Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hodgson’s Copyrights

Occasionally I am asked about the issue of Hodgson’s copyrights.  More specifically, what (if any) of his work is in the public domain.  Speaking as someone who’s published some of Hodgson’s work in the past, I have certain guidelines that I’ve operated with and I’ll spell them out here.

I encourage anyone with different knowledge to add their comments.  I am not a copyright lawyer nor have I ever played one on TV.  So I could be wrong.

As we know, Hodgson died in 1918.  Simple math tells us that this happened 95 years ago.  Now, it had been my understanding that copyrighted work, published during the author’s lifetime, retained a copyright for 75 years after the author’s death unless renewed by the estate.  I cannot say if this has changed or if it is also applicable in England.  (Perhaps one of our English readers could answer this?)

What this would mean is that anything that Hodgson published during his lifetime (whether books or magazine appearances) is in public domain.  This constitutes the bulk of his writing including the four novels and most of his short stories.

The two volumes of poetry which were published after his death in 1920-21 are also in public domain because of the length of time that has passed but also for another reason:

Hodgson has no literary estate.

When WHH died in 1918, he left his entire estate (literary and otherwise) to his wife Bessie.  She handled the distribution and selling of his work until her death in 1943.  They never had any children so Bessie passed WHH’s literary estate on to WHH’s sister, Lissie.

Not particularly astute with publishing matters, Lissie herself died in 1959 (childless), and passed WHH’s estate onto her friend and companion,  Frances Charlotte Eliza Dudley .  She, unfortunately, soon passed away herself in June of 1959 (a mere month after Lissie) and passed the WHH literary estate unto her brother.  He liquidated the assets and dissolved the estate, handling the literary estate until his own death.  (The preceding information comes via Sam Moskowitz’s introduction to TERRORS OF THE SEA.)

This explains why we see so many Hodgson editions that are available from Print-on-Demand publishers and many of his works available online for free.  Even if a publisher wished to pay someone for use of Hodgson’s work, there is no one left to benefit!

However, some work is still copyrighted.  Anything that was unpublished during Hodgson’s lifetime and then published later remains the copyrighted property of the person who found/published it.  For instance, Jane Frank published two excellent volumes of unpublished material in Wandering Soul and Lost Poetry.  She essentially ‘owns’ that material and no one can, or should, reprint or reproduce it in any way without her approval.  It was copyrighted as of the date of her publication of the material.

Sounds simple, right?

“Ah, but wait,” I hear you say, “what about those three Carnacki stories that August Derleth published in his 1947 edition?”

And there we have an anomaly. If my understanding, as outlined above, is correct, then Derleth would have copyright ownership of those stories and most especially “The Hog”.  Yet, those three stories have been included in every edition of Carnacki since 1947.   Derleth did not die until 1971 so certainly anything of his is still in copyright.

So, do lots of publishers own the Derleth estate for reprinting those three stories?  Or am I completely offbase?  I look forward to reading the comments on this issue!


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Hodgson’s Rates

In going over information regarding Hodgson, there are some interesting things that stand out.  Some of them probably don’t really interest many people beyond myself but I still find them curious all the same.

One of those has to do with Hodgson’s rate of publication.  We know that WHH considered himself a “working writer” and that he pretty much had to live off of whatever monies his writing brought in.  As such, it’s curious to note how many ‘new’ items were published each year.  (For the sake of this comparison, I do not include reprinted items.)

So I made a list, by year, of how successful Hodgson was in selling his work.  I took the information for this from my earlier post ( which shows in more detail what was published when.

1901 – 2

1902 – 3

1903 – 3

1904 – 2

1905 – 2

1906 – 7

1907 – 6

1908 – 3

1909 – 4

1910 – 9

1911 – 8

1912 – 14

1913 – 10

1914 – 16

1915 – 7

1916 – 7

1917 – 5

1918 – 4

1919 – 7

1920 – 2

1921 – 1

1922 – 1

1923 – 2

1924 – 0

1925 – 1

1926 – 1

1927 – 0

1928 – 0

1929 – 1

I produced a graph to illustrate this data:


We can see several interesting facts right away.

As shown in his letters to Coulson Kernahan, WHH did get off to a rocky start as a writer.  Between the years 1910-1905, he sold a total of 12 ‘new’ items.  His rate picks up well in 1906 with 7 ‘new’ items then dips down again until 1910 when they increase to a record high of 16 in 1914.  From there, the rate plunges significantly to 7 in 1915 and continues a generally downward trend until 1929.

