.A., 1906, first English edition published by Everley Nash, 1914.
  7. “The Luck of the Strong”, short stories, copyrighted in the U.S.A., 1912, first published by Everley Nash in England, 1916.
  8. “Captain Gault”, short stories, copyrighted in the U.S.A., 1914, first English edition published by Everley Nash, 1917.
  9. “The Voice of the Ocean”, poems, published by Selwyn Blount, 1921.
  10. “The Calling of the Sea”, poems, published by Selwyn Blount, no date

As indicated earlier in this article, one of his short stories, “A Voice in the Night” will be found in Colin de la Mare’s collection of ghost stories “They Walk Again” published by Faber and Faber in 1931.  And, Dennis Wheatley included three of Hodgson’s short stories in his splendid collection of horror tales, “A Century of Horror Stories” published by Hutchinson & Co.  The titles were “The Island of the Ud” from “The Luck of the Strong”; “The Whistling Room” from “Carnacki, the Ghost Finder”; and “The Derelict” from “Men of Deep Waters”.

The first three books listed above in the short bibliography form (in Hodgson’s words), “What perhaps may be termed a trilogy; for though very different in scope, each of the three books deals with certain conceptions that have an elemental kinship.”  A few chapter headings will give some idea of the treat in store for fantasy fans fortunate enough to locate these three books—“The Thing that Made Search”, “The Island in the Weed”, “The Noise in the Valley”, “The Weed Men”, “The Thing in the Pit”, “The Swine Things”, etc.

“The Night Land” is one of the longest fantastic romances ever written, running close to six hundred pages.  It is a story of the world in the future when the sun has died and the “Last Millions” are living in a large redoubt, a huge pyramid of gray metal nearly eight miles high and five miles around the base.  Beyond the pyramid were mighty races of terrible creatures, half-beast and half-man, night hounds, monstrous slugs and other horrible monsters.  As a protection against all these evils a great electric circle was put about the pyramid and lit from the Earth Current.  It bounded the pyramid for a mile on each side and none of the monsters were able to cross it due to a subtle vibration which affected their brains.

“Carnacki, the Ghost Finder” is a series of six short ghost stories in which Carnacki investigates ghostly phenomena in various homes.  One or two of the tales are somewhat weakened by a natural explanation of the ghosts, but each of the stories is well worth reading.

Hodgson’s tales may well have served as source books for many of the stories now being read in our present day pulp magazines.  The whole range of weird and fantastic plots appears to have been covered in his books—pig-men, elementals, human trees, ghosts, sea of weeds, thought-transference, intelligent slugs, and in “The Night Land” the men are equipped with a hand weapon called a Diskos.  This consists of a disk of gray metal which spins in the end of a metal rod, is charged from earth currents and capable of cutting people in two.

To me, Hodgson will always be remembered as one of the great masters of the weird and fantastic.  And I, for one, will always be grateful for the slim list of books he left behind him.

Notes

  1. First appeared in W. P. Cook’s magazine The Recluse (1927).  After having Hodgson’s novels called to his attention, Lovecraft revised the essay.  The article, in its final form may be found in the Arkham House book “The Outsider”.
  2. The Illustration by Lawrence eventually appeared on the cover of the April 1943 issue of 10-Story Mystery Magazine.

Acknowledgements

The above article was based to some extent on two shorter articles which appeared in “The Fantasy Fan” (December 1934) and “The Phantagraph” (January, 1937).

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Why Carnacki?


Today, I’m please to present a guest post by author William Meikle.  Here’s a brief bio from his author page at Amazon:

I’m Willie, a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with ten novels published in the genre press and over 200 short story credits in thirteen countries, the author of the ongoing Midnight Eye series among others. My work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies.

Recently, Meikle has written a number of new stories featuring Hodgson’s supernatural detective, Carnacki.  The often irritable ghost hunter has remained one of Hodgson’s most enduring creations even recently appearing in issues of Alan Moore’s graphic novel series, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.

In this essay, Meikle explains why he decided to write new stories of this unique character.

Why I wrote Carnacki: Heaven and Hell

I’d love to have a chance to write a Tarzan, John Carter, Allan Quartermain, Mike Hammer or Conan novel, whereas a lot of writers I know would sniff and turn their noses up at the very thought of it.

Most of the aforesaid characters are trademarked and off-bounds for writers without paying licensing fees. Carnacki however is fair game.

Nowadays there is a plethora of detectives in both book and film who may seem to use the trappings of crime solvers, but get involved in the supernatural. William Hjortsberg’s Falling Angel (the book that led to the movie Angel Heart) is a fine example, an expert blending of gumshoe and deviltry that is one of my favorite books. Likewise, in the movies, we have cops facing a demon in Denzel Washington’s Fallen that plays like a police procedural taken to a very dark place.

My interest goes further back to the “gentleman detective” era where we have seekers of truth in Blackwood’s John Silence, Sherlock Holmes… and William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki.

Carnacki resonated with me immediately on my first reading many years ago. Several of the stories have a Lovecraftian viewpoint, with cosmic entities that have no regard for the doings of mankind. The background Hodgson proposes fits with some of my own viewpoint on the ways the Universe might function, and the slightly formal Edwardian language seems to be a “voice” I fall into naturally.

I write them because of love, pure and simple.

It’s all about the struggle of the dark against the light. The time and place, and the way it plays out is in some ways secondary to that. And when you’re dealing with archetypes, there’s only so many to go around, and it’s not surprising that the same concepts of death and betrayal, love and loss, turn up wherever, and whenever, the story is placed.

The ghost story is no different in utilising the archetype of the return of the lost from the great beyond, but a good one needs verisimilitude.

If the reader doesn’t believe wholeheartedly in the supernatural element, even if only for the duration of the story, then they’ll be looking for the Scooby-Doo escape, the man in the mask that means everything before was just smoke and mirrors. To pull off a good ghost story, you need to get past that, and engage the reader at an emotional level.

The best stories allow us to overlay our own fears and nightmares on a backdrop provided by the writer. Some people are terrified of dark corners, others of sounds, others still of silence. A mixture of the primal fears in the story will have readers constantly looking over their shoulder, and almost afraid to reach the end. For me, that’s what makes a good ghost story.

I also love exploring the Occult Detective sub-genre, in the Midnight Eye Files stories, in this series of Carnacki stories, and with Sherlock Holmes in REVENANT, and a series of short stories. I intend to write a lot more of it, and that will definitely mean more Carnacki to come. THE DARK ISLAND novella in this collection is a focal point for Carnacki — in it he has learned that the bounds of his research are much, much wider than he had previously thought. That’s going to give me plenty of scope for further stories and explorations.

William Meikle does a stand up job here of capturing the tone of the original stories. – British Fantasy Society

This version of Carnacki seems a bit more voluble than the one I remember, but horror stories of this type generally assume a more relaxed and intellectual air than most modern ones. It’s a style of writing that I appreciate, and miss. – Don D’Ammassa

You may notice while reading that Carnacki likes a drink and a smoke, and a hearty meal with his friends gathered round. This dovetails perfectly with my own idea of a good time. And although I no longer smoke, witing about characters who do allows me a small vicarious reminder of my own younger days. I wish I had Carnacki’s library, his toys, but most of all, I envy him his regular visits from his tight group of friends, all more than willing to listen to his tales of adventure into the weird places of the world while drinking his Scotch and smoking his cigarettes.

