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