“The Voice in the Night”


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:

http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/voicenig.htm

And even if you have read it before, read it again!

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4 Comments

Filed under William Hope Hodgson

4 responses to ““The Voice in the Night”

  1. Paul

    I found out about this short story thanks to a radio adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s anthologies in the 90s. The show, called “Crime Story”, aired on “Europe 1”, a French station. It was hosted by Serge Sauvion (a voice actor also known as the French voice of Columbo) who would read the stories, and change his voice to play the different parts.

    A few episodes can still be found online at: http://morandini10.free.fr/AUDIO/CRIME/. The second link on that page starts with the opening music and should give a good idea of the show’s atmosphere even to non-French speakers.

    “A voice in the night” is probably the scariest episode of “Crime Story” I ever heard. So memorable that I still remember it and felt the need to find its title and author after all this time.

  2. elmediat

    Great post. We used this story with our Grade 11 English class. It gave them the creeps. 😀

  3. Micky

    What! The Voice In The Night In Playboy? Unbelievable …

    This sea yarn was one of the first horror stories by WHH I read and I remember I did not like it much after my first perusal; but I read it again two or three years ago and the impression evoked by the pathetic fate of the two doomed lovers dying on an uncharted island contaminated with the horrendous fungi was much more stronger. Also the influence is indisputable; when I was reading The Fruiting Bodies by Brian Lumley I remebered immediately and spontaneously WHH’s “The Voice In The Night“. But in the teeth of all the merits this “The Vioce“ has I must say Hodgson wrote more effective stories both horror (Baumoff Explosive, The Derelict) or adventure ones (Through The Vortex Of A Cyklone, Kind, Kind And Gentle She Is)

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