Monthly Archives: August 2012

“More News from the Homebird”


Today we present the sequel to yesterday’s Sargasso Sea story, “More News from the Homebird”.

This story was first published in BLUE BOOK MAGAZINE in August, 1907 (in the U.S.) and didn’t appear in England until May, 1911, in THE LONDON MAGAZINE where it was titled “The Fifth Message from the Tideless Sea”.  As noted yesterday, this story is usually combined with “From the Tideless Sea” in reprints from that point on.

This is the last story from Hodgson about the survivors of the Homebird.  Their final fate remains unknown.  Perhaps some other enterprising writer (John B. Ford, perhaps?) will one day finish this tale?

This version is from the 1911 appearance in the LONDON MAGAZINE and contains the original artwork used in that publication.  Both come from the website http://www.amalgamatedspooks.com/ which reprints many old Victorian ghost stories.  Despite it not having been updated in some time, I encourage everyone to check out the site!  This version is somewhat different from the ‘authentic’ version that was reprinted in Hodgson’s collection, MEN OF THE DEEP WATERS, most specifically in the ‘historical’ note which begins the tale.  My assumption is that this was likely an editorial decision in terms of space, word count, etc.  Enjoy!

     “THE FIFTH MESSAGE FROM THE TIDELESS SEA”

by William Hope Hodgson

    In the August of 19—, Captain Bateman, of the schooner “Agnes,” picked up a small barrel, upon which was painted a half-obliterated word, which, finally, he succeeded in deciphering as “Homebird,” the name of a full-rigged ship, which left London in the November of 187__ and from thenceforth was heard of no more by any man.

Captain Bateman opened the barrel, and discovered a packet of manuscript, wrapped in oilskin. This, on examination, proved to be papers written by one Arthur Samuel Philips, a surviving passenger of the “Homebird” amid the desolate wastes of the Sargasso Sea. The document is as follows:

This is the fifth message that I have sent abroad over the loathsome surface of this vast Weed-World, praying that it may come to the open sea ere the lifting power of my fire-balloon be gone, and yet, if it come there, how shall I be the better for it? Yet write I must, or go mad, and so I choose to write, though feeling as I write that no living creature, save it be some giant octopus that lives in the weed about me, will ever see the thing I write.

It is now six complete years since the Weed-World claimed us—I and my wife— from the world of the living—six years away from our brothers and sisters of the human and living world! It is six years living in a grave! And there are all the years ahead! Oh! My God! My God! I dare not think upon them! I must control myself—and then there is the little one: she is nearly four-and-a-half now, and growing wonderfully, out among these wilds. Four-and-a-half years, and the little woman has never seen a human face besides ours—think of it! And yet, if she lives four-and-forty years, she will never see another. . . . Four-and-forty years! It is foolishness to trouble about such a space of time, for the future for us ends in ten years—eleven at the utmost. Our food will last no longer than that.

. . . My wife does not know, for it seems to me a wicked thing to add unnecessarily to her punishment. She does but know that we must waste no ounce of food-stuff, and for the rest she imagines that the most of the cargo is of an edible nature. Perhaps I have nurtured this belief. If anything happened to me the food would last for a few extra years for only two, but my wife would have to imagine it an accident, else would each bite she took sicken her. I have thought often and long upon this matter, yet I fear to leave them; for who knows but what their very lives might depend upon my lost strength, even more so, perhaps, than upon the food which they must come at last to lack. No, I must not bring upon them, and myself, a certain calamity to defer one that has a little less certainty and is at a further distance.

Until lately nothing has happened to us in the past four years, if I except the adventures that attended my mad attempt to cut a way through the surrounding weed to freedom, and from which it pleased God that I and those with me should be preserved. Yet in the latter part of this year an adventure, much touched with grimness, came to us most unexpectedly, in a fashion quite unthought of—an adventure that has brought into our lives a fresh and more active peril; for now I have learned that the weed holds other terrors besides that of the giant octopi. Indeed, I have grown to believe this world of desolation capable of holding any horror, as well it might. Think of it—an interminable stretch of olive-brown loneliness in all directions to the distant horizon; a place where monsters of the deep and the weed have undisputed reign! I cannot describe it, nor can any hope ever to imagine it. When the wind falls, a vast silence holds us girt all about, yet it is a silence through which one seems to feel the pulse of hidden things all about us, watching and waiting—waiting and watching; waiting but for the chance to reach forth in a huge death-grapple. … It is no use, I cannot bring it home to any, nor shall I be better able to convey the frightening sound of the wind sweeping across these vast, quaking plains—the shrill whispering of the weed-fronds under the stirring of the winds; to hear it beyond our canvas screen is like to listening to the uncounted dead of the mighty Sargasso wailing their own requiems. Or again, my fancy, diseased with much loneliness and brooding, likens it to the advancing rustle of armies of the great monsters that are always about us—waiting.

And so to the coming of this new terror:

It was in the latter end of October that we first had knowledge of it. I was down in the lazarette overhauling our stores, and suddenly I heard it—tap—tap—tap—against the outside of the vessel upon the starboard side, and below the water-line. I stood for a while listening, but could not come at what it was that should come a-tapping against our side away out here in this lonesome world of weed and slime. And then, as I stood there listening, the tapping ceased, and so I waited, wondering, and with a hateful sense of fear weakening my manhood and taking the courage out of my heart. …

Abruptly it recommenced, but now upon the opposite side of the vessel, and as it continued I fell into a great sweat, for it seemed to me that some foul thing out in the night was tapping for admittance. Tap—tap—tap it went, and continued, and there I stood listening, and so gripped about with frightened thoughts, that I seemed without power to stir myself; for the spell of the Weed-World, and the fear bred of its hidden terrors and the weight and dreeness of its loneliness were entered into my marrow.

Presently, however, I shook off something of the foolish fright that had taken me, and moved over to the place from whence the tapping seemed to sound. Coming close to it, I bent my head down close to the side of the vessel, and listened. Thus I heard the noises with greater plainness, and could distinguish easily now that something knocked with a hard object upon the outer side of the ship, as though someone had been striking the outer iron with a small hammer. Then, even as I listened, came a thunderous blow close to my ear, so loud and astonishing that I leaped sideways in sheer fright. Directly afterwards there came a second heavy blow, and then a third, as though someone had struck the ship’s side with a heavy sledge-hammer, and after that a space of silence in which I heard my wife’s voice at the trap of the lazarette calling down to me to know what had happened to cause so great a noise.

“Hush, my dear!” I whispered, for it seemed to me that the thing outside might hear her. Though this could not have been possible, and I do but mention it as showing how the noises had set me off my natural balance.

At my whispered command, my wife turned her about and came down the ladder into the semi-darkness of the place.

“What is it, Arthur?” she asked, coming to my side and slipping her hand between my arm and side.

As though in reply to her query, there came against the outside of the ship a fourth tremendous blow, filling the whole of the lazarette with a dull thunder.

My wife gave out a frightened cry, and sprang away from me; but the next instant she was back, and gripping hard at my arm.

“What is it, Arthur? What is it?” she asked me, her voice, though no more than a frightened whisper, easily heard in the succeeding silence.

“I don’t know, Mary,” I replied, trying to speak in a level tone. “It’s something–”

“There’s something again!” she interrupted, as the minor tapping noises recommenced.

For about a minute we stood silent, listening to those eerie taps. Then my wife turned to me.

“Come up out of this horrible place, Arthur!” she said. “I shall be ill if we stay here any longer. Perhaps the—the thing outside can hear us, and it may stop if we go upstairs.”

At the top we paused for a little to listen, bending down over the open hatchway. A space of, maybe, some five minutes passed away in silence, then there commenced again the tapping noises, the sound coming clearly up to us where we crouched.

I led my wife away from the hatch, guiding her to a seat in the saloon, for the hatch was situated under the saloon table. After that I returned to the opening, and replaced the cover. Then I went into our cabin—the one which had been the captain’s, her father—and brought from thence a revolver, of which we had several. This I loaded with care and afterwards placed in my side-pocket. Having done this, I brought from the pantry, where I have made it my use to keep such things at hand, a bull’s-eye lantern, the same having been intended for use on dark nights when clearing up the ropes from the decks. This I lit, and afterwards turned the dark slide to cover the light. Next I slipped off my boots, and then, as an afterthought, reached down one of the long-handled American axes from the rack about the mizzenmast, those being keen and very formidable weapons. After that, I had to calm my wife, and assure her that I would run no unnecessary risks, if, indeed, there were any risk to run; though, as may be imagined, I could not say what new peril might not be upon us. And then, picking up the lantern, I made my way silently on my stockinged foot up the companionway. I reached the top, and made my way cautiously to the side of the vessel. Here I paused and listened very carefully, being just above that spot upon the port side where I had heard the most part of the tapping, and all of the heavy bangs. Yet, though I listened, as I have said, with much attention, there seemed to be no repetition of the sounds.

Presently I rose and made my way forrard to the break of the poop. Here, bending over the rail which ran across, I listened, peering along the dim main deck, but could see nor hear nothing. Not that, indeed, I had any reason for expecting to see or hear aught unusual aboard of the vessel, for all of the noises had come from over the side, and, more than that, from beneath the water-line. Yet in the state of mind in which I was, I had less use for reason than fancy, for that strange thudding and tapping out in the midst of this world of loneliness had set me vaguely imagining terrors stealing upon me in every shadow that lay upon the dimly seen decks.

Then, as still I listened, hesitating to go down on to the main-deck, yet too dissatisfied with the result of my peerings to cease from my search, I heard, faint yet clear, in the stillness of the night, the tapping noises recommence. I took my weight from off the rail, and listened; but I could no longer hear them, and at that I leant forward again over the rail, and peered down on the main-deck. Immediately the sounds came once more to me, and I knew now that they were borne to me by the medium of the rail, it conducting them to me through the iron stanchions by which it is fixed to the vessel. At that, I turned and went aft along the poop-deck, moving very warily and with quietness. I stopped over the place where first I had heard the noises, and stooped, putting my ear against the rail. Here the sounds came to me with great distinctness. For a little I listened, then stood up, and slid away that part of the tarred canvas screen which covers the opening through which we dump our refuse, they being made here for convenience, one upon each side of the vessel. This I did very silently; then, leaning forward through the opening, I peered down into the dimness of the weed. Even as I did so I heard, plainly below me, a heavy thud, muffled and dull by reason of the intervening water, against the iron side of the ship. It seemed to me that there was some disturbance amid the dark, shadowy masses of the weed. Then I turned off the dark slide of my lantern, and sent a clear beam of light down into the darkness. For a brief instant I thought I perceived a multitude of things moving. Yet, beyond that they were oval in shape, and showed white through the weed fronds, I had no clear conception of anything; for with the flash of the light they vanished, and there lay beneath me only the dark, olive-brown masses of the weed, demurely quiet. Yet an impression they did leave upon my overexcited imagination—an impression that might have been due to morbidity, bred of too much loneliness; but, nevertheless, it seemed to me that I had seen momentarily a multitude of dead, white faces upturned towards me among the meshes of the weed.

 For a little I leant there, staring down at the circle of illumined weed, yet with my thoughts in such a turmoil of frightened doubts and conjectures that my physical eyes did but poor work compared with the orb that looks inward. And through all the chaos of my mind there rose up weird and creepy memories—ghouls, the Un-Dead. And there seemed nothing improbable in associating the terms with the fears that were besetting me. For no man may dare to say what terrors this world holds until he has become lost to his brother men amid the unspeakable desolation of the vast and slimy weed-plains of the Sargasso Sea.

And then, as I leant there, so foolishly exposing myself to those dangers which I had learnt did truly exist, my eyes caught, and sub-consciously noted, the strange and subtle undulation which always foretells the approach of one of the giant octopi. Instantly, I leapt back, and whipped the tarred canvas over across the opening, and so stood alone there in the night, glancing frightenedly before and behind me, the beam from my lamp casting wavering splashes of light to and fro about the decks. And all the time I was listening—listening; for it seemed to me that Terror was brooding above me in the night, and might come upon us at any moment and in any form.

 Then, across the silence, stole a whisper, and I turned swiftly towards the companionway. My wife was there, and she reached out her arms to me, begging me to come below into safety. As the light from my lantern flashed upon her, I saw that she had a revolver in her right hand, and at that, I asked her what she had it for; whereupon she informed me that she had been watching over me through the whole of the time that I had been on deck, save for the time that it had taken her to get and load the weapon.

At that, as may be imagined, I embraced her very heartily, kissing her for the love that had prompted her actions, and then, after that, we spoke a little together in low tones—she asking that I should come down and fasten up the companion-doors, and I demurring; telling her that I felt too unsettled to sleep; but would rather keep watch about the poop for a while longer.

But all was quiet and, presently, I consented to go below and bar up the companion, as my wife desired; for, indeed, there was much sense in her plea of the futility of my staying up upon the decks.

It would be, I would imagine, about two o’clock in the morning that I was aroused from a somewhat troubled sleep by the agonized screaming of our solitary pig away forrard. I leant up upon my elbow, and listened, and so grew speedily wide awake. I sat up, and slid from my cot to the floor. My wife, as I could tell from her breathing, was sleeping peacefully, so that I was able to draw on a few clothes without disturbing her.

Away forrard, the shrieking of the pig had been succeeded by an absolute silence, and there was nowhere any noise, if I except an occasional odd tap-tap which seemed to come from the side of the ship. And so, taking hold of my courage, I stepped out on to the main-deck, and proceeded slowly forrard, throwing the beam of light to and fro continuously as I walked.

Abruptly I heard away in the bows of the ship a sudden multitudinous tapping and scraping and slithering, and so loud and near did it sound that I was brought up all of a round turn, as the saying is.  For perhaps a whole minute I stood there hesitating, and playing the light all about me, not knowing but that some hateful thing might leap upon me from out of the shadows. And then, suddenly, I remembered that I had left the door open behind me that led into the saloon, so that, were there any deadly thing about the decks, it might chance to get in upon my wife and child as they slept. At the thought I turned and ran swiftly aft again, and in through the door to my cabin. Here, I made sure that all was right with the two sleepers, and after that I returned to the deck, shutting the door, and locking it after me.

And now, feeling very lonesome out there upon the dark decks, and cut off in a way from a retreat, I had need of all my manhood to force me forrard to learn the wherefore of the pig’s crying, and the cause of that manifold tapping. Yet go I did, and am proud of the act to this day; for the dreeness and lonesomeness and the cold fear of the Weed-World squeezes the pluck out of one in a very woeful manner.