Tying these numbers into more biographical data, 1901 sees WHH freshly returned from the sea and settling into his new business as owner of the “School of Physical Culture”.  By 1903, that venture has collapsed and left WHH with writing as his major source of income.  His life must have been very threadbare at this point as he garnered very few sales.

Come 1913 and his marriage, WHH is in a more prosperous position having placed 14 ‘new’ items the year before, 10 in 1913 and the following year’s 16 yet to come.  It is not surprising that the young couple felt ‘flush’ enough to move to France after their wedding.

The Great War, and WHH’s signing up, could be said to explain why his sales dropped to nearly half in 1915.  Some of those items were articles geared towards the war but even these began to dwindle.  The year of his death, 1918, WHH still managed to place 4 ‘new’ items and this was surpassed in 1919 with 7 items.  It is most probable that these 1919 items had been accepted earlier than their publication date.

After this point, the rate of appearance of ‘new’ items comes to a crawl with only 2 in 1920 and 0 for 1927-1928.  By this time, WHH’s widow was handling his literary estate and it appears as if she had little success in placing other items.

It is interesting to speculate what would have happened had WHH not volunteered for the Great War.  1914 was his most successful year as a writer and there appears to be little doubt that he would have continued to enjoy success had the War not intervened.  Although his output would probably not have been supernatural, he would have been able to fulfill his desire to make a living from his writing.

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2 sargassoHey, everyone!  Today is March 26th and that means that we’re only 5 days away from the submission deadline for the first issue of SARGASSO!

We’ve got quite a line up of material already but there’s always room for more.  So if you’d like to submit some Hodgsonian inspired artwork, an article, or even fiction or poetry, send it all along to Sam Gafford at:

We’re on track for an early release date of August 18th and will be premiering the magazine at the Necronomicon-PVD convention in Providence that month!  In about a week, I expect to be able to open for pre-orders and will provide more information then.

Thanks again to everyone for making the premiere issue of the “Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies” a success!

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Where next?

The study of the life and work of William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) has been making great strides lately.  I’d like to think that this blog might be one of the reasons for this increased interest.  Whatever the cause, Hodgson is getting some more attention and this will only increase later this year with the publication of the first issue of SARGASSO: JOURNAL OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON studies.  We have already received several important contributions discussing WHH’s poetry, characters and even the legendary ‘writing log’ WHH kept.  As we move forward, I think it’s important to identify and illuminate some of the areas that need more attention.

1. Biography

We still know very little about Hodgson the man.  We can state that WHH was in certain places at certain times and did certain things but we know little about who he was or what he thought.  As I’ve said before, we have very little of his personal letters to study.  Reminiscences of WHH are also in short supply.  We can theorize and guess the type of fellow he was and his thoughts and ideas but, in the end, these are just educated guesses.  More than anything, I would love to see more researchers trying to piece together this puzzle.  I send out a call for researchers and archivists to search out more biographical information.  Perhaps a worldwide search (of libraries, universities, collections) will yield more letters and memos.  I would happily self-publish a volume of Hodgson’s letters IF I had enough to publish!

2. Hodgson’s other characters

Everyone knows Carnacki but Hodgson’s other characters such as Captain Gault, Captain Jat and others have been virtually ignored.  Thanks to Mark Valentine, the first issue of SARGASSO will include an article on Captain Gault which will hopefully open up this field.  I truly feel that, in order to understand a writer, we have to consider their entire output and not just those things we like and enjoy.

3.  Hodgson’s poetry

Hodgson considered poetry a major part of his life and yet the study of this has been severely limited.  Again, the first issue of SARGASSO will contain a major study of WHH’s poetry by Phillip Ellis but this is a framework upon which much more work needs to be done.  To correctly criticize poetry, to me, requires as poetic a soul as the poet themselves.

4. Hodgson’s influence

One of the ways to prove the value of a writer is to examine how they have influenced others who have come after them.  Virtually no work has been done in this area.  Surely there is much to be said?

These are merely a few areas that I believe we need to focus on as we strive to bring Hodgson to both a wider audience and a deeper critical appreciation.  This blog is meant to be an area for the sharing of such information and work.  Please take advantage of it and help us advance the cause of Hodgsonian Studies!


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“Billy Ben”

Courtesy of Phillip Ellis and S.T. Joshi, we present a ‘lost’ poem by William Hope Hodgson.  Sadly, this is not a supernatural or sea poem but it is a charming little poem which was probably written for a more mainstream magazine.

