Monthly Archives: November 2012

New Hodgson Article Available!


wfr3frontI’m happy to announce that my article “Hodgson v. Houdini: The Blackburn Challenge” has just been published by Centipede Press.  It appears in WEIRD FICTION REVIEW #3 which has just been released.

WEIRD FICTION REVIEW is an excellent magazine (edited by the amazingly prolific S. T. Joshi) which contains the best in articles, poetry and new weird fiction.  I would highly recommend it even if my article did not appear here!

Here is the publisher’s write up for the issue:

The Weird Fiction Review is an annual periodical devoted to the study of weird and supernatural fiction. It is edited by S.T. Joshi. This second issue contains fiction, poetry, and reviews from leading writers and promising newcomers. It features original stories and essays by Michael Cisco, Wilum Pugmire and Maryanne K. Snyder, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., Stuart Galbraith IV, Danel Olson, John Pelan, and many others; a lengthy, previously-unpublished interview with Karl Edward Wagner; a 16-page gallery of art by artist Jason Zerrillo; and much more.

My article is my attempt to provide the final word on the infamous encounter between Houdini and Hodgson which occurred at the Palace Theatre in Blackburn, England, in 1902.  The confrontation would leave Houdini permanently scarred (physically and emotionally) and is mentioned in virtually every Houdini biography.

I encourage all of the readers of this blog to get a copy of this wonderful magazine and not just because it contains my article.  Another great reason to pick up a copy is that it includes a new story by one of the best modern Lovecraftian writers, Wilum H. Pugmire.   WFR is an enterprise well worthy of our support.

On another note, much of my vision for the forthcoming Hodgson literary magazine, SARGASSO, has been inspired by WEIRD FICTION REVIEW.  I can only hope to attain such a high standard of excellence.

The issue cost $20 and can be ordered via Centipede Press at this link.

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Carnacki #3: “The Whistling Room”


(Spoiler Alert: This post discusses plot points of the story “The Whistling Room”.  If you have not read this story and do not wish to have it spoiled, stop reading now.  If you’d like to read the story and then come back to this post, you can read it here.)

Today we examine what is probably the second most popular Carnacki story written by William Hope Hodgson: “The Whistling Room”.  Originally appearing in the March, 1910, issue of The Idler, this story has been reprinted at least 23 times in English and several times in foreign languages as well.  It was also adapted for television in 1954 as an episode of The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse with Alan Napier as Carnacki.

The original appearance in The Idler contained a brief forward from the editors:

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Complaints continue to reach us from all parts of the country to the effect that Mr. W. HOPE HODGESON’s “Carnacki” stories are producing a widespread epidemic of Nervous Prostration! So far from being able to reassure or calm our nervous readers, we are compelled to warn them that “The Whistling Room”, which we publish this month, is worse than ever. Our advertising manager had to go to bed for two days after reading the advance sheets; a proof reader has sent in his resignation; and, worst of all, our smartest office boy — But this is no place to bewail or seek for sympathy. Yet another of those stories will appear in April!

Amusing as this hyperbole is, the story is one of the most effect Carnacki stories in the Hodgson canon.  Much of this is a result of Hodgson’s deft handling of the plot which, in lesser hands, would have been absurd.  Even today, it is difficult to imagine how this story could be adapted for television or film and be as effective as Hodgson’s prose.

The usual gang is summoned to Carnacki’s house for the usual meal and story but this time is different.  For once, Carnacki has called his friends while in the middle of a case.  He hopes, in fact, to be able to make some sense of the whole thing before returning.

Miss Donnehue

Once again, Carnacki has been to Ireland.  This time Iastrae Castle which is “twenty miles northeast of Galway”.  (It is interesting to note the use of Ireland both here and in the novel, The House on the Borderland.  Clearly, his time there while a youth made an impression upon Hodgson.)  Carnacki has come at the request of a Mr. Tassoc who has recently bought the castle and is having problems with a ‘haunted room’.  A recent arrival in Ireland, Tassoc has also wooed and won the hand of local beauty, Miss Donnehue, much to the chagrin of neighborhood lads.

The room, Tassoc explains, emits an eerie whistle at night and has begun to unnerve Tassoc, his brother and servant.  Tassoc is certain that the whistling is being caused by the rejected suitors who had all bet Tassoc that he would not stay six months in the place.  Determined to get to the bottom of the business, Tassoc has brought Carnacki into the case.

Shortly after his arrival, they hear “an extraordinary hooning whistle, monstrous and inhuman”.  The men rush to the room and Tassoc opens the door:

“As the door flew open, the sound beat out at us, with an effect impossible to explain to one who has not heard it – with a certain, horrible personal note in it; as if in there in the darkness you could picture the room rocking and creaking in a mad, vile glee to its own filthy piping and whistling and hooning. To stand there and listen, was to be stunned by Realisation. It was as if someone showed you the mouth of a vast pit suddenly, and said: – That’s Hell. And you knew that they had spoken the truth. Do you get it, even a little bit?”

Something tells Carnacki to get everyone out of the empty room and he quickly does so just as an “extraordinary yelling scream” comes into the whistling.  Certain that they have just escaped great danger, the men go to steady their nerves with a few drinks.  After the house has gone to sleep, Carnacki sneaks out and goes to the now-quiet room to prepares some of his ‘tests’.  He wears a “protection belt” of garlic around his neck but feels that even this may not be enough.