***

William Meikle’s collection of new Carnacki stories, CARNACKI: HEAVEN AND HELL, is available from Dark Regions Press at:

http://www.darkregions.com/books/carnacki-heaven-and-hell-by-william-meikle

It is also available from Amazon as a Kindle e-book at:

http://www.amazon.com/Carnacki-Heaven-and-Hell-ebook/dp/B0045UA7E0/ref=la_B002BMOP0G_1_24?ie=UTF8&qid=1343413791&sr=1-24

Meikle’s Amazon Author page is at:

http://www.amazon.com/William-Meikle/e/B002BMOP0G/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1343412756&sr=8-2-ent#/ref=la_B002BMOP0G_pg_1?rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_82%3AB002BMOP0G&ie=UTF8&qid=1343413832

Meikle has also written a Hodgsonesque novel called THE CREEPING KELP which is also available for the Kindle.

I highly recommend his books and his website at: http://www.williammeikle.com/

–Sam Gafford

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A Borderland Gallery


Holden & Hardingham, 1921.

I thought we’d take a break from all of the serious stuff today and take a look at some of the covers of various editions of Hodgson’s THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND that have appeared over the years.  Some of these I own but not all (like the Arkham House edition, sadly).  Where possible, I have noted the publisher and year.  If you have others that aren’t displayed here, feel free to post them in the comments so send them to me for a later update.  Enjoy!

Arkham House, 1946.

Ace, 1962.

Panther, 1969.

Panther, 1972?

Freeway Press, 1976.

Manor, 1978.

Sphere, 1980.

Carroll & Graf, 1983.

Carroll & Graf, 1996.

Dover, 2008.

Prohyptikon, 2009.

And, even though it’s an adaptation, here’s the only comic version that I am currently aware of:

Hope you enjoyed this brief cover gallery!

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“The First Literary Copernicus”


Today, we humbly present the following article about cosmicism in the work of William Hope Hodgson.  This important article by Lee Weinstein first appeared in NYCTALOPS #15 (January, 1980) and has not been reprinted since.  We are thankful for the opportunity to share this piece of early Hodgson scholarship with everyone.  As always, comments are welcome!  (This article appears through the permission of Lee Weinstein.)

THE FIRST LITERARY COPERNICUS

By Lee Weinstein

It is generally conceded that H.P. Lovecraft’s major contribution to the genre of horror fiction was his replacement of the supernatural rationale in such stories with a scientific one. Fritz Leiber called Lovecraft “a literary Copernicus” in his essay of that title* because he created supernatural dread using “the terrifyingly vast and mysterious universe revealed by the swiftly developing sciences.” Leiber adds that “W.H. Hodgson, Poe, Fitz-James O’Brien, and Wells had glimpses of that possibility and used it in a few of their tales. But the main and systematic achieve­ment was Lovecraft’s.”

In so saying, Leiber lightly casts aside the work of William Hope Hodgson, who, in his brief 13 year writing career, consistently and systematically used the mechanistic universe as a basis for the elements of terror in his fiction. He even went so far as to create a loosely constructed mythos, complete with a volume of ancient lore called the Sigsand Manuscript.

His second published story, “A Tropical Horror” (1905) is an early indication of the direction his fiction was to take. It consists largely of a first person account of the sole survivor of a ship attacked by a sea serpent. But it is not an adventure story of man against monster. Hodg­son slowly builds up a mood of horror of the unknown. The creature is seen first a night. The narrator barricades himself in a steel-built halfdeck and listens in the darkness to the sounds of the creature and the screams of the men as they are eaten. As time drags on he gets occasional glimpses of the thing through a porthole. Finally, he is attacked through the porthole by a clawed tentacle, and a vast white tongue beset with teeth. The mood and structure of this story are appropriate to a story of super­natural horror, although the use of a non-existant sea creature makes it a legitimate science fiction story.

“From the Tideless Sea” (1906) and its sequel “More News from the Homebird” (1907) follow closely in the tradition of “A Tropical Horror,” creating an even greater atmosphere of supernatural horror, although the science fictional elements are considerably downplayed, appearing in the form of new species of existing creatures. This was a common theme of Hodgson’s and appeared in such stories as “The Mystery of the Derelict” (1907), “The Terror of the Water Tank” (1907), “The Voice in the Night” (1907), and “The Stone Ship” (1914) among others.

On occasion, Hodgson needed no science fictional element at all. In “The Shamraken Homeward-Bounder” (1908), a ship of aged sailors, returning from its final voyage, encounters a strange pink mist. A sense of awe is built up as the ship is enshrouded in “great rosy wreaths (which) soften and beautify every spar.” The men believe they are about to enter heaven as the mist assumes an unearthly red brilliance and they see “a vast arch, formed of blazing red clouds.” A “prodigious umbel” appears, burning red and with a black crest, at which the men exclaim, “The Throne of God!” What the men have actually seen is “the Fiery Tempest,” a rare electrical phenomenon preceding certain types of cyclone. The umbel was the beginning of the water spout. As the story closes, “the breath of the cyclone was in their throats, and the Shamraken . . . passed in through the everlasting portals.” Using the theme of Man against the mysterious forces of Nature, Hodgson has created a vision of awe and supernatural dread.

Similarly, in “Out of the Storm,” an intense aura of fear and horror permeates the narrative of the last survivor aboard a wrecked and sinking ship. The sea itself, referred to by the man as “the Thing,” seems to take on an evil sentience as it closes in. The horror of destruction by im­mense, impersonal forces was later to become a major theme of Lovecraft’s.
More typically, however, Hodgson’s fiction includes a bizarre fantastic element. In his first published novel, The Boats of the Glen Carrig” (1907), the survivors of a shipwreck come upon a strange barren land populated by grotesque plant life and a creature having the appearance of “a many-flapped thing shaped as it might be, out of raw beef but … alive,” among other horrors. Later in the novel, after leaving this place, the men encounter a weed-choked expanse of sea and are attacked by quasi-human “weed men.” These creatures have short stumpy limbs, the ends of which are divided into “wrig­gling masses of small tentacles.” They have great eyes, “so big as crown pieces,” and bills like an inverted parrot’s bill.

These creatures are somewhat reminiscent of such Lovecraftian creations as Dagon and Cthulhu, both of which com­bined humanoid and aquatic features. It is cer­tain, however, that Lovecraft wrote the stories in question before he became aware of Hodgson’s fiction. He indepen­dently created a similar literary device, a decade later, to evoke a similar mood of horror.

Hodgson’s second published novel, The House on the Borderland (1908), is a great leap forward. Where Boats merely deals with strange and unexplored regions of Earth, House transcends time and space.

The House on the Borderland tells of an old man living in a strange and isolated old house in Ireland and of the dis­locations in time and space he is subjected to. On one oc­casion, after seeing a vision of a vast reddish plain while seated in his study, he finds himself floating upward through the night into limitless space. He eventually descends to the plain of his vision, and finds a replica of his house, although it is larger and colored green, at the center of a huge natural amphitheatre. Peering down at the house from the en­circling mountains are great likenesses of the Egyptian god Seth, the Destroyer of Souls; Kali, the Hindu goddess of death, and other “Beast-gods, and Horrors” in vast num­bers. At first he assumes them to be sculptures, but soon realizes “. . . there was about them an indescribable sort of dumb vitality that suggested . . .a state of life-in-death . . . an inhuman form of existence that well might be likened to a deathless trance — a condition in which it was possible to imagine their continuing, eternally.” (p. 25, Ace edition). Again, this is remarkably reminiscent of Lovecraft, particu­larly the couplet in “Call of Cthulhu” which goes “That is not dead which can eternal lie, / And with strange eons even death may die,” referring to the Great Old Ones in their stone houses in R’lyeh.