As I approached the empty fo’cas’le I moved with all wariness, swinging the light to and fro, and holding my axe very handily, and the heart within my breast like a shape of water, so feared was I. Yet, I came at last to the pigsty, and so discovered a most fearsome sight. The pig, a huge boar of twenty-score pounds, had been dragged out on to the deck, and lay before the sty with all his belly ripped up, and stone dead. The iron bars of the sty—stout bars they are, too—had been torn apart as though they had been so many straws, and, for the rest, there was a deal of blood both within the sty and upon the decks.

Yet I did not stay then to see more; for a sudden and overwhelming fear leapt upon me, overbearing my courage, so that I turned and ran like a frightened hare for the shelter of the saloon, and stopped not until the stout door was locked between me and that which had wrought such dire destruction upon the pig. And as I stood there, shivering with very fright, the question kept ever recurring to me—“What manner of wild beast Thing is it that can burst asunder iron bars, and rip the life out of a great boar, as though it were of no more account than a kitten?” And then came the more vital questions: “How did it get aboard, and where is it now?” And then again: “What is it?” And so in this fashion for maybe the better part of an hour, until I had grown something more calmed. And through all the remainder of that night I slept not so much as a wink.

Then in the morning when my wife awoke I told her of the happenings of the night; whereat she turned very white, and fell to reproaching me for going out at all on to the deck, declaring that I had run needlessly into danger, and that, at least, I should not have left her alone sleeping in ignorance of what was towards. And after that she fell into a fit of crying, so that I had some to-do comforting her. Yet, when she had come back to calmness, she was all for accompanying me about the decks to see by daylight what had indeed befallen in the night-time. And from this decision I could not turn her; though I assured her I should have told her nothing, had it not been that I wished to warn her from going to and fro between the saloon and the galley until I had made a thorough search about the decks.

Yet, as I have remarked, I could not turn her from her purpose of accompanying me, and so was forced to let her come, though sorely against my desire. We made our way on deck through the door that opened under the break of the poop, my wife carrying her loaded revolver half clumsily in both hands, whilst I had mine held in my left, and the long-handled axe in my right—holding it very readily. On stepping out on to the deck we closed the door behind us, locking it and removing the key, for we had in mind our sleeping child. Then we went slowly forrard along the decks, glancing about warily. As we came fore-side of the pigsty, and my wife saw that which lay before it, she let out a little exclamation of horror at the sight of the mutilated pig, as, indeed, she might. Yet, on my part, I said nothing; but glanced with much apprehension about us, feeling a fresh access of fright; for it was very plain to me that the boar had been molested since I had seen it—the head having boon torn, with awful might, from the body, and there were, besides, other new and ferocious wounds, one of which had come nigh to severing the poor brute’s body in half All of which was as so much additional evidence of the formidable character of the monster, or monsters, that had attacked the animal.

I did not delay by the pig, nor attempt to touch it; but beckoned my wife to follow me up to the fo’cas’le head. Here I removed the canvas cover from the small skylight which let light into the fo’cas’le beneath, and after that I lifted off the heavy top, letting a flood of light down into the gloomy place beneath. Then I leant down into the opening, and peered about; but could discover no signs of any lurking Thing, and so returned to the main-deck, and made an entrance into the fo’cas’le through the starboard doorway. And now I made a more minute search, but discovered nothing beyond the mournful array of sea-chests that had belonged to our dead crew. My search concluded, I hastened out from the doleful place into the daylight, and after that made fast the door again, and saw to it that the one upon the port side was securely locked. Then I went up again on to the fo’casl’e head, and replaced the skylight-top and the canvas rover, battening the whole down very thoroughly. And in this wise, and with an almost foolish care, did I make my search through the ship, fastening up each place behind me, so that I should be certain that no Thing was playing some dread game of hide and seek with me.

 Yet I found nothing, and, had it not been for the grim evidence of the dead and mutilated boar, I had been like to have thought nothing more dreadful than an over-vivid imagination had roamed the decks in the darkness of the past night. That I had reason to feel puzzled may be the better understood when I explain that I had examined the whole of the great tarred-canvas screen, which I had built about the ship as a protection against the roaming tentacles of the giant octopi, without discovering any torn place such as must have been made if any material monster had climbed aboard out of the weed. Also, it must be borne in mind that the ship stood many feet out of the weed, presenting only her smooth steel sides to anything that desired to climb aboard.

And yet there was the dead pig lying brutally torn before its empty sty!  An undeniable proof that to go out upon the decks after dark was to run the risk of meeting a horrible and mysterious death.

Through all that day I pondered over this new fear that had come upon us, and particularly upon the monstrous and unearthly power that had torn apart the stout iron bars of the sty and so ferociously wrenched off the head of the boar. The result of my pondering was that I removed our sleeping belongings that evening from the cabin to the steel half-deck—a little, four-bunked house standing foreside of the stump of the mainmast, and built entirely of steel even to the single door, which opened out of the after-end. Along with our sleeping matters, I carried forrard to our new lodgings a lamp and oil, also the dark-lantern, a couple of the axes, two rifles, and all of the revolvers, as well as a good supply of ammunition. Then I bade my wife forage out sufficient provisions to last us for a week, if need be, and whilst she was so busied I cleaned out and filled the water-breaker which belonged to the half-deck.

At half-past six I sent my wife forrard to the little steel house, with the baby, and then I locked up the saloon and all of the cabin doors, finally locking after me the heavy teak door that opened out under the break of the poop. Then I went forrard to my wife and child, and shut and bolted the steel door of the half-deck for the night. After that, I went round and saw to it that all of the steel storm-doors that shut over the eight ports of the house were in good working order, and so we sat down, as it were, to await the night.

By eight o’clock the dusk was upon us, and before half-past the night hid all the decks from my sight. Then I shut down all of the steel port-flaps, and screwed them up securely, and after that lit the lamp. And so a space of waiting ensued, during which I whispered reassuringly to my wife, who was looking across at me from her seat beside the sleeping child with frightened eyes, and a very white face; for somehow there had come upon us within the last hour a sense of chilly fright that went straight to one’s heart, robbing one vilely of pluck.

 A little later a sudden sound broke the impressive silence—a sudden dull thud against the side of the ship; and after that there was quietness for maybe a quarter of an hour.

Then, suddenly, I heard away forrard, a tap—tap—tap, and then a loud rattling, slurring noise and a loud crash. After that I heard many other sounds, and always that tap—tap—tap repeated a hundred times, as though an army of wooden-legged men were busied all about the fore-end of the ship.

Presently there came to me the sound of something coming down the deck: tap— tap—tap, it came. It drew near to the house, paused for nigh a minute; then continued away aft towards the saloon—tap—tap—tap. I shivered a little, and then fell half consciously to thanking God that I had been given wisdom to come forrard to the security of the steel deckhouse.

About a minute later I heard the sound of a heavy blow struck somewhere away aft, and after that a second, and then a third, and seeming by the sounds to have been against steel—the steel of the bulkheads that went across the break of the poop. There came the noise of a fourth blow, and it blended into a crash of broken woodwork. And therewith I fell for a little into a sort of tearless quivering, for the little one and my wife might have been sleeping aft there at that very moment, had it not been for the Providential thought which had sent us forrard to the half-deck.

With the crash of the broken door away aft, there came from forrard of us a great tumult of sounds, and directly it sounded as though a multitude of things were coming down the decks. Tap—tap—tap; tap-a-tap, the noises came, and drew abreast of where we sat in the house, crouched, and holding our breaths, for fear that we should make some noise to attract that which was without. The sounds passed us, and went tapping away aft; and a little breath of sheer relief came from me. Then, as a sudden thought came to me, I rose and turned down the lamp, fearing that some ray from it might be seen from beneath the door. And so for the space of an hour we sat wordless, listening to the sounds which came from away aft, the thud of heavy blows, the occasional crash of wood, and presently the tap—tap—tap again, coming forrard towards us.

The sounds came to a stop opposite the starboard side of the house, and, for a full minute, there was quietness. Then, suddenly, “boom!”—a tremendous blow had been struck against the side of the house. I heard my wife give out a little gasping cry; then there came a second blow, and at that the child awoke and began to wail, and my wife was put to it with trying to soothe it into immediate silence. A third blow was struck, filling the little house with a dull thunder of sound, and then I heard the tap—tap—tap move round to the after-end of the house. There came a pause, and then a great blow right upon the door, and at that I grasped the rifle which I had leaned against my chair, and stood up; for I did not know but that the thing might not be upon us in a moment, so prodigious was the force of the blows it struck. Once again it struck the door, and after that went tap—tap—tap round to the port side of the house, and there struck the house again; but now I had more ease of mind, for it was its direct attack upon the door that had put such horrid dread into my heart.

After the blows upon the port side of the house, there came a long spell of silence, as though the thing outside were listening; but, by the mercy of God, my wife had been able to soothe the child, so that no sound from us told of our presence.

Then, at last, there came again the sounds—tap—tap—tap as the silent thing moved away forrard. Presently I heard the noises cease aft, and after that there came a multitudinous tap-a-tapping coming along she decks. It passed the house without so much as a pause, and receded away forrard.

After that, for a space of over two hours, there was an absolute silence, so that I judged that we were now no longer in danger of being molested. An hour later I whispered to my wife; but getting no reply, knew that she had fallen into a doze, and so I sat on listening tensely, yet making no sort of noise that might attract attention.

Presently, by the thin line of light from beneath the door, I saw that the day was breaking, and at that I rose stiffly, and commenced to unscrew the steel port-covers. I unscrewed the forrard ones first, and looked out into the wan dawn; but could discover nothing unusual about so much of the decks as I could see from thence. After that I went round and loosened each as I came to it in its turn; but it was not until I had unscrewed that which gave me a view of the port side of the after main-deck that I discovered anything unusual. Then I saw, at first dimly, but more clearly as the day brightened, that the door leading from beneath the break of the poop into the saloon had been broken to flinders, some of which still hung from the bent hinges, whilst more, no doubt, were strewed in the passage beyond my sight.

Turning from the port, I glanced towards my wife, and saw that she lay half in and half out of the baby’s bunk, sleeping with her head beside the child’s, both upon one pillow.  At the sight, a great wave of thankfulness took me that we had been so wonderfully spared from the terrible and mysterious dangers that had stalked the decks in the darkness of the preceding night. Feeling thus, I stole across the floor of the house and kissed them both very gently, being full of tenderness, yet not minded to waken them. And after that, I lay down in one of the bunks, and slept until the sun was high in the heavens.

 When I awoke, my wife was about and had tended to the child and prepared our breakfast, so that I had naught to do but tumble out and set to, the which I did with a certain keenness of appetite, induced, I doubt not, by the stress of the past night. Whilst we ate we discussed the peril through which we had just come with safety, but without coming any the nearer to a solution of the weird mystery of the Terror.

Breakfast over, we took a long and final survey of the decks from the various ports, and then prepared to sally out. This we did with instinctive caution and quietness, and each of us armed as on the previous lay. The door of the half-deck we closed and locked behind us, thereby insuring that the child was open to no danger whilst we were in other parts of the ship.

After a quick look about us, we proceeded aft towards the shattered door beneath the break of the poop. At the doorway we stopped, not so much with the intent to examine the broken door, as because of an instinctive and natural hesitation to go forward into the saloon, which but a few hours previous had been visited by some incredible monster or monsters. Finally, we decided to go up upon the poop and peer down through the skylight. This we did, lifting the sides of the dome for that purpose; yet though we peered long and earnestly, we could perceive no signs of any lurking thing. But broken woodwork there appeared to be in plenty, to judge by the scattered flinders.

After that I unlocked the companion, and pushed back the big, overarching slide. Then, silently, we stole down the steps and into the saloon. Here, being now able to see the place through all its length, we discovered a most extraordinary scene, the whole place appeared to be wrecked from end to end; the six cabins that line each side had their bulkheadings driven into shards and slivers of broken wood in places. Here, a door would be standing untouched, whilst the bulkhead beside it was in a mass of flinders—there, a door would be driven completely from its hinges, whilst the surrounding woodwork was untouched. And so it was wherever we looked.

 My wife made to go towards our cabin; but I pulled her back, and went forward myself. Here the desolation was almost as great. My wife’s bunk-board had been ripped out, whilst the supporting side-batten of mine had been plucked forth, so that all the bottom boards of the bunk had descended to the floor in a cascade. But it was neither of these things that touched us so sharply as the fact that the child’s little swing cot had been wrenched from its standards and flung in a tangled mass of white-painted ironwork across the cabin. At the sight of that, I glanced at my wife, and she at me, her face grown very white. Then down she slid to her knees and fell to crying and thanking God together, so that I found myself beside her in a moment, with a very humble and thankful heart.

Presently, when we were more controlled, we left the cabin, and finished our search. The pantry we discovered to be entirely untouched, which, somehow, I do not think then was a matter of great surprise to me; for I had ever a feeling that the things which had broken a way into our sleeping cabin had not been looking for anything but us!

In a little while we left the wrecked saloon and cabins, and made our way forrard to the pig-sty; for I was anxious to see whether the carcase of the pig had been touched. As we came round the corner of the sty, I uttered a great cry; for there, lying upon the deck, on its back, was a gigantic crab, so vast in size that I had not conceived so huge a monster existed. Olive-brown it was in colour, and when later we measured it, we found it to be three feet seven inches across the back of its shell, measuring it along its greatest length.

One of its pincer-claws or mandibles had been torn off in the fight in which it must have been slain—for it was all disemboweled—and weighed exactly thirty-three-and-a-quarter pounds, and by these two measurements you may have some idea of the size and formidableness of the thing.

Around this great crab lay half-a-dozen smaller ones, no more than from seven or eight to fifteen inches across, and all white in colour, save for an occasional mottling of olive-brown. These had all been killed by a single nip of an enormous mandible, which had in every case smashed them almost into two halves. Of the carcase of the great boar, not a fragment remained.

And so was the mystery solved, and with the solution departed the superstitious terror which had suffocated me through those three nights since the tapping had commenced. We had been attacked by a wandering shoal of giant crabs, who, it is quite possible, roamed across the weed from place to place, devouring and slaying everything that came in their path.