Opening the door, Carnacki is filled with an sense of danger but pushes himself to put up his ‘tests’ consist of long strings of hair across the windows and large fireplace.

“I stood a few seconds, waiting, and nothing happened, and the empty room showed bare from corner to corner. And then, you know, I realised that the room was full of an abominable silence; can you understand that? A sort of purposeful silence, just as sickening as any of the filthy noises the Things have power to make. Do you remember what I told you about that ‘Silent Garden’ business? Well, this room had just that same malevolent silence – the beastly quietness of a thing that is looking at you and not seeable itself, and thinks that it has got you. Oh, I recognised it instantly, and I whipped the top off my lantern, so as to have light over the whole room.”

Just as he is finishing, Carnacki feels the room change and a “low, mocking whistle grew in the room”.  It is then that Carnacki is sure that he has “come across one of those rare and horrible cases of the Inanimate reproducing the functions of the Animate.”  Overwhelmed with fear, Carnacki bolts out of the door.  Leaning against the opposite wall of the corridor, Carnacki recalls the passage from the Sigsand MS; “’thyr be noe sayfetie to be gained bye gayrds of holieness when the monyster hath pow’r to speak throe woode and stoene.”

Carnacki returns to his room where, shortly, Tassoc joins him unable to sleep with the unending whistling.  Tassoc is determined to bolt into the room and put paid to the matter but Carnacki restrains him by stating that the room is “about as dangerous as it well can be”.

The next morning, Carnacki finds that all of the hairs he placed the night before, except for one, were unbroken.  Nothing had entered or left that room while the whistling had occurred.  For the next three weeks, Carnacki examines every inch of the room as well as the castle but finds nothing.  But every night, the unholy whistling continues.

Then, one night, Carnacki hears some men outside and wonders if he has been mistaken all along.  Could it merely be a plot to drive Tassoc away?  But a careful watch for the next five days reveals no one around the Castle.

When he receives an urgent cable, Carnacki has to return to London but cautions Tassoc not to enter the room under any conditions.  It is at this point that he has called his friends together to tell them this half-story before returning.

Two weeks later, Carnacki has returned and relates the rest of the tale.

Returning back to the Castle late, Carnacki is approaching it as he hears the hellish whistling again.  Inspired, he gets a ladder and climbs up outside to look into the room through the window.  It is then that he sees the most horrible sight yet:

“And then, you know, I saw something. The floor in the middle of the huge, empty room, was puckered upwards in the centre into a strange, soft-looking mound, parted at the top into an ever-changing hole, that pulsated to that great, gentle hooning. At times, as I watched, I saw the heaving of the indented mound, gap across with a queer, inward suction, as with the drawing of an enormous breath; then the thing would dilate and pout once more to the incredible melody. And suddenly, as I stared, dumb, it came to me that the thing was living. I was looking at two enormous, blackened lips, blistered and brutal, there in the pale moonlight….”

The room itself is physically whistling.

Terrified, Carnacki listens as the whistling becomes “a mad screaming note” and then the lips fade away.  Suddenly, Carnacki hears Tassoc’s voice calling for help from inside the room.  Afraid that the man has ignored Carnacki’s warning and become trapped in the haunted room, Carnacki breaks the window and climbs into the room… only to find nothing there.

With a suddenly realization, Carnacki knows that the room has deliberately lured him inside.

“On my left the end wall had bellied-in towards me, in a pair of gargantuan lips, black and utterly monstrous, to within a yard of my face. I fumbled for a mad instant at my revolver; not for it, but myself, for the danger was a thousand times worse than death. And then, suddenly, the Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual was whispered quite audibly in the room. Instantly, the thing happened that I have known once before. There came a sense as of dust falling continually and monotonously, and I knew that my life hung uncertain and suspended for a flash, in a brief, reeling vertigo of unseeable things, Then that ended, and I knew that I might live. My soul and body blended again, and life and power came to me. I dashed furiously at the window, and hurled myself out head-foremost, for I can tell you that I had stopped being afraid of death. I crashed down on to the ladder, and slithered, grabbing and grabbing; and so came some way or other alive to the bottom. And there I sat in the soft, wet grass, with the moonlight all about me; and far above, through the broken window of the Room, there was a low whistling.”

Certain now that the room is dangerous, Carnacki tells Tassoc to have the entire thing torn down  and every fragment burnt down in a blast furnace, erected within a pentacle.  As the workmen destroy the room, a scrollwork of stone is found in the masonry over the great fireplace.  It tells the story of the jester, Dian Tiansay, who had made the “Song of Foolishness” upon King Ernore and sang it to King Alzof.

Tassoc shows Carnacki a parchment in the library of the Castle which gives more details.  The two Kings had been bitter enemies by birthright but without any real harm until Dian Tiansay made the Song of Foolishness upon Ernore.  Enraged, Ernore wages war upon Alzof, eventually taking his castle and burning the rival king.  Ernore takes Tiansay back to his castle and tortures the jester by ripping out his tongue and keeping Tiansay’s wife for himself.

One night, Tiansay’s wife is missing only to be found in the “Whistling Room”, dead and in her husband’s arms.  Tiansay is whistling the Song of Foolishness which he can no longer sing.  At this, Tiansay is burned alive in the room’s fireplace but he never stops whistling until he dies.  Thereafter, the room was curse with the sound of Tiansay whistling, always whistling at night, the Song of Foolishness.

