“The Baumoff Explosive”


One of the most unusual stories in the works of William Hope Hodgson is the tale, “The Baumoff Explosive”.  Not only is religion the primary focus of the plot but the scientific approach used sets it apart from, not just WHH’s stories, but much of weird fiction as well.

The story concerns a chemist, Baumoff, who is attempting an unusual experiment.  It is Baumoff’s belief that the darkening of the sky and earthquakes recorded in the Bible at the instant of the death of Jesus Christ are physical phenomenon that can not only be explained but also recreated.  His attempt to accomplish this succeeds but not exactly in the way he had anticipated.

WHH rarely discusses religion in his stories.  Although some of his tales have sentimental overtones (such as “Sea-Horses), they don’t focus on religious concepts.  Even in “My House Shall Be Called the House of Prayer”, the fact that the character is a priest is a minor element in the story and it is not hinted that his kindness is due to his religion.   In “The Captain of the Onion-Boat”, religion is the reason that the Captain and his lady love are being kept apart.  As such, the view towards religion is not particular favorable in that story.  It has been said that Hodgson had many animated ‘discussions’ about religion with his father who was an Anglican priest.  Hodgson’s biographers, Moskowitz and Everts, have stated that Hodgson himself was decidedly not religious which might have helped him come up with the plot to this story.

In “The Baumoff Explosive”, the religious aspect borders on the sacrilegious.  The fact that Baumoff is attempting to recreate the physical effects of Christ’s death indicates the desire to accept Jesus as an ordinary man.  This, no doubt, hindered the publication of this story.

Sam Moskowitz, in his introduction to OUT OF THE STORM, states:

Among the strangest, most atypical science-fantasies Hodgson ever wrote was the tale titled Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachtahni.  On the corrected carbon-copy of this story, Hodgson scribbled: “began this yarn Jan., 14, 1912, Sunday night, very late.”  On the back of the last page of the same manuscript he wrote: “Finished this yarn at four minutes past seven (by my clock which is fast) on the morning of Thursday, January 26, 1912, having worked all night.  Hooray!”  He also added a comment, in acknowledgement of the off-beat nature of his yarn: “I wonder whether it will prove clear and interesting.  Anyway, it is a striking notion.” (OoS, pg 97-98)

                The story had been originally titled in Hebrew which, translated, is “My God!  My God!  Why hast Thou forsaken me?”  As Moskowitz states, the story was originally written in 1912.  It was not published until September of 1919 when it appeared in Nash’s Weekly.  After that, it would not appear again until 1973 when it appeared in the Fall issue of Weird Tales which was being edited by Moskowitz at the time.  The fact that it took 7 years for it to appear after WHH finished writing it could be due to the somewhat sacrilegious nature of the story.  This could also explain why it was not reprinted for 54 years.  According to Moskowitz, Hodgson’s widow “submitted it to many markets” without success until 1912.

One of the aspects of the story is Baumoff accepting the religious aspects of Christ’s death as fact instead of faith.  This quality, Moskowitz states, precedes the similar efforts as such writers as C.S. Lewis, Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Michael Moorcock and many others.  Because of this, the story “must logically take its place as a successful pioneering effort in that specialized field.” (OoS, p99)

The actual experiment, as depicted, is quite frightening and effective.  It remains one of WHH’s most chilling sequences.  Sadly, despite this, “The Baumoff Explosive” is not one of Hodgson’s better known stories.  It has only been reprinted 8 times since its original appearance.   Hopefully, in the future, more readers will come to appreciate this unique story.

If you’d like to read “The Baumoff Explosive”, follow this link!

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Baumoff_Explosive

Sources

Hodgson, William Hope.  OUT OF THE STORM: UNCOLLECTED FANTASIES BY WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON.  Edited by Sam Moskowitz.  West Kingston, RI: Donald M. Grant, 1975.

