This week’s weird fiction selection – kind of.
Review: “The Goddess of Death”, William Hope Hodgson, 1904.
This story strikes me as a bridge between gothic horror and Hodgson’s later weird fiction. But that’s just a hunch not being an expert in gothic horror or Hodgson and not having read that much of either.
The supernatural element is rationalized, explained away like something out of a Ann Radcliffe novel. There is a great deal of physicality which I associate with Hodgson. His narrator spends a great deal of time outdoors and running about.
That narrator, Herton, arrives in a small English village that’s in tumult because a dozen people have been killed there. Some claim a walking marble statue is doing the killing.
Herton goes to visit his old friend William Turner who lives in the town.
Once Herton hears the story of the killer statue, he decides to try his hand at catching it.
So, Turner and Herton go to the park with the statue in it late that night. The statue is not on its base.
Then, in the bushes, a carved marble face is seen. A giant looms out of the dark, and Herton and Turner run away.
Next morning, rather ashamed at their cowardice, the two go back to the park. The statue is back. It’s of a woman and made of white marble. In its right hand is a twisted cloth. The left hand is empty but in a gripping pose.
It was at this point I wondered if Hodgson was going to be working Thugees into the story.
We learn the statue is part of the estate of Colonel Wigham. He was a recluse and had an old servant from India. He died about nine months ago, strangled. Being childless, his estate was converted to the town’s park.
Herton examines the statue and is convinced it’s just marble.
The two men hang about the park for the next week. Then, one night, they hear a scream and find a dead woman. In a local bar, Herton and Turner get three men to go to the park and take care of the menace.
They see the statue walking about. The men try to sneak up on it, but Turner falls and accidentally discharges one of his pistols. The statue bolts off, the men after it. Herton even shoots at it. After a few minutes, one of the men catches up to it and gets killed. The chase concludes without its marble quarry.
The next day a group of men go to the park with the intent of destroying the statue, but it’s gone.
That night, Herton gets a brainstorm. He asks after Colonel Wigham and where his papers are.
He finds an account of Wigham’s. Looking to exterminate the Thugee cult in India – as per British policy, he comes across a temple to the sect’s deity, Kali. Specifically Kali in a previously unknown form. That statue is the one in the park. We also learn the Colonel barely escaped death at the hands of a Thugee high priest of enormous size and fury.
Herton immediately drags Turner out to the park in the night and to the bare pedestal of the statue. He examines it and, as expected, finds a switch. The statue rises up from the base. Herton finds another switch, swivels it off to the side, and reveals a passage leading down.
Herton follows the passage down. It leads to a tunnel that goes to the park’s lake. (The tunnel, it seems, preexists Wigham buying the place.)
By lamp light, just beneath the water of the lake, Herton sees “something of an indistinct whiteness”. He pulls a mask out of the water, a mask that matches the statue’s face.
Later, workmen pull out “the dead body of an enormous Hindoo” dressed in white. It is the high priest of the Thugee temple, dead from shots fired that night when he was pursued in the park. He was impersonating Kali to bring terror to Wigham’s town.
It’s a pretty so-so story. The prose is so bare-bone, brief descriptions, dialogue, action, that there’s no real buildup of atmosphere.