Whether they had ever boarded a ship before, and so, perhaps, developed a preferential taste for human flesh, or whether their attack had been prompted by curiosity, I cannot possibly say. It may be that, at first, they mistook the hull of the vessel for the body of some dead marine monster, and hence their blows upon her sides, by which, possibly, they were endeavouring to pierce through our somewhat unusually tough hide!  Or  again, it may be that they have some power of scent by means of which they were enabled to smell our presence aboard the ship; but this—as they made no general attack upon us in the deckhouse—I feel disinclined to regard as probable. And yet—I do not know! Why their attack upon the saloon and our sleeping cabin? As I say, I cannot tell, and so must leave it there.

Of the way in which they made their way aboard I discovered that same day; for, having learned what manner of creature it was that had attacked us, I made a more intelligent survey of the sides of the ship. But it was not until I came to the extreme bows that I saw how they had managed. Here I found that some of the gear of the broken bowsprit and jibboom trailed down on to the weed, and as I had not extended the canvas screen across the heel of the bowsprit, the monsters had been able to climb up the gear and thence aboard without the least obstruction being opposed to their progress.

This state of affairs I very speedily remedied, for with a few strokes of my axe I cut through the gear, allowing it to drop down among the weed; and after that I built a temporary breastwork of wood across the gap between the two ends of the screen, later on making it more permanent.

Since that time we have been no more molested by the giant crabs, though for a week afterwards we heard them at night knocking against our sides. Maybe, they were attracted by such refuse as we are forced to dump overboard, and this would explain their first tappings being aft, opposite to the lazarette, for it is from the openings in this part of the canvas screen that we cast our rubbish. Yet it is weeks now since we heard aught of them, so that I have reason to believe that they have betaken themselves elsewhere, maybe to attack some other lonely humans living out their short span of life aboard some lone derelict, lost even to memory in the depth of this vast sea of weed and deadly creatures.

 I shall send this message forth on its journey, as I have sent the other four, within a well-pitched barrel, attached to a small fire-balloon.

What other terrors does this hideous world hold for us?

I had thought of enclosing along with this letter the claw and the shell of one of the white smaller crabs. It must have been some of these moving in the weed that night that set my disordered fancy to imaginings of ghouls and the Un-Dead. But, on thinking it over, I shall not; for to do so would be to illustrate nothing that needs illustration, and would but increase needlessly the weight which the balloon will have to lift.

And so I grow wearied of writing. The night is drawing near, and I have little more to tell. I am writing this in the saloon, and, though I have mended and patched so well as I am able, nothing I can do will hide the traces of that night when the vast crabs raided through these cabins searching for—what?

There is nothing more to say. In health I am well, and so is my wife and little one; but—

I must have myself under control, and be patient. We are beyond all help, and must bear that which is before us with such bravery as we are able. And with this I end; for my last word shall not be one of complaint.

ARTHUR SAMUEL PHILIPS.

Christmas Eve. 1879.

THE END

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“From the Tideless Sea”


If Hodgson can be said to have created a “Mythos” (ala H. P. Lovecraft), probably the best case for that would be his Sargasso Sea stories.

Located within an area of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Sargasso Sea is a section bordered by strong currents which deposits debri and seaweed.  A source of legends, under Hodgson’s pen it would become a “haunted graveyard of the ocean” with seaweed in banks that are so massive that ships cannot break through and home to horrifyingly monsterous crabs and octopi that prey on trapped crews.

Hodgson’s Mythos first takes form in the story “From the Tideless Sea” and sets the tone for the rest to come.  In the story, a ship becomes mired in the weed and the crew faces a vicious fight for survival.  The story first appeared in an American magazine, MONTHLY STORY MAGAZINE, in April, 1906.  It would not be published in England until May, 1907, when it appears in LONDON MAGAZINE.  It would, in fact, be Hodgson’s FOURTH published fiction to appear.  The story must have been a success for Hodgson penned a sequel, “More News From the Homebird” which appeared in America’s BLUE BOOK MAGAZINE in August of 1907 but not in the LONDON MAGAZINE until May of 1911!  When the two stories were collected in MEN OF DEEP WATERS (1914), they were combined into one long tale and this has remained the custom in all subsequent reprintings.

That Hodgson felt some ownership of the Sargasso Sea mythos is evident as he was already complaining about others using it as early as 1905.  In a letter to Coulson Kernahan (dated November 17th, 1905) Hodgson states:

See, Man, I begin to realise what it is urges men to do desperate things.  In one of the late numbers of SKETCHY BITS (ye gods!) a friend of mine called my attention to a story, entitled “THE RAFT”, signed only by the initials C.L.  The thing bears internal evidence that the writer has read at least one of my “weed” stories, and here, in such piffle as this, am I to be robbed of the original element, which is my birthright.  If the story had been merely about the Sargasso Sea, I should have thought nothing; but they have embodied in it at least two of my ideas.  That the story is not evolved from the brain of C.L., I have proof, for the writer betrays ignorance of his subject in every other paragraph.  The story is, of course, different from mine, that is, superficially; but the deeper thing–the conception is mine.  Damn him!  The Sargasso, of my stories, is mine own happy hunting ground.  I have invented it, and have a right to hunt in it.  It is true that there have been other “weed” yarns; but there has been nothing at all before like to the weed world which I have created.  If only I could at least have the chance, in a better mag, which this rotter has in his poorer, but, no!  I must be a dumb pen, whilst he, or she, (wonder who it is) takes all the freshness and newness and sense of originality out of my yarns.  Then, when mine come out, they will say that the stories owe their conceptions to an “unknown writer who wrote up the subject in SKETCHY BITS”.  (THE UNCOLLECTED WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON, VOL. 1, Hobgoblin Press, 1995, pg 38-39)

It is interesting that Hodgson is practically accusing the mysterious “C.L.” of plagerism and yet the first of Hodgson’s Sargasso Sea stories did not appear in print until April, 1906, nearly half a year after Hodgson writes this letter.  Is his implication that someone had seen his stories in the submission piles?  Perhaps read one or two and then ‘stole’ the ideas for their own story?  We will never know.  “The Raft”, incidentally, was actually reprinted in the fifth, and final volume, of Night Shade’s THE COMPLETE FICTION OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON.  It is credited to scholar Douglas Anderson for finding the story and given the date of October, 1905.

Stories belonging to Hodgson’s Sargasso Sea Mythos are: “From the Tideless Sea, Part One”, “From the Tideless Sea, Part Two” (aka “More News from the Homebird”), “The Mystery of the Derelict”, “The Thing in the Weeds”, “The Finding of the Graiken” and “The Call in the Dawn”.  I would also place the novel, THE BOATS OF THE ‘GLEN CARRIG’, in this company as the Sargasso Sea is the setting for the last half of the book.

Although not as wide-reaching or ambitious as Lovecraft’s Mythos, Hodgson’s Sargasso Sea Mythos is an important part of his work.  In it, he combined sea-adventure with horror to achieve a unique mixture that had never been seen before.

Following is a reprint of “From the Tideless Sea, Part One”.  I hope you enjoy it!

FROM THE TIDELESS SEA

The Captain of the schooner leant over the rail, and stared for a moment, intently.

“Pass us them glasses, Jock,” he said, reaching a hand behind him.

Jock left the wheel for an instant, and ran into the little companionway. He emerged immediately with a pair of marine-glasses, which he pushed into the waiting hand.

For a little, the Captain inspected the object through the binoculars. Then he lowered them, and polished the object glasses.

“Seems like er water-logged barr’l as sumone’s been doin’ fancy paintin’ on,” he remarked after a further stare. “Shove ther ‘elm down er bit, Jock, an’ we’ll ‘ave er closer look at it.”

Jock obeyed, and soon the schooner bore almost straight for the object which held the Captain’s attention. Presently, it was within some fifty feet, and the Captain sung out to the boy in the caboose to pass along the boathook.

Very slowly, the schooner drew nearer, for the wind was no more than breathing gently. At last the cask was within reach, and the Captain grappled at it with the boathook. It bobbed in the calm water, under his ministrations; and, for a moment, the thing seemed likely to elude him. Then he had [Pg 96] the hook fast in a bit of rotten-looking rope which was attached to it. He did not attempt to lift it by the rope; but sung out to the boy to get a bowline round it. This was done, and the two of them hove it up on to the deck.

The Captain could see now, that the thing was a small water-breaker, the upper part of which was ornamented with the remains of a painted name.

“H—M—E—B——” spelt out the Captain with difficulty, and scratched his head. “‘ave er look at this ‘ere, Jock. See wot you makes of it.”

Jock bent over from the wheel, expectorated, and then stared at the breaker. For nearly a minute he looked at it in silence.

“I’m thinkin’ some of the letterin’s washed awa’,” he said at last, with considerable deliberation. “I have ma doots if he’ll be able to read it.

“Hadn’t ye no better knock in the end?” he suggested, after a further period of pondering. “I’m thinkin’ ye’ll be lang comin’ at them contents otherwise.”

“It’s been in ther water er thunderin’ long time,” remarked the Captain, turning the bottom side upwards. “Look at them barnacles!”

Then, to the boy:—

“Pass erlong ther ‘atchet outer ther locker.”

Whilst the boy was away, the Captain stood the little barrel on end, and kicked away some of the barnacles from the underside. With them, came away a great shell of pitch. He bent, and inspected it.

“Blest if ther thing ain’t been pitched!” he said. “This ‘ere’s been put afloat er purpose, an’ they’ve been, mighty anxious as ther stuff in it shouldn’t be ‘armed.

He kicked away another mass of the barnacle-studded pitch. Then, with a sudden impulse, he picked up the whole thing and shook it violently. It gave out a light, dull, thudding sound, as though something soft and small were within. Then the boy came with the hatchet.

“Stan’ clear!” said the Captain, and raised the implement. The next instant, he had driven in one end of the barrel. Eagerly, he stooped forward. He dived his hand down and brought out a little bundle stitched up in oilskin.

“I don’ spect as it’s anythin’ of valley,” he remarked. “But I guess as there’s sumthin’ ‘ere as ‘ll be worth tellin’ ’bout w’en we gets ‘ome.”

He slit up the oilskin as he spoke. Underneath, there was another covering of the same material, and under that a third. Then a longish bundle done up in tarred canvas. This was removed, and a black, cylindrical shaped case disclosed to view. It proved to be a tin canister, pitched over. Inside of it, neatly wrapped within a last strip of oilskin, was a roll of papers, which, on opening, the Captain found to be covered with writing. The Captain shook out the various wrappings; but found nothing further. He handed the MS. across to Jock.

“More ‘n your line ‘n mine, I guess,” he remarked. “Jest you read it up, an’ I’ll listen.”

He turned to the boy.

“Fetch thef dinner erlong ‘ere. Me an’ ther Mate ‘ll ‘ave it comfertable up ‘ere, an’ you can take ther wheel…. Now then, Jock!”

And, presently, Jock began to read.

“The Losing of the Homebird

“The ‘Omebird!” exclaimed the Captain. “Why, she were lost w’en I wer’ quite a young feller. Let me see—seventy-three. That were it. Tail end er seventy-three w’en she left ‘ome, an’ never ‘eard of since; not as I knows. Go a’ead with ther yarn, Jock.”

“It is Christmas eve. Two years ago to-day, we became lost to the world. Two years! It seems like twenty since I had my last Christmas in England. Now, I suppose, we are already forgotten—and this ship is but one more among the missing! My God! to think upon our loneliness gives me a choking feeling, a tightness across the chest!

“I am writing this in the saloon of the sailing ship, Homebird, and writing with but little hope of human eye ever seeing that which I write; for we are in the heart of the dread Sargasso Sea—the Tideless Sea of the North Atlantic. From the stump of our mizzen mast, one may see, spread out to the far horizon, an interminable waste of weed—a treacherous, silent vastitude of slime and hideousness!

“On our port side, distant some seven or eight miles, there is a great, shapeless, discoloured mass. No one, seeing it for the first time, would suppose it to be the hull of a long lost vessel. It bears but little resemblance to a sea-going craft, because of a strange superstructure which has been built upon it. An examination of the vessel herself, through a telescope, tells one that she is unmistakably ancient. Probably a hundred, possibly two hundred, years. Think of it! Two hundred years in the midst of this desolation! It is an eternity.

“At first we wondered at that extraordinary superstructure. Later, we were to learn its use—and profit by the teaching of hands long withered. It is inordinately strange that we should have come upon this sight for the dead! Yet, thought suggests, that there may be many such, which have lain here through the centuries in this World of Desolation. I had not imagined that the earth contained so much loneliness, as is held within the circle, seen from the stump of our shattered mast. Then comes the thought that I might wander a hundred miles in any direction—and still be lost.

“And that craft yonder, that one break in the monotony, that monument of a few men’s misery, serves only to make the solitude the more atrocious; for she is a very effigy of terror, telling of tragedies in the past, and to come!

“And now to get back to the beginnings of it. I joined the Homebird, as a passenger, in the early part of November. My health was not quite the thing, and I hoped the voyage would help to set me up. We had a lot of dirty weather for the first couple of weeks out, the wind dead ahead. Then we got a Southerly slant, that carried us down through the forties; but a good deal more to the Westward than we desired. Here we ran right into a tremendous cyclonic storm. All hands were called to shorten sail, and so urgent seemed our need, that the very officers went aloft to help make up the sails, leaving only the Captain (who had taken the wheel) and myself upon the poop. On the maindeck; the cook was busy letting go such ropes as the Mates desired.

“Abruptly, some distance ahead, through the vague sea-mist, but rather on the port bow, I saw loom up a great black wall of cloud.

“‘Look, Captain!’ I exclaimed; but it had vanished before I had finished speaking. A minute later it came again, and this time the Captain saw it.

“‘O, my God!’ he cried, and dropped his hands from the wheel. He leapt into the companionway, and seized a speaking trumpet. Then out on deck. He put it to his lips.

“‘Come down from aloft! Come down! Come down!’ he shouted. And suddenly I lost his voice in a terrific mutter of sound from somewhere to port. It was the voice of the storm—shouting. My God! I had never heard anything like it! It ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and, in the succeeding quietness, I heard the whining of the kicking-tackles through the blocks. Then came a quick clang of brass upon the deck, and I turned quickly. The Captain had thrown down the trumpet, and sprung back to the wheel. I glanced aloft, and saw that many of the men were already in the rigging, and racing down like cats.

“I heard the Captain draw his breath with a quick gasp.