It is Carnacki’s theory that the hate grew and grew over the years to the point where it had grown so powerful.  Also, he discovers that Tassoc’s fiancée was descended from King Alzof and, at the end of his tale, wonders what would have happened if she had ever entered that room.

“The Whistling Room” remains one of Hodgson’s most effective Carnacki stories.  Not only is the haunting genuine but it is one of the most dangerous that Carnacki faces in Hodgson’s stories.  The threat is not only to his body but to his very soul as well.

The legend behind the haunting is particularly interesting and is slightly reminiscent of many of the tales of Lord Dunsany.  The “Song of Foolishness” is never stated but we are led to believe that this was something so embarrassing and humiliating that Alzof had no choice but to go to war over it.

In this story, we hear about even more of Carnacki’s untold stories.  They are: The Buzzing Case, The “Grey Dog” Case, The “Yellow Finger” Experiments, The “Silent Garden”, The “Grunting Man” Case and The “Nodding Door” Case.  We don’t know anything about these cases except as they relate to the “Whistling Room” Case. Based on the hints, we can say that these are not only all cases in which the ‘haunting’ was real but also very dangerous.

Also in this story, we hear about the mysterious “Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual”.  Again, we do not know what this line actually is or why is it “Unknown” if Carnacki knows and has used the Saaamaaa Ritual in the past?  In this case, something outside utters the Last Line, presumably to protect Carnacki.  Even Carnacki doesn’t know who or what recited that Last Line.  Arkright, one of Carnacki friends makes this astonishing statement:

“One other thing,” said Arkright, “have you any idea what governs the use of the Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual? I know, of course, that it was used by the Ab-human Priests in the Incantation of the Raaee; but what used it on your behalf, and what made it?”

What were these “Ab-human Priests”?  Or “the Incantation of the Raaee”??  We never know.  Hodgson drops these tantalizing leads much in the same way Arthur Conan Doyle hinted about ‘unwritten cases’ in his Sherlock Holmes stories.

Carnacki states that he believes that there are outside forces intervening between the Outer Monstrosities and the human soul.  This is one of the instances where Carnacki comes close to some of the concepts of Hodgson’s The Night Land.  Just as there are evil forces around us, there are forces kind to humanity as well.

Clearly this is one of Carnacki’s greatest cases and, not surprisingly, one that he is happy to have survived.

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New Hodgson Book Available!


Amazon is currently listing a new paperback collection of Hodgson’s work!  The title is THE GHOST PIRATES AND OTHERS: THE BEST OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON.  Even though the publication date is listed as December 4th, it is currently available but apparently supplies are already dwindling.  Published by Night Shade Books, it is edited by Jeremy Lassen who also worked on Night Shade’s five volume COLLECTED FICTION OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON (these five books are now out of print and prices fluctuate wildly for these on the resale market).  Unfortunately, I have not received my copy yet so I cannot comment on the selection of stories.  According to the write up on Amazon, it apparently contains the complete novel, THE GHOST PIRATES, and:

“In addition to his landmark novel, this volume contains some of his most influential short fiction; from his supernatural detective Thomas Carnacki to tales of the mysterious Sargasso Sea. The Ghost Pirates and Others is the perfect introduction to the magic, mystery and adventure of William Hope Hodgson.”

Many of Night Shade’s paperbacks show up at various Barnes & Noble bookstores so hopefully this one will also.  If you can’t find it there, order it from Amazon via this link.

It is my hope that this book will sell well and lead to further collections available on bookstore shelves!

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CARNACKI #2: “The House Among the Laurels”


(Spoiler alert: This post discusses the plot of the Carnacki story, “The House Among the Laurels”.  If you do not wish to know the plot, you should stop reading now or go here to read the story.)

“The House Among the Laurels” is the second Carnacki story to appear in print.  It first appeared in the February, 1910, issue of The Idler (after January’s “The Gateway of the Monster”).  In the collections that follows, it is generally the third story in the book.  It is, admittedly, one of the weaker stories in the Carnacki canon.

Carnacki has just returned “from the West of Ireland” where he has been involved in a case concerning his friend Wentworth’s recent inheritance of a large manor and estate.  Upon arriving in the town, Wentworth learns that the manor has a dark history and that two tramps had died in the manor within the last seven years.  Wentworth is advised by the Agent of the Estate to “have the house pulled down, and a new one built.”

Wentworth (a perfect example of Carnacki’s clients who refuse to ‘walk away from real estate’) decides to disprove the haunting reputation of the manor by staying in it himself overnight.  The Agent and local pub owner try to dissuade him from this course to no avail and it is a group of stout-hearted men who follow Wentworth to the manor.

Once there, however, Wentworth’s resolve fades and he manages to convince the crowd to stay in the manor with him.  Fortified, of course, by a couple dozen bottles of whiskey.

Returning for the provisions, Wentworth is again assailed by the pub owner who tells something of the manor’s past and the terrifying ‘blood-drip’:

“‘Shure,’ he said, ”tis the bhlood av thim as ould Black Mick ‘way back in the ould days kilt in their shlape. ‘Twas a feud as he pretendid to patch up, an’ he invited thim — the O’Haras they was — siventy av thim. An’ he fed thim, an’ shpoke soft to thim, an’ thim thrustin’ him, sthayed to shlape with him. Thin, he an’ thim with him, stharted in an’ mhurdered thim was an’ all as they slep’. ‘Tis from me father’s grandfather ye have the sthory. An’ sence thin ’tis death to any, so they say, to pass the night in the castle whin the bhlood-dhrip comes. ‘Twill put out candle an’ fire, an’ thin in the darkness the Virgin Herself would be powerless to protect ye.’

