“The Sin-Eater”

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

Review: “The Sin-Eater”, Fiona MacLeod, 1895.

I had not heard of Fiona MacLeod before or of the man lurking behind that pseudonym, Walter Sharp. Not that I’m any kind of expert or even informed amateur on Victorian writers, but this summer and fall I did read a few Scottish works of fantasy and horror from the period, and I did not come across either name even though both were associated with the Scottish branch of the late 19th century “Celtic Revival”.

MacLeod was interested in depicting the folk ways and life in Scotland, and this story’s main attraction is the strange custom of the sin-eater which mixed Catholicism and paganism. Our protagonist is Neil Ross. He’s walked thirty miles from Iona to return to his original home of Contullich.

Near Contullich, he meets an old woman, Sheen Macarthur. She recognizes him immediately but not vice versa.

We hear a tale of woe and poverty, a litany of a hard life from Sheen. All of Ross’ family is dead as is Sheen’s. She has a hovel and lives alone.

We also learn that Ross is a bastard, and he bears a great grudge against the man, Murtagh Ross, who didn’t marry his pregnant mother but instead wedded another woman who never produced a child. We also learn that the grandson of Murtagh’s brother, the man who talked his father out of marrying Ross’ mother, is recently dead. Continue reading ““The Sin-Eater””

WHH Short Fiction: “My House Shall Be Called the House of Prayer”

Essay: “My House Shall Be Called the House of Prayer”, William Hope Hodgson, 1911.

William Hope Hodgson seems to have been either an atheist or had a peculiar spirituality all his own. His relationship with his father, an Anglican minister, was tumultuous, and he tried to run away from home at age 13.

This is one of only two Hodgson stories that deal with a conventional Christianity.

Father Johnson is a rather unconventional Catholic priest in Ireland. He sometimes forgets to ask grace before a meal starts. He has a running gag with his housekeeper, a bet as to how she’s washing the kitchen knives. He allows women to knit in his church.

The narrator of the story is an admirer of Johnson, but his friend James Pelple isn’t given what he’s heard. The narrator offers to take Pelple to see Johnson and judge for himself.

The story begins with an odd couple of sentences: “Father Johnson’s Irish village is not Irish. For some unknown reason it is polyglot.” However, nothing is really made of that distinction in the story. Perhaps Hodgson, whose father was posted to Ireland for a while, just wanted to set his story there and yet excuse himself from getting all the cultural details right.

Johnson is clever in the way he helps his parishioners. The story is subtitled “An incident in the life of Father Johnson, Roman Catholic Priest”, and the incident involves helping Tom Cardallon, a man who impoverished himself in caring for his now dead wife, and who now has been evicted from his home.

Cardallon’s goods are auctioned off inside the church to prevent debt collectors from seizing the proceeds. The money goes to the widower, and the priest secretly compensates the bidders (who aren’t all that much better off than Cardallon) for their purchases, and the goods are returned to the widower. Tom’s dignity is thus maintained.

There is a particularly sad moment as the old man, prior to selling it off, describes one of his wife’s old skirts.

The story ends with Pelple also being a fan of Johnson’s at the end.

I speculate as to the relationship between Johnson and Samuel Hodgson, William Hope’s father. Is Johnson what Hodgson’s wished his father was like? Or is it a description of Hodgson’s father albeit of a different denomination? Some writers on Hodgson and his father speculate Samuel Hodgson was not well-liked and eccentric, and that’s why he was frequently moved by the Church of England. However, Avalon Brantley, in “The House of Silence: An Exposition” (Infra-Noir, Summer 2018), seems to think Samuel Hodgson was well liked though what she based that on I don’t know. Johnson is certainly eccentric

The title, incidentally, probably comes from Matthew 21:13 where Christ, quoting the prophet Isaiah, says

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Christ says it before overturning the moneychangers’ tables. Father Cardallon is, after, conducting a sale in the church but he’s doing it to protect a parishioner from the moneychangers. This is, incidentally, another, albeit rather tame, example of Hodgson’s interest in intricate schemes.

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More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

WHH Short Fiction: “The Derelict”

Review: “The Derelict”, William Hope Hodgson, 1912.

This is justly considered one of Hodgson’s greatest short stories, probably second only to his “The Voice in the Night”. Like that story, it’s a tale of fungal horror.

The story opens up very much like one of those club stories though the narrator actually delivers it in the “smoke-room of the Sand-a-lea running across the North Atlantic”.

The subject of the discussion is the mysteries of the “Life-Force”. The doctor who relates the main story argues it is like electricity or fire – forces that aren’t understood, need specific materials to manifest, and are of the “Outer Forces”. (That latter bit is curiously similar to something you’d hear in one of Hodgson’s Carnacki stories, but this is definitely not like one of those.) Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “The Derelict””

WHH Short Fiction: “The Sea Horses”

Essay: “The Sea Horses”, William Hope Hodgson, 1913.

I can’t say I’m all that fond of this story though Jeremy Lassen included it in Night Shade Book’s The Ghost Pirates and Others: The Best of William Hope Hodgson.