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18 Comments

Filed under Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson

18 responses to ““The Baumoff Explosive”

  1. Daniel del Valle

    The book is titled VOICES IN THE NIGHT RARE STORIES, published by World Library Classics Books. There is no publishing date and it is a rather handsome paperback. Cover art is by Lurii. The back cover has this text:
    This volume collects eight rare tales of men and the sea by William
    Hope Hodgson. Included are such gems as “The Derelict”, “A Tropical
    Horror”, Demons of the Sea”, “The Stone Ship”, “The Things in the
    Weeds”, and “The Voice in the Night”.
    The ISBN number is 9781557428042. I purchased this book through Amazon com and specifically because it included “The Baumoff Explosive”.

  2. Eric

    “The Baumoff Explosive” is also included in “Tales Before Tolkien” which is where I first read it; this was also the first time I read anything by Hodgson or even heard of him (that’s also how I first discovered the great Arthur Machen). I got hooked pretty quickly and read as much of his stuff as I could. If you’re interested, check it out, but keep in mind that the book only has one story per author.

    I’m a practicing Christian, and I wasn’t offended by this story at all. In fact, it’s one of my favorite horror stories.

    I view it as a story about a well-meaning man who meddled in things he should have left alone, which wound up providing an opening for an evil spirit to attack him. In other supernatural thrillers, particularly those that involve (or at least reference) the Bible, it’s common to see evil spirits behaving blasphemously and mocking the things that religious people would consider sacred. It’s part of the shock factor, and while this “can” reflect the attitude of the author, this isn’t always the case; sometimes, the author just does it to make the demonic/ghostly entity more unnerving.

    Read that way, the story doesn’t even really contradict Christian doctrine. Christians believe in evil spirits (typically referred to as “demons”) and that, if one isn’t careful, one can open themselves up to spiritual harassment. Granted, this story is a very exaggerated and fantastic version of that idea, but the core concept is the same. And why wouldn’t a being who opposes Christ take joy in mocking its enemy while tormenting its enemy’s servant.

    I didn’t walk away from this thinking that Hodgson was necessarily a Christian or that my understanding was THE definitive interpretation of it, but I “did” walk away from it with the sense that I had just read a story that could be interepreted from a variety of viewpoints (Atheist, Christian, etc.), my own included.

    Perhaps Hodgson “did” intend to take a swipe at my beliefs here, but if he did, the result is so deftly-handled that I honestly didn’t notice.

    • Micky

      Your post reminds me I also have this book though I read only two or three stories icluded in it because I had always thought I had better books to read at the moment to postpone the complete reading of “Tales Before Tolkien” for some future time which has not come so far but I promise I’ll get better 🙂

  3. Daniel del Valle

    I have”The Baumoff Explosive” in a collection of WHH stories titled VOICES IN THE NIGHT: RARE STORIES, published by World Library Books I was first made aware of this story by China Mieville in a radio talk about the “Wierd”. I remember that he said that the story gave him goosebumps.

    • Sam Gafford

      I don’t know this book. Could you give some more details about it?

      • Eric

        “Voice in the Night: Rare Stories” was published in 2009 and, as of today’s date, is still in print and can be found on Amazon.com for about $8.00 (and on Amazon.co.uk for about £13.00).

        As the title indicates, it included “A Voice in the Night”.
        Besides that and “The Baumoff Explosive”, it also contains
        “The Derelict”,
        “A Tropical Horror”,
        “Demons of the Sea”,
        “Jack Grey, Second Mate” (the only non-Weird story in this collection; it’s more of a grim action-romance),
        “The Thing in the Weeds”, and
        “The Stone Ship” (my personal favorite out of all of Hodgson’s short stories).

        The publisher is listed as WLC, but they used the same cover format that Wildside Press used on their editions of “The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig'”, “The Voice of the Ocean”, “The House on the Borderland”, and “The Ghost Pirates”; in fact, I initially thought Wildside “WAS” the publisher. I’m not sure if the two companies are somehow related or if WLC just decided to, for whatever reason, mimic the cover design template Wildside had been using.

        There’s a fairly-obvious typo on the back cover (“Demons of the Sea” is missing the opening quote mark), but I don’t remember if there were any typos in the stories themselves.

        • Sam Gafford

          Thanks! I may have to check this out!

          • Eric

            If you do, I hope you enjoy it.

            Keep in mind, however, that this book is stories and nothing else – no foreword, afterword, or annotations. If you already have all these stories in other books, it wouldn’t be worth your time or money.