“Billy Ben” has only appeared once and that was as part of the British edition of Captain Gault: Being the Exceedingly Private Log of a Sea-Captain (1917).  It was NOT included in the American edition which was published by McBride & Sons in 1918.  Sadly, the American edition is far easier to find than the British which caused this poem to be ‘lost’.  It was not included in either of the two volumes of WHH’s poetry which his widow published after his death nor was it included in The Lost Poetry (edited by Jane Frank) which collected many of the remaining, unpublished poems.

Long having been ignored by previous critics (the only notable example being Jane Frank’s analysis in The Lost Poetry), Hodgson’s poetry will be receiving renewed analysis in the forthcoming first issue of SARGASSO.

Billy Ben

Billy saw a crocodile

Bathing in a bath tub.

The crocodile stood by the stile

And waited there a little while;

But Billy went the other way round home.

Billy Ben and a Bull Frog

Met one summer day

By a boggy bog

And a floating log,

And the Bull Frog sang on the bottom:—

“Take the short cut home by the marsh with me;”

But Billy went the other way round home.

Billy met a Fire Fly

On a dark and summer night,

And Billy said

“I wonder why

It doesn’t burn you dead in bed,

You’re all alight!”

And the Fire Fly said, “Oh, come with me,

Oh, come with me and you will see;”

But Billy went the other way round home.

Billy met a Nanny Goat

Digested of a tablecloth

And Billy had a little white shirt

Under his little blue coat

And he carried a nice little boat.

But Billy made old Nanny wroth

And likewise a little hurt,

For she said with a tear

“Come here, my dear,

And let me see your nice little boat

And smell your nice little shirt;”

But Billy went the other way round home.


Billy saw a Bull in a field

And the field stood the other side a fence

And the Bull grinned at Billy

And called him small and silly,

’Cause Billy funked to pass

Beside him through the grass;

Said the Bull, “Oh, never fear,

You simple little dear!”

But Billy went the other way round home.

A Rabbit discovered Billy Ben

On the side of a mossy bank

Where the grass was long and rank

And the thistles grew

As Billy knew

As tall as a boy of ten,

And Billy beckoned the Rabbit near,

Coaxed it much and called it “Dear,”

And explained there was no room for fear;

But the Rabbit went the other way round home.

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“Fungus Isle” by Phillip Fisher

ffm1940-10Unlike Lovecraft, there haven’t been a lot of writers following in Hodgson’s footsteps.  Outside of Carnacki stories, few authors (other than John M. Ford) produce Hodgsonian fiction.

One of the most significant deviations from this was “Fungus Isle” by Phillip Fisher.

Fisher (1891-1873) was an author who wrote primarily for pulps.  His stories are a mix of science fiction, sea adventure and some horror.  I have not read any other samples of his writing so I cannot speak about their quality, originality or influence.  However, in the October 27, 1923, issue of Argosy All-Story Weekly, appeared his story, “Fungus Isle”, which clearly owes so much to Hodgson as to come close to intellectual property theft.

The story concerns the survivors of a shipwreck who wash up on a strange island where they have to defend themselves from a group of hideous Weed-Men.  The parallels to Hodgson are obvious.  We see a mash-up of “The Voice in the Night” and The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” here to a degree that is virtually impossible to ignore.

The fact that the story was first published in 1923 (only 5 years after Hodgson’s death and only a few short years after the reprinting of WHH’s entire line of books in 1920-21), shows almost definitely that Fisher had read Hodgson.  The similarities are too close.  Given that Hodgson was fiercely territorial about his works and ideas, it is likely that he would have taken legal action against Fisher.  That is purely speculation on my part, of course, nor do I have any idea if he would have had a case for copyright violation in the courts of 1923.

However, consider this, were someone to have written “Fungus Isle” in, say, 1980, it would have been considered a Hodgsonian pastiche and given little thought.  Should we then consider this story, despite it’s having been written so soon after WHH’s death, a pastiche as well?

“Fungus Isle” was reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries in their October, 1940, issue.  This is significant because this is the same magazine that published “The Derelict” in 1943, The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (abridged) in 1945 and The Ghost Pirates (abridged) in 1944.  “Fungus Isle” predates those WHH appearances and doubtlessly paved the way for the Hodgson stories.  I wonder if any readers accused Hodgson of ripping off Fisher?

If you’d like to read “Fungus Isle”, there is a free link here.  There is also a listing to other samples of Fisher’s writing’s here. If any readers have more information on Fisher, and the obvious influence Hodgson played on his work, please send in your comments!