Returning to Hodgson’s novel, the narrator is again transported through space, and returns to Earth, to his study, and notes that 24 hours have passed. In later sequen­ces, he is transported to an eerie gray world where he meets a beautiful woman by the shore of an “immense and silent sea,” and travels through time to witness the end of the solar system. In the latter, time speeds up as the narrator sits in his study. The hands of his clock begin to race around, and night and day alternate in more and more rapid suc­cession. His dog dies and disintegrates as he watches, but he continues as a wraith-like presence to observe the sun die and travel to a huge double sun at the center of the uni­verse. This central sun is composed of a green star, which the narrator feels houses some sort of intelligence, and a dead black star. The green one is surrounded by shimmering globules, one of which he enters, only to find himself again in the gray world with his love by the shore. When the green sun is eclipsed by the black one, he finds himself sur­rounded by ruddy spheres. He enters one and is transported back to the amphitheatre on the red plain. When he goes into the enlarged green replica of his house, there is a loud screaming noise, a “blurred vista of visions,” and he is sud­denly back in the present. Nothing has changed, except for the crumbled remains of his dog lying at his feet.

Another bizarre touch in the novel is the presence of quasi-human swine creatures, which exist both on the red plain, and in a pit beneath the house on Earth. They are possessed of a malign intelligence, and after battling the narrator throughout the book, eventually destroy him.

Despite the diversity of the plot elements, and their somewhat episodic nature, they all seem to tie together with a strange sort of logic. More importantly, although Hodg­son’s universe is somewhat more orderly than Lovecraft’s, this novel succeeds admirably in attaching the emotion of fear to the vastness of the cosmos. It is possible it may have been influential on some of Lovecraft’s later works.

Hodgson’s third published novel, The Ghost Pirates (1909), ex­plores yet another direction, that of the parallel universe. It concerns a haunted ship plagued by one unexplained oc­currence after another in an ever-increasing atmosphere of fear and horror. But the haunting is not caused by ghosts in the conventional sense. The narrator explains: “I’m not going to say they are flesh and blood; though at the same time, I’m not going to say they’re ghosts… this ship is open … exposed, unprotected [due, perhaps, to “magnetic stress” ] … the things of the material world are barred, as it were, from the immaterial; but … in some cases the barrier may be broken down. [The shipl may be naked to the attacks of beings belonging to some other state of existence. Sup­pose the earth were inhabited by two kinds of life. We’re one and they’re the other. They may be just as real and material to them as we are to us.”**

This idea of a barrier, protecting us from malign entities from Outside, is central to the mythos which ties together many of his later stories, and is reminiscent of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, particularly in such stories as “The Dunwich Horror.”

In later sequences of The Ghost Pirates, passing ships seem to appear and disappear as the haunted ship, and its crew, hover between the two planes of existence. The third mate on another passing ship notes at the end of the novel that the haunted ship was totally silent; he could see the captain shout, but no sound came from his lips. Later, he and his fellow crewmen hear sounds begin to come from the ship,”…very queer at first and rather like a phonograph makes when it’s getting up speed. Then the sounds came properly from her and we heard them shouting and yelling.” In all, it is an extremely effective portrayal of horror lurking just beyond our plane of reality.

Hodgson’s mythos achieves its fullest development in Carnacki the Ghost-Finder (1910), a collection of stories about one of the earliest psychic detectives. Carnacki often refers to, in the course of his investigations, a volume called the Sigsand MS. This book, or manuscript, is supposed to have been written about the 14th century. Quotations from it, scattered throughout the stories, indicate that it is concerned with “Monsters of the Outer World,” and defenses against them. In other words, it is very much like the Necronomicon.

Using information from the Sigsand MS., Carnacki develops a defensive circle containing a pentacle and certain “signs of the Saaamaaa Ritual.” Within this chalk circle he places an electric pentacle, suggested by another fictitious book, Prof. Garder’s Experiments With a Medium. While standing within these defensive barriers, a person is pro­tected from various “powers of the Unknown World,” such as the “Outer Monstrosities” and the “Aeiirii forms of semi-materialization.” The defense is not good against “Saiitii phenomena,” however, since these can “reproduce (themselves) in or take to (their) purposes the very protective material you may use.” They involve “the very structure of the aether-fibre itself,” we are told in the story “The Whistling Room.” In the same story we learn that he Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual,” used by the “Ab-human priests in the Incantation of the Raaaee,” may be uttered by the inscrutable Protective forces which “govern the spin­ning of the outer circle and intervene between the human and the Outer Monstrosities.”

In the story “The Searcher of the End House” we are told that certain of the Monstrosities of the Outer Circle are known as “The Haggs,” and, according to the Sigsand MS., they cause children to be still-born by snatching back their ego or spirit.

Possibly, the most important story in the group is “The Hog,” which, for some reason, was never published during Hodgson’s lifetime, and did not see print until the 1940’s. It concerns a man whose natural insulation against the Outer Monstrosities breaks down. His soul is attacked by one of the Monstrosities known as the “Hog.” A quotation from the Sigsand MS. tells us “…in ye earlier life upon the world did the Hogge have power, and shall again in ye end. And in that ye Hogge had once a power upon ye earth, so doth he crave sore to come again” (Panther edition, p. 188). Un­less the manuscript of this story was tampered with by Au­gust Derleth, who released it for publication, this passage is one of the most remarkable literary coincidences of all time, since it is a paraphrasing of the quotation from the Necronomicon in “The Dunwich Horror” which runs “…the Old Ones broke through of old and… They shall break through again… Man now rules where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now.”
At the end of “The Hog” is a lengthy explanation of the Outer Monstrosities. The Earth is surrounded by an Outer Circle 100 thousand miles up and 5-10 million miles in thickness, which spins opposite to Earth’s rotation, and consists of extremely rarefied matter. Out of it breed the Outer Monstrosities, which are million mile clouds of force, in the same way that sharks are bred out of the ocean. These monsters chiefly desire the psychic entity of man.

In short, the Carnacki stories are based on scientifically rationalized beings from beyond, causing apparently super­natural phenomena. The Hog from the above story may be a retroactive attempt to include the swine creatures from The House on the Borderland in the developing mythos; the descriptions are similar. Another Carnacki story unpub­lished during Hodgson’s lifetime, “The Haunted Jarvee,” contains much of the theory presented in The Ghost Pirates and appears to be a reworking of the same material in a shorter form.

It is interesting to compare the Carnacki stories to their immediate predecessor, John Silence —Physician Extra­ordinaire (1908) by Algernon Blackwood. John Silence is also a psychic detective, but in the five stories in the book, he deals with such stock occult menaces as a fire elemental, a werewolf, and persistant spirits of witches who turn them­selves into cats. Most of the stories deal with the persistence of evil thoughts after the death of their perpetrators.

Silence combats them with the power of his own mind, rather than the “scientific” methods of Carnacki.
Hodgson’s final novel to be published and his most ambitious  appeared in 1912. The Night Land is a minor classic, both of horror and of science fiction. The setting, this time, is Earth in the far, far future. Not only has the sun burned out, but millions of years have passed since. Mankind’s last refuge is an eight mile high metal pyramid built in a deep chasm, 100 miles below the Earth’s frozen surface. Surrounding the pyramid are strange monstrous creatures, which lie in wait through the ages, until power for the pyramid’s defenses runs out. The monsters are explained in this passage: “… olden sci­ences … disturbing the unmeasurable Outward Powers, had allowed to pass the Barrier of this Life some of those Mon­sters and Ab-human creatures, which are so wondrously cushioned from us at this normal present. And thus there materialized, and in other cases developed, grotesque and horrible creatures… And where there was no power to take on material form, there had been allowed to certain dreadful forces to have power to affect the life of the human spirit.” (Ballantine edition, Vol I, p. 32). This is obviously a con­tinuation of the mythos in the Carnacki stories. Further, the pyramid is protected from these creatures by a “great circle of light” which “burned within a transparent tube,” and is called the “Electric Circle.” In other words, an en­larged version of Carnacki’s electric pentacle. It should be noted that despite the supernatural overtones of the passage, particularly at the end, it is scientific meddling which has resulted in the presence of the creatures.

