The House on the Borderland; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

It started out reading some William Meikle stories set in Scotland. That expanded into reading his Sigils and Totems series which took me to his Carnacki pastiches. That took me to William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki tales which led me to reading this one and The Night Land since Meikle seemed to be using some elements of them.

Andrew Fox supplies the parallax on this one by looking, among other things, at how this stands at the beginning of the tradition of horror stories with an “Isolated Individual versus Hordes of Homicidal Creatures”

Review: The House on the Borderland, William Hope Hodgson, Complete Works of William Hope Hodgson, 2015.House on the Borderland

Several horror and weird fiction motifs exist in this novel. There’s the house with secrets. There’s the isolated house under attack by monsters. There’s possession by inhuman forces.

This is a novel of portals and mysterious connections centered around a huge and lonely house in the wilds of Ireland, a novel of opposites hardly understood by the man who encounters them.

It’s also a novel of time travel, of an astral sort, showing deep time and the far future in a remarkable manner, a time-lapsed vision that takes up seven of the books twenty-three chapters.

Framing the story is the account of two vacationing fishermen in 1877 who come across the ruins of an old house perched above a ravine and a nearby cataract. In those ruins is discovered a manuscript, the basis of our story.

The unnamed narrator, and he will never get a name even when the frame is picked up again in the concluding chapter, tells us of the ancient house he bought and now inhabits with just his sister. It is a vast house of pinnacles and towers and peculiarly built in the form of a circle. Local legend says it was built by the devil at least a couple of hundred years ago. It stood unoccupied for 80 years before the narrator bought it and moved there with his sister Mary.

After ten years of sensing “something unseen, yet unmistakably present”, he has a vision one night in January. He looks out upon a “plain of silence” lit by

a gigantic ring of dull-red fire, from the outer edge of which were projected huge, writhing flames, darted and jagged. The interior of this ring was black, black as the gloom of the outer night.

He’ll go on to see another house, seemingly modelled on his but enormous and made of jade. Behind the plain are mountains with enormous statues of “beast-gods” like Seth and Kali and others that have an air of “life-in-death” about them.

And the house is besieged by “swine-things”.

Yes, this is the hog man novel, and Hodgson does make his hog men frightening, human in their cunning attacks, bestial in their sounds and appearance, mysterious in their motives.

When the vision ends and the narrator is back in his study, he finds almost a day has passed.

Days later, the hog men show up his house and the siege begins as, for whatever reason, they want in. The narrator will learn new secrets about the ravine by his home and the cellars of his house and the odd – and ultimately unexplained – connections between his world and the future.

A stunning vision of the far future and oh-so-Hodgsonian doom lay in his future.

Hodgson’s novel moves along nicely and is full of odd surprises and memorable visions, and I’d recommend it. It really is one of the founding texts of cosmic horror.

Additional Thoughts with Spoilers

This is a novel of doubling and opposites. After all, the qualities of what lies at the end of a portal may be similar and different at the same time.

In the introduction, where Hodgson, in his persona of presenting this found manuscript, says the “shadowed picture and conception” presented “may well be given the accepted titles of Heaven and Hell”.

That metaphor doesn’t map exactly on to the story, but there are correspondences.

The demonic swine-creatures do seem to ascend from the underworld. The future plain they inhabit is infused with an infernal light from a red sun. The gods reposing in their perhaps-not-just-statutes are associated with death.

It is from this future the fungoid infection comes that kills the dog that replaces Pepper, the narrator’s loyal dog, and infects him at novel’s end. It is from this future the swine-creatures seem to come.

And the hero watches the colliding of Earth and the solar system into the Green Sun, the star at the center of the universe.

Yet there is a Heaven of sort there too.

The narrator has a vision of a dead love and the Sea of Sleep. But it is only a vision at first. There will be no touching. But it is only by staying in his evil house, which his love urges him to leave, that he can have contact with her.

That vision of the Sea of Sleep is followed by a chapter called “Fragments”, a vision immediately after seeing the Sea of Sleep and before the long vision of the future begins. It is perhaps significant that the manuscript is mutilated at that point because that’s where it was open when the house eventually collapses. That implies the narrator’s most compelling interest is reunification with that love, a union he will have again in the Paradise where souls seem to float in “Celestial Globes” on the Sea of Sleep, an unseen guardian felt nearby.

But it’s not a permanent reunion. It ends when the narrator’s consciousness returns to his own time.

There is also the doubling of earth changes. The pit that opens in the ravine by the house and the our solar system falling into a sun remind us that even on the scale of our own short lives the earth may change.

We never get an explanation for what motivates the swine-creatures hostility, why the house is cosmically significant, or learn of its origins.

The ultimate chapter of the book has the fishermen investigate the house’s history by asking the locals about it. Eventually, they find a very old man to talk to about it. He tells them the place has always had a strange and bad reputation, perhaps a place “given over to the fairies”.

We hear second-hand that the man responsible for bringing monthly supplies to the house at the time of the main narrator returned to find the house had disappeared and a pit was now in its place.

Even at the story’s end, much is unexplained.

Amusingly, the penultimate chapter, the last chapter of the found manuscript, ends quite similarly to H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon” though Lovecraft wrote that years before he encountered Hodgson.

 

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4 thoughts on “The House on the Borderland; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

  1. I’ve been meaning to read some Hodgson at some point. It’s interesting how often the old device of “I’m writing about a story that was found in this old journal/manuscript/scrawled-on-the-wall” keeps appearing, as if this additional layer of misdirection removes your suspicions about the narrator.

    1. I think at least three of his novels use that device. It’s been argued that the first chapter of Hodgson’s The Night Land could be seen as hinting the rest of that long book is a delusion of the narrator’s. (I don’t accept the theory myself.)

      I wonder if the device was leaned on by writers of a certain time because they felt that they had to ground past or future fantastic wonders and horror sin a contemporary frame to foster suspension of disbelieve and create reader identification.

  2. Avalon Brantley’s novel “The House of Silence” attempted to clear up some of the questions that Hodgson left unanswered. Though, she did it in par via infusion of motives from Celtic mythology and even some from Celtic Christianity a la Machen, so some folks might find the mystery of the original preferable to some of her expansions. She also tried to to bridge The House on the Borderland and The Night Land.
    Last time I’ve checked, the novel was available in paperback (previously, it was only sold in expensive limited hardback form).

    If you’re in the mode for more Hodgson-inspired stuff, John C. Wright earlier The Night Land stories are pretty good, as are James Stoddard Evenmere novels.

    1. Thanks very much for that information. I’ll probably end up doing several postings on The Night Land, and it’s various follow ups as well as Hodgson “The Dream of X”. I just finished Stoddard’s retelling and John C. Wright — both very good I thought.

      However, I had not heard of the Brantley novel, so I’ll check it out too.

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