The men proceed to drink and converse in the midst of a roaring fire as the night wears away and the great main door remains open.  Three hours later, with the whiskey flowing briskly, Wentworth notices the great main door slowly move and shut with a click.

Then a great bull mastiff (which had been given by one of the men for protection) begins to bark at the dark hallway.  Wentworth tells the culprit to come out and, when no one appears, fires several shots down the hall.  The dog begins to back at a hall door which slowly opens to show only darkness beyond.  Whimpering, the dog returns to the men.

Suddenly, Wentworth feels something wet upon his hand and, raising it into the light, sees a dark red blotch there.  Several of the men see this and they run from the manor, screaming “the blood-drip” as they flee.  The dog is left behind and Wentworth can hear the mournful howl as he escapes.

Wentworth sends for Carnacki the next day and he arrives by the “mail train” that night.

The next morning, Carnacki and Wentworth make an examination of the manor.

The next day we went up to the old Manor, which certainly lies in rather a wilderness; though what struck me most was the extraordinary number of laurel bushes about the house. The place was smothered with them; so that the house seemed to be growing up out of a sea of green laurel. These, and the grim, ancient look of the old building, made the place look a bit dank and ghostly, even by daylight.

The dog is found dead with its neck broken.  This shows Carnacki that there is something here dangerous to life.  For the next three weeks, Carnacki examines every inch of the manor but finds nothing amiss.  He then decides to spend the night in the manor, with his unique ‘protections’, which Wentworth begs him not to do.

Six policemen are acquired from the neighboring town and, that night, they descend on the manor along with Carnacki’s equipment and two great boar-hounds.  Carnacki proceeds much as he did in “The Gateway of the Monster” case with the sealing of the other doors with wax, the drawing of a circle around the men, a garlic circle smeared outside it and the building of his ‘electric pentacle’ inside the circle.  He posts the six men at points along the pentacle as he makes the “eight signs of the Saaamaaa Ritual, and gives them instructions not to move or break the patterns.  The dogs have been placed on opposite sides of the room with protective circles placed around them as well.

An hour later, the dogs stand at attention, staring at the great main door which Carnacki had latched open.  Suddenly, they begin barking at the door and Carnacki can see the hook being lifted by some invisible force.  Quickly, Carnacki takes out his camera and snaps a picture as the dogs bark ferociously.  The door swings shut quietly and the dogs are reduced to whimpers.

They sit in silence for over an hour when the candles begin to be put out.  There is nothing near them nor any draft but they wink out in great succession.  Startled, Carnacki takes more pictures as he tries to catch a candle in the act of being extinguished and the men grow uneasy.

Then the great fire they had built slowly goes out… as if it had been smothered.  An hour later, all of the candles within the protection also go out.  All that is left is the weak light of the electric pentacle.

 “I tell you, for a moment, I just sat there as though I had been frozen solid. I felt the ‘creep’ go all over me, and seem to stop in my brain. I felt all at once to be given a power of hearing that was far beyond the normal. I could hear my own heart thudding most extraordinarily loud. I began, however, to feel better, after a while; but I simply had not the pluck to move. You can understand?”

The sound of wax breaking fills the room as Carnacki realizes the other doors are being opened.  Quickly, he takes another photo and, in the split second of light, can see that all the doors are now opened.

The sound of drips comes upon them as the ‘blood-drip’ begins.  They can see the drops fall on the electric pentacle and outside but nothing falls upon them.  Suddenly comes the “terrifying howl of agony” of one of the dogs and the sickening snap as its neck is broken in the dark.  Carnacki knows that something has crossed the ‘protection’ he drew around the animal and that they are all in grave danger.

Unable to bear any more, one of the men breaks for the door and they all follow… even Carnacki.

Back at the inn, where half the village had been waiting for them, the frightened men fortify themselves with spirits while Carnacki develops his photographs.  Examining one, he makes an important discovery that impels him to sneak out of the inn and back to the manor.  Instead of opening the great gates, Carnacki crawls over the wall and into the back of the building.  Walking quietly, he hears the voices of men coming from the great hall where they had all fled.

“There were several men there, all in a group. They were well dressed, and one, at least, I saw was armed. They were examining my ‘Barriers’ against the Supernatural, with a good deal of unkind laughter. I never felt such a fool in my life.”

Concluding that the men comprise a gang that had been using the manor for an illicit hangout, Carnacki watches them trip a level and leave through a secret door in the staircase.  Quickly he runs back to the village and informs the men of the truth about the haunting.  Angered by the trick played upon them, they converge on the manor and attempt to capture the gang.  However, they must have been alerted by the attempts to break through the secret door as they all escape.  Through the secret door, Carnacki and the men discover a system of tunnels that lead out to the grounds, away from the manor.

Carnacki finds that the ceiling of the great hall was hollow.  This allowed the gang to sneak above and drip the ‘blood’ down onto the unsuspecting group.  It also enabled them to pass a wire down to unhook the great door and swing it shut.  It was this wire that Carnacki had seen on his photo and which gave him the necessary clue to disprove the haunting although even he is baffled as to how the candles and fire were snuffed out.

The mysterious death of the tramps in previous years also remains a mystery as it could have been the ‘gang’ (anxious to promote the legend) or they could have died of natural causes.

With that, Carnacki throws his guests out onto the London Embankment and so ends another case.

