WHH Short Fiction: “A Tropical Horror”

Essay: “A Tropical Horror”, William Hope Hodgson, 1905.

This was the second story Hodgson had published, and there’s no rationalized mystery like in his first, “The Goddess of Death”. That story was set in a small English town. Hodgson realized pretty quickly that his nautical experience was his strength.

Hodgson introduces his characteristic tentacle horrors here right in the third paragraph when a sailor is grabbed off the deck. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “A Tropical Horror””

Schweitzer and Lovecraft on Hodgson

There still are a lot of William Hope Hodgson stories I’ll be looking at as well as Hodgson criticism. However, I’m mostly taking stuff in the way I read it.

These are both in The William Hope Hodgson Megapack.51GClMcTj+L._SY346_

The first, “A Note About Hodgson”, is from author and critic Darrell Schweitzer.

He justifiably says going to sea gave

Hodgson the formative experience of his life, and surely contributed to the sense of vastness, solitude, and cosmic strangeness found in his best work.

Schweitzer argues that Hodgson still has no peer “or even serious challenger” for writing the creepiest sea horror stories. Schweitzer talks briefly about Hodgson’s novels, the Carnacki stories, and regards “The Derelict” and “The Voice in the Night” as two of his most notable stories. He thinks that, given that Hodgson was turning to short stories, many of them not supernatural, when he died that, if he hadn’t have been killed in World War I, he would have become a “pulp generalist”. He concludes by stating that Hodgson is like Arthur Machen or David Lindsay – writers whose works are not particularly popular but “because of their utter uniqueness” refuse to die.

H. P. Lovecraft’s “Notes on Hodgson” is taken from his Supernatural Horror in Literature. He calls Hodgson’s style uneven but sometimes powerful. While he thinks Hodgson had a tendency “toward conventionally sentimental conceptions of the universe, and of man’s relation to it”, only Algernon Blackwood matches him in describing “unreality”. Continue reading “Schweitzer and Lovecraft on Hodgson”

WHH Short Fiction: “The Stone Ship”

Essay: “The Stone Ship”, William Hope Hodgson, 1914.

This, behind his “The Voice in the Night”, is probably Hodgson’s most famous weird nautical short story.

Essentially, it’s a sea gothic with a haunted ship full of strange and monstrous beings. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “The Stone Ship””

“The Bad Lands”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

John Metcalfe was a writer whose name was completely unknown to me, but that’s one of the advantages of the Deep Ones discussion group – we cast our net wide.

Review: “The Bad Lands”, John Metcalfe, 1925.1dfdd4403ad9232636d2f557477434b41716b42

As one character says, towards the end, “Bad Lands” “usually means that bit in the States”. Not here, though.

I liked this story up until the end which was confusing and weakened the effect. Protagonist Brent Ormond goes to Todd in northern England to recover from his neurosis. It seems to be about the year 1910 since the actual narrator says this all happened about 15 years ago.

Ormond exercises and walks around a lot and sends letters to his sister Joan from the hotel he’s staying at. He becomes fascinated with a nearby tower built, seemingly, for no good reason and the road that leads off from it. He senses an increased interest in the tower and, especially, the land to the southwest of the tower, is not healthy. That land seems sinister to him. Still, he visits the tower multiple times a day.

One night Ormond strikes up a conversation with Stanton-Boyle, another guest at the hotel. The latter says the land beyond the tower, the land that the road goes into, seems abominable to him. It merely seemed depressing last year to Stanton-Boyle, and he didn’t take much notice of it. Now it seems abominable to him. Continue reading ““The Bad Lands””

WHH Short Fiction: “We Two and Bully Dunkan”

Essay: “We Two and Bully Dunkan”, William Hope Hodgson, 1916.

Hodgson left the merchant marine disgusted with the pay and abuse by officers and fellow sailors. Preventing that bullying led to his interest in physical fitness and unarmed combat. He is supposed to have looked up sailors who had bullied him on ship and beat them up.

This story, therefore, has something of an autobiographical element. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “We Two and Bully Dunkan””

WHH Short Fiction: “The Bells of the ‘Laughing Sally'”

Essay: “The Bells of the Laughing Sally”, William Hope Hodgson, 1914.

This is the first D.C.O. Cargunka story and does not deviate as far from Hodgson’s usual subjects and themes as “The Adventure of the Claim Jumpers” did. It’s a nautical adventure, and there is what seems to be a haunted ship.

