I will be reviewing more of William Hope Hodgson’s short fiction, but I’m now back to the usual posting procedure of taking things in the order I read them.
Ther’s a bit of morbid air about my posts on Hodgson.
Hodgson, of course, was dead more than a 100 years when I read most of him. But Andy W. Robertson, editor of The Night Land tribute anthologies, had been dead only a few years when I discovered him. Gafford was dead only a few weeks before I read this book.
There are two significant essays here that justify the Hodgson fan – or even those just curious about the man and his work – buying this 71 page book: “Writing Backwards: The Novels of William Hope Hodgson” and “Houdini v Hodgson: The Blackburn Challenge” Both were first printed elsewhere in, respectively, Studies in Weird Fiction No. 11 and Weird Fiction Review No. 3.
“Writing Backwards” concludes, by looking at some letters of Hodgson’s, with the following composition dates of Hodgson’s novels: The Night Land (1903?), The House on the Borderland (1904), The Ghost Pirates, (1905), and The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (1905). This contradicts Gafford’s statement in “Hodgson’s First Story”, another essay in the book, that, by 1904, Hodgson had already written all his novels. Gafford speculates that Hodgson’s novels became less strange and imaginative as Hodgson worked towards a style he thought more commercial.
“Houdini v Hodgson: The Blackburn Challenge” deals with the legendary meeting on October 24, 1902 between Harry Houdini and William Hope Hodgson and documented by several newspapers. Houdini, as was his usual practice, publicized a challenge to the locals that he would pay a £25 reward if he couldn’t escape from “regulation restraints used by the police of Europe and America”. Hodgson offered a counter challenge. He would bring his own restraints to Houdini’s performance and bind the escape artist himself. If no escape was performed, the reward would be paid to a local Blackburn charity. Hodgson hoped his challenge would publicize his flagging gym, and Houdini complacently responded to another local challenge to his ability as an escapologist. Continue reading “Hodgson: A Collection of Essays”→
I can hear the gnashing of contemporary teeth with the opening.
There are still many people who refuse to recognize that in spite of evolution, education, progress – call it what you like – there remains a tremendous difference between the East and the West.
Not being a universalist about human nature and believing in biological differences in “ancestral populations”, I am nonplussed.
The narrator is a member of the Police Secret Service in some unnamed British colony.
Missionary Hallett invites his fiancé Mary Kingston to join him there and marry him.
Hallett has run afoul of Jurwash, a native priest, by insulting him some way. Jurwash kidnaps Mary and a chase ensues. (There’s also a lot of references to the members of the Police Secret Service beating information out of the natives.)
Sword and sorcery or, as it’s called now, heroic fantasy, is not a genre I read a lot of. I don’t have anything against it. It’s just that I’d rather read other things. I do have fond memories of reading some of Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords anthologies in the 1970s when I was a kid. They led me to Michael Moorcock’s many novels. But, apart from those, I haven’t read a lot of it.
These stories have all the things I want out of sword and sorcery stories: heroic figures, beautiful women, giant spiders and snakes, mysterious ruins, meticulously described violence, and devious sorcerers. The writers all put me in their worlds to smell the dust, sweat in the jungles, freeze in winters, and gasp at wondrous magic.
The heroes and heroines sometimes fight to save whole peoples and sometimes just a single person. Sometimes they survive. Sometimes they don’t
Sometimes the worlds of the stories are in our past, sometimes our future, sometimes in a some when where the names have a familiar ring.
The challenge of the title was that every single author had to, somewhere in a heroic story, incorporate the cover image by V. Shane. Writing to a cover illustration is a fine pulp tradition.
A couple of stories may have stayed in my memory for only a couple of days, but I had a good time reading every single one.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a weird western here. “Someplace Cool and Dark” by Frederic Durbin has a couple of treasure hunters in the American West. They battle strange critters in caves to retrieve gold left behind by a mysterious and vaguely Lovecraftian race called the Old Ones. But the real enemy is a criminal gang seeking that same treasure and who ambushes the pair in town. It’s a tale of blazing guns, laconic men, and deep if understated friendship and loyalty. Durbin also contributes the sole non-fiction piece in the book, “The Writing of ‘Someplace Cool and Dark’”. It doesn’t add much and is half the length of the story.
And there’s a third Durbin piece, “A Fire in Shandria”. The old queen of an Amazonian society has been overthrown by her sister Azanah. Something like a police state has been created, and our heroine Ragaan runs afoul of it when her secret meetings with an imprisoned dragon she has a telepathic link with are discovered. Azanah fears it is the fulfillment of an old prophecy predicting her downfall and tries to kill Ragaan who then has to go on the run from her still loyal old comrades and free the deposed queen.