“‘Hold on for your lives!’ he shouted, in a hoarse, unnatural voice.

“I looked at him. He was staring to windward with a fixed stare of painful intentness, and my gaze followed his. I saw, not four hundred yards distant, an enormous mass of foam and water coming down upon us. In the same instant, I caught the hiss of it, and immediately it was a shriek, so intense and awful, that I cringed impotently with sheer terror.

“The smother of water and foam took the ship a little fore-side of the beam, and the wind was with it. Immediately, the vessel rolled over on to her side, the sea-froth flying over her in tremendous cataracts.

“It seemed as though nothing could save us. Over, over we went, until I was swinging against the deck, almost as against the side of a house; for I had grasped the weather rail at the Captain’s warning. As I swung there, I saw a strange thing. Before me was the port quarter boat. Abruptly, the canvas cover was flipped clean off it, as though by a vast, invisible hand.

“The next instant, a flurry of oars, boats’ masts and odd gear flittered up into the air, like so many feathers, and blew to leeward and was lost in the roaring chaos of foam. The boat, herself, lifted in her chocks, and suddenly was blown clean down on to the maindeck, where she lay all in a ruin of white-painted timbers.

“A minute of the most intense suspense passed; then, suddenly, the ship righted, and I saw that the three masts had carried away. Yet, so hugely loud was the crying of the storm, that no sound of their breaking had reached me.

“I looked towards the wheel; but no one was there. Then I made out something crumpled up against the lee rail. I struggled across to it, and found that it was the Captain. He was insensible, and queerly limp in his right arm and leg. I looked round. Several of the men were crawling aft along the poop. I beckoned to them, and pointed to the wheel, and then to the Captain. A couple of them came towards me, and one went to the wheel. Then I made out through the spray the form of the Second Mate. He had several more of the men with him, and they had a coil of rope, which they took forrard. I learnt afterwards that they were hastening to get out a sea-anchor, so as to keep the ship’s head towards the wind.

“We got the Captain below, and into his bunk. There, I left him in the hands of his daughter and the steward, and returned on deck.

“Presently, the Second Mate came back, and with him the remainder of the men. I found then that only seven had been saved in all. The rest had gone.

“The day passed terribly—the wind getting stronger hourly; though, at its worst, it was nothing like so tremendous as that first burst.

“The night came—a night of terror, with the thunder and hiss of the giant seas in the air above us, and the wind bellowing like some vast Elemental beast.

“Then, just before the dawn, the wind lulled, almost in a moment; the ship rolling and wallowing fearfully, and the water coming aboard—hundreds of tons at a time. Immediately afterwards it caught us again; but more on the beam, and bearing the vessel over on to her side, and this only by the pressure of the element upon the stark hull. As we came head to wind again, we righted, and rode, as we had for hours, amid a thousand fantastic hills of phosphorescent flame.

“Again the wind died—coming again after a longer pause, and then, all at once, leaving us. And so, for the space of a terrible half hour, the ship lived through the most awful, windless sea that can be imagined. There was no doubting but that we had driven right into the calm centre of the cyclone—calm only so far as lack of wind, and yet more dangerous a thousand times than the most furious hurricane that ever blew.

“For now we were beset by the stupendous Pyramidal Sea; a sea once witnessed, never forgotten; a sea in which the whole bosom of the ocean is projected towards heaven in monstrous hills of water; not leaping forward, as would be the case if there were wind; but hurling upwards in jets and peaks of living brine, and falling back in a continuous thunder of foam.

“Imagine this, if you can, and then have the clouds break away suddenly overhead, and the moon shine down upon that hellish turmoil, and you will have such a sight as has been given to mortals but seldom, save with death. And this is what we saw, and to my mind there is nothing within the knowledge of man to which I can liken it.

“Yet we lived through it, and through the wind that came later. But two more complete days and nights had passed, before the storm ceased to be a terror to us, and then, only because it had carried us into the seaweed laden waters of the vast Sargasso Sea.

“Here, the great billows first became foamless; and dwindled gradually in size as we drifted further among the floating masses of weed. Yet the wind was still furious, so that the ship drove on steadily, sometimes between banks, and other times over them.

“For a day and a night we drifted thus; and then astern I made out a great bank of weed, vastly greater than any which hitherto we had encountered. Upon this, the wind drove us stern foremost, so that we over-rode it. We had been forced some distance across it, when it occurred to me that our speed was slackening. I guessed presently that the sea-anchor, ahead, had caught in the weed, and was holding. Even as I surmised this, I heard from beyond the bows a faint, droning, twanging sound, blending with the roar of the wind. There came an indistinct report, and the ship lurched backwards through the weed. The hawser, connecting us with the sea-anchor, had parted.

“I saw the Second Mate run forrard with several men. They hauled in upon the hawser, until the broken end was aboard. In the meantime, the ship, having nothing ahead to keep her “bows on,” began to slew broadside towards the wind. I saw the men attach a chain to the end of the broken hawser; then they paid it out again, and the ship’s head came back to the gale.

“When the Second Mate came aft, I asked him why this had been done, and he explained that so long as the vessel was end-on, she would travel over the weed. I inquired why he wished her to go over the weed, and he told me that one of the men had made out what appeared to be clear water astern, and that—could we gain it—we might win free.

“Through the whole of that day, we moved rearwards across the great bank; yet, so far from the weed appearing to show signs of thinning, it grew steadily thicker, and, as it became denser, so did our speed slacken, until the ship was barely moving. And so the night found us.

“The following morning discovered to us that we were within a quarter of a mile of a great expanse of clear water—apparently the open sea; but unfortunately the wind had dropped to a moderate breeze, and the vessel was motionless, deep sunk in the weed; great tufts of which rose up on all sides, to within a few feet of the level of our maindeck.

“A man was sent up the stump of the mizzen, to take a look round. From there, he reported that he [Pg 105] could see something, that might be weed, across the water; but it was too far distant for him to be in any way certain. Immediately afterwards, he called out that there was something, away on our port beam; but what it was, he could not say, and it was not until a telescope was brought to bear, that we made it out to be the hull of the ancient vessel I have previously mentioned.

“And now, the Second Mate began to cast about for some means by which he could bring the ship to the clear water astern. The first thing which he did, was to bend a sail to a spare yard, and hoist it to the top of the mizzen stump. By this means, he was able to dispense with the cable towing over the bows, which, of course, helped to prevent the ship from moving. In addition, the sail would prove helpful to force the vessel across the weed. Then he routed out a couple of kedges. These, he bent on to the ends of a short piece of cable, and, to the bight of this, the end of a long coil of strong rope.

“After that, he had the starboard quarter boat lowered into the weed, and in it he placed the two kedge anchors. The end of another length of rope, he made fast to the boat’s painter. This done, he took four of the men with him, telling them to bring chain-hooks, in addition to the oars—his intention being to force the boat through the weed, until he reached the clear water. There, in the marge of the weed, he would plant the two anchors in the thickest clumps of the growth; after which we were to haul the boat back to the ship, by means of the rope attached to the painter.

“‘Then,’ as he put it, ‘we’ll take the kedge-rope to the capstan, and heave her out of this blessed cabbage heap!’

“The weed proved a greater obstacle to the progress of the boat, than, I think, he had anticipated. After half an hour’s work, they had gone scarcely more than some two hundred feet from the vessel; yet, so thick was the stuff, that no sign could we see of them, save the movement they made among the weed, as they forced the boat along.

“Another quarter of an hour passed away, during which the three men left upon the poop, paid out the ropes as the boat forged slowly ahead. All at once, I heard my name called. Turning, I saw the Captain’s daughter in the companionway, beckoning to me. I walked across to her.

“‘My father has sent me up to know, Mr. Philips, how they are getting on?’

“‘Very slowly, Miss Knowles,’ I replied. ‘Very slowly indeed. The weed is so extraordinarily thick.’

“She nodded intelligently, and turned to descend; but I detained her a moment.

“‘Your father, how is he?’ I asked.

“She drew her breath swiftly.

“‘Quite himself,’ she said; ‘but so dreadfully weak. He——’

“An outcry from one of the men, broke across her speech:—

“‘Lord ‘elp us, mates! wot were that!’

“I turned sharply. The three of them were staring over the taffrail. I ran towards them, and Miss Knowles followed.

“‘Hush!’ she said, abruptly. ‘Listen!’

“I stared astern to where I knew the boat to be. The weed all about it was quaking queerly—the movement extending far beyond the radius of their hooks and oars. Suddenly, I heard the Second Mate’s voice:

“‘Look out, lads! My God, look out!’

“And close upon this, blending almost with it, came the hoarse scream of a man in sudden agony.

“I saw an oar come up into view, and descend violently, as though someone struck at something with it. Then the Second Mate’s voice, shouting:—

“‘Aboard there! Aboard there! Haul in on the rope! Haul in on the rope——!’ It broke off into a sharp cry.

“As we seized hold of the rope, I saw the weed hurled in all directions, and a great crying and choking swept to us over the brown hideousness around.

“‘Pull!’ I yelled, and we pulled. The rope tautened; but the boat never moved.

“‘Tek it ter ther capsting!’ gasped one of the men.

“Even as he spoke, the rope slackened. “‘It’s coming!’ cried Miss Knowles. ‘Pull! Oh! Pull!’

“She had hold of the rope along with us, and together we hauled, the boat yielding to our strength with surprising ease.

“‘There it is!’ I shouted, and then I let go of the rope. There was no one in the boat.

“‘For the half of a minute, we stared, dumfoundered. Then my gaze wandered astern to the place from which we had plucked it. There was a heaving movement among the great weed masses. I saw something waver up aimlessly against the sky; it was sinuous, and it flickered once or twice from side to side; then sank back among the growth, before I could concentrate my attention upon it.

“I was recalled to myself by a sound of dry sobbing. Miss Knowles was kneeling upon the deck, her hands clasped round one of the iron uprights of the rail. She seemed momentarily all to pieces.

“‘Come! Miss Knowles,’ I said, gently. ‘You must be brave. We cannot let your father know of this in his present state.’

“She allowed me to help her to her feet. I could feel that she was trembling badly. Then, even as I sought for words with which to reassure her, there came a dull thud from the direction of the companionway. We looked round. On the deck, face downward, lying half in and half out of the scuttle, was the Captain. Evidently, he had witnessed everything. Miss Knowles gave out a wild cry, and ran to her father. I beckoned to one of the men to help me, and, together, we carried him back to his bunk. An hour later, he recovered from his swoon. He was quite calm, though very weak, and evidently in considerable pain.

“Through his daughter, he made known to me that he wished me to take the reins of authority in his place. This, after a slight demur, I decided to do; for, as I reassured myself, there were no duties required of me, needing any special knowledge of shipcraft. The vessel was fast; so far as I could see, irrevocably fast. It would be time to talk of freeing her, when the Captain was well enough to take charge once more.

“I returned on deck, and made known to the men the Captain’s wishes. Then I chose one to act as a sort of bo’sun over the other two, and to him I gave orders that everything should be put to rights before the night came. I had sufficient sense to leave him to manage matters in his own way; for, whereas my knowledge of what was needful, was fragmentary, his was complete.

“By this time, it was near to sunsetting, and it was with melancholy feelings that I watched the great hull of the sun plunge lower. For awhile, I paced the poop, stopping ever and anon to stare over the dreary waste by which we were surrounded. The more I looked about, the more a sense of lonesomeness and depression and fear assailed me. I had pondered much upon the dread happening of the day, and all my ponderings led to a vital questioning:—What was there among all that quiet weed, which had come upon the crew of the boat, and destroyed them? And I could not make answer, and the weed was silent—dreadly silent!

“The sun had drawn very near to the dim horizon, and I watched it, moodily, as it splashed great clots of red fire across the water that lay stretched into the distance across our stern. Abruptly, as I gazed, its perfect lower edge was marred by an irregular shape. For a moment, I stared, puzzled. Then I fetched a pair of glasses from the holdfast in the companion. A glance through these, and I knew the extent of our fate. That line, blotching the round of the sun, was the conformation of another enormous weed bank.

“I remembered that the man had reported something as showing across the water, when he was sent up to the top of the mizzen stump in the morning; but, what it was, he had been unable to say. The thought flashed into my mind that it had been only just visible from aloft in the morning, and now it was in sight from the deck. It occurred to me that the wind might be compacting the weed, and driving the bank which surrounded the ship, down upon a larger portion. Possibly, the clear stretch of water had been but a temporary rift within the heart of the Sargasso Sea. It seemed only too probable.

“Thus it was that I meditated, and so, presently, the night found me. For some hours further, I paced the deck in the darkness, striving to understand the incomprehensible; yet with no better result than to weary myself to death. Then, somewhere about midnight, I went below to sleep.

“The following morning, on going on deck, I found that the stretch of clear water had disappeared entirely, during the night, and now, so far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but a stupendous desolation of weed.

“The wind had dropped completely, and no sound came from all that weed-ridden immensity. We had, in truth, reached the Cemetery of the Ocean!

“The day passed uneventfully enough. It was only when I served out some food to the men, and one of them asked whether they could have a few raisins, that I remembered, with a pang of sudden misery, that it was Christmas day. I gave them the fruit, as they desired, and they spent the morning in the galley, cooking their dinner. Their stolid indifference to the late terrible happenings, appalled me somewhat, until I remembered what their lives were, and had been. Poor fellows! One of them ventured aft at dinner time, and offered me a slice of what he called ‘plum duff.’ He brought it on a plate which he had found in the galley and scoured thoroughly with sand and water. He tendered it shyly enough, and I took it, so graciously as I could, for I would not hurt his feelings; though the very smell of the stuff was an abomination.

“During the afternoon, I brought out the Captain’s telescope, and made a thorough examination of the ancient hulk on our port beam. Particularly did I study the extraordinary superstructure around her sides; but could not, as I have said before, conceive of its use.

“The evening, I spent upon the poop, my eyes searching wearily across that vile quietness, and so, in a little, the night came—Christmas night, sacred to a thousand happy memories. I found myself dreaming of the night a year previous, and, for a little while, I forgot what was before me. I was recalled suddenly—terribly. A voice rose out of the dark which hid the maindeck. For the fraction of an instant, it expressed surprise; then pain and terror leapt into it. Abruptly, it seemed to come from above, and then from somewhere beyond the ship, and so in a moment there was silence, save for a rush of feet and the bang of a door forrard.