In “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani” (1912), the mythos reappears. In this story, Hodgson attempts to rationalize scientifically an occurrence described in the Bible: the darkness that appeared during the crucifixion of Christ. The result is an extremely effective horror story. A scientist synthesizes a substance which, when oxidized, disturbs the ether, interfering with the transmission of light. He ingests the substance, and drives nails through his palms to simulate the agony of Christ. Darkness forms around him. But some­thing goes wrong. The scientist goes deeper and deeper into a trance-like state, losing awareness of his surroundings. Sud­denly, he yells out the words, “Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani!” (My God, My God, why have you forsaken me), first in ter­ror, then in a voice not his own, but “sneering in an incred­ible, bestial, monstrous fashion.” A moment later he is dead. The narrator, who has been observing the scientist, suggests, “in his extraordinary, self-hypnotized, defenseless condition, he was ‘entered’ by some Christ-apeing Monster of the Void.”

Hodgson’s best short story was perhaps “The Derelict,” also written in 1912. A ship comes across a derelict at sea, and the crew row out to investigate. They find it to be sur­rounded by a thick scum and covered with a thick gray-white mold that is streaked with purplish veins. There is a persistent thudding sound aboard, and when the Captain kicks a hole in one of the white mounds of mold on deck, a purple fluid spurts out in time to the thudding. Terror mounts as the men realize that the entire ship is covered by a single living organism, and they barely escape being sucked into the thing and digested. But as in the previous story, this goes beyond a mere science fiction horror story. It is set in a framework in which a doctor, who was one of the crew, tells the story as an example of his theory that Life force will manifest itself if given the proper material and conditions. He goes on to say that Life, like Fire and Electricity is of the “Outer Forces – Monsters of the Void.”

As I hope I have demonstrated here, Hodgson was a real pioneer. He used the emerging scientific picture of our uni­verse in a consistent manner to create a new type of horror story, a type which Lovecraft later, and independently, developed more fully.

He was the first literary Copernicus.

*August Derleth, ed.. Something About Cats (Arkham House, 1949) Darrcll Schweitzer, ed., Essays Lovecraftian (T-K Graphics, 1976), p.6

**Sam Moskowitz, ed., Horrors Unseen (Berkley ’74), pp. 51-2

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What’s That I Hear?


Movie and TV adaptations of William Hope Hodgson’s works are few but WHH is alive and well in audio format!  Here’s a listing of where you can listen to WHH stories for free online:

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“A Tropical Horror”

Adapted by Julie Hoverson for 19 Nocturne Boulevard, this adaptation of one of WHH’s most exciting sea horror stories is dramatized in this excellent audio version.  Reminiscent of the great radio dramas of old, this is an nerve-wracking story that really works on the listener’s imagination.  Highly recommended!

You can listen to “A Tropical Horror” at:

http://www.19nocturneboulevard.net/all_show_pages/19Nocturne/previous_episodes/season3/Tropical%20Horror.htm

And don’t forget to check out the main website which has links to many other radio dramas including some adaptations of Lovecraft stories!

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“The Derelict”

Another dramatic interpretation of a WHH story can be found on the Radio Drama Revival website.  “The Derelict” is considered to be one of Hodgson’s best stories and has been reprinted frequently.  Here’s what the website has to say about it: “Today’s story is a thrilling adaptation of William Hope Hodgson’s “The Derelict,” about a crew of sailors that finds a strange boat adrift in the endless ocean, and discovers all too gruesomely the reason for its abandonment.”

This story works particularly well as a drama and reminds me of the old radio series Inner Sanctum.  You can listen to this program online at: http://www.radiodramarevival.com/episode-38-maine-based-william-dufris-does-william-hope-hodgsons-the-derelict/

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The House on the Borderland

Wayne June provides a narrated edition of Hodgson’s classic novel.  You can listen to the entire book online or, if you prefer, you can download it for a small fee.  The description on the website says; “This classic novel is heralded as the turning point between gothic supernatural fiction of the late 19th century and modern horror fiction.
Hodgeson’s [sic] more scientific/cosmic horror had a profound influence in the development of weird tales of the middle of the 20th century as evidenced by the fact that noted American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft lists Hodgson among his greatest influences.”

http://vibedeck.com/waynejune

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“The Whistling Room”

Probably the greatest of all Carnacki stories is available online via YouTube.  Superbly read by Julia Morgan, this version retains all of the spookiness of the original story.  Make sure to check out Morgan’s YouTube channel for more excellant readings of classic horror.  She has recently begun a series of readings of Lovecraft’s seminal essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”.  Hopefully she will do some more Carnacki soon!  Perhaps “The Hog”??

Listen and watch this great reading at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlZQ7jhM_c8

Or search for Morgan’s channel at YouTube under “MorganScorpion”.

***

“The Voice in the Night”

Read by Paula Wright and also available on YouTube, this audio reading of WHH’s most famous story suffers from a weak audio track.  The reading itself seems incompatible with the story but it is well worth a listen.

You can find it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgcDL1RW6-c&feature=plcp

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If you know of other audio versions of Hodgson’s work (either straight readings or dramatizations), please feel free to note them in the comments sections!

–Sam Gafford

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William Hope Hodgson, This is Your Life!


William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918)

Hodgson lived an interesting life.  He spent his youth at sea, opened a Physical Culture School, became a writer and then a soldier before dying in WWI in 1918.  The following is a timeline of the important events and people in Hodgson’s life.  Comments, suggestions and/or corrections are welcomed!

We begin with the birth of WHH’s father, Samuel.

Chronology

1846      October 7 – Samuel Hodgson born to William and Ann Hodgson

1869      Samuel Hodgson matriculates from Lichfield Theological College in Lichfied, Staffordshire

1871      December 25 – Samuel Hodgson ordained as Deacon of Anglo-Catholic Church of England

1871-1873           Samuel Hodgson serves as Curate at South Darley, Derbyshire

1874      Samuel Hodgson ordained as Priest of the Anglican Church

Becomes Curate at St. James in Wednesbury, Staffordshire

1875      Samuel Hodgson moves to Pattiswick, Essex

Samuel Hodgson marries Lizzie Sarah Brown in Wednesbury

1876      Samuel sent to St. James Church in Greenstead Green, Essex

Samuel sent to Wethersfield, Essex

Samuel appointed Curate and Windsey Lecturer of Wethersfield Church

1877      November 15 – William Hope Hodgson born at St. Mary the Virgin, the Blackmore End District Church of the Parish of Wethersfield

1878-1879           Samuel becomes Curate at St. John’s Church in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire

1879-1882           At Skegby in Stanton Hall, Nottinghamshire

1885-1889           William Hope Hodgson attends school in Margate and visits during holidays

1886      Samuel Hodgson appointed as Curate at St. Andrew’s in Battersea, London

1887      Samuel Hodgson sent as missionary to Ardrahan, County Galway, Eire, Ireland

1890      Samuel Hodgson appointed as Curate to All Saints Church, Blackburn

Family moves into Frasier Villa at 42 Longshaw St.

William Hope Hodgson graduates from school

1891      August 28 – William Hope Hodgson runs away from home, again, and (with the help of his uncle, Reverend Thomas Lumsdon Brown) is apprenticed to Master W.W. Nelson of the firm of Shaw and Savill for four years as a seaman in the Merchant Marine

1892      May – Samuel and Lizzie Hodgson open Gospel and Salvation Mission in Blackburn

Samuel Hodgson develops cancer of the throat

November 11 – Samuel Hodgson dies at the age of 46.

