Recently someone asked me a very good question which I hadn’t considered before; “I’ve never read any William Hope Hodgson, where should I start?”
Sometimes it’s difficult for me to remember what it was like when I started to read Hodgson. I was first introduced to his work via H.P. Lovecraft’s seminal essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature. HPL had read all four novels and the Carnacki collection and was very enthusiastic about them. So much so that blurbs from HPL would appear on the covers of Hodgson paperbacks for many years to come!
Sadly, however, there is no evidence that HPL ever read any of Hodgson’s shorter fiction outside of the Carnacki stories. One wonders what he would have thought of “The Voice in the Night”, “From the Tideless Sea” and others.
So here’s a sort of ‘Beginner’s Guide’ to Hodgson. Depending upon your time and ambition, I would divide Hodgson’s work into two categories: Short Stories and Novels.
When beginning to read Hodgson, it is wise to begin with his best work as listed below.
“The Voice in the Night” is arguably Hodgson’s best and most famous story. Frequently reprinted since its first appearance in 1907, it remains as powerful today as it was then. During a calm, two sailors are spending time on deck at night when they are hailed by a mysterious figure in a small boat. Although begging for supplies, the figure refuses to come close to the boat or within the light. Later, he relates a tale of unrelenting horror about his fate. This is actually the only sea horror story of Hodgson’s to be filmed, first as an episode of the TV show Suspicion and then later as the Japanese horror movie, Matango.
“From the Tideless Sea” was the first story that Hodgson set in his fictional version of the ‘Sargasso Sea’. It set the tone for many of his later stories. Stuck in a sea of immoveable weeds, survivors have to fight for their lives against giant sea-monsters and other terrors. The sequel, “More News from the Homebird”, is frequently combined with the first story in anthologies.
“The Derelict” is another of Hodgson’s more famous stories. It is a masterful blending of science fiction and the sea when a mysterious Derelict is found wandering the ocean.
In “A Tropical Horror”, a ship is suddenly attacked by a giant sea creature, leaving the crew to fight for their lives.
“Out of the Storm” features the terror laden messages from a telegraph operator as his ship is bashed by a merciless storm.
Other exceptional sea horror stories include “The Haunted Pampero”, “Demons of the Sea” and “An Adventure of the Deep Waters”.
One of Hodgson’s most successful characters is “Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder”. Unique among other ‘psychic’ detectives, Carnacki faced his cases with a blend of supernatural and science. Carnacki was as likely to solve the ‘hauntings’ with his camera or ‘electric pentacle’ of light as he would with the mysterious “Saaamaaa Ritual”. I recommend all of the Carnacki stories but, if you want to start with the best, you can’t go wrong with “The Whistling Room” or “The Hog”.
In “The Whistling Room”, Carnacki is called in to investigate a room in a castle which emits an eerie, whistling sound. When Carnacki is tricked into entering the room, he faces a fight against a powerful supernatural entity.
“The Hog” is possibly the best Carnacki story of all. A short novel, Carnacki attempts to help a man who is the victim of terrible nightmares. Unexpectedly, Carnacki finds himself battling a swine type entity from ‘outside’ that is attempting to break through to our reality.
Hodgson’s novel are a different matter. In order of publication, they are: The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (1907), The House on the Borderland (1908), The Ghost Pirates (1909) and The Night Land (1912).
I would, by no means, recommend starting with The Night Land. In addition to the writing style, it is a huge book and, like Moby Dick has conquered many who have tried to tackle it. The saga of a man journeying across a darkened world after the death of the sun is unbelievably imaginative and powerful but could put off new Hodgson readers.
I would actually recommend that the novels be read in the following order: Boats, Ghost Pirates, House on the Borderland and finally, The Night Land. This is a progression from the more straight forward adventure of Boats through more imaginative explorations of planes of reality in Ghost Pirates and House on the Borderland.
Everyone has their favorites, of course, and my favorite Hodgson novel is The Ghost Pirates. I feel that, in this novel, Hodgson combines his knowledge of sea-life with not just horror but science fiction as the haunted sailors try to understand the nature of the ghosts and where they come from.
So, the question is, “where do I find all of this stuff?”
Well, if you refer to my earlier post, “Free Hodgson”, you can get all of the novels and a couple of the short stories free online.
Many of these are also available either for free or cheaply via Amazon’s Kindle at:
Hope this helps everyone who’s been curious about Hodgson but didn’t know where to start! If you need any more suggestions, just leave me a comment!