Say What?

It’s one of the most perplexing statements Hodgson ever made about his writing and, 100 years later, we’re still not sure exactly what he meant.

In the preface to his novel, THE GHOST PIRATES, Hodgson writes:

This book forms the last of three.  The first published was “The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig'”; the second “The House on the Borderland”; this, the third, completes what, perhaps may be termed a trilogy; for, though very different in scope, each of the three books deals with certain conceptions that have an elemental kinship.  With this book, the author believes that he closes the door, so far as he is concerned, on a particular phase of constructive thought.

Just what does Hodgson mean by this?

It’s difficult to think of these three novels as being a connected trilogy of anything, certainly not in the sense that we have come to consider the definition of a ‘trilogy’ today.  There are no recurring characters.  The plots are all vastly different as was Hodgson’s writing styles.

“Boats” is definitely closer to an adventure story than the other two.  The shipwrecked crew of the ‘Glen Carrig’ face terror after terror before becoming stranded in the Sargasso Sea and finally escaping.  “The Ghost Pirates” is superficially a tale about a haunted ship but nudges into science fiction with Hodgson writing that the boat was an area between worlds that had become ‘thin’.  While “The House on the Borderland” is a science fiction blend that is best defined as a series of interconnected nightmares.

Where, then, is the common thread?

This is one of the few statements about his writing that we have from Hodgson.  Given that it references the other two novels as being ‘previously published’, we can assume that it was written for the first edition of THE GHOST PIRATES in 1909.  So Hodgson is specifically excluding THE NIGHT LAND from this grouping despite, as we have seen previously, THE NIGHT LAND was likely the very first novel Hodgson wrote.

Hodgson states that these three share an “elemental kinship”.  What could this mean?

Webster’s Dictionary provides the following definition of ‘elemental’:

a : of, relating to, or being an element; specifically : existing as an uncombined chemical element

b (1) : of, relating to, or being the basic or essential constituent of something : fundamental <elemental biological needs> (2) : simple, uncomplicated <elemental food>

c : of, relating to, or dealing with the rudiments of something : elementary <taught elemental crafts to the children>

d : forming an integral part : inherent <an elemental sense of rhythm>

: of, relating to, or resembling a great force of nature <the rains come with elemental violence> <elemental passions>
Of these, I think that 1d is the closest to what Hodgson meant: “forming an integral part”.  Meaning that there is an integral part in all three of these novels that is similar.   But what is it about these three books that is ‘similar’ considering that their plots are so diverse?
I believe that the kinship that Hodgson is speaking of relates to the existence of other realities that are infringing upon ours or which we unknowingly cross into.  It is this unknown that the shipwrecked crew of the ‘Glen Carrig’ unwittingly sail into while, in THE GHOST PIRATES, another type of reality is seeping through the boat into what we believe to be ‘reality’.  In THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, the barriers between realities break down as shown by the narrator’s trip into the future and the attack by the swine creatures from below.  When considered from this viewpoint, the novels share much with the Carnacki stories that are often concerned with attacks from ‘outside forces’.
Is this what Hodgson was referring to in his preface?  Perhaps… but, as with so much about Hodgson’s life and thoughts, we will never know for sure.


Filed under Carnacki, Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson

4 responses to “Say What?

  1. Mark Martucci

    Could he be saying something as mundane as he is leaving fantastic novel writing behind? THE NIGHT LAND was already written before these 3 and he possibly was thinking it never would be published. The books were not selling but they were liked by the critics. Maybe he is hinting to the critics that gave him good notices that he’s going on to write more commercial literature and putting a period on longer horror fiction?
    This always did make me scratch my head.

  2. Mickey

    …”I believe that the kinship that Hodgson is speaking of relates to the existence of other realities that are infringing upon ours or which we unknowingly cross into…”

    Yes, I think you are right on the nail, Sam, I also thought about this Hodgson’s quotation and I came to the same conclusion; the three novels are connected by presenting a hidden and unknown reality beyond the normal scope of our perception.

  3. Daniel del Valle

    All three of these works share what I like to call “The Shattering”, which is the shattering of everyday reality. Everyday reality is merly a mask behind which exists a reality so devastating, that if we were to percieve it, madness would be the result, if not worse. Of course this theme runs through almost all of WHH works, as it does in Lovecraft, but if this is what WHH meant in his preface is speculation.

    • Eric

      I’d have to agree. In the case of “The Night Land”, the presence of monsters and demonic entities IS the reality. In the other three, these things are lurking in the shadows of a seemingly-normal world.

      I tend to categorize speculative fiction into two ways: Fantastic Discovery and Fantastic Reality. From Hodgson’s comment, I can’t help but wonder if he did something similar (at least in regards to his own works).

      In Fantastic Discovery, the character
      1. Travels to a fantastic world and has an adventure there,
      2. Discovers a hidden fantastic aspect of their own previously-thought-to-be realistic world and has an adventure as a result, or
      3. Has an adventure that culminates in such a discovery.
      Examples include stories like C.S. Lewis’s “Cosmic Trilogy”, H.P. Lovecraft’s “At The Mountains of Madness”, or J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series.

      In Fantastic Reality, the character either lives in or has access to a fantastic world, whose “fantastic” aspects were already apparent to said character at the beginning of the story.
      Examples include the likes of “The Hobbit”, “The Lord of the Rings”, and “Star Wars”.

      “The Night Land” falls under the latter category, the other three in the former.

      That said, this is all just reasonable guessing. Hodgson could have meant something else entirely. For all we know, the only reason he excluded mentioning “The Night Land” was because it wasn’t published yet (he may have feared that mentioning a book he’d already written but hadn’t yet found a publisher for would have confused his readers).

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