1895      William Hope Hodgson qualifies as a seaman and then as an officer in the Merchant Marine

April – William Hope Hodgson’s older brother, Chad, joins the British Army against his mother’s wishes

1896      Nearly destitute, Lizzie Hodgson applies to the Clergy Orphan Corporation in London for free admission for her daughter Lissie to the Corporation school

1898      March 28 – William Hope Hodgson saves an overboard sailor in shark-infested water

1899      William Hope Hodgson receives a medal from the Royal Humane Society for the rescue

1900      William Hope Hodgson leaves the sea permanently

December 16 – William Hodgson, grandfather to William Hope, dies and leaves an inheritance to the family

1901      William Hope Hodgson opens his school of physical culture in Blackburn

August – Publishes “Dr. Thomas’s Vibration Method versus Sandow’s” in Sandow’s Magazine (This is his first published work anywhere.)

1902      August 30 – WHH rides down Brantfell Road (a steep road made of stairs)

October 24 – WHH and Harry Houdini face off at the Palace Theatre in Blackburn

1903      WHH closes his school by the end of the year

1904      Family moves to Borth near Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire.  The house, called “Glaneifion”, was on High Street.

April – “The Goddess of Death”, WHH’s first published story appears in Royal Magazine

1906      April – “From the Tideless Sea” first published in Blue Book

1907      August 16, signs contract for BoGC

              The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ published by Chapman & Hall

August – “More News from the Homebird” (sequel to “From the Tideless Sea” first published in Blue Book)

November – “The Voice in the Night” first published in Blue Book Magazine

1908      The House on the Borderland published by Chapman & Hall

1909      The Ghost Pirates published by Stanley Paul & Co.

WHH meets Arthur St. John Adcock, editor of The Bookman, which was published by Stanley Paul & Co.

1910      WHH moves to London

1911      Lissie and her mother move to a house on the outskirts of Borth which they rename “Lisswood” in honor of Lissie.

1912      The Night Land published by Eveleigh Nash

1913      Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder published by Eveleigh Nash

February 26 – Marries Bessie G. Farnworth

March – WHH and Bessie move to Sanary, France

1914      Men of the Deep Waters published by Eveleigh Nash

August 4 – England declares war on Germany

The Hodgsons return to England.  WHH joins the Officer Training Corps of the University of London while Bessie goes to Borth to stay with WHH’s sister and mother.

1915      July – WHH commissioned as Lieutenant in the 171st Battery of the Royal Field Artillery, part of the New Army Division.

WHH sent to Salisbury Plain for maneuvering of large field pieces and trains others in the handling of the horses used to pull the pieces

1916      The Luck of the Strong published by Eveleigh Nash

June – WHH thrown from a horse and suffers a broken jaw and a concussion.  He is discharged from the Army and sent home to Borth to recover.

1917      Captain Gault: Being the Exceedingly Private Log of a Sea-Captain published by Eveleigh Nash

March – WHH (recovered) re-enlists and joins the 11th Brigade.

October – The 11th Brigade is stationed at Ypres

October 10th – WHH joins the 84th Battery which relieves a forward batter south of Rugby Dump.

1918      March 12 – 84th Brigade takes over positions at Brombeek

March 20 – 84th Brigade suffers heavy gas shelling and high velocity shelling at the Tourelle Crossroads

March 30 – 84th Brigade relieved by Belgian Artillery

April 2 – 84th Brigade marches to Ploegsteert area to relieve Australian Artillery and take position at Le Touquet Berthe

April 10 – Germans launch a large attack which briefly hospitalizes WHH

April 16 – 84th Battery withdraws and sets up a Forward Observation Post

April 17 – WHH volunteers for duty at the Forward Observation Post

April 18 – WHH and another N.C.O. take up the FOP.

April 19 – Last communication received by WHH; reported M.I.A. later that day when no further reports are received

April 19 – WHH and comrade suffer a direct hit from Mortar shell with what little remains can be found buried on the spot by French soldiers on the eastern slope of Mont Kemmel in Belgium.

Bessie returns to her family in Chesire

1920      The Calling of the Sea published by Selwyn & Blount

1921      The Voice of the Ocean published by Selwyn & Blount

1933      WHH’s mother dies at the age of 81 in Borth

1943      July 23 – Bessie dies and WHH’s literary estate passes to his sister, Lissie.

1946      The House on the Borderland and Other Novels published by Arkham House

1947      Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder published by Arkham House (expanded edition with 3 more stories)

1959      May – WHH’s sister, Lissie, dies in Borth

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Meet Mrs. Hodgson!


Mrs. Bessie Hodgson, wife of William Hope Hodgson. Date undetermined.

The above photo is the only known picture of Mrs. Bessie Hodgson, widow of William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918)

We don’t really know much about the woman who married WHH.  She was born Betty (“Bessie”) Gertrude Farnworth on November 14, 1877, in Cheadle, Hulme, which was a farming community not far from where the Hodgson’s were living.  She attended the same school in Blackburn where WHH’s sister and brothers also studied and was later a student at the Technical School that WHH attended.  Her father was Richard Dobson Farnworth and, according to R. Alain Everts, the family was stalked by tragedy:

“…one boy had been drowned in a foot of water in a freak accident crossing the heath; another brother, Gilbert K. Farnworth was killed in action in 1915; while the father was injured fatally trying to repair the roof of the house.”1

Apparently, Bessie and WHH knew each other in their youth for, in a letter to his sister, WHH says:

“Betty is one of the Farnworth girls, who used to sketch me at the Technical School.  We met again in Town; and now she’s Mrs. Hope.  We are the same age, only a day between us.  She is not at all good-looking; but we are very happy.”2

WHH and Bessie met again when they were both in London in 1912.  Hodgson was attempting to make his living by writing and Bessie was one of the editors of “Woman’s Weekly”.  She gave up her job after they married on February 26, 1913, in the London borough of Kensington.

A month later, in March, the couple moved to France in an effort to live more inexpensively and more healthily.  They had intended to stay there permanently but the war in Europe changed those plans.

In late 1914, the couple returned to England.  WHH went to London to enlist in the Office Training Corps of the University of London while Bessie went to stay with WHH’s family in Borth.  After WHH’s death, Bessie returned to her family in Chesire where she would pass away on July 23, 1943.

It was Bessie who fought to keep her husband’s memory and writing alive after his death in WWI.  Were it not for her, it’s likely that we would not remember Hodgson at all today.

Notes

  1. Everts, R. Alain. William Hope Hodgson, Night Pirate.  Volume Two: Some Facts in the Case of William Hope Hodgson: Master of Phantasy.  Toronto, Canada: 1987.  Pg. 20.
  1. Ibid, pg. 20.

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A Brief History of Hodgson Studies


The critical study of the works of William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) is still in its infancy.  Despite the fact that we are swiftly approaching the 100th anniversary of WHH’s death, there is still a great deal of work to be done.  Part of the reason for the scarcity of critical WHH study is due to the lack of primary sources.  It is difficult to do proper criticism when we have little to no letters or written documents with which to work.  In the end, we have only the work WHH left behind which is exactly what many authors would prefer anyway.

Still, some work has been done and it is important to recognize what has come before so we can build on what is yet to come.  For the sake of this article, I will focus on those items after WHH’s death that are noteworthy or actual criticism instead of the many entries that exist in encyclopedias.  I also must, unfortunately, focus on items written in English due to my inability to read foreign languages.

Shortly after WHH’s death in 1918, his widow arranged for publication of some of his poetry through the publisher Selwyn & Blount.  In the first of these two books, The Calling of the Sea (published in 1920), a short essay by WHH’s friend, Arthur St. John Adcock, introduced the volume.  This was a brief memoir that covered Hodgson’s life and his poetry.  Although not long in critical value, it stands as the first item published after WHH’s death that attempted to study the man and his work.

Another curious item also appeared in 1920.  It was an unsigned article in Bookman’s Journal & Print Collector titled, “William Hope Hodgson: Master of the Weird and Terrible”.  This brief survey presented an overview of Hodgson’s life and writings.  I have heard speculation that this item was written by St. John Adcock but there has been no definitive evidence either way.

