Every writer starts somewhere. William Hope Hodgson struggled until his made his first sale too.
After closing his “School of Physical Culture” in 1903, William Hope Hodgson decided to become a full time writer. He did not have a particularly easy time with it. After receiving some early affirmations by selling non-fiction articles about exercise, WHH would face a series of rejections that could have ended his career before it even started.
In a 1905 letter to a friend, Coulson Kernahan, WHH mentions that he has received “424 REFUSALS of all kinds of stuff”1 since beginning his writing career. By this time, WHH has already written his four novels and a number of short stories. Despite some early successes, WHH was certainly feeling stress and pressure.
Even though he suffered many rejections during this period, 1904 provided Hodgson with a major accomplishment; his first published short story. It was “The Goddess of Death” and appeared in the April, 1904, issue of The Royal Magazine.
The story concerns a small town that is being terrorized by a series of mysterious deaths that the townsfolk believe are being caused by a marble statue. Every night, they claim, it comes to life and strangles innocents. Not to be beaten, the narrator and his friend conspire to find out the truth and narrowly escape death themselves.
Although the mystery is found to have a rational explanation (much in the same way some Carnacki stories are resolved), there are moments of atmospheric horror that bode well for the beginning writer. The style of the story is strong and confident, showing an author who is already well in control of his language and skills. We already see some of Hodgson’s interest in horror with the depiction of the ‘statue’ stalking the narrator who looks in terror to see that the statue’s pedestal is empty.
Sam Moskowitz maintains that this story had a beginning in a real incident in Hodgson’s life. “His decision to make a try at fiction was a logical move and how he came to write his first saleable story is remembered by brother Chris Hodgson. In Blackburn Park there was a pond, and in the center of that pond was a statue of Flora, the Greek goddess of flowers. Utilizing the statues as his focus, he wrote a short story of a town in which a dozen people had been murdered in a small park, by something which resembled the statue in the center of the pond.”2 Hodgson changed the statue from Flora to that of Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Death and created his first published story.
Although Moskowitz describes this story as “far-fetched, improbable, but reasonably competent”, it is actually one of Hodgson’s more entertaining ‘minor’ stories. The characters are not particularly fully realized but the thrill of adventure and chill of horror comes through. It can easily stand with other thriller stories of the period.
Unfortunately, this would be Hodgson’s only published fiction piece in 1904. In 1905, he would again publish only one story, “A Tropical Horror”, and it would not be until 1906 that his sales would begin to increase.
“The Goddess of Death” has a special place in Hodgson’s work because it was his first published story but, even with this early work, WHH showed some of the genius that was to follow.
Want to read “The Goddess of Death”?? Click on this link:
This webpage reprints the story and also features the original art from the first appearance way back in 1904.
- Hodgson, William Hope. The Uncollected William Hope Hodgson, Volume One. Edited by Sam Gafford. Bristol, RI: Hobgoblin Press, 1995; pg 36.
- Hodgson, William Hope. Out of the Storm. Edited by Sam Moskowitz. W. Kingston, RI: Donald M. Grant, 1975; pg. 29.