Although Hodgson once saved a crewman who had fallen overboard into shark infested waters, it would be up to another man to save Hodgson in a completely different way.
It is rare when we can look at something, point to one person and say, “If not for him, this would not have happened.” In the case of William Hope Hodgson, we can point to H. C. Koenig and say, “If not for him, WHH would have been forgotten.”
After Hodgson died in 1918, his work began to languish. Despite his widow’s best efforts (including reprints of his novels and collections in a ‘cheap edition’ by Holden & Hardingham in 1921), Hodgson’s voice was growing quieter. He had become a cult writer known almost exclusively to collectors of horror fiction.
Enter H. C. Koenig.
Herman Charles Koenig was born on November 28, 1893, the seventh and last child of Herman and Anna Koenig. Growing up in Hoboken, New Jersey, H.C. was offered scholarships to Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Cooper Union Institute in New York City. He would graduate from the Cooper Union Institute in 1915, magna cum laude, with a degree in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. H.C. would work as an Electrical Engineer for the remainder of his life but it would be book collecting that would become his driving passion.
Beginning in his youth, H.C. had an interest in ‘pulp fiction’ which blossomed into a love for all kinds of books and first editions but fantasy and science fiction classics in particular. “Excepting my family, of course, books and friends are my most important possessions, and I like to write and talk about them.” 1
Amassing an incredible collection, H.C. would write about them for his own magazine Reader and Collector which was distributed through the amateur press association, FAPA (the Fantasy Amateur Press Association). Books, and the sharing of them, were a major part of Koenig’s life.
“As a true book lover and collector, HCK never sold one of his books, but he readily shared them with others. If he had an extra book and wanted one from another collector, he offered an exchange. He deeply respected the value and power of the printed word. HCK frequently protested the growing commercialization among fantasy readers and collectors, where books would be bought and sold at ridiculously inflated prices. Rarely, he wrote, did he buy books from fellow fans.”2
It was this generosity that would lead to Hodgson’s rescue from obscurity.
In 1933, avid book collector Koenig wrote to H.P. Lovecraft wanting to know details about Lovecraft’s cursed book, The Necronomicon, and how he could acquire a copy. After breaking the news about his literary ‘hoax’ to Koenig, the two men would form a friendship that would last until Lovecraft’s death in 1937.
It was Koenig who, in 1934, first introduced Lovecraft to Hodgson’s work. An uncommonly generous man, Koenig was in the habit of loaning books from his collection to his friends. Ever enthusiastic about Hodgson, Koenig passed along his collection of WHH’s four novels and an edition of Carnacki to Lovecraft who, in turn, passed them along his circle.3
Lovecraft’s delight was almost immediate. In a 1934 letter to E. Hoffman Price, Lovecraft proclaims that he is “still reveling in the discovery of William Hope Hodgson—which, as I told you, I owe to the always-accommodating Koenig.”4
Indeed, Lovecraft was so impressed by Hodgson’s work that he wrote an essay about Hodgson and included it in a revision of his ground-breaking essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature” in 1934. Sadly, the amateur magazine that was serializing the essay, The Fantasy Fan, ceased production before that particular chapter could be printed. Lovecraft then took the Hodgson essay and had it printed as “The Weird Work of William Hope Hodgson” in an issue of Phantagraph (another amateur publication). Koenig would reprint it himself in an issue of his own amateur magazine, The Reader and Collector, in 1944.
Although the full version of “Supernatural Horror in Literature” did not see print until Arkham House’s The Outsider and Others in 1939, it would become a cornerstone for those wishing to expand their reading beyond Lovecraft. My own first introduction to Hodgson would come from reading this essay in a later Arkham House book, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales. Many other fans would claim their first interest in Hodgson was inspired by this essay which would not have been possible had Koenig not lent Lovecraft those books in the first place.
Even if Koenig had done nothing else, his bringing Hodgson to Lovecraft’s attention would have inspired hundreds (maybe even thousands) to seek out Hodgson’s work themselves. But Koenig did not stop there.