It would be another 17 years before another critical article appeared.

Phantapgraph, February, 1937

In 1937, both H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith would write brief appreciations of WHH.  Lovecraft’s essay, “The Weird Work of William Hope Hodgson”, appeared in the February issue of The Phantagraph.  Originally slated for part of Lovecraft’s ground-breaking study, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, the series was halted before this portion could appear when the original amateur magazine ceased publication.  Although published separately here, Lovecraft kept this essay included in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” where it was eventually published in full in Arkham House’s The Outsider and Others in 1939.  This essay covered all four novels and the Carnacki collection which H.C. Koenig had loaned Lovecraft years earlier.

Clark Ashton Smith’s article, “In Appreciation of William Hope Hodgson”, also appeared in The Phantagraph but in the March-April issue.  Although brief, Smith praises Hodgson’s imaginative vision and professes a hope that WHH will achieve a wider readership.  It is significant that two of the major writers of horror and fantasy of that period both proclaimed Hodgson’s value.

In 1944, a very curious issue of Reader and Collector appeared.  This amateur magazine was produced by H.C. Koenig (himself a legendary Hodgson enthusiast) and featured not one but SIX articles about Hodgson!  These articles were:

“William Hope Hodgson” by August Derleth

“The Poetry of William Hope Hodgson” by E. A. Edkins

“William Hope Hodgson: Master of the Weird and Fantastic” by H. C. Koenig

“William Hope Hodgson: Writer of Supernatural Horror” by Fritz Leiber, Jr.

“William Hope Hodgson and the Detective Story” by Ellery Queen

“In Appreciation of William Hope Hodgson” by C. A. Smith

These six articles cover virtually all of Hodgson’s work even if their assessments were less than encouraging.  Edkins, for example, declares WHH to be “technically unskilled in poetic forms”.  Queen’s essay attempts, for the first time, to place WHH’s Carnacki stories importance in the history of detective fiction.

After that explosion, another 20 years would pass before a piece of Hodgson criticism would appear and that was Sid Birchby’s “Sexual Symbolism in W. H. Hodgson” which appeared in the November, 1964, issue of Riverside Quarterly.  This unique article expounds on the sexual imagery that Birchby finds in The House on the Borderland and The Night Land.  It is possible that this article may have influenced Iain Sinclair’s eccentric introductions to House and Carnacki years later.

In 1966, a printed version of a lecture that C. S. Lewis gave to the Cambridge English Club in 1955 was finally published as “On Science Fiction”.  It would contain a brief analysis of The Night Land that praised its vision while criticizing its sentimentality.

As the 1970’s rolled in, Hodgson was finding new popularity in paperback reprints, many of which contained introductions of various merit.  One of the best was Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy Series which was edited by Lin Carter.  In reprints of The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” and a two volume edition of The Night Land, Carter attempted to bring a new audience to Hodgson while providing some criticism of the works themselves.

It would be in the 1970’s that critical work on WHH would begin in earnest.

In 1973, both R. Alain Everts and Sam Moskowitz published work that is still ground-breaking today and forms the foundation of much further study.  In his amateur magazine, Shadow,  Everts published a two part article called, “Some Facts in the Case of William Hope Hodgson”.  This important study provided much biographical data that had been unknown up to that point.  Everts would republish the article in its entirety in 1974 as Some Facts in the Case of William Hope Hodgson: Master of Phantasy.

The legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales was revived in 1973 for a four issue run with Sam Moskowitz as the editor.  During the first three issues, Moskowitz serialized the article “William Hope Hodgson” which would later serve as the introduction to Out of the Storm (Grant, 1975) and presented the longest examination of WHH’s life and writing.   Moskowitz’s article provided a wealth of information that had never been disclosed before.  Despite some instances of incorrect assumptions and possible typos, it remains one of the most significant and important essays yet written on Hodgson.  (Important note—Moskowitz’s introduction was not included in the later Centaur paperback edition of Out of the Storm.)

Peter Tremayne would write “High Priest of Horror: W. Hope Hodgson” for Lanchaster Life in 1977.  The same essay would appear as a revised edition in Masters of Terror, Volume 1—William Hope Hodgson (Corgi, 1977) and William Hope Hodgson: A Centenary Tribute (British Fantasy Society, 1977).

Three years later, Lee Weinstein penned  “The First Literary Copernicus” in the January, 1980, issue of Nyctalops.  This interesting article posits that Hodgson actually predated Lovecraft in the use of cosmicism as the basis for terror, possibly explaining HPL’s own fondness for Hodgson’s work.

By 1982, Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone Magazine” (edited by T.E.D. Klein) had already been running a series that reintroduced classic writers to a new audience.  In the April issue, Mike Ashley would contribute “The Essential Writers: William Hope Hodgson”.  This article presented an overview of Hodgson’s life and work as well as reprinting WHH’s classic “The Voice in the Night”.

Brian Stableford contributed the essay, “William Hope Hodgson”, to Scientific Romance in Britian 1890-1950 which was published in 1985.  This essay presents a substantial discussion of WHH’s work and places Hodgson within the history of English writers.

1987 found the publication of a very unique book, William Hope Hodgson: Voyages and Visions.  Self-published by Ian Bell, it brought together a wide selection of writers who covered an even wider selection of WHH topics.  The contents included:

“A WHH Chronology” by Ian Bell

“Introduction,” by Ian Bell

“WHH and Blackburn,” by Ian Bell

“WHH in Sandow’s Magazine,” by Richard Dalby

“WHH and Borth,” by Mark Valentine

“Child of All the Sea: The Sea-Horror Fiction,” by Peter Tremayne

“Alone on a Wide Wide Sea: The Ghost Pirates,” by Michael Goss

“Against the Abyss: Carnacki the Ghost-Finder,” by Mark Valentine

“The Composition of The Night Land,” by Brian Stableford

“The Restoration of The Night Land,” by Ian Bell

“A Writer on the Borderland,” by Andy Sawyer

“Tales of Remote Futures,” by Roger Dobson

“WHH: In the Wake of Disaster,” introduced by Mike Ashley

“WNH: Another Hodgson,” introduced by Ian Bell

“Bibliography” by Ian Bell

Due to the range of material covered here, as well as the quality of the authors, Voyages and Visions is a volume anyone seriously considering writing Hodgson criticism should read.

Iain Sinclair contributed an odd piece of criticism with “An Aberrant Afterword: Blowing Dust in the House of Incest” which appeared as an afterword in the 1990 edition of The House on the Borderland published by Grafton.  Sinclair’s analysis is eccentric and rests on a unique reading of the novel.  His introduction to Grafton’s edition of Carnacki in 1991 (“Vibrations in a Vacuum: Carnacki: An Afterword”) is equally idiosyncratic.

By the time that 1991 rolled around, Sam Moskowitz appeared again with “The Posthumous Acceptance of William Hope Hodgson, 1918-1943” which served as the introduction to The Haunted Pampero (Grant, 1991).  This article covered the period from Hodgson’s death up to the death of his widow in 1943.  Upon WHH’s death, his wife ran Hodgson’s literary estate and was responsible for keeping much of his memory alive until his work was rediscovered by H. C. Koenig.

1992 saw my own article, “Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson” appear in Studies in Weird Fiction.  In this article, I presented the theory that WHH had actually written his novels in the reverse order of their publication.  This meant that WHH wrote The Night Land first and The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” last which represented a drastic change in his style and scope.

Studies in Weird Ficiton would include another WHH article in their Summer, 1993, issue with Steve Behrend’s “Spinning in the Night Land: A Footnote to William Hope Hodgson”.  This article relates an image in The Night Land to the watersprouts that Hodgson witnessed during his years at sea.