That “The House Among the Laurels” is unsatisfying lies in the fact that the haunting is not supernatural at all.  Although Carnacki’s deduction of this is interesting from a detective standpoint, it is disappointing that the ghosts are not ‘real’.

However, Hodgson’s descriptions of the incidents remains powerful and spine-chilling.  It is this, if anything, that makes one so disappointed at the natural conclusion as it negates the wonderfully creepy episodes shown previously.

In this story, mention is made of yet another unwritten case: “The Steeple Monster Case”.  It was the successful conclusion of this case that prompts Wentworth to contact Carnacki but, sadly, we know nothing about this case other than the name.

The Saaamaaa Ritual is used once again as is the electric pentacle.  The Saaamaaa Ritual is now seen to have “Eight Signs” that have to be performed for it to be complete.  We also hear, for the first time, a quotation from the enigmatic Sigsand MS.: “Theyre must noe lyght come from wythin the barryier.”  This is interpreted by Carnacki to mean that no matches are to be lit or tobacco smoked.  However, he contradicts himself because not only are there lighted candles but Carnacki himself creates light by the use of his flash photography.  Perhaps it was a good thing that the haunting was not real!

In addition to Professor Gardner’s article, “Experiments with a Medium” (which inspired Carnacki to create the electric pentacle), Carnacki mentions another essay called ‘Astarral Vibrations Compared with Matero-involuted Vibrations below the Six-Billion Limit.’  I can only assume that this is also part of the inspiration behind the electric pentacle.

Mention is also made of something new:

“Yet, unless it should prove to be one of the cases of the more terrible Saiitii Manifestation, we were almost certain of safety, so long as we kept to our order within the Pentacle.”

No further explanation is given.  We are only left to assume that the “Saiitii Manifestation” has the ability to break through Carnacki’s ‘protections’ and that even Carnacki himself fears it… whatever it is.

Also in this story we see two interesting characteristics of Carnacki that are not always shared by his fellow ‘ghost-detectives’.  Carnacki can be wrong and, more importantly, Carnacki gets scared.  Unlike other such characters, Carnacki is flawed and it is this quality that makes him more endearing.

(The artwork for this post comes from the original appearance of this story in The Idler and was by Florence Briscoe.)

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William Hope: Paranormal Investigator!


(Although not strictly connected with William Hope Hodgson, I felt that this was just too interesting to pass up!)

A ‘spirit photograph’ by William Hope.

It’s amazing what one can find on the internet!

Case in point: William Hope, Paranormal Investigator!

This very interesting fellow was born in Crewe, England, in 1863.  Although employed as a carpenter in his youth, Hope soon took to photography and, around 1905, became involved in ‘spirit photography’.  On a Saturday afternoon, he and a colleague photographed each other.  But when Hope exposed his negative, he was astonished to find that there was an extra figure in the picture: a transparent woman.  Hope’s colleague swore that it was the figure of his sister, dead for many years.

The organist at the Spiritualist Hall at Crewe, Mr. Buxton, helped to form a circle of friends who all sat for their own ‘spirit’ photographs.  Because they feared being exposed by devout Catholics being in league with the devil, the circle destroyed all the original negatives.

This was resolved when Archdeacon Colley discovered the circle and became interested in the photographs.  The Archdeacon tested Hope and endorsed both him and his results as well as giving the amateur photographer his first stand camera which Hope would use throughout his career.  They became known as the “Crewe Circle”.

After WWI, spiritualism saw a rampant increase in interest, disciples and practitioners. William Hope quickly rose to the forefront of these new spiritualists and became quite famous as a ‘medium’ and one of the innovators of ‘spirit photography’.  However, Hope was not without his detractors and, in 1922, he faced his greatest challenge yet.

The Society for Psychical Research was determined to test Hope’s claims for themselves.  To this end, a member of the group (Mr. Harry Price), agreed to a supervised ‘sitting’.  The test took place at the British College of Psychic Science on February 4, 1922.

Unbeknownst to Hope, Price had secretly marked Hope’s photographic plates as well as providing Hope with a packet of additional plates that had been covertly etched with the brand image of the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd, in the knowledge that the logo would appear on any images created by the plates.

Hope was unaware of Price’s ‘tricks’ and proceeded as planned, producing several images of spirits.  However, none of the images contained the Imperial Dry Plate Co. Ltd logo or even the marks that Price had covertly placed on Hope’s plates.  Price’s conclusion was that Hope had switched the plates and performed what we now know as a ‘double-exposure’.

Price’s findings were published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research and were very damning for Hope who maintained that both he and his process were genuine.  Hope offered new sittings and declared his willingness to submit to stringent tests but these offers were refused.

Despite Price’s claims, which were upheld in 1932 by Fred Barlow who was a former friend and supporter of Hope’s works and also the former Secretary of the Society for the Study of Supernormal Pictures (who also concluded that the images were frauds), Hope continued to have his ardent supporters.

One of the most important was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who refused to accept any evidence against Hope.  Indeed, Doyle went to great lengths to clear Hope’s name even writing a book in support of spirit photography called The Case for Spirit Photography.  It was Doyle’s support of mediums like Hope that eventually led to his split with Harry Houdini who made a career in his later life of exposing spiritualists as frauds.

Hope died in Salford Hospital on March 8, 1933.

Spirit photography remains an active aspect of paranormal investigation today.

