Today we look at what is probably William Hope Hodgson’s most famous short story, “The Voice in the Night”.
First published in November, 1907, “The Voice in the Night” was a startlingly unique story. It begins with a ship becalmed in the ocean. Two sailors in the night watch are suddenly hailed by a strange voice from out in the dark. The mysterious voice begs for provisions but refuses to come close to the ship. Puzzled, the sailors float out some food to the voice which abruptly disappears. A short time later the voice reappears and tells the sailors a horrifying tale of shipwreck, starvation and fungus. The ending remains one of the most powerful in the history of short weird fiction.
“The Voice in the Night” was Hodgson’s fourth published short story and appeared in the same year that his novel The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” was published. Given that Hodgson took to writing full time around 1903 (the year he closed his School of Physical Culture), we can reasonably assume that this was one of WHH’s earlier works. Already Hodgson shows a strong grasp of his style and the construction of the plot and climax show remarkable skill and ability. In keeping with his Sargasso Sea stories, it is an expertly crafted story of sea-horror.
So far, “The Voice in the Night” has been twice adapted in the media. The first occasion came when it appeared as a segment of the television show, Suspicion, in 1958. This adaptation starred James Coburn and Patrick Macnee as the sailors and is a straight-forward retelling of the story. Despite the limitations of 1950’s television, it is surprisingly effective. The other media version of the tale is, of course, 1963’s MATANGO! Produced by Toho Studios, the motion picture version of the story takes some liberties but remains an eerie and disturbing film. (Read more about Matango in an earlier post on this blog at: https://williamhopehodgson.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/matango/)
One of the more unusual incidents in the history of “The Voice in the Night” is it’s appearance in Playboy Magazine in July, 1954. I cannot help but wonder what Hodgson would have thought of the magazine which reprinted his story! Undoubtedly, Hodgson’s sister, Lissie, must not have realized the salacious content of the issue.
Since it’s first appearance in 1907, “The Voice in the Night” has been reprinted at least 43 times. It remains one of Hodgson’s most anthologized stories and is often described as one of the greatest horror short stories ever written.
If you haven’t read the story, you can find it free online here:
And even if you have read it before, read it again!