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The OTHER Hodgson

William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) is most widely known as a writer of sea horror stories even though two of his novels (The House on the Borderland and The Night Land) have nothing to do with the sea.  It may surprise many readers to learn, then, that WHH wrote a great deal of fiction that is not sea or horror related at all!

Hodgson was a working writer.  What that means is that he (and later he and his wife) had to live off of whatever income he made as a writer.  He did not have a large trust fund, was not rich by any stretch of the imagination, or had any other appreciable income.  So if he did not sell his work, they did not eat!

As such, he was always looking for ways to increase his sales and one of those was to not worry about genres but simply write whatever came to mind.  Some of the results of this are debatable but they all are worth some measure of attention.

In fact, the very first story he had published, “The Goddess of Death” (1904), is more of a mystery yarn than horror.  A statue is accused of causing some deaths and, during the course of the story, there are some frightening scenes, but the end result is a rational explanation worthy of a Carnacki tale.

“The Captain of the Onion-Boat” (1910), although it does concern a captain of a ship, is far more of a romance than anything else.   The title character pines away for a lost love who has committed herself to a convent and Hodgson focuses on their longing to an almost excruciating degree.  This story shows an oddly sentimental side of WHH which doesn’t show often in his later work which leads me to speculate if it might have been written earlier than it’s publication date of 1910.

In “The Girl with the Grey Eyes” (1913), a youthful wastrel becomes obsessed with winning the love of a young girl but is stymied by her other ‘suitor’ who turns out to be her brother!  It is a mostly forgettable story that is remarkable only for the lack of emotional depth of the characters.

“Judge Barclay’s Wife” (1912) is, of all things, a western.  Set in the American West, it is another morality story from Hodgson that plays on the titular character’s disgust at her husband’s seeming ‘softness’ on criminals.  It changes when a youth is accused of murder and his mother pleads to the Judge for mercy.  Given that Hodgson had never set foot in the American West (near as I am aware), it is a better story than one would expect.  Here again, however, we see Hodgson showing a not particularly favorable attitude towards women.

“Kind, Kind and Gentle is She” (1913) is a military adventure story that, once again, revolves around a woman.  A soldier in an outpost (possibly India) is deeply in love with the daughter of one of the higher officers who apparently holds him in some affection but it is expected that she will marry one of the junior officers.  When the outpost is attacked, it is saved virtually because of this one soldier who literally goes down swinging.  Later, it is revealed that the love of his life (whom he died protecting), married the junior officer as expected.  This is another unflattering portrait of women by Hodgson.

“My House Shall be Called the House of Prayer” (1911) concerns a poor pastor who becomes forced to sell off his possessions.  His parishioners buy the goods, only to place them back in his home as an act of charity.  Although charming, the story has little to recommend it.  Still, it does reveal Hodgson’s more sentimental side.

“The Smugglers” (1911) tells the story of a customs agent who is pitted against a family of smugglers.  Although they appear to get the best of the agent, he prevails in the end and wins (?) the love of one of their daughters.  This is an odd story that almost feels as if Hodgson is venting some anger through his words.  This is particular clear in the ‘scheme’ that the family concocts to keep the agent out of the way which involves the daughter distracting him by going on long walks and allowing him to ‘woo’ her.

As with many writers, sea and horror stories are but a part of Hodgson’s works.  For a fuller understanding of Hodgson as a writer, I encourage readers to check out these and many more of Hodgson’s “OTHER” stories!

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Introduction by A. St. John Adcock

Shortly after Hodgson’s death in 1918, his widow arranged for the realization of one of his dreams: publication of a book of his poetry.  In 1920, Selwyn & Blount published The Calling of the Sea, a short collection of 16 of Hodgson’s poems about the sea.  The edition was prefaced with an introduction by WHH’s close friend, Arthur St. John Adcock.

Adcock was an English novelist and poet who also served as the editor of The Bookman which was a magazine from publisher Hodder & Stoughton.  Although primarily a public relations tool, The Bookman also included reviews and illustrations.  Adcock would accept several items from Hodgson during their friendship and we owe several anecdotes about Hodgson to Adcock’s writings.

A year later, in 1921, Selwyn & Blount would also publish WHH’s The Voice of the Ocean which is Hodgson’s longest poem about the sea.  I have suspicions that Selwyn & Blount were paid by Mrs. Hodgson to publish these books making it a vanity press item.  At the time of his death, Hodgson had also assembled three more collections of poetry which remained unpublished.  My belief is that Mrs. Hodgson did not have the funds to publish these as well.