I submit this post because I find it curious that William Hope and William Hope Hodgson shared not only a close name but also a keen interest in photography.  Also, given that we are currently examining the Carnacki stories (a ‘paranormal investigator’ also famous for using a camera), it seemed fitting.  Although contemporaries, it is not known what, if anything WHH thought of William Hope or ‘spirit photography’ but it is likely that, given his writings, he would have remained open to the possibilities it represented.

Further examples of William Hope’s ‘spirit’ photography can be found here from which I have ‘borrowed’ the photograph at the top of this article.

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CARNACKI ORDER


No, it’s not some sort of cult devoted to Carnacki (although maybe it should be!).  Today’s post reveals the original, published order of the Carnacki stories which isn’t the order in which they appear in the collections.

We cannot be sure exactly when Hodgson wrote the Carnacki stories.  Obviously, it was before the first appearance in 1910.  Internal evidence would suggest that they were from a period when WHH had greater control of his style and also as a result of a desire to create a ‘serial’ character for the magazines.

Today, that might seem somewhat counterproductive.  However, in the publishing world of the early 20th century, more profit could be made by having a character appear in a series of stories that would run regularly in the magazines.  It was that market, rather than book publishing, that often paid more.  As an estimate, I would probably place these as being written around 1907 but, again, that is purely an estimate and could be incorrect.

In any event, here is the order in which the Carnacki stories were originally published:

1.   “The Gateway of the Monster” (The Idler, January, 1910)

2.  “The House Among the Laurels” (The Idler, February, 1910)

3.   “The Whistling Room” (The Idler, March, 1910)

4.  “The Horse Invisible”  (The Idler, April, 1910)

5.  “The Searcher of the End House” (The Idler, May, 1910)

6.  “The Thing Invisible”  (The New Magazine, January, 1912)

7.  “The Haunted Jarvee”  (The Empire Magazine, March, 1929)

8.  “The Hog”  (Weird Tales, January, 1947)

9.  “The Find”  (Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, Mycroft & Moran, 1947)
 
We don’t know why the Idler neglected to carry the other two stories which we can only assume were completed with the rest.  Perhaps the sales had not been strong enough.  Sam Moskowitz notes that the magazine did not survive the end of 1910. 
In any event, it is interesting to note that the order between the original published stories is different from that of the collected version.  Perhaps Hodgson himself rearranged the order for the collection.  At this point, we cannot say.  Perhaps one of the readers of this blog can shed some light on this question?

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON!!!


Yes, today is Hodgson’s birthday!  He was born on November 15, 1877, to parents Samuel and Lizzie Hodgson at St. Mary the Virgin, the Blackmore End District Church of the Parish of Wethersfield.

William, known as “Hope” to his friends and family, was the second of twelve children, three of whom would die in infancy.  It is difficult at this point to speculate about the type of life young Hope had but we can join in wishing this amazingly creative and imaginative writer a “Happy Birthday” on what would have been his 135th birthday!

Cheers!

William Hope Hodgson

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CARNACKI #1: THE GATEWAY OF THE MONSTER


(Spoiler alert!  This post will discuss plot points of the story “The Gateway of the Monster”.  If you haven’t read it, you can read it online here before reading the rest of this post.)

Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, is arguably William Hope Hodgson’s most famous creation.  Since his first appearance in 1910, Carnacki has gone on to be featured in new stories by other authors including William Meikle and appears in various comics such as Alan Moore’s LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.

Carnacki appeared in six stories that were published in Hodgson’s lifetime and these were collected into an anthology that first appeared in 1912.  Later, when August Derleth was putting together a new collection of Carnacki stories, Hodgson expert H. C. Koenig presented him with three ‘unpublished’ stories to bring the number of Hodgson tales up to nine.  These nine stories would comprised all other Carnacki collections that followed.

The very first Carnacki story to appear was “The Gateway of the Monster” which was in the January, 1910, issue of The Idler.  Sam Moskowitz has this to say about The Idler:

He interested Robert Barr, editor of The Idler, in the series for which he would be paid about $33 apiece.  The Idler, founded in 1891 by Jerome K. Jerome and Robert Barr, had for some years been a prestige literary magazine in England, but eventually Jerome broke off from it and Barr carried on alone.  It had been sliding down hill, and would not long survive the year’s end.  Hodgson’s stories were hardly designed to lengthen The Idler’s life span.  (OUT OF THE STORM, p 79)

At this point in time, it is not possible for us to determine the order in which Hodgson wrote the Carnacki stories.  Therefore, we are forced to use the order of publication.  With “The Gateway of the Monster”, we are introduced not only to Carnacki but several of his trademark methods as well.

The story begins with the narrator, Dodgson (a veiled literary doppelganger of Hodgson) arriving at Carnacki’s house in London for dinner after receiving “the usual summons”.  This refers to an invitation from Carnacki for dinner and then to hear about the Ghost-Hunter’s latest exploit.  After making the error of asking about the case during dinner (a cardinal sin with Carnacki), the group finishes dinner and gathers around Carnacki for his story.

Without much introduction, Carnacki tells about being consulted by Anderson, a man with an ancestral home (“less than 20 miles from here”) that has a ‘haunted room’.  Every night, the door to ‘the Grey Room’ is slammed for hours on end and, in the morning, the sheets and covering on the bed are found thrown into the left corner of the room.  Carnacki learns that the room has a history extending back over a hundred and fifty years when an ancestor of Anderson’s and his wife and child were strangled in it.