“I leapt down the poop ladder, and ran along the maindeck, towards the fo’cas’le. As I ran, something knocked off my cap. I scarcely noticed it then. I reached the fo’cas’le, and caught at the latch of the port door. I lifted it and pushed; but the door was fastened.

“‘Inside there!’ I cried, and banged upon the panels with my clenched fist.

“A man’s voice came, incoherently.

“‘Open the door!’ I shouted. ‘Open the door!’

“‘Yes, Sir—I’m com—ming, Sir,’ said one of them, jerkily.

“I heard footsteps stumble across the planking. Then a hand fumbled at the fastening, and the door flew open under my weight.

“The man who had opened to me, started back. He held a flaring slush-lamp above his head, and, as I entered, he thrust it forward. His hand was trembling visibly, and, behind him, I made out the face of one of his mates, the brow and dirty, clean-shaven upper lip drenched with sweat. The man who held the lamp, opened his mouth, and gabbered at me; but, for a moment, no sound came.

“‘Wot—wot were it? Wot we-ere it?’ he brought out at last, with a gasp.

“The man behind, came to his side, and gesticulated.

“‘What was what?’ I asked sharply, and looking from one to the other. ‘Where’s the other man? What was that screaming?’

“The second man drew the palm of his hand across his brow; then flirted his fingers deckwards.

“‘We don’t know, Sir! We don’t know! It were Jessop! Somethin’s took ‘im just as we was comin’ forrid! We—we—He-he-HARK!’

“His head came forward with a jerk as he spoke, and then, for a space, no one stirred. A minute passed, and I was about to speak, when, suddenly, from somewhere out upon the deserted maindeck, there came a queer, subdued noise, as though something moved stealthily hither and thither. The man with the lamp caught me by the sleeve, and then, with an abrupt movement, slammed the door and fastened it.

“‘That’s IT, Sir!’ he exclaimed, with a note of terror and conviction in his voice.

“I bade him be silent, while I listened; but no sound came to us through the door, and so I turned to the men and told them to let me have all they knew.

“It was little enough. They had been sitting in the galley, yarning, until, feeling tired, they had decided to go forrard and turn-in. They extinguished the light, and came out upon the deck, closing the door behind them. Then, just as they turned to go forrard, Jessop gave out a yell. The next instant they heard him screaming in the air above their heads, and, realising that some terrible thing was upon them, they took forthwith to their heels, and ran for the security of the fo’cas’le.

“Then I had come.

“As the men made an end of telling me, I thought I heard something outside, and held up my hand for silence. I caught the sound again. Someone was calling my name. It was Miss Knowles. Likely enough she was calling me to supper—and she had no knowledge of the dread thing which had happened. I sprang to the door. She might be coming along the maindeck in search of me. And there was Something out there, of which I had no conception—something unseen, but deadly tangible!

“‘Stop, Sir!’ shouted the men, together; but I had the door open.

“‘Mr. Philips!’ came the girl’s voice at no great distance. ‘Mr. Philips!’

“‘Coming, Miss Knowles!’ I shouted, and snatched the lamp from the man’s hand.

“‘The next instant, I was running aft, holding the lamp high, and glancing fearfully from side to side. I reached the place where the mainmast had been, and spied the girl coming towards me.

“‘Go back!’ I shouted. ‘Go back!’

“She turned at my shout, and ran for the poop ladder. I came up with her, and followed close at her heels. On the poop, she turned and faced me.

“‘What is it, Mr. Philips?’

“I hesitated. Then:—

“‘I don’t know!’ I said.

“‘My father heard something,’ she began. ‘He sent me. He——’

“I put up my hand. It seemed to me that I had caught again the sound of something stirring on the maindeck.

“‘Quick!’ I said sharply. ‘Down into the cabin!.’ And she, being a sensible girl, turned and [Pg 114] ran down without waste of time. I followed, closing and fastening the companion-doors behind me.

“In the saloon, we had a whispered talk, and I told her everything. She bore up bravely, and said nothing; though her eyes were very wide, and her face pale. Then the Captain’s voice came to us from the adjoining cabin.

“‘Is Mr. Philips there, Mary?’

“‘Yes, father.’

“‘Bring him in.’

“I went in.

“‘What was it, Mr. Philips?’ he asked, collectedly.

“I hesitated; for I was willing to spare him the ill news; but he looked at me with calm eyes for a moment, and I knew that it was useless attempting to deceive him.

“‘Something has happened, Mr. Philips,’ he said, quietly. ‘You need not be afraid to tell me.’

“At that, I told him so much as I knew, he listening, and nodding his comprehension of the story.

“‘It must be something big,’ he remarked, when I had made an end. ‘And yet you saw nothing when you came aft?’

“‘No,’ I replied.

“‘It is something in the weed,’ he went on. ‘You will have to keep off the deck at night.’

“After a little further talk, in which he displayed a calmness that amazed me, I left him, and went presently to my berth.

“The following day, I took the two men, and, together, we made a thorough search through the ship; but found nothing. It was evident to me that the Captain was right. There was some dread Thing hidden within the weed. I went to the side and looked down. The two men followed me. Suddenly, one of them pointed.

“‘Look, Sir!’ he exclaimed. ‘Right below you, Sir! Two eyes like blessed great saucers! Look!’

“I stared; but could see nothing. The man left my side, and ran into the galley. In a moment, he was back with a great lump of coal.

“‘Just there, Sir,’ he said, and hove it down into the weed immediately beneath where we stood.

“Too late, I saw the thing at which he aimed—two immense eyes, some little distance below the surface of the weed. I knew instantly to what they belonged; for I had seen large specimens of the octopus some years previously, during a cruise in Australasian waters.

“‘Look out, man!’ I shouted, and caught him by the arm. ‘It’s an octopus! Jump back!’ I sprang down on to the deck. In the same instant, huge masses of weed were hurled in all directions, and half a dozen immense tentacles whirled up into the air. One lapped itself about his neck. I caught his leg; but he was torn from my grasp, and I tumbled backwards on to the deck. I heard a scream from the other man as I scrambled to my feet. I looked to where he had been; but of him there was no sign. Regardless of the danger, in my great agitation, I leapt upon the rail, and gazed down with frightened eyes. Yet, neither of him nor his mate, nor the monster, could I perceive a vestige.

“How long I stood there staring down bewilderedly, I cannot say; certainly some minutes. I was so bemazed that I seemed incapable of movement. Then, all at once, I became aware that a light quiver ran across the weed, and the next instant, something stole up out of the depths with a deadly celerity.  Well it was for me that I had seen it in time, else should I have shared the fate of those two—and the others. As it was, I saved myself only by leaping backwards on to the deck. For a moment, I saw the feeler wave above the rail with a certain apparent aimlessness; then it sank out of sight, and I was alone.

“An hour passed before I could summon a sufficiency of courage to break the news of this last tragedy to the Captain and his daughter, and when I had made an end, I returned to the solitude of the poop; there to brood upon the hopelessness of our position.

“As I paced up and down, I caught myself glancing continuously at the nearer weed tufts. The happenings of the past two days had shattered my nerves, and I feared every moment to see some slender death-grapple searching over the rail for me. Yet, the poop, being very much higher out of the weed than the maindeck, was comparatively safe; though only comparatively.

“Presently, as I meandered up and down, my gaze fell upon the hulk of the ancient ship, and, in a flash, the reason for that great superstructure was borne upon me. It was intended as a protection against the dread creatures which inhabited the weed. The thought came to me that I would attempt some similar means of protection; for the feeling that, at any moment, I might be caught and lifted out into that slimy wilderness, was not to be borne. In addition, the work would serve to occupy my mind, and help me to bear up against the intolerable sense of loneliness which assailed me.

“I resolved that I would lose no time, and so, after some thought as to the manner in which I should proceed, I routed out some coils of rope and several sails. Then I went down on to the maindeck and [Pg 117] brought up an armful of capstan bars. These I lashed vertically to the rail all round the poop. Then I knotted the rope to each, stretching it tightly between them, and over this framework stretched the sails, sewing the stout canvas to the rope, by means of twine and some great needles which I found in the Mate’s room.

“It is not to be supposed that this piece of work was accomplished immediately. Indeed, it was only after three days of hard labour that I got the poop completed. Then I commenced work upon the maindeck. This was a tremendous undertaking, and a whole fortnight passed before I had the entire length of it enclosed; for I had to be continually on the watch against the hidden enemy. Once, I was very nearly surprised, and saved myself only by a quick leap. Thereafter, for the rest of that day, I did no more work; being too greatly shaken in spirit. Yet, on the following morning, I recommenced, and from thence, until the end, I was not molested.

“Once the work was roughly completed, I felt at ease to begin and perfect it. This I did, by tarring the whole of the sails with Stockholm tar ; thereby making them stiff, and capable of resisting the weather. After that, I added many fresh uprights, and much strengthening ropework, and finally doubled the sailcloth with additional sails, liberally smeared with the tar.

“In this manner, the whole of January passed away, and a part of February. Then, it would be on the last day of the month, the Captain sent for me, and told me, without any preliminary talk, that he was dying. I looked at him; but said nothing; for I had known long that it was so. In return, he stared back with a strange intentness, as though he would read my inmost thoughts, and this for the space of perhaps two minutes.

“‘Mr. Philips,’ he said at last, ‘I may be dead by this time to-morrow. Has it ever occurred to you that my daughter will be alone with you ?’

“‘Yes, Captain Knowles,’ I replied, quietly, and waited.

“For a few seconds, he remained silent; though, from the changing expressions of his face, I knew that he was pondering how best to bring forward the thing which it was in his mind to say.

“‘You are a gentleman——’ he began, at last.

“‘I will marry her,’ I said, ending the sentence for him.

“A slight flush of surprise crept into his face.

“‘You—you have thought seriously about it?’

“‘I have thought very seriously,’ I explained.

“‘Ah!’ he said, as one who comprehends. And then, for a little, he lay there quietly. It was plain to me that memories of past days were with him. Presently, he came out of his dreams, and spoke, evidently referring to my marriage with his daughter.

“‘It is the only thing,’ he said, in a level voice.

“I bowed, and after that, he was silent again for a space. In a little, however, he turned once more to me:—

“‘Do you—do you love her?’

“His tone was keenly wistful, and a sense of trouble lurked in his eyes.

“‘She will be my wife,’ I said, simply; and he nodded.

“‘God has dealt strangely with us,’ he murmured presently, as though to himself.

“Abruptly, he bade me tell her to come in.

“And then he married us.

“Three days later, he was dead, and we were alone.

“For a while, my wife was a sad woman; but gradually time eased her of the bitterness of her grief.

“Then, some eight months after our marriage, a new interest stole into her life. She whispered it to me, and we, who had borne our loneliness uncomplainingly, had now this new thing to which to look forward. It became a bond between us, and bore promise of some companionship as we grew old. Old! At the idea of age, a sudden flash of thought darted like lightning across the sky of my mind:—FOOD! Hitherto, I had thought of myself, almost as of one already dead, and had cared naught for anything beyond the immediate troubles which each day forced upon me. The loneliness of the vast Weed World had become an assurance of doom to me, which had clouded and dulled my faculties, so that I had grown apathetic. Yet, immediately, as it seemed, at the shy whispering of my wife, was all this changed.

“That very hour, I began a systematic search through the ship. Among the cargo, which was of a ‘general’ nature, I discovered large quantities of preserved and tinned provisions, all of which I put carefully on one side. I continued my examination until I had ransacked the whole vessel. The business took me near upon six months to complete, and when it was finished, I seized paper, and made calculations, which led me to the conclusion that we had sufficient food in the ship to preserve life in three people for some fifteen to seventeen years. I could not come nearer to it than this; for I had no means of computing the quantity the child would need year by year. Yet it is sufficient to show me that seventeen years must be the limit. Seventeen years! And then——

“Concerning water, I am not troubled; for I have rigged a great sailcloth tun-dish, with a canvas pipe into the tanks; and from every rain, I draw a supply, which has never run short.

“The child was born nearly five months ago. She is a fine little girl, and her mother seems perfectly happy. I believe I could be quietly happy with them, were it not that I have ever in mind the end of those seventeen years. True! we may be dead long before then; but, if not, our little girl will be in her teens—and it is a hungry age.

“If one of us died—but no! Much may happen in seventeen years. I will wait.

“My method of sending this clear of the weed is likely to succeed. I have constructed a small fire-balloon, and this missive, safely enclosed in a little barrel, will be attached. The wind will carry it swiftly hence.

“Should this ever reach civilised beings, will they see that it is forwarded to:—”

(Here followed an address, which, for some reason, had been roughly obliterated. Then came the signature of the writer)

“Arthur Samuel Philips.”


The captain of the schooner looked over at Jock, as the man made an end of his reading.

“Seventeen years pervisions,” he muttered thoughtfully. “An’ this ‘ere were written sumthin’ like twenty-nine years ago!” He nodded his head several times. “Poor creatures!” he exclaimed. “It’d be er long while, Jock—a long while!”


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The REAL Sargasso Sea!


One of William Hope Hodgson’s most important creations was the infamous Sargasso Sea.  In his fiction, it is a graveyard of ships which have become marooned within the choking seaweed and prey to huge monsters who call it home.  But what was the Sargasso Sea?

It may surprise many to learn that the Sargasso Sea is an actual place within the Atlantic Ocean.

             Located roughly 70 degrees west to 40 degrees west and from 20 degrees north to 35 degrees north, the Sargasso Sea comprises nearly 700 statute miles of width and 2,000 statute miles long.  It is the only sea that has no land shores.  It is instead a gyre (a large system of rotating ocean currents) which is surrounded on the north by the North Atlantic Current; on the east by the Canary Current; on the south by the North Atlantic Equatorial Current; and on the west by the Gulf Stream.  These currents deposit various marine plants and refuse into the gyre.

The primary plant in the Sargasso Sea is seaweed from the genus “Sargassum”.  This seaweed floats on the surface of the water in large sections and is unique in that it reproduces freely in the water, not requiring land.  The area is prone to calm winds which could often strand sailing ships even though the seaweed is described as not being particularly obstructive to ships.  Several varieties of life exist in the Sargasso Sea and it is an important part of the migration patterns of the European and American eels.  It is also a habitat for shrimp, crab, and fish which have adapted specifically to the floating algae (although, disappointingly, not of monstrous shape).