Thankfully, those three volumes were found by Sam Moskowitz and, after purchasing the Moskowitz collection, later published by Jane Frank in her book, The Lost Poetry of William Hope Hodgson (2005).

The Calling of the Sea and The Voice of the Ocean were reprinted in 1977 (Poems of the Sea) by Ferret Fantasy.  They combined them into one edition but omitted Adcock’s introduction which is a shame.  Perhaps there were copyright issues with Adcock’s introduction as he has only died in 1930.

In any case, Adcock’s introduction is an affectionate memoir of his dear friend and provides one of the few glimpses we have of Hodgson from an outside source.  It is very moving and worthy of reading.

We thank the ever helpful Phillip Ellis for providing the transcript of this introduction.  Ellis is doing breakthrough work in the study of Hodgson’s poetry and has just written an extension review of these works for the first issue of SARGASSO.

“Introduction [to The Calling of the Sea]” / Arthur St. John Adcock.

I first met Hope Hodgson about eleven years ago. At that date, his three best novels had been written; two of them, “The Boats of the Glen Carrig” and “The House on the Borderland,” had been published, and the third, “The Ghost Pirates,” was in the press. In those three stories he showed himself a writer of quite exceptional imaginative gifts, a master of the weird, the eerie, the terrible, whose strange and grim imaginings were not unworthy of comparison with the bizarre creations of Poe. He had already given himself so entirely and enthusiastically to a literary career that the talk of our first meeting was wholly of books and of his hopes as an author. He aimed high and, taking his art very seriously, had a frank, unaffected confidence in his powers which was partly the splendid arrogance of youth and partly the heritage of experiences, for he had tested and proved them.

There was something curiously attractive in his breezy, forceful, eager personality; his dark eyes were wonderfully alert and alive; he was wonderfully and restlessly alive and alert in all his mind and body. He was emphatic and unrestrained in his talk, but would take the sting out of an extravagant denunciation of some inartistic popular author, or of some pestilent critic, and the egotism out of some headlong confession of his own belief in himself with the pleasantest boyish laugh that brushed it all aside as the mere spray and froth of a passing thought. His dark, handsome features were extraordinarily expressive; they betrayed his emotions as readily as his lips gave away whatever happened to rise in his mind. Always he had the courage of his opinions and no false modesty; it never seemed to occur to him to practise politic subterfuges; and it was this absolute candour and naturalness that compelled you to like him and before long strengthened your liking round the world into a friendly affection.

Only once, and then casually, he mentioned to me that he had been a sailor, but, though there was nothing in his manner or trim, sturdy figure that suggested the seafarer, one might have guessed as much from his books and from the fact that the ablest of them were all of sailors and the sea. He was the son of an Essex clergyman, and left home to serve for eight years aboard ship, roughing it at the ends of the earth in all manner of picturesque places and voyaging three times round the world. His record as a sailor includes the story of a daring plunge overboard and the saving of a life at sea, for which he received the Royal Humane Society’s Medal; and much of the rest of his recollections of those eight years have gone to make the characters and incidents and scenery of his stories.

One novel of his, “The Night Land,” which appeared in 1912, turns altogether aside from the sea and might almost seem to have presaged, in some dim fashion, the coming of the Great War. He ranked it as his highest achievement and owned he was disappointed that it was not generally regarded as such. The story is told in quaint, archaic language; it is by turns grim, idyllic and touched with supernatural horror; it unfolds a romance of the far future when, in the last days of the world, the powers of evil are grown so assertive, so almost all-conquering that the civilised remnant of the human race seeks refuge in an enormous and impregnable pyramid, building their city tier above tier within it, while all around this Last Redoubt stretches immeasurably the Night Land peopled with primeval and loathsome material monsters and dreadful immaterial things of the spirit world banded together to destroy the soul of mankind. It is a strikingly original piece of work, giving full scope to Hope Hodgson’s sombre imaginative power and his peculiar flair for the weirdly horrible and the hauntingly mysterious. But it does not grip and hold one as do those three earlier novels that, for all their uncanniness, wear an air of everyday realism and never lose touch with the normal elements of actual earthly life.

He introduced some of his verse into the last book of short stories, “Captain Gault,” which came out a few months before his death; but most of what he wrote in this kind is here published for the first time. And in his poems, as in his prose, it is the mystery, the strength, the cruelty, the grimness and sadness of the sea that most potently appeal to him. He visions it as a House of Storms, a Hall of Thunders; calm at times, but with such a calm as one sees

“When some fierce beast veils anger in his breast,”

or raging and heaving and roaring tumultuously as though through its tortured waves

“Some frightful Thing climbed growling from cold depths.”