Carnacki travels to the house where he is joined by the butler, Peters, who has a great fear of the haunted room.  Undaunted by the growing evening, Carnacki proceeds to place seals over the windows, walls, pictures, fire-place and closets.  As he works, the butler nervously appeals to him to leave the room and Carnacki himself begins to feel uneasy.  “Near the entrance I had a sudden feeling that there was a cold wind in the room.”

Finally, Carnacki seals the doors to the rooms with candle wax.  During the night, he hears the slamming of a door and goes into the passage but he cannot go further.  “There was something precious unholy in the air that night.”

In the morning, Carnacki finds that all of the door seals are intact, except for the door to the Grey Room.  Inside, nothing is disturbed other than the bundle of bed linens thrown onto the floor.  Carnacki knows that he has a legitimate case now.

On his orders, the butler and maids clear the room of everything except for the bed.  Then, after a careful examination, determines that “some incredible thing had been loose in the room during the past night”.  Carnacki seals the room again and sets up a camera which he ties to the doorknob so that, should anyone open the door, the camera would capture the picture of the culprit.

That night, as Carnacki watched and waited, the door to the Gray Room is opened and slammed again in the light of the camera’s flash.  As he stares, he feels the danger coming closer:

“For some unknown reason, I knew it was pressed up against the door, and it was soft.  That was just what I thought.  Most extraordinary thing to imagine, when you come to think of it!”

Carnacki quickly draws a pentacle around himself on the floor and sits there, listening to the door slam over and over again throughout the night.  In the morning, the camera yields a picture that shows only a half-opened door.

Determined, Carnacki goes to town and gathers supplies for an overnight stay in the room.  Without Peters knowledge, Carnacki locks himself into the Grey Room and proceeds to construct his ‘protections’.  They consist of a chalk circle, the outside of which is smudged with garlic.  Then, Carnacki constructs a ‘water-circle’ just within the chalk circle while making “the Second Sign of the Saaamaaa Ritural.  He also draws a chalk pentacle which he reinforces with an “Electric Pentacle” which is a series of lighted tubes that reinforces the chalk pentacle.  The idea for this, Carnacki explains, he got from reading Professor Garder’s “Experiments with a Medium” and which Carnacki believes has the ability to separate the material from the “Immaterial”.

What follows is a haunting sequence as Carnacki is attacked by the force that inhabits the Grey Room.  It begins with the slow pulling off of the bed linen but eventually results in Carnacki being besieged by a giant hand!  Even worse, the force seems to be influencing Carnacki as he very nearly breaks the protection several times.  Nerves on edge, Carnacki forces himself not to move until the morning when he flees the room.

Exhausted, Carnacki examines the room the next day and removes his equipment.  Inspired, he examines the area where the bedclothes are always thrown and discovers a ring hidden behind the skirting.  Certain that he has discovered the source of the haunting, Carnacki believes the ring to be the fabled “luck ring” of the Andersons.  The ring had been handed down through the family for generations but only with the stipulation that it never be worn.  Eventually, of course, a drunken Anderson wagers to wear the ring with the result that his wife and child are found strangled in the bed.  Suspected of the murder, Anderson vows to spend the night in the room himself and is found strangled the next morning.  Since that time, no one had slept in the Gray Room.

That night, Carnacki builds his protections around himself and the ring, thinking that the giant hand would appear outside and attempt to retrieve the ring.  He is mistaken, however, as the hand begins to materialize inside the circle.  Terrified, he tries to flee the room:

“I fumbled idiotically and ineffectually with the key, and all the time I stared, with the fear that was like insanity, toward the Barriers.  The hand was plunging towards me; yet, even as it had been unable to pass into the pentacle when the ring was without; so, now that the ring was within it had no power to pass out.  The monster was chained, as surely as any beast would be, were chains riveted upon it.”

The next day, Carnacki melts the ring in a furnace and the haunting is over.  Carnacki shows his friends the lump of metal that had once been the ring and then, “stood up and began to shake hands.  ‘Out you go!’ he said, genially.”

Already in this first story, much of the pattern is established.  Carnacki summons his friends to dinner, tells them a story and then tosses them out.  His behavior is less than cordial.  This is often one of the main criticisms against Carnacki but, like Sherlock Holmes, is actually one of his most endearing features.  We never really learn much about Carnacki and his history.  Like many of Hodgson characters, he is a blank.  This is often not appreciated by critics:

The cardinal weakness of Hodgson’s Carnacki series was an almost total lack of visualization of the main character and a story frame for the introduction of the stories so weak that they can only be construed as deliberate pot boilers.  It is only in a few of the stories that Hodgson regains integrity in the heat of narration.  (OUT OF THE STORM, p 80)

I respectfully disagree.  Carnacki, as portrayed by Hodgson, is not the true center of the plot.  It is always the case which he is investigating that is the most important feature.  This falls flat sometimes especially when the case turns out not to be supernatural.  However, I believe that Carnacki’s ‘blankness’ was deliberate by Hodgson and meant to be able to allow the reader to put themselves into his place.

Also, we see already Carnacki’s techniques.  He uses an unusual combination of occult ritual and science.  Being a photographer himself, it is not surprising that Carnacki is also one and he uses the camera on a number of cases.  This, combined with his ‘Electric Pentacle’ brings him neatly into the 20th century.  Here we already see the “Saaamaa Ritual”  as well as the “Sigsand Manuscript” which is Hodgson’s equivalent to Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.   The “Electric Pentacle” is devised by Carnacki after reading Professor Garder’s “Experiments with a Medium” which cuts a Medium off from the Immaterial by surrounding them “with a current of a certain number of vibrations in vacuum.”  This makes Carnacki truly unique in his application of then-modern scientific principles in support of occult practices.