For me, both of Dubin’s tales were highlights of the book.
Keith J. Taylor’s “Witch with Bronze Teeth” doesn’t take place in the jungle setting you might expect from the cover illustration. Given my interest in the Crusading orders, including their spinoff in the Teutonic Knights, I was hoping they wouldn’t be the villains here. But they are, and medieval Lithuanians are fighting for their lives against them. Taylor focuses on the Knights as viewpoint characters though all will come to bad – and memorable –ends.
In heroic fantasy, you’ve got your warriors and your wizards, And, of course, you have thieves. Liridonia is one of the latter in Richard Berrigan’s “Fire Eye Gem”. At first she just wants the titular rock to bring her lover, who accompanies her as a panther, back to human form. Time is running out, he tells her. He’s growing more like an animal every day. But an African tribe is dying, and they need to the gem to survive. They’ve sent a legendary warrior to get the gem before Liridonia does.
I would argue that John Kilian’s “Inner Nature” doesn’t exactly fulfill the heroic remit. The narrator is a dying man from sort of a Roman-like Empire that has penetrated into kind of a sub-Saharan Africa. He’s the sole survivor, mortally wounded, of that expedition. I suppose his relations with a woman in a fabled jungle city represent a sacrifice of a sort, but most of the story’s vigor comes from hearing about what happens before he lays dying.
“The Ash-Wood of Celestial Flame” by Gabe Dybing was one of the book’s stories that left my mind quickly. Heroine Wuf-Pei is sent on a quest to find the celestial light that can save her fellow women back home as they are threatened by something coming out of the village’s quarry. I suspect the story’s jumping about in time and having two lovers as living symbols of cosmic forces may account for it not sticking with me longer.
The challenge that created the book came with prizes, and Frederik Tor’s “World Inside the Walls” got third place. A man fleeing from thugs in a city enters a deserted compound where the remains of the previous inhabitants, slaughtered years ago, are still about. But he does meet one lone survivor, a girl. It’s a simple and poignant love story with lots of fighting.
I liked the background for Daniel R. Robichaud’s “In the Ruins of the Panther People” in what seems to be a future where advanced science (though still nothing we can do and with a steampunkish air about it) is indistinguishable from sorcery and many of the names sound like corruptions of those from the European Middle Ages. The story has a set up similar to “Inner Nature” – the hero is the sole survivor of an expedition to a jungle city – but goes on to include raiders from the sky and an army that becomes smoke when killed only to reform. One of my favorites in the book.
David J. West’s “The Serpent’s Root” is a somewhat humorous tale with some unexpected plot twists. Its heroine is a thief that needs the tooth of a cockatrice to remove a curse on her sister. The help she gets along the way is surprising as is her helper’s fate.
Nicolas Ozment picked up well-deserved second place with “Cat’s in the Cradle” which is something like heroic fantasy crossed with film noir. Telarra, a Warrior of the Higher Law who lives in poverty and travels the land dispensing justice and protecting peasants (sometimes from their own foolishness), is hired by a dodgy sorcerer to find a gem needed to ransom his son. Said son just happens to be an old lover of Telarra, so she takes the job despite her well-founded misgivings.
You wouldn’t expect to see Vikings in the plush jungle implied by the cover image, but that’s what you get in Henry Ram’s well-done, first place winner, “Attabeira”. A group of Vikings search the Caribbean for a Northmen expedition that vanished 20 years ago. It even finds the expedition’s remains and some survivors. They include one who now thinks she’s a god and is at the center of a power struggle. The story ends on a nicely gloomy note of sacrifice and future doom and, like “Inner Nature”, the idea that heroism can be an essence apart from action.
This week’s subject of discussion by the Deep Ones group over at LibraryThing.
Review: “The Phantom Farmhouse”, Seabury Quinn, 1923.
This 1923 story is odd in its combination of supernatural elements.
Our narrator is Weatherby, a clergyman staying at the New Briarcliff Sanitarium in Maine. What he’s recovering from is not clear. He certainly seems well enough, by story’s end, to be running through the countryside.
The hero is at the sanitarium for three weeks before he imagines a farmhouse on the other side of the trees around the sanitarium. He also imagines its inhabitants: a man, a woman and a beautiful girl.
One September night, he walks down the road and past the trees and sees a house very much like he imagined. He asks one of the locals who lives there. The man regards it as a crazy question. Not only does no one live there, there isn’t even a house there. When the narrator says he saw one, the local becomes frightened and leaves immediately.
