WHH Short Fiction: “Out of the Storm”

Essay: “Out of the Storm”, William Hope Hodgson, 1909.

This is an interesting if not a completely successful story.

It’s weird but naturalistic and exhibits an anti-Christian attitude more explicit in only one other Hodgson story.

It seems that the narrator’s friend, a scientist, is receiving transmissions through some kind of instrument whose nature is never detailed. It seems to be like a wireless telegraph but transmits a long and detailed message from “one in the last extremity”.

It’s a message from the scientist’s brother on board a ship in a tremendous storm. It seems very similar to the one Hodgson described in his article “Through the Vortex of the Cyclone”.

Though no giant critter shows up here, Hodgson evokes the malevolent with his favorite symbol:

Once, about half an hour ago, I went out onto the deck. My God! The sight was terrible. It is a little after midday; but the sky is the color of mud—do you understand?—gray mud! Down from it there hang vast lappets of clouds. Not such clouds as I have ever before seen; but monstrous, mildewed-looking hulls. They show solid, save where the frightful wind tears their lower edges into great feelers that swirl savagely above us, like the tentacles of some enormous Horror.

But there’s more going on in that passage besides another example of Hodgson’s use of rhetorical questioning – “do you understand?”. Brian Stableford notes that Hodgson has inverted the world. The sky looks like the sea. It is as if the ship is already underwater.

Hodgson describes the storm as sort of a malevolent cosmic entity:

‘Oh! God, art Thou indeed God? Canst Though sit above and watch calmly that which I have just seen? Nay! Thou art no God! Thou art weak and puny beside this foul Thing which Thou didst create in Thy lusty youth. It is now God – and I am one of its children.

‘ . . . The sea is now all the God there is!’

There is no prayer to God since He can’t save them. Their god is now the sea. Fear of the storm dehumanizes some of the passengers, makes them bestial and unfeeling. The brother describes a mother casting a child to the storm rather than be swept overboard with it. Two sweethearts battle each other for the shelter.

The brother asks the scientist not to tell his wife about the things “I ought not to have said”. But, as S. T. Joshi has said, it’s the blasphemy and not the apology we remember.

The narration and story end in a version of the horror story with the monster at the door: “My God! I am drown-ing! I – am – dr – “.

It is a striking story. I do think the nature of the instrument could have been better handled and perhaps the ending is a trifle melodramatic and awkward. I think a story slightly longer or shorter may have worked better.

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