For him the voices of the sea are the sighing or calling of its multitudinous dead, and there are lines in which he hints that one day he, too, will be called down to them; but that was not the death that he was to die.

When the war came, he and his wife had for some while been living in the South of France, but he could not remain there in safety, with the folk at home arming for battle, and, though he was then near forty, he returned to England at once and obtained a commission, in 1915, in the 171st Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. He put aside all literary work and threw himself heart and soul into his new duties. With characteristic simple frankness, he said his only fear was lest he should feel any shrinking when his time came—a fear that nobody who knew him could ever had for him. In October, 1917, he went to France with his battery, and was soon in the thick of the fighting. Early in April, 1918, he and a brother officer with a new N.C.O.’s successfully stemmed the rush of an overwhelming number of the enemy who had broken through their line right up to the guns; they fought a gallantly stubborn rear-guard action, under a hail of rifle and machine-gun fire, for three miles across country. A week or two later, on the 17th April, 1918, he was killed in action, whilst acting as observation officer.

It is hard to think of him as dead, he was so vigorously and intensely alive. That vigour and intensity of life pulses and burns in everything he has written; and I think he will still be living in, at least, those three of his novels when we who knew and loved him are passed from remembrance. In the world of letters he had only half fulfilled his promise, but in the larger world of men he left no promise unfulfilled and has an abiding place for ever among the heroic company that the seventeenth-century seaman Thomas James commemorated, when he wrote:

“We that survive perchance may end our days

In some employment meriting no praise,

And in a dunghill rot, when no man names

The memory of us but to our shames.

They have outlived this fear, and their brave ends

Will ever be an honour to their friends.”

A. St. John Adcock

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Sexual Symbolism In W. H. Hodgson

Today I’m reprinting a curious little article that I doubt many have read before.  “Sexual Symbolism in W. H. Hodgson”, written by Sid Birchby, appeared in the November, 1964, issue of Riverside Quarterly.

Riverside Quarterly was a science fiction fanzine which actually began in 1953 under the title, Inside.  In 1954, it merged with Science Fiction Advertiser to become Inside and Science Fiction Advertiser under which name it won a Hugo Award for Best Fanzine.  Eventually, through a few other names, it rested on Riverside Quarterly in 1964 and was edited by Leland Sapiro.  It would continue to be published until 1993.

The fanzine was a literate mix of articles, reviews, news and occasional poems and stories.  I am unable to find any great detail about Sid Birchby, however, so perhaps one of the readers of this blog could enlighten us?

This is an interesting article as it was the first to really suggest that there may have been unconscious sexual elements to WHH’s fiction.  This is an idea that would be taken up by other critics including Iain Sinclair (“An Aberrant Afterword: Blowing Dust in the House of Incest” in Grafton’s 1990 reprint of The House on the Borderland).  Certainly Birchby’s points deserve consideration.

(PS–I have absolutely no idea if I have any legal right to post this.  Suffice to say that it is posted purely with the intent upon increasing scholarship regarding Hodgson’s works and not for any financial gain.  If someone does own the copyright to this article and would prefer I remove this, please contact me.–Sam Gafford)

Sexual Symbolism in W. H. Hodgson

By Sid Birchby

1birchby            The House on the Borderland was first published in 1908, and shows certain affinities with H. G. Wells’s “Time Machine.” There is a time-travel episode, for instance, in which the hero notes the passage of day and night as “a sort of gigantic ponderous flicker,” a convention familiar to most readers of time-travel stories.  “The Sun,” he notes, “made one clean, clear sweep through the sky . . . and the night came and went with a like haste.”

There are pseudo-scientific footnotes in the text, which in a plonking way mirror those found in Wells, e.g., “I can only suppose that the time of the Earth’s yearly journey had ceased to beat its present relative proportion to the period of the Sun’s rotation.”  Such footnotes remained an accepted writer’s device in science-fiction until well into the 1930’s.

But behind the façade of straight science-fiction is a story told by Hodgson alone.  It’s hero, identified only as “The Reculse,” lives in a lonely house in Western Ireland.  This house, for no very clear reasons, is under siege by weird creatures which emerge from a nearby ravine.  In mid-plot the Recluse finds himself making an apocalyptic trip into the future.  From this he learns that the monsters have always existed underground, and always will until the remote age when the dead Earth falls into the Sun.  He returns to the present and to his doom.  The story ends as the creatures burst into his study.