Later that night at the sanitarium, another person asks him about the house and for Weatherby to describe it. After Weatherby does, this man is frightened too and tells Weatherby to stay inside at night and stay away from the trees where Weatherby saw the house. Continue reading ““The Phantom Farmhouse””→
This story was not published until 1925, so I’m not sure when Hodgson wrote it or if his wife touched it up for sale then. It has a vaguely World War One feeling to it though there is no mention of the war. I would suspect it was written during one of the Balkans Wars which started in 1912. That is supported by the first line:
Captain Mellor, trading along the Adriatic coast, had put in at one of those small seaports which found themselves involved in the wars so common in the Balkans.
The Captain is staying in a chalet belonging to a French friend of his.
The sounds of gunfire can be heard coming from the center of town,
the punishment . . . being carried out for twenty of the band of forty youths of the enemy who had been caught the day before fighting out of uniform—a youthful band of ‘death or glory’ irregulars.
Captain Dan returns to his home after being gone 20 years. He’s rich with plunder because he’s been a pirate. He makes a great show of displaying his wealth publically, most of it in some chests, and he vigorously and humorously defends it against the inevitable thieves.
He asks after one Nancy Drigg, a girl he knew before he left and who he asked to marry after he returns from the sea. She’s now a widow, Nancy Garbitt. She has seven daughters.
She agrees to put him up in her house if he behaves and leaves her daughters alone. He gives her money weekly and eventually dies which starts the last third of the story.
While living at Nancy’s house, Captain Dan had a treasure house built at a distance away with imported architects and craftsman (to maintain secrecy) and shaped like a ship. Captain Dan’s will says his treasure is in that house. However, it can only be searched for one day out of the year, from sunrise to sunset, and, if it is not found within seven years, a hidden codicil to his will will reveal who gets the money.
Humorous story about Cobbler Juk, cleverer than his nephew the policeman. Or, as Cobbler puts it in the story’s opening lines,
I ain’t enough knowledge . . . not to be what you’d call scientific. But I got the brains I was born with, and I uses my eyes!
And using his eyes he does solve two murders in an English village – for a ten pound reward and his promise that he’ll keep his mouth shut and not embarrass the police.
The murder victim is, initially, Captain Chappel. But, to the body count, Saddler Atikins and Councillor Tompkins are added.
Cobbler finds out that the murderer was an old acquaintance of the victims and involved in their former secret life of illegal seal hunting and piracy. The town is some ways inland, so Chappel’s past life was not so well known.
We even find out that the murder is a black man mistreated by his victims in “some dirty job”, and Cobbler
hopes as you policemen, you’ll never lay a hand on him. I’d be very well pleased. I believe he gave them three divvils no more than was comin’ to them.
This story, incidentally, is one of those mysteries told mostly through dialog.
Our hero, Jock Danplank, “a Britisher who had weathered the States”, and his American wife are the putative heirs of his Uncle Billy’s estate – at least the cash and personal effects. Cousin Billy got the land. The trouble is the cash and personal effects aren’t to be found, and they are thought to be worth $500,000. Their location is only listed as “Seventy-seven feet due east”.
The only “personal effect” Jock knows the location of is a “writing table”, and, no, it doesn’t have any secret compartments.
Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear the desk is the clue to the whole thing, especially since it’s fixed to the floor.
Grasping Cousin Billy is also trying to find the cash – and, of course, he has no plans to give it to Jock if he finds it.
There is some humor about the estate’s gardener horrified at the lawn being dug up to locate the treasure (several times, unsuccessfully).
Of course, our hero Jock succeeds at the end. As in Hodgson’s Captain Gault stories, the protagonist sends a gloating note, here to Cousin Billy, who doesn’t manage to steal the treasure.
The Glen Doon is supposedly a haunted vessel, a ship that capsized in San Francisco’s harbor. Two men were trapped in it but not rescued before they suffocated. The ship was salvaged, but the new owners never found a use for it, so it’s still in the harbor five years on.
There are rumors of strange sounds coming from it, ghosts tapping on the hull just as the trapped men did.
On a bet, one Larry Chaucer, a rich young man “of sport” wagers that he can spend a night on the Glen Doon alone. Provisions are made for the bet which involves people around the ship on rowboats to make sure no practical jokers show up and that Chaucer doesn’t leave.
However, the men in the rowboats hear tapping sounds in the dark and then pistol shots. They go aboard the Glen Doon. They don’t find Chaucer, only his emptied revolver.