            By that same token, if your Hodgson library is currently missing any of the above-mentioned tales, “Voices in the Night” would be a relatively-cheap way to acquire them.

            • Oh, I have all the stories in other collections but I like to pick up as many different Hodgson publications as possible. Now I still need to get some of those foreign blighters! 😉

          • Eric

            By the way, Daniel del Valle had it right, the title is “VOICES IN THE NIGHT”; my calling it “VOICE IN THE NIGHT” was a typo.

  4. Micky

    “Baumoff Explosive” is a tale narrated in a manner which I think was very popular at the days it was written – an individual watching a dangerous experiment performed by his friend, chiefly a mad scientist or so, with monstrous consequences. (Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” and Doyle’s “The Disintegration Machine” are in the same vein).
    This WHH’s yarn is one of his best and it has everything a good horror story needs – a religious bigot who tries to prove The Marvel Of The Cross by imitating the crucifixion and by absorbing the hideous chemical stimulant; the atmosphere is built up cleverly without giving the reader a clue what comes next; and last but by no means the least the ambiguous death of the scientist under cisrumstances which are not fully explained (was he killed by heart attack, or by a being from the Void?)
    After reading this fantastic tale, a fan of classic horror stories who has never heard of mr. Hodgson must immediately take likening to the grandfather of modern macabre tales.

    • Sam Gafford

      Yes, the style WHH used here was very popular at the time. I’m not sure why it was so popular, what story started it,or when it fell out of favor. Might make for an interesting article!

  5. Anonymous

    The story is narrated in a manner which I think was very popular at that time – an individual watching a terrible experiment made by a mad scientist who is chiefly a friend of the narrator, and the consequences are hideous and monstrous. (now I can recall Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” and one of A.C.Doyle’s stories the title of which I can not remember at the moment, the tales which are of the same tone). “Baumoff Explosive” has everything a good horror story needs; original idea about a religious bigot and his attempts to prove the Marvel Of The Cross by imitating the crucifixion and by using the horrible chemical stimulant; the atmosphere is built up very well and cleverly without giving the reader a clue about what comes next; and last but by no menas least the terrible and inixplicable end of the scientist that has you think what actually kill him (heart attack; or a being of the Void?) Definitely one of WHH’s best yarns.

  6. Daniel del Valle

    It’s good to see justice done to this story. It deserves more attention, and I think it’s one of WHH’s best, The original title, “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachtanhi” would be considered as contributing to its so-called sacriligiousness, since these are Jesus’ actual words of doubt, shouted in the ninth hour of his crucifixtion. Later in the story some otherworldly entity shouts it through Baumoff with a sinister and mocking voice: “Do you understand, the voice was not Baumoff’s at all. It was not a voice of despair, but a voice sneering in an incredible, bestial, monstrous fashion.”
    These words are in Aramaic not Hebrew, since Jesus and his disciples spoke this tongue in a Gallilain dialect.

    • Sam Gafford

      I think that the lack of attention paid to this story is directly a result of how difficult it used to be to FIND it! After all, it didn’t appear in any of WHH’s anthologies published in his lifetime nor in many of the collections of his stories (probably because it was not nautical in nature). We really owe Sam Moskowitz a great debt for bringing this story back to life with the reprint in WEIRD TALES and then later in OUT OF THE STORM. OoS, by the way, has a really nice Fabian illustration accompanying the tale.

      • Micky

        Sometimes the blame is on the editors; there are beautiful and great stories by authors which are not included in many a book collection, while the bad tales by the same writters you can find in many anthologies. For instance, I have cca. twenty horror collections including several stories by Algernon Blackwood, but none of them contains his literal germs like “The Willows” or “The Listener” and “The Accessory Before The Fact” respectively; only very average tales like “Empty House” or “The Singular Death Of Morton”.

        To be absolutely candid, so far I have not found an anthology of horror stories of which I could say, “Wow, what an amazing collection, perfectly chosen and balanced!” But one of the best I have seen (and I have, of course) is “Tales of Dungeons and Dragons” (1986) by editor Peter Haining

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