The sense of nemesis brooding over the house is competently done, and looks backwards to Poe and forwards to Lovecraft.  But where Poe’s necrophily would have coloured the narrative, or Lovecraft’s penchant for the degradation of Man, Hodgson lays on a wash of courtly romance.  True to the idiom it is a Hopeless Romance; no more than two sketchy encounters with a Soul-mate while time-traveling, plus a certain amount of breast-beating and cries of “Shall we never meet again?”  It could easily be discounted as standard literary practice at Hodgson’s level and in his day, and of no special importance in understanding the work.  Yet in the light of certain sexual symbols appearing in the story it is indeed, like the impassive iceberg, the only visible fraction of a submerged giant.

The besieging creatures are pallid swine-like things prowling through the bushes like the transformed lovers of Circe, yet as savage as those other symbols of erotic lust, the Gadarene swine.  They are linked with images of carnality, foulness, and female genitalia: their home is “in the bowels of the world” and they pour out through a pit which mysteriously enlarges itself: “The side of the Pit appeared to have collapsed, forming a deep V-shaped cleft.  In the angle of the V was a great hole, not unlike an arched doorway.”  We learn that through this hole the monsters emerge.  Gradually the Pit fills with water and overflows into caverns under the House itself.  The final end of the House is to collapse into the Pit.

Physical love is an animal thing, foul and all-engulfing.  No good will come of sexual intercourse, only the savage lusts of the swine (whose speech is described as similar to human speech but “glutinous and sticky”).  The True Love spurns physical contact:

She came over swiftly and touched me and it was a though Heaven had opened.  Yet when I reached out my hands to her, she put me from her with tenderly stern hands, and I was abashed.

The Recluse meets her first as he stands upon the shore of an immense and silent sea, which she tells him is called “The Sea of Sleep.”  It is in fact the womb-image, from which she emerges in “a bubble of white foam floating up out of the depths.”  Overhead, reiterating the symbolism, was “a stupendous glove of pale fire, that swam a little above the far horizon, and shed a foam-line like light above the quiet waters.

The true love is virginal as a new-born babe, and is glimpsed only in sleep.  Or she is as impregnable as a Sleeping Princess.

Only once again does he meet her.  It is after the end of the Solar System, and he sees “a boundless river of softly shimmering globes.”  He is impelled towards one of them: “Then I slid through into the interior without experiencing the least resistance.”  Would that the return to the womb were always so easy!  Once inside the glove, he recognizes his surroundings.  He is again by the Sea of Sleep, and sure enough his loved one is there.  With this wealth of imagery, can we any longer doubt her identity?

The distant future is also the main locale of The Night Land, published in 1912.  At last the Sun has gone out and the human race is embattled in the Last Redoubt against various nyctaloptic beasts: “The Thing that Nods,” “The Watcher in the South East,” “The Night Hounds,” and so on.  The Redoubt is mostly underground; only a pyramid shows on the surface.  Outside all is darkness and terror, but once within we descend to lands of warmth and light, complete with pseudo-sun and pseudo-sky.  So might a mother’s breast offer a haven against the dangers of the world, and rouse yearnings for the lost Eden of the womb.

As in The House on the Borderland, the hero tells the story but is not named.  It is as if Hodgson identified himself so fully with his heroes that to name them would have broken the spell.  The first half of the book sets the scene and tells how the hero makes telepathic contact with Naani, a girl in a far-off Redoubt.  They fall in love and he sets out across the Night Land to rescue her from the monsters which are besieging her Redoubt.

Spiritual love, then, is more important than physical attributes.  First there must be a meeting of the minds.  Having found the true love, the lover must at once rescue her from the temptations of the world.

He arrives at the Lesser Redoubt after an odyssey of superbly-written fantasy, only to find that it has fallen.  Naani alone is saved, and the second half of the book describes their return to base.  This is, on the surface, a simple Sir Galahad fantasy.  He defends the girl against various monsters, he calls her “Mine Own Maid,” and he even wears armour.  To ensure that we do not miss the point, the entire story is written in a pseudo-medieval, and quite irritating, style, full of “verily’s” and “Lo’s.”  But from the very moment that he meets the girl, curious undertones become apparent.  In the words of the old song, he seems to be fighting an impulse to use the traditional methods of protecting her from the foggy, foggy dew.

When they first meet, he has to strip off his cloak to cover her, for her clothes have been torn as she ran from the monsters.  Later, while she sleeps, he does a far far better thing by taking off his underclothes and laying them beside her, “for truly she was nigh unclothed.”  Egad!