During his talk, Carnacki makes mention of two previous cases which Hodgson does not record; “The Black Veil” and “The Noving Fur”.  It is during “The Black Veil” case that Aster, who sneered at Carnacki’s defense, perished.  These echo the many ‘unrecorded’ cases which Holmes refers to throughout his adventures.

There is little in terms of internal dating that one can do with the Carnacki stories.  They take place in a nebulous, post-Victorian world and make no reference to each other.  This makes it nearly impossible to say which came first.  There is only one tale, “The Searcher of the End House”, which takes place in Carnacki’s past which would place it before all the other stories.

Like Dodgson and the others, when we receive that invitation from Carnacki, we come.

(The artwork used in this post comes from this stories original appearance in The Idler and was by Florence Briscoe.)

SOURCES

Hodgson, William Hope.  CARNACKI, THE GHOST-FINDER.  Sauk City, WI: Mycroft & Moran, 1947.

Hodgson, William Hope.  OUT OF THE STORM, edited by Sam Moskowitz.  West Kingston: RI: Donald M. Grant, 1975.

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A Letter from the WWI Front


As a coda to yesterday’s post regarding Hodgson’s WWI experiences, I present this excerpt from a letter that WHH wrote to his mother in 1918:

“The sun was pretty low as I came back, and far off across that desolation, here and there they showed–just formless, squarish, cornerless masses erected by man against the infernal Storm that sweeps for ever, night and day, day and night, across that most atrocious Plain of Destruction.  My God!  talk about a Lost World–talk about the end of the World; talk about the ‘Night Land’–it is all here, not more than two hundred odd miles from where you sit infinitely remote.  And the infinite, monstrous, dreadful pathos of the things one sees–the great shell-hole with over thirty crosses sticking in it; some just up out of the water–and the dead below them, submerged….If I live and come somehow out of this (and certainly, please God, I shall and hope to), what a book I shall write if my old ‘ability’ with the pen has not forsaken me.” (OUT OF THE STORM, Donald Grant.  West Kingston, Rhode Island, 1975.  Pg 115.)

The letter is all the more poignant with the knowledge that Hodgson did not, after all, “come somehow out of this”.  Who knows what vistas of horror that the Great War might have spurred him to write?

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WHH in WWI


(In honor of the celebration of Veteran’s Day, I have delayed our new series of examinations of the Carnacki stories in favor of this special post.  Today, we remember and honor the sacrifices of the many men and women, Hodgson among them, who gave their all in service to their countries.)

The Great War had begun moving forward by the time Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914.  This had come in response to an “unsatisfactory reply” to England’s ultimatum that Belgium remain neutral.

At this time, Hodgson and his wife had been living in France and the threat of the impending war had impelled them to return home.  The same month of England’s declaration of war, Hodgson enlisted in the Officer Training Corps at the University of London.  This was an established training school that produced officers for the British Army.  The Officer Training Corps (OTC) had been established during the Haldane Reforms in 1908 to remedy a critical shortage of officers during the South African War.  Some 30,000 officers passed through the OTC in World War One.

After graduating from the OTC, Hodgson was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the British Army.  He was sent into the 171st Battery of the Royal Field Artillery (New Army Division).  These were the men who were responsible for moving the huge cannons and artillery over the battlefield by horses.  It was grueling and astonishing dangerous work.  Hodgson was one of the officers in charge of training these groups and, during the course of this training, he was thrown from his horse and suffered a concussion.  Hodgson was billeted out of the Army and sent home to Borth to recover in June of 1916.

But, of course, Hodgson was not the sort of man who was satisfied to sit out the war.  Due to his excellent physical condition, accomplished through his years of exercise, Hodgson made a quick recovery and rejoined the British Army in March of 1917.  He is attached to the 11th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery which is finally sent to France in October, 1917.

Upon arriving in France, the 11th Brigade became part of the 84th Battery.  It is important to note that British Batteries were comprised of several separate Brigades.  Therefore, the 84th consisted of several other Batteries and they moved into France towards Belgium in that October.

In March of 1918, the 84th Battery takes up a position in Brombeek where, on March 20th, they are subjected to gas shelling and heavy artillery shelling by the Germans at Tourette Crossroads.  Despite this bombardment, the 84th holds the position until they were relieved by Belgian Artillery on March 30, 1918.

Hodgson was wounded by the German attack on April 10th and briefly hospitalized.  Still, Hodgson would not stay put and rejoined his outfit just in time for them to withdraw.  A Forward Observation Post was set up on Mont Kemmel and Hodgson volunteered to man it with another officer.

On April 18th, 1918, Hodgson and his fellow officer took up the post and sent their final reports.  The next day, April 19th, they both suffered a direct hit from a German mortar shell and were instantly blown to pieces.  The French unit that recovered the site reported that there was nothing left of either man to bury.

World War One completely changed the world.  By the end, no less than four empires that had existed before the conflict were completely wiped out.  The map of Europe was rewritten and famine raged unchecked.  8 million European soldiers were killed while 7 million were permanently disabled.  The total number of military and civilian casualties was over 37 million including deaths and wounded.  It was truly one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote what is possibly the most famous poem about WWI, “In Flanders Fields”:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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