It is well known that famed writer H. P. Lovecraft enjoyed the works of William Hope Hodgson. After all, he included WHH in a later version of his groundbreaking essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature, as well as incorporating that section into an article published in The Reader and Collector (June, 1944). We previously presented that article in an earlier entry on the blog at https://williamhopehodgson.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/the-weird-work-of-william-hope-hodgson-by-h-p-lovecraft/.
But did Lovecraft have anything more to say about Hodgson?
A review of Arkham House’s Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft shows that WHH is not mentioned much in HPL’s private letters. Well, at least not in those selected for the Arkham House editions. After being loaned copies of WHH’s novels and Carnacki by friend H. C. Koenig in 1934, HPL’s mentions of WHH tend to be very superficial. In a letter to E. Hoffman Price on August 31, 1934, HPL states that “I am still reveling in the discovery of William Hope Hodgson—which, as I told you, I owe to the always-accommodating Koenig.” (SLV, pg 26)
The most revealing section occurs in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith dated September 30, 1934:
Well—as you see, I surely have become a premier Hodgson fan! Do you know anything about W. H. H. and his career? Koenig tells me he was killed in the war. All told, I believe that nobody but Blackwood can equal or surpass him in capturing the exact shades of the cosmic horror mood in all their actual details. But he was uneven—again like Blackwood. Carnacki is very weak, artificial, and stereotyped as a whole despite the strong points which you justly point out—and the Glen Carrig certainly suffered a letdown halfway through. As soon as the castaways have dwelt on the island long enough to become tangible realities employing obvious siege strategy, something of the story’s original tension and sense of malign expectancy is lost. Also—the attempt to use 18th century English rings absurdly false to any sincere devotee of the 18th century. I agree about The Ghost Pirates—and what a wealth of technical sea lore it contains! I wonder if Hodgson was ever a sailor? But the masterpiece, so far as I can see, is The House on the Borderland. Boy—that dim, brooding air of menace! And that stupefying cosmic sweep! I am all on edge to read The Night Land . . . (SLV, pg 41)
In a letter to Duane Rimel dated September 28, 1935, HPL states:
It is well to avoid actually recognized myths such as vampirism, reincarnation, etc., and invent one’s own obscure violations of cosmic law. What common myth, for example, does Blackwood use in The Willows? Or Chambers in The Yellow Sign? Or Hodgson in The House on the Borderland? These writers create a sort of distinctive awe of their own and manage to say something fresh despite all that has been said before. (SLV, pg 198)
The only other mention of WHH comes later when HPL once again takes Hodgson to task for his inferior imitation of 18th century English. This mention is only a brief aside as HPL is complaining about other writers also having a similar problem.
It is interesting to note that, in the published HPL letters, he does not speak about WHH very much despite an obvious respect for the work. The fact that he compares Hodgson to Blackwood demonstrates the high regard Lovecraft felt for WHH. Perhaps if he had discovered Hodgson earlier, as he did Dunsany or Machen, Lovecraft would have been influenced by Hodgson’s cosmicism which was so similar to his own.
Lovecraft, H. P. The Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft, Volume V: 1934-1937. Arkham House. Sauk City: WI, 1976. (Abbreviated as SLV)