Thenceforth the narrative abounds with instances of what I can only call sublimated stripping.  She mends her torn garments, having first put on his underpants.  She bathes in a pool, while he discreetly turns his back.  She has her clothes ripped off by a savage.  Naked fugitives from the sack of the Redoubt flit screaming through the night, hotly pursued by monsters.  One of them, a girl, is ripped in half.  And so forth.

Moreover, as the journey progressed, the hero develops foot-fetishism.  It beings when she kisses him “thrice very passionate and warm upon the mouth.”  His reaction: “I made her to stand upon the rock, and I set free her hair over her shoulders, and I took then the boots from her, so that her little feet did show bare and pretty.”

In another love-scene, he “kist her pretty toes,” and in a third he openly admits his obsession: “She now to slip her footgear, that her feet be bare unto me, as I did love.”  It seems that Sir Galahad is sublimating madly.

But the fruits of sexual suppression continue to ripen into new perversions.  We learn that he is, as the advertisements discreetly say, interested in Discipline and the Whip.  Only thus, it appears, can he make her realize that he is “surely her Master, and she mine own Baby-Slave.”  So, when food is short and she secretly gives him part of her rations, he whips her for being deceitful, “so hard that she had screamed if that she had been any coward.”  Fortunately, she derives an erotic stimulus from it, for “presently I knew that she kist the whipt hand secretly in the dark.”

Perhaps for this reason, he is soon thinking of whipping her again for being fickle.  In the middle of a love-scene, she suddenly tires of his advances!  Two other whippings do take place, and each, although justified with talk of “impudence” and “rebellion,” is set in the context of a love-scene.  The final episode begins with a new perversion—he ties a belt around her waist and leads her along by it.  Soon she cuts herself free.  He chases and catches her, “loosens her garment . . . and sets the belt thrice across her pretty shoulders.”  This incident is followed by a love-scene.  It is with some relief that we watch them gain the safety of the Great Redoubt and so call a halt to this Poor Man’s Kama Sutra.

Doubtless none of the above erotic nuances were intended to be displayed either by the characters or by the author.  If the Galahad-theme constitutes the surface of the story, the eroticism is not the second, but the third layer, buried deep below the reach of all but our present post-Freudian generation.  It is the middle layer of allegory that may have been meant to be excavated.

And now the meaning of the allegory is plain.  In The House on the Borderland we are told to reject the bestial lust of physical passion—it is a pit dug under the human race from time immemorial.  It will always be there until the world ends.  The only love on which we can rely is that which demands nothing from us, and gives all; the unselfish love that only a mother can give.  Nobody is more worthy of devotion.  In a spiritual sense, of course.

Any fears lest such mother-fixation might arouse latent tendencies to homosexuality are dispelled as we interpret The Night Land’s message.  With our mother’s strength to back us, and armoured by her against the evils of the world, we find a young virgin and save her from worldly peril.  Although she is willful and disobedient at first, we force her, for her own good, to obey us in everything, because what we do is what our mother has taught us, and is Right.  We take her home to mother, with whom we must live when we are married, for there is nowhere else left that is not over-run with evil things.

The last sentence of The Night Land reads; “For that which doth be truly Love doth mother Honour and Faithfulness; and they three to build the House of Joy.”

No need for me to name the key-word.


Filed under Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson

ANNOUNCING: Carnacki, The New Adventures!

CARNACKI copyAt last it can be told!

An anthology of all-new stories about Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder is NOW OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS!

Later this year, to coincide with the first issue of SARGASSO (The Journal of Hodgson Studies), I will be publishing an all new collection of Carnacki stories and I am currently looking for submissions!

Carnacki remains one of Hodgson’s most popular creations with not only new stories about the character appearing but he has been included in comic books as well as novels from other writers.  I’m looking for a fresh crop of writers to tackle the stories of this intrepid Ghost-Hunter!

So here’s the details: stories should be between 3,000-6,000 words (anything longer, please query first); stories should feature Carnacki in some aspect; no explicit gore, violence or sex, please; payment will be in 2 contributors copies; DEADLINE for submissions is May 1, 2013 so, yes, this will be closing quickly.

CARNACKI: THE NEW ADVENTURES is planned for an August, 2013, release at the Necronomicon convention in Providence, RI.

Send your submissions (or questions) to me at: with the tag CARNACKI SUBMISSION in the subject line.

I look forward to reading all of these great new Carnacki stories and presenting to everyone an exciting new collection of tales about this timeless character.  Get your submissions in early!  William Meikle already did!


Filed under Carnacki, Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson