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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1 Comment

Filed under William Hope Hodgson

One response to “WHH: Master of the Weird and Fantastic by H.C. Koenig

  1. Congratulations on obtaining these reprints!! A real coup. I shall read the eagerly.

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