Not to be outdone by Birchby or Sinclair, Amanda Boulter published “The House on the Borderland: The Sexual Politics of Fear” in Creepers: British Horror and Fantasy in the Twentieth Century.  Boulter’s reading of the novel finds sexual overtones in many of the features and incidents.

1995 saw the final edition of Hodgson released by Donald M. Grant, Terrors of the Sea.  In it, Moskowitz publishes his last essay on matters Hodgsonian: “William Hope Hodgson’s Sister: Roadblock to Recognition”.  This introduction traces the difficulty that August Derleth and H.C. Koenig faced from Hodgson’s own sister in their efforts to publish WHH’s work.

The next 10 years sees little in the way of Hodgson criticism.  Although many reprints occur, the introductions are often reiterations of the work that has gone before.

One of the exceptions is the introduction to Adrift on the Haunted Seas: The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson by Douglas Anderson (Cold Spring Press, 2005).  Not only does Anderson provide context for the stories included in the anthology but provides an excellent overview of Hodgson’s life and work.

The last significant work of Hodgson criticism occurred in 2005 with the publishing of the Jane Frank edited volume, The Wandering Soul.  Frank had bought Sam Moskowitz’s extensive Hodgson file after the noted critic’s death and compiled this book which publishes many unknown or forgotten items of interest.  Frank’s introduction provides much new information about Hodgson’s life (including many never before seen photos) as well as the first significant examination of Hodgson’s poetry.  This book stands tall in the history of Hodgson criticism.

As we move forward, there is much work yet to be done in the field of Hodgson studies.  I look forward to reading many more articles as more and more critics discover the fertile field of Hodgson’s work.  My hope is that we will see WHH restored to the status that he and his writing so richly deserve.

–Sam Gafford

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Updates!


Well, the William Hope Hodgson Blog has been up and active for a little over a week now so it seems like a good time to take stock.  Response to the blog has been very favorable and I thank all of you who have visited and commented on the posts so far.  We seem to be off to a good start and I hope we can carry on this momentum.

Schedule

I’ve been updating the blog on a daily basis but it occurs to me that this may not have been the best idea.  It’s recently been pointed out to me that this pace makes it hard to fully digest each post before the next one appears.  I completely understand this.  Not everyone can check out the blog everyday and they may feel overwhelmed when the see the huge number of unread posts.  So I am going to institute a posting schedule of Monday-Wednesday-Friday.  Those are the days when I will do the ‘major’ posts such as articles and timelines, etc.  I may still post smaller, bullet type items other days but M-W-F will be the days that I suggest everyone check out the blog for the new posts.  Hopefully, this will keep not only your interest high but also the quality of the posts.

Poll

On that note, we had a nice turnout for our first poll “What Subjects Do You Want to See Covered?”.  Out of 37 votes cast, the results are:

Literary Criticism  (14 votes)

Hodgson’s Fiction  (8 votes)

Hodgson’s Life  (4 votes)

Book Covers   (4 votes)

Hodgson’s Poetry (3 votes)

Media Adaptations (3 votes)

Hodgson’s Non-Fiction (1 vote)

I admit that I find these results to be very interesting.  I was not aware that there was that much interest in Literary Criticism of WHH.  And, while I thought the Fiction subject would do well, I was surprised at the low numbers for Hodgson’s Life.  I had also planned on running some material about Hodgson’s Non-Fiction but these results are making me reconsider that plan.

H.C. Koenig

As a result of the earlier post, “The Man Who Saved Hodgson”, noted Hodgson and Weird Literature scholar Douglas Anderson has informed me that he has determined how Koenig first learned about Hodgson himself!  For the update on that, please visit Doug’s own page at:

http://desturmobed.blogspot.com/2012/04/colin-de-la-mare.html

I would heartily recommend that all readers of this blog follow Doug’s blog regularly.

So, the next update of the blog will be this Friday (the 13th!) when I will present a brief essay on the history of Hodgson Critical Studies!

Best,

Sam Gafford

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Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson


I’d like to present what I believe to be the most important article on Hodgson that I have written.  This was originally published in Studies in Weird Fiction#11 (Spring, 1992) and has not been reprinted since.  It is scheduled to appear in the upcoming anthology William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland: Seven Decades of Criticism on the Master of Cosmic Horror, edited by Massimo Berruti and Pietro Guarriello.

 I hope you enjoy it.

Writing Backwards:

The Novels of William Hope Hodgson

by Sam Gafford

It is not an easy task to do critical work on William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918). In the first place, there is very little previous work to build upon. The number of critical articles on Hodgson can easily be counted on one hand and the various introductions to the reprints are relatively worthless. Even those pieces which purport to be serious examinations of Hodgson have provided little critical information. In Out of the Storm [Donald M. Grant, West Kingston, R.I., 1975 (OoS)], Sam Moskowitz supplies an introduction which contains a wealth of biographical data but almost no actual criticism of Hodgson’s works. Clearly, then, there is much work to be done in this field.

One of the major stumbling blocks to understanding Hodgson and his writings has been the lack of primary source material. In contrast to the situation with Lovecraft, there has been no deposits of letters and manuscripts to libraries or institutions. Hodgson has never enjoyed the popular acclaim of Lovecraft, so it is even less likely that private individuals will have preserved such items since Hodgson’s death in 1918. To complicate matters further, many Hodgson items are held by private collectors who have little desire to risk losing such valuable material. It is the lack of this information that makes interpreting Hodgson so difficult and so time-consuming. Accordingly, when new material surfaces, it can be both shocking and revolutionary, completely revising our previous conceptions about Hodgson and his work.

Hodgson published four novels in his lifetime: The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ [London: Chapman & Hall, 1907 (BoGC)], The House on the Borderland [London: Chapman & Hall, 1908 (HoB)], The Ghost Pirates [London: Stanley Paul & Co., 1909 (GP)], and The Night Land [London: Eveleigh Nash, 1912 (NL)]. It is on the strength of these novels that much of Hodgson’s literary reputation rests. Lovecraft, while very much aware of Hodgson’s other literary faults, praised these novels for their imagination and scope. Although Hodgson wrote a number of short stories, it is primarily his novels that continue to be reprinted. All four contain what were highly original themes for their time and it is this aspect that allows them to be readable today.

Working against Hodgson is his apparently inexplicable choice of writing styles. NL, a uniquely original novel, is told in an excruciating seventeenth-century style that never existed.

And in thiswise passed three days and nights; yet both in the sleep-time and the time of waking did great multitudes cease not to watch; so that many went hungry for sleep, as in truth did I. And sometimes we saw those Youths with plainness; but other times they were lost to our sight in the utter shadows of the Night Land. Yet, but the telling of our instruments, and the sense of my hearing, there was no awareness among the Monsters, and the Forces of Evil, that any were abroad from the Pyramid; so that a little hope came into our hearts that yet there might be no tragedy. (NL 57)

Hodgson’s style is only slightly better in HoB. In GP, Hodgson writes more realistically in the tone and language of the sea-faring men he’d shipped with in his youth, but the style quickly becomes tiresome and drags the pace of the novel unbearably. It is only in BoGC, that Hodgson hits a medium, combining his imagination with a flat, but readable, style.

In general, lack of information and primary sources has led scholars and critics to believe that the novels were written in the order of publication: BoGC (1907), HoB (1908), GP (1909), and NL (1912). Moskowitz claims that no “new fiction by Hodgson appeared between April, 1906 and July 1907’s publication of ‘The Mystery of the Derelict’. He was hard at work on his first novel, deliberately aimed at book publication” (OoS 45). Moskowitz then goes on to claim that this “first novel” was BoGC and was obviously finished between this time and the signing of the publishing contract on August 16, 1907. This theory of the writing sequence of the novels, which is common with most of today’s writers, yields a variety of assumptions. It might be thought that Hodgson’s imaginative powers grew steadily from BoGC through to NL as he felt confident enough to take on larger, more complex themes and ideas. However, it could also indicate that Hodgson’s writing style (or discretion in choosing one) declined as he used more and more “gimmicks” like archaicism to write his novels. “The title of his novel was The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig,’ written in an 18th century manner that presaged his experiment in writing The Night Land in a 17th century style” (OoS 47). It was not an especially complimentary picture, but it showed Hodgson as a writer whose ideas, if not his actual writing skills, were developing. The truth turns out to be even more unusual and raises entirely new questions about Hodgson and his career.