Sargassum adrift in the Sargasso Sea

Christopher Columbus is credited for discovering the Sargasso Sea as he was the first to document its finding.  Supposedly, his crew expressed the common fear of becoming stuck in the weeds but a later expedition by others found that the seaweed grouped in patches, not continuous, insurpassable blocks.

The location of the Sargasso Sea places it within the infamous ‘Bermuda Triangle’ and has garnered some of its own mysterious lore over the years.  In 1840, the “Rosalie” sailed through the Sargasso Sea and was later found derelict. In 1857, the bark “James B. Chester” was found deserted in the Sargasso Sea with chairs kicked over and a stale meal on the mess table. In 1881, the schooner “Ellen Austin” allegedly found a derelict schooner and placed a crew aboard to sail it into port.  But, two days later, the schooner was sighted sailing erratically and was found to be deserted once again.  No sign of either crew was found.  Other derelicts have been found even within the last 60 years.

In Hodgson’s life, he would have undoubtedly encountered the Sargasso Sea during his time as a Merchant Marine.  Certainly he would have heard the legends about the ‘graveyard of the sea’ and the many stories concerning ships that had become trapped in the weeds with no winds to pull them out to open ocean.  In his mind, Hodgson created a unique landscape that allowed him to fill it with terrifying monsters and horrifying islands.  Despite the modern ‘debunking’ of the Sargasso Sea’s legends, it remains as powerful a landscape today as when Hodgson first set down his imaginative stories on paper.

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Index


We’re coming up on the two month mark since I began this blog!  I’m thrilled at all the great response it’s received but also the amount of new information and items we’ve been able to bring to a wider public.  Because many might only now be discovering this blog, I present the following index to the previous posts for your convenience.  It will keep people from having to search through all of the entries.

The Dreamer in the Night Land (Intro to the blog)
A Life on the Borderland (A short bio of WHH)
Free Hodgson! (A listing of where to find WHH writings free online)
Hodgson’s First Story (A look at the first story WHH had professionally published)
My First Hodgson (Hints on what Hodgson new readers should start with)
Smile for the Camera, William Hope Hodgson!  (A gallery of WHH photos)
The Man Who Saved Hodgson! (A look at H. C. Koenig, WHH’s early champion)
Hodgson’s Publishing History (A Chronological listing of WHH’s publishing)
Sail on One of Hodgson’s Ships! (A look at a ship Hodgson sailed on that still exists today!)
Writing Backwards: The Novels of WHH (Important article on the order in which WHH wrote his novels)
A Brief History of Hodgson Studies (An overview of critical work on WHH)
Meet Mrs. Hodgson! (Article about WHH’s wife and the only known photo of her)
William Hope Hodgson, This is Your Life! (Chronology of WHH’s life)
What’s that I Hear? (List of audio adaptations)
“The First Literary Copernicus” (Reprint of important article about WHH’s cosmicism)
A Borderland Gallery (Gallery of covers of HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND)
Why Carnacki?  (Author William Meikle explains why he writes new Carnacki stories)
“WHH: Master of the Weird and Fantastic” (Important article by H.C. Koenig)
“The Weird Work of Willam Hope Hodgson” by H. P. Lovecraft (essay on Hodgson’s works by HPL)
“In Appreciation of William Hope Hodgson” by Clark Ashton Smith (essay by CAS)
“William Hope Hodgson” by August Derleth (Brief essay by co-founder of Arkham House)
“The Poetry of William Hope Hodgson” by E. A. Edkins (essay on WHH’s poetry)
“William Hope Hodgson and the Detective Story” by Ellery Queen (essay about Carnacki)
“WHH: Writer of Supernatural Horror” by Fritz Leiber (essay about WHH’s horror stories)
“An Appreciation” (portion of one of WHH’s obituaries)
E.A. Edkins and Some Updates!  (updating some previous items)
William Hope Hodgson and Arkham House (essay about the importance of AH in Hodgson’s career)
MATANGO!!!  (A look at the only film length adaptation of a WHH story)
New Sargasso Sea Story (presenting a new sea-horror tale by John B. Ford)

And that brings us up to date! Hard to believe how much we’ve covered and how much is left to do!  Next week, we’ll be looking at WHH’s Sargasso Sea stories as well as presenting the history behind that unique area.  Hope to “sea” you then!–Sam Gafford

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New Sargasso Sea story!


Not a lot of people write Hodgsonian stories.  There’s an endless amount of writers who pen Lovecraftian stories.  In fact, anthologies of such stories appear at such a fast rate that I can barely keep up with them.  And yet, not many write what we could call “Hodgsonian” stories.  Today, I’m happy to present an example of a new story set in Hodgson’s universe.  This tale, written by John B. Ford, recaptures the feel of Hodgson’s Sargasso Sea and the overwhelming hopelessness of those it claims as victims.  I hope you enjoy it!

If there’s anyone to blame or praise for my involvement in the small press, then it’s William Hope Hodgson. When I first read his novel THE BOATS OF THE “GLEN CARRIG” back in the late 80’s, I was at once in awe of his extraordinary visual and atmospheric talent. The first quarter of that novel, as Lovecraft once quite rightly stated, is unsurpassed in its quality of brooding menace. Suffice to say that I went on to read every story and novel of Hodgson’s I could get my hands on, and I became such a fanatic that I then attempted to emulate my hero. ‘The Cemetery of the Ocean’ was the first story I ever had printed in the UK small press, and was published in January 1996 in the Doppelganger Broadsheet. At the time I was hungry for more Sargasso tales and since I’d read all of Hodgson’s I decided to explore that weed infested sea of lurking horrors with my own imagination.–John B. Ford

The Cemetery of the Ocean

Now  for  three  days  the  stormwinds  had  carried  us  into  the  strange  areas  of  the  ocean,  hitherto  uncharted.  But  with  the  dawning  of  the  fourth  day,  I  heard  the  look-out  hail  to  Captain  Johnson: “Land  spotted  to  westward,  sir!”  With  this,  I  gazed  out  far  upon  the  larboard  bow,  and  over  all  the  horizon  I  saw  a  distinct  brown  mass,  curiously  intermingled  with  stretches  of  green.  Yet  still  the  wind  had  a  great  force, so  that  it  carried  us most rapid  in  this  direction,  and so were  the  crew  cheered  somewhat,  for  there  had  been  much  foolish  talk  that  these  waters  were  unholy,  and  cursed  by   the  devil.

As  the  Sea  Witch  continued  on  this  heading,  I  saw  that  the  First  Mate  held  a  look  of  bewilderment,  and  that  ever  and  anon  he  would  scan  the  horizon  with  his  glasses.  In  a  little,  Captain  Johnson  joined  him,  and  it  came  to  me  then,  as  something  was  notably  wrong,  for  their  lowered  tones  held  an  obvious  concern.  Only  some  short  while  later  their  concerns  became  clear  to  me,  for  we  came  upon  not  land,  but  a  sombre  flatness  of  slime  and  weed  which  dominated  the  sea  all  about.  With  this,  every  man  in  the  crew  became  quiet  and  melancholy,  for  as  we  cut  further  into  that  sea  of  dread  isolation,  we  came  to  a  realisation  that  fate  had  brought  us  unto  that  vast  Cemetery  of  the  Ocean  —  the  Sargasso  Sea.

Now,  in  the  evening  time  the  wind  dropped  almost  as  suddenly  as  it  had  arrived,  and  soon  afterwards,  with  the  falling  of  night,  there  descended  an  unnatural  silence  and  sense  of  lonesomeness  such  as  chilled  the  heart  of  every  man.  Before  the  darkness  had  completely  enshrouded  us,  the  Captain  told  Jake  (the  eldest  ‘prentice)  and  two  others,  to  hang  lanterns  from  the  rigging;  and  this  we  judged  a  very  sound  action,  for  many  times  we  had  heard  tales  of  “Things”  that  dwelt  within  the  weed.

And  so  it  came  on  to  be  approaching  midnight,  and  with  this  I  was  wakened  by  Williams  (a  fellow  A.B.)  for  my  duty  on  the  second  watch.  For  some  while  I  stayed  aft  with  Jenkins,  and  the  weirdness  of  the  night  seemed   to  pervade  us,  so  that  we  ever  spoke  only  in  low  tones;  almost  as  though  afraid  to  break  the  constant  eerie  silence  all  about  us.  After  a  while  I  lit  a   bull’s-eye  lantern  and  made  to  walk  the  decks  with  it.  With  this  task  completed,  I  walked  to  the  fo’cas’le  head  rails,  choosing  to  lean  on  them  and  contemplate  the  night  for  a  while.  Gazing  out  over  the  weed  as  far  as  the  moonlit  night  would  allow,  the  dreadful  solemnness  of  the  place  began  to  touch  my  mind.  In  my  head  grew  thoughts  of  all  the  dead  this  place  had  claimed  in  the  years  of  the  past,   so   that  I  was  ever  haunted  by  imagined  presences  and  spirits  of  the  night.  Now,  in   the  following  seconds it  seemed  that  my  frightful  thoughts  had  taken  on  a  life  of  their  own.  For  suddenly  travelling  through  the  awful  silence  came  a  long  drawn-out  moaning  sound,  and  in  my  youthful  mind  there  came  the  nightmare  vision  of  some  long-dead  Thing  crying  out  plaintively  in  the  dark.  Suddenly I  remembered  my  duties  and  lifted  the  night-glasses  to  my  eyes,  straightway  witnessing  a  group  of  eerie  green  lights  that  moved  rapidly  across  the  surface  of  the  weed.  At  that,  I  followed  them  with  the  glasses,  but  soon  they  vanished  behind  a  veil  of  darkness.   Shortly  after  this  the  moaning  sound  recommenced,  but  this  time  holding  a  quality  of  fear  and  agony,  and  causing  me  to  shudder  deeply.

Soon  Captain  Johnson  and  the  First  Mate  had  taken  to  the  decks.

“What’s  going  on,  Holton?” asked the ‘Old Man’,  his  eyes  shrewdly  searching  the  night  for  any  sign  of  ought  untoward.

“There’s something not right out there, sir!”  I said.  “It  looked  like a host of  emerald  lights  were  skimming  over  the  surface  of  the  sea.”   And  this  was  how  best  I  could  explain  to  the  Captain  what  I  had  witnessed,  but  he  made  no  reply  and  only  looked  very  grave.

“Blast  our  luck  for  ending  up  in  this  damned  place,” answered  the  First  Mate,  “the  only  sure  thing  is  that  what  you  saw  was  nothing  holy.”

Soon  afterwards,  Captain  Johnson  announced  to  the  crew  that  every  ‘dog  watch’  would  be  doubled,  and  so  it  was,  that  I  spent  the  rest  of  my  watch  in  the  company  of  Jake.  Most  of  this  time was  spent  in  quietness,  except  for  once  when  Jake  said  he  heard  something  slithering  close  by  us  upon  the  weeds,  but  myself  I  heard  nothing.

After  completing  my  ‘timekeeping’,  I  then  went  below  to  my  bunk. The  remainder  of  the  night  was  uneventful  for  me  (for  I  am  a  slave  to  sleep)  but  I  was  told  by  Masson  (the  Second  Mate)  that  there  had  been  further  happenings.  It  seemed  that  during  the  last  watch  before  daybreak,  many  of  the  green  lights  had  been  spotted  heading  in  direction  straight  for  the  Sea Witch,  but  before  the  look-outs  had  any  time  to  raise  an  alarm,  the  lights  had  simultaneously  disappeared  from  view.  A  short  while  later  the  vessel  had  been  rocked  twice,  violently  from  beneath,  but  then  had  come  sunrise  and  an  end  to  the  queer  events  of  the  night.

Next  morning,  we  broke  our  fast  upon  the  main-deck,  while  Captain  Johnson  spoke  to  us  with  urgency.  And  as  he  spoke,  it  transpired  he  had  ascertained  the  Sea  Witch  was  now  stuck  fast  within  the  weed,  and  had  no  chance  of  escape  without  the  arrival  of  another  great  gale.  Still,  he  spoke  with  much  optimism,  mentioning  we  had  food  and  water  enough  for  two  months,  and  by  this  time  a  storm  would  surely  come  to  free  us.  But  beneath  his  front  I  recognised  a  clever  man  who  sought  to  quell  the  growing  panic  of  the  crew.

To  end  his  short  speech,  he  mentioned  the  possibility  of  a  small  rowboat  being  able  to  cut  through  the  weed,  and  asked  for  two  volunteers  willing  to  make  a  try  for  open  waters,  thus  alerting  the  world  to  the  fate  of  the  Sea  Witch.  Of  the  crew,  four  of  us  raised  our  hands,  and  one  of  them  being  Masson,  (the  Second  Mate)  he  was  asked  who  he  would  like  to  accompany  him.  With  this,  I  was  selected,  for  I  was young and  strong  and  my  skill  at  the  oars  known  to  all.  So  we  loaded  the  rowboat  with  canisters  of  water,  a  case  of  dried  fruit,  and  an  ample  supply   of  ship’s  biscuit.

The  boat  was  lowered,  and  then  we  set  off,  moving  arduously  through  the  weed;  our  oars  making  continual  sogging  sounds  as  we  lifted  them  from  the  choked  surface  of  the  sea.  After  what  seemed  like  hours  of  rowing,  we  stopped  to  rest  for  a  while,  our  arms  aching  sorely  with  the  effort  required.  It  was  then  for  the  first  time  that  I  felt  a  sense  of  alienation  and  vulnerability  like  I  had  never  before  known,  and  looking  back  towards  the  horizon,  a  chord  of  fear  struck  deep  within  me,  for  I  saw  that  distance  had  now  taken  the  Sea  Witch  beyond  our  sight.  It  came  to  me  then  how  easy  it  would  be  to  lose  our  direction  in  this  sea  of  lurking  horrors.

As  the  hours  of  back-breaking  rowing  passed  on,   the  darkness  slowly  began to  gather about us  once  more.  Suddenly  Masson  cried  out  to  me  that  he  could  see  the  outline  of  a  small  island  in  the  weed.  I  looked  over  my  shoulder  into  the  fast  growing  gloom,  but  being  unable  to  make  out  anything  except  a  small  land  mass  and  occasional  dark  shadowy  shapes,  I  picked  up  the  beam  torch  and  aimed  its  light  outwards  in  a  wide  sweeping  arch.  Immediately  our  ears  became  filled  by  the  inhuman  moaning  sound  of  the  previous  night.  But  what  could  have  caused  it?  In  the  torchlight  I  had  seen  only  failing  vegetation  in  the  shape  of  stunted  trees  and  bushes.  Again  I  swept  the  light  over  the  island,  but  this  time  something  made  me  focus  upon  one  of  the  trees.  With  this  sight  I  gasped  in  horror,  for  contained  within  the  trunk  was  the  pallid  white  flesh  of  a  deformed  human  face;  its  mouth  opened  wide  as  it  joined  in  a  chorus  of  sorrowful,  tortured  moans.