The story opens with Cargunka’s bartender, Jensag, normally mild mannered, interrupting Cargunka while he plays a phonograph record of “The Fate of the Laughing Sally”. In fact, Jensag smashes the phonograph which, of course, in addition to his rudeness, results in Cargunka giving him the chance to defend himself before he thrashes him. The interruption comes while Cargunka is peeling potatoes while looking at, as usual, Lord Byron poems, and making some notes on the good rhymes of the song. (We also discover that he secretly uses curlers in his hair to make it like Byron’s.)

We find out that the singer of the song, Stella Bavangal, disappeared about a year-and-a-half ago on a sea voyage captained by the miserly and strange Captain Barstow. Stella was Jensag’s wife.

Cargunka gets a tip where the ship may have wrecked and takes Jensag along to look for his wife. But there is another motive – one shared by nearly all the protagonists in The Luck of the Strong collection where this story was reprinted, treasure hunting.

Barstow liked to horde his money, and Cargunka thinks his horde can be salvaged.

The Laughing Sally is found inside a reef and close to shore near one of the (fictitious) Vardee Islands.

The ship seems deserted. It’s certainly not seaworthy. The high tide covers it.

But, around dusk, the Laughing Sally’s bell is heard. Cargunka and his men go to investigate. The bell doesn’t even have a striker in it.

They camp on shore. Jensag wanders around yelling for his wife and singing. The sound of the bell is heard again, seemingly in response to the “The Fate of the Laughing Sally.” The ship is investigated again with the only conclusion that the sound is coming from the ship somehow. Some of the crew talk darkly about a deadman’s bell.

Cargunka isn’t impressed, and he isn’t leaving without any money. Putting on a diving suit, a crew member, Durrit, investigates the flooded hull. However, soon after he goes down, his life rope starts to run out. Cargunka rescues him. Durrit doesn’t offer any explanation other than that he felt a pain between his shoulderblades. He goes back. A similar thing happens again.

Cargunka decides he’s investigating himself. He goes underwater packing a handgun.

The crew above see a commotion in the water, and Cargunka comes up holding a naked body. It’s Captain Barstow, thought dead all these years. Well, he does die shortly after that. Cargunka shot him three times underwater.

Then the men camped on the shore show up singing “The Fate of the Laughing Sally” and a small men in tow who turns out to be Agnes aka Stella, Jensag’s wife.

Then we get the rest of the story. Agnes holed up in a cave on the island to stay hidden from Captain Barstow who went mad when the Laughing Sally went down with all his money. Barstow dived on the wreck repeatedly to retrieve his money all the while monomaniacally ringing the bell to mark the hours of the watch and, perhaps, to scare any nearby ships away. The geometry of the sunken ship allowed for an air pocket for Barstow to hide in and whack the ship’s bell with a piece of wood.

Cargunka even finds some of Barstow’s money in the end and gets a sort of hint from Agnes that, like Byron, Cargunka is a “devil wiv the wimmin”.

So, like some of the Carnacki stories, we have a seemingly supernatural mystery explained in natural terms. Like Captain Gault, Cargunka is concerned with money though he doesn’t share Gault’s cynical view of women.

It’s an all right story. I think Hodgson’s explanation for the mystery is a mite strained though.

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WHH Short Fiction: “The Adventure with the Claim Jumpers”

Essay: “The Adventure with the Claim Jumpers”, William Hope Hodgson, 1915.

Besides Carnacki, Captain Gault, and Captain Jat, Hodgson had one other series character if only for two stories. This is the second of the stories featuring D.C.O. (as in “Dot-And-Carry-One”, a reference to one of his legs being shorter than another).

Cargunka is an interesting series character. Perhaps hearkening to Hodgson’s own reputed love and skill at fighting, Cargunka likes beating people up and cooking. He even, on the ships he owns, signs on as cook. He also loves Lord Byron and his poetry. A running gag is that Cargunka is always seeking people’s agreement that, yes, he looks like the portrait of Byron up in his saloon. Yes, like Byron, he’s a great athlete and, he thinks perhaps God, in giving them a disability, helps men attain their greatness. However, even Cargunka is too modest to go fishing very hard for compliments that, as with Byron, the ladies find him irresistible. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “The Adventure with the Claim Jumpers””