My First Hodgson


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.

Short Stories

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.

Novels

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:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=william+hope+hodgson

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!

–Sam Gafford

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12 Comments

Filed under Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson

12 responses to “My First Hodgson

  1. Micky

    Well, it is hard to tell where to start aa author because there are good writers who wrote several bad stories and if one begins one’s reading with the bad ones it may put him off from reading more by the same author (I can hardly tell I would have had the same intrest in WWH, had I started with Hodgson’s tales like “The Captain Of The Onion Boat” or “My House Shall Be Called A House of Prayer”) and the same rule applies vice versa – you can hit upon a bad author who wrote one or two good pieces which lulles you into more reading of his work only for you to say the twenty or thirty stories by him was a waste of time (I remember W.C.Morrow whose stories are not up too much but his tale “The Monster-Maker, a lovecraftian story about a mad scientist, written 1897, is really great)
    For those unfamiliar with Hodgson’s work I would recomend the stories which are avaible online.

    The House On The Borderland (horror novel)
    The Ghost Pirates (marine horror novel)
    Through The Vortex Of A Cyclone (marine story)
    The Derelict (marine horror story)
    The House Among The Laurels (Carnacki series horror story; the first Hodgson’s story I read and I chose it only because I liked the title :-))
    The Haunting Jarvee (another Carnacki horror piece)
    The Terror Of The Water Tank (horror story)
    Eloi, eloi, lama sabchthani aka Baumoff’s explosive (horror story suggestive of Lovecraft’s “From Beyond”)

    Take care
    Micky

  2. Eric

    Hi,

    I’m new to this blog and linked here from the Index you created recently.

    “The Ghost Pirates” is a good choice for favorite. Out of all of his novels, it has the most fully-realized characters; every named character in it had distinct mannerisms and personalities.

    That said, I always felt that GP’s climax was far too rushed considering all the build-up it got. If it wasn’t for this, it might’ve been my favorite too. As it is, I prefer “Boats”; it has less-memorable cast, but it’s just as imaginative, and the action scenes (I put Hodgson right up there with pulp legend Robert E. Howard when it comes to pacing fight scenes) are so good that they still hold up well today.

    • Hi, Eric!
      You raise a lot of good points and I do agree that “Boats” works very well as an action novel. In fact, I am stunned that it has never been made into a movie. It would seem like the perfect plot for a film. As I wrote in my essay, “Writing Backward”, WHH actually wrote “Ghost Pirates” BEFORE “Boats”. In a way, it showed WHH moving away from more ‘insubstantial’ concepts such as the ones represented in “GP” to the more straight-forward action of “Boats”.

      • Eric

        Wait. YOU were the one who wrote that essay? Wow. Someone showed it to me about a year ago, and I never imagined I’d actually be talking with the author. Well, as a Hodgson fan, let me just say thank you for helping shed light onto this fascinating man, both through that essay and through this great blog.

        Going back to what we were discussing though, I see “GP” and “Boats” as direct opposites. In both “House” and “Night Land” the horror came from two sources: direct physical attack (which is more in the vein of Howard) and the implications of the concepts themselves (which is more in the vein of Lovecraft). The other two books, however, each go for one of the extremes.

        “Boats” has some weird stuff, sure, but the horror is driven solely by said weird stuff attacking the heroes. Alternatively, “GP” is driven almost entirely by its ideas; other than the climax, it has no real action, and its horror almost entirely comes from creating “what if” scenarios and then exploring the consequences of said scenarios in drawn-out, nighmarish detail.

  3. Have you seen the huge Centipede Press book of his 4 novels and short stories?
    http://www.centipedepress.com/masters/hodgsonmwt.html

    • I know OF it and have seen pictures of it but, as much as I would love to have a copy, that is just too much for the budget to afford at the moment. Maybe someday because I’d sure love a chance to read and review it! (In case anyone from Centipede is listening! lol)

  4. My tendency, when approaching any newly discovered author, and such is the case here for me with Hodgson, is to first gain a basic understanding of who the author is, their background, upbringing, and overarching highlights of their life. Then armed with some background understanding I approach their work chronologically. This way I can see more clearly how they perfect their craft over time, and/or hit a highlight and fall into mediocrity with less than prolific works as time goes on. That said, I’ve completely abandoned any personal precepts and have attacked Hodgson’s work in the manner as prescribed by Sam. To get a flavor for his style I have now read The Voice in the Night and am about to dive into From the Tideless Sea. I may, or may not, read The Derelict before I move over to his novels, of which my Kindle is currently armed with The Boats of the Glen Carrig. I’m hoping to see more posted here down the road dissecting some of Hodgson’s work. I’d love to be able to discuss in further detail as I go on through the various texts.

    Personally speaking, for someone who grew up on the coast, and spent much time out on the water, sailing in the Gulf of Maine, working at the Maine Maritime Museum, and ultimately serving in the Navy, I’m a big fan of nautical fiction, ghost stories, monsters, etc. How I never knew of this author before is mind-boggling, especially when I eventually majored in English at college!

    • Marc, Thanks for the comment! I’m thrilled to be able to introduce WHH to new readers. That’s one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place. But, I also did it to encourage discussion and study about WHH and his works. There hasn’t been a whole lot of Hodgson criticism and I’d like to change that. If possible, I will try and reprint some older examples (including some of my own work) but I do have to be respectful of copyrights. Thanks again and please continue to spread the word about WHH and this blog!

  5. I’d love to hear what you recommend as the essential nonfiction (and poetry) as well. I’m at the stage where I’ve read the essentials listed, many another title, and am desirous of becoming a Hodgson completist.

    • Well, non-fiction and poetry are different fish, so to speak. A lot of the non-fiction also depends on what you’re reading for. Some are good insights to his life on the sea and others are somewhat ‘dry’ (unless you have an interest in physical culture). But that’s a good subject for an upcoming post! Thanks!

  6. Massimo, well, that chronology order is a bit of a touchy subject as we both know! But I will assume that you are referring to the chronology of PUBLICATION dates. I certainly don’t think that following that order will be wrong or incorrect. For my mind, I just feel that there is a better flow of ideas if we follow the Boats-GP-House-NL order. The reason being that Boats is (more or less) a sea adventure/horror novel. In GP, we still get that sea aspect but we begin to deal with the concepts of other dimensions and realms which comes to the forefront in HOUSE. But, in the end, it is best that people follow whatever order they find suits their interests and tastes the most. Some may find NL better to start with. That’s entirely up to them. In other words, I don’t care how readers find Hodgson, as long as they find him! lol

  7. Sam I fully agree with you that, for a person who doesn’t know any Hodgson and wants to have a general idea of his fiction, the best is to start by reading his masterpieces. I agree also the order of the novels you suggest, though personally I started with “The House on the Borderland” and continued with “The Night Land”, that I still consider his most complex – and fascinating – long works. Instead if our reader wants to really study Hodgson, read him all and follow the evolution of his themes, style, and syntax, I would definitely recommend to proceed with the good old chronological order (at least for those works whose chronology is ascertained). What do you think? I followed the chronological order when I read Lovecraft’s omnia, and I will never regret that because it gave me an invaluable insight to the development of his genius.

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