The problem is not exclusively the dialect the story is told in. Dialect is now a style definitely not in vogue and irritates modern readers, but I’m relatively forgiving of it. Rather, I find the story, despite its grim ending and realistic depiction of a child’s psychology and thought processes, overly sentimental. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “The Sea Horses””

Walking the Night Land: “Low the Ascomycotan Sky”

Making my notes on recent reading, I found another story set in William Hope Hodgson’s Night Land.

Essay: “Low the Ascomycotan Sky”, Deborah Walker, 2014.

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Cover by Robert H. Knox

This story first appeared on Andy Robertson’s Night Land website.

Most writers choosing to create a work using Hodgson’s The Night Land as a setting set their stories between the time of it and the end of humanity. However, there is obviously a lot of potential in setting a story between now and the time when all humanity is huddled in two buildings. That’s what Walker does.

There are Five Cities and the vanguard force goes on patrols and exploration missions in the Night Land. In this novel, the massive tanks of the Vanguards are powered by diesel but we hear that work is being done to power them with the Earth Current.

Heroine Tazim is reluctantly assigned by Fintrar, head of the vanguards, to the Lady Bug, unique in the huge, crawling ironclads used by the vanguards in that it has an all-female crew. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: “Low the Ascomycotan Sky””

WHH Short Fiction: “On the Bridge”

While I’m done with William Hope Hodgson’s novels, I’m not done with his short fiction. I’m going to review all of it.

I’m going to do it somewhat differently than usual. I’ll be reviewing one story each post instead of an entire collection. There’s a couple of reasons for that. People seem to like the posts on a single short story. The second is that many of the Hodgson’s collections I own have a lot of stories in them. Reviews of them would be long.

That brings up the question of which Hodgson collection you should buy if you want to read a particular story. There are a lot of them out there.

If cost is no object, buy the five volume The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson from Night Shade Books. You can get it in either e-books or trade paperbacks or, if you want to spend lots of money, the now out of print hardcover editions. (I foolishly did not buy them when they came out. I was collecting Night Shade’s series of Clark Ashton Smith.) That series has all of Hodgson’s novels, abridgements done for copyright purposes, and all his short fiction including some that was first printed in the 1970s through 1990s. That latter is important because those works are not in the public domain and not in cheap e-book editions. The Night Shade series also provides information on where and when a work was first published.

Delphi Classics’s The Complete Works of William Hope Hodgson has some biographical material and some of Hodgson’s poems. It also has all his novels and most of his short stories except the ones not in public domain. It’s the best value for your money as far as Hodgson collections go. It does have at least one mistake in categorizing a Hodgson work as non-fiction when it isn’t.

Another good value is Wildside Press’s The William Hope Hodgson Megapack. You get most of Hodgson’s short stories in the public domain (no Captain Gault stories though) and all of Hodgson’s novels except The Night Land. You also get commentary on Hodgson by H. P. Lovecraft and Darrell Schweitzer. Also included is Hodgson’s most famous poem (and the best of his I’ve read): “Grey Seas Are Dreaming of My Death”.

What I’ll do with each review of a story, is put up the covers for the collections it’s available

Review: “On the Bridge”, William Hope Hodgson, 1912.

This is an interesting work. It’s a hybrid of story and an imaginative essay.

It starts out with a note and a dedication:

(The 8 to 1 watch, and ice was in sight at nightfall)

IN MEMORY OF

April 14, 1912.

LAT. 41 deg. 16 min. N.

LONG. 50 deg. 14 min. W.

Many readers will recognize that as the date the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg. And, yes, it was at those co-ordinates at 11:40 PM.

So, the reader expects this is going to be a Titanic story. (Incidentally, those were the co-ordinates the Titanic gave in its distress signal. They are about 13 miles west of the site of the wreck, but, of course, Hodgson wouldn’t have known that.)

It’s told in the second person and is about an officer on the bridge watching for ice and the strain he feels knowing that failing to sight an iceberg puts a great many lives and a great amount of property at risk.

It’s then you realize you are not reading a story set on the Titanic or an alternate history about the ship. You are reading about a ship that, through watchfulness, avoided the berg. The story opens at 9 PM, so the implication this is the same iceberg the Titanic hit at a different point in time and space. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “On the Bridge””

“Spiderweb”

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

Review: “Spiderweb”, Mariana Enriquez, trans. Megan McDowell, 2016.

Enriquez is an Argentinian writer, and this story is interesting mostly for its details of life in Argentina and Paraguay (where the characters go for a trip). At the time of the story, Argentina is no longer under a dictatorship and Paraguay still has their dictator in Stroessner. That would place the story sometime from 1983 to 1989.

Our narrator, whose name we seem never to learn, has one big problem: her husband Juan Martín. She impetuously married him out of loneliness when she was a teenager after her mother died. Juan has his good points. He doesn’t cheat on the narrator. He doesn’t beat her. He has a job that supports them fairly well. He even wants kids. But we’ll learn plenty of his faults as the story progresses.

The narrator, on the other hand, admits she’s a passive woman, and she admits she doesn’t want her favorite aunt and uncle and cousin Natalia to meet Juan. Eventually, though, Juan gets taken off to meet the relatives in Corrientes, Argentina.

Juan does not impress them. His constant comparison – unfavorable – of life in the provinces compared to big-time Buenos Aires does not sit well with them particularly Natalia. Continue reading ““Spiderweb””