For  a  moment  I  froze  in  a  state  of  unbelieving  shock,  but  in  the  next  instant  Masson  knocked  the  torch  from  my  grip,  quickly  turning  it  off. In  hushed  tones  he  told  me  to  look  towards  the  horizon,  and  there  I  saw  masses  of  the  green  lights  I  had  witnessed  the  night  before.  The  lights  appeared  to  skim  over  the  surface  of  the  sea,  and  suddenly  a  great  fear  took  us,  for  we  saw  they  grew  in  size,  and  so  therefore  moved  rapidly  in  our  direction.

“Perhaps they’re those corposant lights people talk about, sir?” I asked, trying my best to keep any sign of fear from telling in my voice.

“Whatever it is, lad, it’s nothing I’ve ever seen before, and we need to get ourselves into a new position pretty sharpish!”

Quickly  we  took  up  the  oars  and  began  to  head  for  a  position  behind  the  island,  but  it  was  only  a  few  strokes  later  when  Masson  told  me  to  cease  rowing  and  remain  still  for  the  sake  of  my  life.  Almost  paralysed  by  fear,  we  watched  as  the  lights  grew  ever  nearer,  and  soon  it  was  when  the  full  extent  of  horror  was  revealed  to  us.  For  suddenly  the  ‘trees’  of  the  island  no longer  moaned,  but  screamed  aloud  with  cries  of  pain  and  terror.  We  looked  closely,  and  in  the  moonlight  saw  the  phosphorescent  green  bodies  of  an  army  of  giant  sea  lizards  that  swarmed  the  island.  I  watched  in  horror  as  their  giant  jaws  closed  around  the  trunks  of  the  trees,  and  listened  as  the  screams  of  pain  turned  to  gurgled  chokes  of  death.  And  in  all  this  time  we  did  not  move  a  muscle,  but  only  looked  on  in  horror  at  the  great  savagery  of  the  lizards.

Now,  when  the  slaughter  was  at  last  over,  it  was  with  relief  that  I  saw  the  lizards  slipping  back  into  the  weed-covered  sea  and  heading  back  in  the  direction  from  whence  they  came.  But  still  there  remained  with  us  a  feeling  of  unease;  and  so  we  rowed  away  from  the  island  deep  into  the  night,  for  there  had  been  something  about  the  whole  affair  which  greatly  haunted  the  mind.

As  we  rowed,  we  began  to  find  it  increasingly  hard  work;  it  seemed  the  weed  thickened  about  us  the  further  we  ventured  outwards  towards  open  waters.  And  so,  being  in  a  wearied  state,  we  settled  down  to  two  or  three  hours  sleep  before  dawn.  But  even  in  those  few  hours  of  rest  our  sleep  came  to  be  disturbed,  for  at  times  we  heard  movement  amongst  the  weed,  and  aiming  the  beam  torch  outwards,  saw  the  sight  of  a  great  devil-fish  framed  within  the  light.  At  that,  we  killed  the  light  and  in  a  state  of  great  fear  rowed  to  a  new  position,  for  the  thing  could  have  brought  us  to  a  watery  grave  with  one  blow  from  its  mighty  tentacles.

With  the  first  light  of  day  we  commenced  rowing  again,  and  in  a solemn,  misty  sunrise  we  occasionally  saw  the  dark  and  shadowy  outlines  of  derelicts;  ships  that  had  long  lain  immobile  within  the  weed.  And  even  in  this  poor  light  it was  possible  to  tell  that  these  ships  were  of  a  great  age,  so  that  it  was  a  solemn  thought  to  think  of  all  the  lonesome  years  that  time  had  passed  over  them,  and very  sombre was I when I  thought  of  the  crews   that  could  have  done  nothing  save  await  their  own  deaths.

As  the  day  wore  on,  the  mist  quickly   burnt  up  and  an  oppressive  heat  came  down  from  the  sun  of  a  clear  blue  sky.  The  air  seemed  to  have  about  it  a  hard-to-breathe  quality,  and  I  became  concerned  about  Masson,  who  was  now  struggling  greatly  with  the  rowing  and  taking  water  much  too  quickly.  Sometime  later  I  noticed  another derelict,  and  the  sight  of  this  one  filled  me  with  much  interest,  for  it  was  of  a  modern  type.  Seeing  it  would  be  of  no  great  departure,  we  decided  at  once  to  head  towards  it,  as  we  badly  needed  rest  and  shelter  from  the  sun.

Pulling  the  boat  alongside,  I  noticed  a  green  growth  of  fungi  which  had  begun  to  grow  on  the  hull,  but  still  this  did  not  prevent  me  from  reading  the  name  of  the  vessel,  and  with  a  great  excitement  I  read  the  name  Vanity  Fair.  The  Vanity  Fair  had  gone  missing  six  months  earlier,  and  everyone  had  thought  her  to  be  a  victim  of  the  storms  of  the  Atlantic,  but  here  she  was  in  the  Sargasso.  Could  anyone  still  remain  alive?  We  boarded  by  way  of  a  rope  ladder  which  hung  down  loose  over  the  side,  and  as  we  gained  the  decks  I  shouted  loudly  to  attract  any  sign  of  life,  but  no  reply  came  to  meet  us.

It  was  as  we  walked  the  main-deck  that  the  stench  first  came  to  us  —  the  stench  of  decay.  We  came  to  the  area  of  the  cargo hold,  and  saw  that  the  sliding  double doors  had  been  smashed  right  through.  Looking  downwards,  I  saw  the  worst  sight  of  my   life.  The  crew  had  obviously  been  under  attack  from  some  nameless  horror  of  the  weed,  and  had  wrongly  chosen  the  cargo  hold  as  the  safest  place  of  refuge.  The  bodies  of  the  men  covered  the  entire  area  of  the  floor;  the  flesh  had  mostly  been  ripped  from  every  man, but  their skulls still  appeared  frozen  in  a  state  of  agonised,  silent  screams.  We  could  stay  on  board  no  longer,  better  at  least  to  die  in  the  effort  of  escape  than  to  await  the  fate  of  these  men.

***

It  is  three  days  now  since  we  left  the  Vanity  Fair.  I  sit  here  writing  this  account,  although  I  know  it  will  probably  never  be  read.  Masson  is  now  unconscious  and  I  cannot  revive  him.  The  sun  continues  to  blaze  down  and  our  water  supply  is very low.  The  weed  is  now  too  thick  to  row  through.  All  I  can  do  now  is  hope…  hope  and  pray!

William  Holton, 1877.

EXTRACT  FROM  THE  LOG-BOOK  OF  THE  ‘GOLDEN  STAR’ :

                                                                  July  18th  1877.

After  the  storm,  a  small  rowboat  was  sighted  by  the  look-out.  Aboard  were  found  two  men,  one  long-dead  and  the  other  a  youth  of   nineteen   in  a  state  of  high  delirium.  The  survivor  has  now  taken  water  and  was  able  to  inform  us  that  both  men  were  of  the  Sea  Witch  —  a  ship  lost  fourteen  days  ago  to  the vast  Sargasso  Sea.

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MATANGO!!!


For some reason, William Hope Hodgson has not been widely adapted in television or movies.  There are only three known television adaptations and just one film adaptation: MATANGO.

Based on Hodgson’s well-known short story, “The Voice in the Night”, MATANGO is an odd little film.  Produced by Toho Studios in 1963, it has gone on to achieve cult status and remains popular today.

MATANGO was directed by Ishiro Honda, who also directed such Toho classics as the original GODZILLA, RODAN, MOTHRA, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS and many others.  The script was written by Takeshi Kimura who allegedly threw out the original adaptation written by Masami Fukushima and Shinichi Hoshi.  Kimura would later consider MATANGO to be his best work and it reflected his dark and gloomy personality.

The film was nearly banned in Japan due to the fact that the characters makeup as they become mushroom was too reminiscent of survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In following years, it would be considered that the mushroom eating was symbolic for drug use which, considering the color scheme and the often psychedelic episodes, is extremely likely.

At some point between 1963 and 1965, Toho had the film dubbed in English in Hong Kong, conceivably for international distribution.  However, MATANGO was never released theatrically in America but did enjoy a limited UK release under its original name.  In 1965, American International Pictures syndicated a version on 16mm color film to television.  AIP changed the film’s name to ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE which, for many people in the US, remains the name under which it is best known.  Despite the change in title, AIP left the movie virtually intact.

The filmed version deviates from the original story in several ways.  The original, doomed couple is now replaced with a group of seven diverse people who are caught in a storm during a pleasure trip on a private yacht.   The characters include the skipper, his assistant, a writer, a university professor, and a celebrity who has brought along his female guests (a professional singer and a student).  Because of this assortment, some have made connections between this movie and the television sitcom, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND.

After landing on a deserted island, they find that the land is overgrown with mushrooms which they worry may be poisonous.  They discover a mysterious, wrecked ship on the shore which appears to have only been there for a year despite the fact that the sails are rotted and the interior is covered with mold and fungus.  After cleaning the ship, they surmise that it may have been involved in some kind of nuclear testing which has caused the giant mushrooms and other mutations.

As their food supply dwindles, they begin to fight with each other and anarchy develops.  Eventually most of the party succumb to eating the fungi which is highly addictive.  They eventually discover that eating the fungi changes people into the giant mushrooms who attack the survivors.  Finally, the professor escapes but it is too late for him as his face is already being covered with the fungi.

In many ways similar to such horror films as INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, MATANGO has an overwhelming feeling of crushing doom.  The feeling that there is no escape permeates much of the last half of the film and the climax reveals that, even though you think you have survived, you are wrong.

MATANGO has been released on dvd and is available via Amazon at:

http://www.amazon.com/Matango-Attack-Mushroom-Akira-Kubo/dp/B00076ON28/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1345590871&sr=1-1&keywords=Matango

However, it seems to have increased greatly in price recently indicating either a greater demand or dwindling supply.

If you’d like to watch the complete, dubbed version of the film online, you can do it here for free:

http://archive.org/details/TheMushroomAttackAkaMatango

MATANGO remains an excellent film and worth watching by any fan of William Hope Hodgson.  Now I need to find some of those great toys!–Sam Gafford

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William Hope Hodgson and Arkham House


Today is the 122nd birthday of H.P. Lovecraft!  The importance of Lovecraft and his work in American Literature cannot be disputed and we recently reprinted an article on WHH by Lovecraft himself in which he praised much of Hodgson’s writings.  (Click here for that blog post in case you missed it!)

So in honor of the Gentleman from my home state of Rhode Island, let’s take a look at the extremely important contribution to Hodgson’s legacy made by the company which also kept Lovecraft’s memory and work from dying in the pulps: Arkham House!

Arkham House was started in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei.  Their initial purpose was to preserve the writings of their friend, H. P. Lovecraft in hardcover.  From that beginning, Arkham House spread to become one of the leading publishers of weird fiction beginning the careers of such important writers as Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley.  In addition, Arkham House brought classic writers to entirely new generations.  One of those writers was William Hope Hodgson.

Throughout Arkham House’s history, they published three collections of Hodgson’s fiction (two through AH and one through their imprint, Mycroft & Moran).  These volumes are now highly prized by collectors but their most significant achievements were simply keeping Hodgson’s work alive and available.

1.  THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND AND OTHER NOVELS

THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND AND OTHER NOVELS was the 16th book published by Arkham House.  It was published in 1946 and the four color jacket by Hannes Bok was the first color dj on an Arkham House book.  The book is 639 pages long and records state that 3,014 copies were printed.  It is very similar in size and shape to Arkham House’s first book, Lovecraft’s THE OUTSIDER AND OTHERS, and the 17th Arkham House book, SKULL-FACE AND OTHERS by Robert E. Howard.  It originally sold for $5.  Copies today can easily run from $500-$1,000 depending upon condition.  This volume contained:

“William Hope Hodgson: Master of the Weird and Fantastic” by H.C. Koenig

THE BOATS OF THE “GLEN CARRIG”

THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND

THE GHOST PIRATES

THE NIGHT LAND

“Bibliography” by A. Langley Searles

This is arguably the most important book in Hodgson’s publishing history.  After the series of cheap reprints by Holden & Hardingham in 1920-21, Hodgson was virtually forgotten.  In fact, no books by Hodgson were reprinted at all between 1921 and this volume in 1946.  Had H.C. Koenig not convinced both Lovecraft and August Derleth of the merit of Hodgson’s work, this book would never had appeared and Hodgson would only be a footnote in the history of weird fiction today.  Because this collection appeared, the novels were kept alive to garner more fans and result in the paperback reprints by Ace in 1962 of HOUSE and NIGHT LAND.  It would not be until 1971 that Ballantine would include BOATS as part of their Adult Fantasy paperback series and THE GHOST PIRATES would not be reprinted until the British edition from Sphere in 1975.  This single book is the trigger for all that has followed since.

2.  CARNACKI, THE GHOST-FINDER

CARNACKI, THE GHOST-FINDER was only the 2nd book to be published by the Arkham House imprint, Mycroft & Moran.  Developed to showcase mystery and detective fiction, M&M was named after two characters from the Sherlock Holmes mythos (Mycroft, Holmes’ brother, and Moran, who was the infamous Professor Moriarity’s second in command).  The bulk of M&M’s output seems to be devoted to Derleth’s own Holmes pastiche, Solar Pons.

The dust jacket on this volume was created by artist Frank Utpatel.  Released in 1947 at 241 pages and priced at $3 with a print run of 3,050, this is the most important edition of Carnacki ever to be published.

The reason for that is the fact that this edition contained three stories that had not been included in the previous Carnacki collections of 1913 or 1921.  These three stories were acquired by Derleth through H. C. Koenig (who likely had gotten them originally from Hodgson’s family).  The most powerful and popular Carnacki story, “The Hog”, was one of these three stories.  This means that Lovecraft likely never read this story despite the fact that it echoes many of the themes and effects Lovecraft himself used in his fiction.