In the summer of 1991, I was informed by S.T. Joshi (who was aware of the research I was conducting on Hodgson for a critical study) that someone had obtained access to a large number of previously unknown Hodgson letters which gave the impression that Hodgson had actually wrote his novels in reverse order, with NL being the first and BoGC being written last. At the time, I was somewhat incredulous. Trying hard to keep an open mind, I felt that perhaps the letters had been misread, as it did not seem likely that 1) Hodgson would have kept manuscripts sitting idle for so long, and 2) that he was capable of producing NL as his first novel. Upon rechecking the available source material, I could find no mention of such a theory. But Moskowitz does state the possibility that “this novel [NL] may have been in the works as far back as 1906″ (OoS 94). The implication is that it may have been finished earlier than publication and heavily revised by Hodgson up to that point. Still, all critics and scholars were ignorant of such a radical theory.

In September of 1991, I acquired photocopies of nine letters, written by Hodgson to Coulson Kernahan, from the Harry Ransom Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Previously published Hodgson letters had proven to be little more than variations of the ‘thanks for the kind words about my story’ variety, and there was little reason to believe that these letters would be any different. They would, in fact, change many preconceptions about Hodgson and his novels.

In a letter dated September 25, 1905, Hodgson writes: “I’ve just finished my fourth [my italics] book–Hooray!!!!!!!” Later in the letter he writes, “The title of the book is The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig,’ and I’ve tried hard to be commonplace [my italics] in it; but, I’m afraid, with but poor success. I cannot ride above that failing of mine which urges me to write original stuff.” This statement verifies positively that not only was BoGC Hodgson’s fourth (and not his first) novel, but that he had written all four by September 1905. In his letter of April 28, 1905, Hodgson states: “It’ll be three years in August since I commenced, and where am I!” This means that the four novels were written in less than three years between August 1902 (at which point we are to presume that Hodgson became a ‘serious’ writer) to September 1905. This is a prodigious feat when we consider the vast length of NL (over 200,000 words) and the lengths of the other novels as well.

Later in the Sept. 25, 1905, letter, Hodgson states: “You may be interested to know that The House of Mysteries has been refused twenty-one times, and The Ghost Pirates fourteen. SO I’ve put the naughty pirates to bed in the house of mysteries, and there I’ll let ’em rest until there’s a Publisher comes to me and begs to be plundered, then–” The House of Mysteries is probably an alternate title to HoB. Its having garnished twenty-one rejections to GP‘s fourteen suggests that HoB was finished before GP. The number of rejections indicates that HoB may have been finished sometime in early 1904, with GP being finished around the winter of 1904-1905.

So the actual order of completion becomes:

1. THE NIGHT LAND (1903?)

2. THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND (1904)

3. THE GHOST PIRATES (1905)

4. THE BOATS OF THE ‘GLEN CARRIG’ (1905)

As opposed to a publication order of:

1. THE BOATS OF THE ‘GLEN CARRIG’ (1907)

2. THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND (1908)

3. THE GHOST PIRATES (1909)

4. THE NIGHT LAND (1912)

While NL is never specifically mentioned in these letters, Hodgson makes a passing reference to one of the most significant creations in his fictional world. In the closing of his January 17, 1905, letter, Hodgson writes: “if thou hast come thorough [sic] so far as this in safety, I will commend thee to the Watchers [my italics].” This mention of the watchers points to the creatures in NL, showing that Hodgson had already developed the concept, to some extent, by 1905. This makes it likely that NL was the first book that Hodgson wrote, and would seem to confirm the belief that Hodgson revised NL until its publication in 1912.

This concern over the order of composition of the novels may seem of little importance until we consider the implications toward Hodgson’s work overall. Under the previous publication theory, we considered NL as part of a natural growth in Hodgson’s movement toward more complex themes and ideas. Now we have proof that NL was the first book written and BoGC was actually the last. In effect, Hodgson moved away from NL’s quasi-science fiction scenario (which contained an astounding number of original conceptions) and toward BoGC‘s more basic adventure slant. But ever here, Hodgson could not content himself with writing mere ordinary adventure. ” . . . I’ve tried hard to be commonplace with it; but, I’m afraid, with poor success. I cannot ride above that failing of mine which urges me to write original stuff.” BoGC is filled with such touches as “The Land of Lonesomeness” and vicious weed men that separates it from more traditional adventure fare. Hodgson’s mention of the “commonplace” is the most significant phrase in these letters. It means that he began his novel writing career with an explosion of originality that he found to be totally unmarketable. To be fair, the actual cause may be due more to the poor writing style than the plot but either case is hardly encouraging. From this point, he begins to tone down his writing and ideas in order to have a better chance of selling his work.

Hodgson was a “working man’s” writer. He approached the task like any other job and was extremely concerned with selling his work. In the letter dated November 17, 1903, Hodgson states that he has received a total of 427 rejections since starting his writing career. His letters are filled with references to trying to sell his work to “fill his belly”. Hodgson was keenly aware of the relationship between selling his material and eating, and this obviously affected his decision on what and how to write. So, in effect, Hodgson tempers his imagination after NL and HoB and begins to concentrate on more salable work. It is interesting to note, then, that he moves away from work that is purely imaginative and begins to focus on the sea, a topic he had known only too well in his youth. Finding publishers unreceptive to his “flights of fancy”, Hodgson buckles down to the more “normal” concepts of GP and BoGC. It was a natural transition for him, as the sea was one area he could write about with authority and passion.

Which brings us to another conclusion about Hodgson’s writing style. It is now obvious that HoB was not a harbinger of NL but that their relationship is actually completely opposite. Hodgson is not using HoB as an experiment toward perfecting the style for NL but is actually trying to get away from that style. Still unable to completely abandon the seventeenth-century style, he modifies it into the “affected” eighteenth century style which makes the novel still clumsy but more accessible than NL. In GP, he uses the language and lore of the sea to give the novel a “realistic” feel, and shows more control of his language and style. It is still a potentially annoying style, but a definite step away from that of NL and HoB. When he finishes the group with BoGC, Hodgson has managed to rid himself of these affectations of style and produces a book written in a flat but serviceable tone. With each book, Hodgson learns better control of language and more writing savvy and eventually begins to develop his own voice.

This revelation enables us to understand Hodgson’s growth as a writer much better. We can more easily chart his development through this order of composition than we were able to under the publishing order. Still, it manages to raise several interesting questions of its own. Most notably is why, if Hodgson had finished all four novels by 1905, he never wrote another before his death in 1918. It is possible that he concentrated on his short story sales, as they gave him much more financial compensation than the novels ever did. It could also be that, drifting more and more into salable “straight” adventure and genre stories, he felt that another novel would not satisfy his desire to be original. He had placed all his hopes on NL, and when that became a critical success but a financial failure, he may have been too depressed to consider doing another. Answers to such questions as these are not available now, but could be discovered if more Hodgson letters materialize. Until then, we can only wonder what wonderfully imaginative excesses like The Night Land may have been lost because of an unappreciative public.

Works Cited

Hodgson, William Hope. The Night Land. London: Sphere, 1981. (NL).

Hodgson, William Hope. Out of the Storm. Edited by Sam Moskowitz. West Kingston, R.I.: Donald M. Grant, 1975. (OoS)

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