Hodgson’s widow, Bessie, died in 1943 and his literary estate passed to his sister, Lissie. As part of his program to keep WHH alive, Koenig had loaned the copies of his Hodgson books to Mary Gnaedinger, the editor of the pulp magazine, Famous Fantastic Mysteries. Gnaedinger agreed with Koenig about the quality of Hodgson’s writing and accepted “The Derelict” for the December, 1943, issue. Sam Moskowitz notes that this magazine had “50,000 or more readers”5 and the reaction to the story by fans had been very positive.
Encouraged by that reaction, and by Koenig, Gnaedinger published Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates in the March 1944 issue. But there was a problem. “To fit it into the same issue with the novel The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton, editor Gnaedinger cut 10,000 words from what was already a short novel, or more than 20% of its total length!”6 The reader reaction was not as favorable this time but Famous Fantastic Mysteries pushed forward with a reprint of Boats of the “Glen Carrig” in their June, 1945, this time the novel appeared uncut and the reaction was very enthusiastic .
However, in 1946, Koenig’s championing efforts would have their greatest success yet.
After years of urging by Koenig, Arkham House published its 16th book: The House on the Borderland and Other Novels. This book combined all four of WHH’s novels into one omnibus edition along with an essay by Koenig (from his own magazine, Reader and Collector) and a bibliography of Hodgson’s works. It was Koenig who had inspired Derleth’s interest in Hodgson and who had loaned Derleth his copies of the novels for the new compilation. It would be the “largest volume Arkham House would ever produce, 639 pages in eight-point type, totaling 350,000 words”.7
Encouraged by the good reviews of House on the Borderland and Other Novels, Derleth contacted Lissie Hodgson about reprinting Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder. Astonishingly, Moskowitz states that it was Koenig who had, in his possession, two ‘unpublished’ Carnacki stories that Derleth wanted to include. These stories were “The Find” and “The Hog”. So, once again, we owe Koenig a debt for finding and preserving these tales. They would be included in all subsequent editions of Carnacki.
When Derleth began to look for more of Hodgson’s short stories in 1949 (which would eventually be published in Deep Waters, 1967), he turned to Lissie and, once again, H.C. Koenig. Although it would take many years for the book to finally be published, Koenig contributed some more stories to keep Hodgson alive.
During the 1950s, both Derleth and Koenig would become entangled in a lengthy and confusing series of communication with Lissie over first the reprinting of “The Voice in the Night” in one of the popular Alfred Hitchcock anthologies and then over the adaptation of the story in the television series Suspicion.
As Moskowitz shows, Lissie often created more obstacles to Hodgson’s acceptance than anyone. (see Mokowitz’s introduction to Terrors of the Sea, 1996.) During this exchange, Koenig was facing ill health following a series of heart attacks. He would finally succumb to these on July 6, 1959. In a letter to Frances Dudley (Lissie’s companion and recipient of Hodgson’s literary estate upon Lissie’s death on May 4th, 1959), Derleth conveys the news and expresses his debt to Koenig:
“I am sorry that he is gone, for he more than anyone else was instrumental in persuading me to publish the books of the late Mr. Hodgson.”8
Koenig’s contribution to keeping Hodgson’s work alive is overwhelming. Consider this fact; except for the pulp appearances in Famous Fantastic Mysteries noted above, Hodgson’s novels were not reprinted between 1921 and 1946. That 25 years was enough to throw WHH into relative obscurity and, if not for the Arkham House edition in 1946, he would be forgotten today.
So we say, “Thank you, Mr. Koenig”. Because of him, Hodgson is still read, published and appreciated today and he is “the man who saved Hodgson”.
1. Biancheri, Eugene. H.C. Koenig: Reader and Collector: A Biographical Sketch with an Annotated Bibliography. Wayne, NJ: 2004. Pg 3.
2. Ibid, pg 6.
3. Joshi, S.T. & Schultz, David. An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Hippocampus Press, 2004.
4. Lovecraft, H.P. Selected Letters, Vol. V. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1976, pg 26.
5. Hodgson, William Hope. Terrors of the Sea, edited by Sam Moskowitz. Hampton Falls, NH: Donald M. Grant, 1996, pg 15.
6. Ibid, pg 16.
7. Ibid, pg 20.
8. Ibid, pg 48.