Ever since the appearance of this collection in 1947, all subsequent editions have included the three ‘uncollected’ stories.  The contents are:

“The Thing Invisible”

“The Gateway of the Monster”

“The House among the Laurels”

“The Whistling Room”

“The Searcher of the End House”

“The Horse of the Invisible”

“The Haunted Jarvee”

“The Find”

“The Hog”

(The last three listed were the ones Derleth included in this new edition.)

Once again, had Arkham House not published those three ‘missing’ stories, it is entirely likely that they would have been lost.  Only “The Haunted Jarvee” was published previously (in an issue of the EMPIRE MAGAZINE in 1929).  If nothing else, Derleth and Arkham House deserve praise for rescuing “The Hog” from obscurity.

Although not as collectible as HOUSE, the average price for this book on the used book market is between $100-$150.

3.   DEEP WATERS

DEEP WATERS was the third and last Hodgson collection to be published by Arkham House.  This volume also featured a cover by Frank Utpatel.  Released in 1967, the book contained 300 pages and retailed for $5.  Although Hodgson had published a collection named MEN OF DEEP WATERS in 1914, this book is not a reprint.  Instead, Derleth removed the non-weird stories from the original collection and added some others to maintain the focus on the weird.  The contents include:

“Foreward” by August Derleth

“The Sea Horses”

“The Derelict”

“The Thing in the Weeds”

“From the Tideless Sea”

“The Island of the Ud”

“The Voice in the Night”

“The Adventure of the Headland”

“The Mystery of the Derelict”

“The Shamraken Homeward-Bounder”

“The Stone Ship”

“The Crew of the Lancing”

“The Habitants of Middle Islet”

“The Call in the Dawn”

For most of these stories, this was their first reprint since their original magazine appearances which, in some cases, were 40 years previously!  By collecting these stories together, not only was Derleth preserving their memory but also bringing them to an entirely new generation who were able to see that Hodgson was a master of the sea-horror story.  Although originally planned as early as the late 40s, DEEP WATERS did not appear until 1967.  Possible reasons for this could have been Arkham House’s financial state (never particularly strong) or the amount of time it may have taken for the last two Hodgson books to sell out.  This book can usually be found today for between $60-$100.

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I feel that it is safe to say that we owe Derleth and Arkham House a great debt as Hodgsonians.  Without these three books, we probably would never be able to read Hodgson today.  Remember also that these books were a direct result of constant encouragement by H. C. Koenig.

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E. A. Edkins and some updates!


Since running the article on Hodgson’s poetry by E. A. Edkins from the June, 1944, issue of THE READER AND COLLECTOR, several of our readers have filled in some information about the enigmatic Mr. Edkins.  First, here we have this picture of Edkins from 1925, courtesy of Juha-Matti Majala:

Juha-Matti also added the following information:

“I recently happened to obtain a book which prints (reset) the complete three volume run of the amateur journal The Aonian which Edkins edited and Timothy Thrift published. (The book lacks identification other than “Lucky Dog Press”, but was evidently issued by Thrift near the end of the 1940s.) There’s a good 1920s photo of Edkins included as a frontispiece (as is one of Thrift — and the best photo of “Tryout” Smith that I have seen elsewhere
in the book).

“Interesting that Edkins commented on Hodgson’s poetry.  Apparently he had some interest in the weird, and in fact wrote (during the “halcyon days” of amateur journalism) a story which HPL praised — need to look up the title, it may be “Phantasm”. He writes not having read WHH’s fiction, though. It’s a great loss that Lovecraft’s letters to EAE evidently perished (at least for the most part, as far as I know not even the possible few surviving items have come to light so far). I’ll try to summarise what I know of Edkins together with the scan — as I mentioned in The Nonconformist, I’m currently researching information on the Lovecraft associates with Christopher  O’Brien, although we haven’t yet looked into EAE very carefully.”

In addition, the ever helpful Gene Biancheri contributed this:

ERNEST A. EDKINS [1867-1946] was born in England and migrated with his family to Canada in 1869. His father was an expert gunsmith who had joined the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, then returned to England. Ernest was self-educated and became an executive for Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. His literary talents as a poet, essayist, editorialist, writer of short stories and critic were enhanced by an interest in amateur journalism — he joined The Fossils in 1906. After his retirement in 1934, he renewed his efforts in trying to improve the literary standards of amateur journalism through the influence of H. P. Lovecraft. Edward H. Cole, in his obituary for fellow Fossil Edkins, called him “probably the most notable writer [in] amateur journalism.” [Source of this bio: THE FOSSIL, Vol. XLIV, No. 2, October 1946.]

Obviously, there is much more work that needs to be done regarding Edkins!  Lets hope we hear more soon.

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The June, 1944, issue of THE READER AND COLLECTOR contained two small snippets of Hodgson poetry on pages that had extra space.  In the interest of completeness, I am reproducing them here so that all of the booklet is represented.  The first, “The Ghost Pirates”, comprised the bottom half of the page with August Derleth’s paragraph, “William Hope Hodgson”:

The Ghost Pirates

“Strange as the glimmer of

the ghostly light

That shines from some vast crest

of wave at night.”

The second bit of poetry appeared at the end of the Fritz Leiber, Jr., article, “William Hope Hodgson: Writer of Supernatural Horror”:

The Place of Storms

“While, in the sea, far down between Storm’s Knees,

I saw a bloated horror watching there–

A waiting shape, a shark; and deeper still,

A hideous, loathsome, writhing mass, that claimed

The Ocean’s silent bed–a foul affront

To Nature’s strange and wondrous handiwork,

Smirching the very deep with darker hue.”

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I would like to express my extreme gratitude to everyone who has been reading this blog regularly.  It’s easy to get discouraged when you take on a project like this so I appreciate all your support.  I am often amazed by the varied countries that show that someone from there has read something on the blog.  The U.S. is the #1 country so far, followed by the U.K. (not surprisingly) but I have also had hits from such places as Finland, Serbia, Kahzistan and many other places that I never knew had any interest in Hodgson.  I’m thrilled to see such activity and hope that it will continue to grow in the future.

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Q&A

I’d like to open up this opportunity for anyone to ask me any question you might have about Hodgson and his work.  I want to make this a regular feature of the blog so please, don’t be shy.  No question is stupid.  I will happily answer any and all questions to the best of my ability.  Just leave your question in the comment section for this post and I will compile them all into a future post.  When’s the last time you’ve had the opportunity to ask someone about Hodgson?

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Thank you all again for your continued support.  After the intensive articles of the last few weeks, we’ll be taking a break next week with some ‘lighter’ subjects.  Hope to see you all then!–Sam Gafford

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“An Appreciation”


This marks the final item to appear in the June, 1944, issue of THE READER AND COLLECTOR.  It is unsigned and, although I know that it marked half of an obituary of Hodgson, I have not been able to identify in which paper it was originally printed.  The author of the piece appears to have been a close friend of Hodgson but not part of the family.  One of the most powerful passages quotes a letter which WHH wrote during WWI.  Sadly, few letters like this exist although it is always possible that more may be held in private collections.

I would like to express my extreme admiration and gratitude to Mr. Gene Biancheri, the son-in-law of the late H. C. Koenig.  Gene generously sent me a photocopy of this very rare issue of THE READER AND COLLECTOR and has been unceasingly supportive of both this blog and my efforts regarding Hodgson scholarship.  Gene has constantly been both open and willing to share any information I asked for and I hope that all other Hodgson scholars will adapt his example.

I hope that everyone has enjoyed reading these essays as much as I have.  They show that Hodgson had already garnered a wide variety of supporters which included many prominent writers of the day.–Sam Gafford

An Appreciation*

William Hope Hodgson

“It is written of some men that to know them is to love them”.  It is frequently written without sincerity, but it cannot be so written with regard to one who has just passed over.  It was in September last that he wrote to me expressing the hope that at some future date we might meet and “find in each other kindred spirits”.  It was just like  him to assume that an obscure person whose name he did not even know and who followed the same road, but far behind him, should be worth of his friendship.  He wrote: “Eight years at sea, three times around the world, ten years an author, and now nearly two and a half years a soldier—for I left my little chalet on the French Riviera to join up—brings me to 1917, and if good fortune attends me I shall be in France this week-end”.  It was characteristic of his large hearted personality the he should have enclosed his photograph—and it is curious that never since that letter was received has it left my pocket.  There are some letters like that—but how few from the hundreds are worthy keeping and carrying for seven months.  What he was as an author one is not competent to judge.  His critics were all of one mind, and each new work as it appeared brought from the leading literary weeklies some new word of praise.  On the only occasion we ever met he asked me, “Do you like imaginative stuff,” and the next day’s post brought me his wonderful romance, “The Nightland”.  What he was pleased to call pot-boilers were eagerly sought after by the leading London magazines but his heart lay in the bigger tasks.  What it must have meant to a temperament like his to leave his quiet home and work for the big guns can be imagined.  He did it cheerfully, as many others have done.  To some it is worse than to others.  To the sensitive, to the poet, to the writer, it is something different from what it can be to the ordinary person.  They see further and they feel more acutely.  No man “left all” in a more literal sense than did Hope Hodgson, and what it meant to him will never be known.  He laughingly said once that it was “good for local colour”.  He joined from a great sense of duty, and now his duty done he is free from earthly things.  In one of his last letters he wrote “Shells bursting all around us, and yet one did not seem to care, hardly even noticed them.  The moment was too intense, tremendous—looked forward to through weary months with hope and expectation and some wonder and perhaps dread lest one should fall short—and then in a moment the event was upon us…and that with gun-firing with two of us loading it, firing a round every three seconds, and even faster, I should say.  The whole road where the Germans were coming round the end of a wood was simply one roar of dust and smoke where our shells were striking.”  “A dread lest one should fall short”—there was no need for dread on his part.  His work remains.  A life work crowned not with fullness of years and praise of men, but with the sublimest heroism.  The praise of men he had for all the work he did; not that he wanted it, but it was his due.  In his wife he had a collaborator of like talent and sympathy.  To her remain the best memories; to us an odd letter or two and his writings.  “There is no one who can fill his place in his home nor in his sphere of work.”

*This letter of appreciation originally appeared in a British newspaper.

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“WHH: Writer of Supernatural Horror” by Fritz Leiber, Jr.


This essay, the seventh to appear in the June, 1944, issue of THE READER AND COLLECTOR is an insightful (although brief) examination of Hodgson’s supernatural novels by a celebrated author: Fritz Leiber, Jr.

Along with Robert E. Howard, Leiber is considered to be one of the founding fathers of ‘sword & sorcery’ fantasy.  Like many writers of the period, Leiber also wrote extensively in other genres and won the Hugo Award for his novel, THE WANDERER, in 1964.  He also earned several more Hugos and other awards for his short stories.  A contemporary and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft, Leiber also wrote several early scholarly articles on Lovecraft.

For those wishing to learn more about Fritz Leiber, Jr., check out these websites:

Fritz Leiber (Wikipedia entry)
SF Hall of Fame (Leiber’s entry)
Bibliography (ISFDB entry)

As before, the introductory paragraph to the essay was written by H. C. Koenig.  I have retained the formatting used by Koenig.–Sam Gafford

Fritz Leiber, Jr. (1910-1992)

William Hope Hodgson: Writer of Supernatural Horror

By Fritz Leiber, Jr.

Creator of those loveable rogues Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser whose adventures with wizards and sorcerers in the lands of black magic and necromancy make a welcome addition to the bibliography of the weird tale.  Contributor to numerous magazines devoted to fantasy.  A recent motion picture, Weird Woman, was adapted from one of his stories.

William Hope Hodgson achieved his greatest success in a literary form which most masters of supernatural horror have avoided because of its exceptional difficulty—the weird story of book length.  He did this without recourse to the stereotyped plot-elements of the Gothic novel (except for the love story which mars rather than embellishes “The Night Land”) or to the adventure or detective settings that modern authors have used to provide sufficient action to space out an eerie concept over some 75,000 words.

Undoubtedly the chief reason for his success in this field is the extreme, even naïve, seriousness with which he went to work.  He never succumbed to, perhaps never felt, the temptation to add facetious or whimsical touches in order to assure adult readers that he “did not really believe this stuff”.  Nor did he, for similar reasons, provide alternate scientific explanations or sophisticated psychological analyses of the spectral events he narrated.  His novels are presented in the guise of actual documents, “found by so-and-so” or “as told by so-and-so”, and are written, at a white heat of inspiration, in the directest possible way.  Note, for example, the abrupt opening of “The Boats of the Glen Carrig”—“Now we had been five days in the boats, and in all this time made no discovery of land.”—or of “The Ghost Pirates”—“He began without any circumlocution.  ‘I joined the Mortzestus in ‘Frisco.’”  This outstanding ability of Hodgson, to plunge into a dream world and stay there for a book-length sojourne, fits with his seriousness and lends to his tales a straightforward, desperate convincingness.  He is never apologetic, never inclined to provide cushioning explanations, no matter how bizarre the concepts he introduces.  (Such as those magnificent black landscapes looming with mountain-beast-idols—the “Watchers” of “The Night Land” and “The House on the Borderland”.  It would be interesting to know the imaginative antecedents of those landscapes—perhaps an early interest in Egyptian and Babylonian, or Mayan, or Indian, architecture.)

Hodgson shows as much freedom from traditional patterns and editorial demands in his choice of subject-matter as in his plot-structure.  He wrote before science-fiction had become a separate and widely-explored field, and, for example, did not hesitate to introduce into “The House on the Borderland” that chilling vision of Earth’s future, made possible by time-acceleration, which anticipates the impressive vistas of Olaf Stapledon.  To achieve the effects he desired, he combined supernatural terror, mystical speculation, and science-fiction, in a way peculiarly his own.

These various abilities enabled Hodgson to write such a novel as “The Ghost Pirates”, which to my mind fulfills at book length all the canons of the spectral tale laid down by Lovecraft, James, and others.  It is painstakingly realistic—consider the earthy, pungent conversations of the sailors—except when touching on the central supernatural phenomenon.  That phenomenon is unified and handled with adequate impressiveness.  There is no “scientific” explanation to let you down.  Nor is the story itself marred by romantic concessions—there is a steady progress toward doom, in which the suspense builds with an almost unparalleled uninterruptedness.  (Incidently, Sime’s frontispiece for the book is magnificent and—oh, rare virtue!—magnificently faithful.)

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