The story starts with our narrator, John O’Donnel, hanging out with six other men. They discuss various historical, anthropological, and literary matters. They are all
of the same breed — that is to say, a Briton or an American of British descent. By British, I include all natural inhabitants of the British Isles.
Well, maybe not all of them. There’s that Ketrick fellow. He says he comes from the “Welsh branch of the Cetrics of Sussex”. But his eyes are “sort of amber, almost yellow, and slightly oblique”. Why, if you look at him just right, he almost looks Chinese.
Talk turns to an artifact one of them has reconstructed, a strange stone axe. Ketrick picks it up, experimentally swings it about.
Gafford argues that we have to look at Hodgson’s fiction to deduce his attitude about women.
It’s a dubious concept, but we don’t have much in the way of letters or interviews from Hodgson.
Supposedly, Hodgson was spoiled as a child. Gafford argues that most of Hodgson’s fiction was written before he ever married or had much contact with women who were not his mother or sisters. His women tend to be meek and untrustworthy until they fall in love with a stronger male who will dominate them. I would offer “Judge Barclay’s Wife” and “Diamond Cut Diamond with a Vengeance” as counter examples though I’ll note the last was probably written after Hodgson’s marriage.
According to Gafford, Hodgson biographer Samuel Moskowitz says Hodgon was a hypochondriac. He urged his brother not to use public toilet seats. He washed his hands after handling mail lest he be infected by germs, and he gargled frequently since his father died of throat cancer.
Gafford thinks these fears of decay and disease show up in Hodgson’s stories, particularly the fungal horrors in “The Voice in the Night” and “The Derelict”. Gafford also notes that Hodgson’s disgust with the food from his Mercantile Navy days may have led to the image of the couple in “The Voice in the Night” consuming the fungus.
This is an overly long essay. Ellis probably could have dispensed with trying to link all of Hodgson’s novels into using some kind of mythological underworld and just concentrated on the novels’ similarities. He also could have dispensed with repeating himself about how the creatures of the novels’ underworlds take on characteristics of the underworld and are a confused mixture of human in inhuman. The term “underworld” here does not refer strictly to subterranean settings but any zone beneath the realm of men including basements or under the sea.
Ellis contends that the settings of Hodgson’s novels all take place in lands of confusion. They are set in our material universe, but normal rules do not apply be it in the nature of the landscape or the creatures in it. Ellis also talks about how Hodgson uses sound in evoking his settings.
Valentine says Hodgson took up writing Carnacki stories when the publication of his first three novels won acclaim but didn’t get him much money. He decided a series character, a detective interested in occult mysteries like Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence who first appeared in 1908 (Carnacki first appeared in 1910). You’ll note this contradicts claims by Joseph Hinton in Sargasso #2 and Sargasso #3 about when Hodgson wrote the Carnacki stories. Such are the unknowns of Hodgson scholarship.
Hodgson not only tapped into the rituals and plots of the detective story but the semi-rationalized wonders of Spiritualism. Valentine thinks the Carnacki stories should be treated with more respect by Hodgson fans though, from what I’ve seen, they seem to have plenty of fans among Hodgson readers. They hint at some of the same dark cosmic forces that The Night Land does.
He also argues that there is more of Hodgson in Carnacki than any of his other characters. In this regard, he does not mention the shared interest in photography, but that Carnacki may regard the forces (natural or supernatural) menacing the people who contact him as sort of bullying entities, the same sort of bullies Hodgson confronted at sea and that gave rise to his interest in bodybuilding. Continue reading ““Against the Abyss””→
While Joshi thinks, with justification, that Hodgson could be formulaic and tried to produce too much to support himself which resulted in slight variations of settings and themes and series characters, his horror fiction is commendable and has memorable moments.
Joshi argues, I think correctly, that much of Hodgson’s fiction features interesting gradations between the supernatural and the natural as explanations for events. This is particularly true of the sea stories but also of the Carnacki stories. Supernatural mysteries often turn out to have natural explanations. Sometimes something like the supernatural is behind things. Sometimes there is a blend. Sometimes the natural is so bizarre (swarms of giant rats and crabs and octopi and massive moving fungus) that it is almost supernatural.
Interestingly, he sees a couple of stories as exhibiting agnostic Hodgson’s hostility to Christianity. Continue reading ““Things in the Weeds””→
This is a very good critical article on how Hodgson used and often inverted a perspective of the early 20th century that was as infused with the ideas of spiritualism and the belief that the “supernatural” could be explained in terms of yet unknown laws of physics. There were also traditional myths and legends of the sea extant then.
The essay’s only flaw is that, while Adler mentions several books and studies of sea legends, it doesn’t prove Hodgson knew those legends and was consciously or subconsciously using them. I think Adler is on pretty safe ground in assuming Hodgson read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and knew the Flying Dutchman legend, and, of course, it’s entirely possible the sailors he sailed with told him those legends.
Adler says the advantage of the sea as a setting is that a ship is a microcosm of society, fantastic beasts can show up, and there is an uneasy division between chaos and order. (Adler takes all this from Patricia Ann Carlson’s Literature and Folklore of the Sea.) Continue reading ““The Dark Mythos of the Sea””→
This is what Stableford had to say about Hodgson in his Scientific Romance in Britain 1890-1950 which I’ll be reviewing up the line.
Stableford says of Hodgson that none of his work is “authentically supernatural”, his metaphysics are as disenchanted as H. G. Wells and baroque as M. P. Shiel’s (all discussed in the aforementioned book).
Stableford, as usual, does a very clear and insightful presentation when discussing Hodgson’s novels, particularly The House on the Borderland, when he goes into the allegorical and metaphysical ideas behind its visions of Black and Green Suns (entropy and decay vs. life).
This is a collection of the earliest essays on William Hope Hodgson, mostly by writers.
H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Weird Work of William Hope Hodgson” says Hodgson is one of the few writers that can capture “the inmost illusive essence of the weird” and puts Hodgson just below Algernon Blackwood in his skill even if his conception of the universe and man’s place in it is “conventionally sentimental”. I’m not sure exactly what Lovecraft meant. Hodgson’s stories don’t appeal to God or any higher power save man. Perhaps he was noting Hodgson’s characters often have love interests whereas Lovecraft’s (with the exception of “The Thing on the Doorstep”) never do. Lovecraft uses variations on the word “siege” in describing every Hodgson novel except The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”. He finds the prose of that novel inaccurate and “pseudo-romantic”. Of The Night Land, Lovecraft says that, despite all its faults, it is one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever conceived. Generally, Lovecraft is not fond of Hodgson’s Carnacki stories but concedes that some have “undeniable power” and show Hodgson’s peculiar genius.
Clark Ashton Smith said that Hodgson’s work had the quality of the “realism of the unreal”. He thinks Hodgson at least the equal of Algernon Blackwood and perhaps exceeded him in The House on the Borderland. Of The Night Land, Smith said “there are few works so sheerly remarkable”. Smith thought those two novels were Hodgson’s masterpieces though he liked the beginning scenes on the island in The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”. He thought The Ghost Pirates was “one of the few successful long stories dealing with the phantasmal”. Continue reading ““Pioneering Essays””→
It was my idea to discuss this piece of weird fiction over at LibraryThing, and I’m glad I did.
Review: “The White Wyrak”, Stefan Grabiński, trans. Miroslaw Lipinski, 1921.
Our narrator genially recounts his early days as a journeyman in the chimney sweeping trade to some young men starting the same career.
He worked under Master Kalina, and his fellow journeymen included Antarek, gloomy and silent, but always seeming to grasp the philosophic truth in the many tales Kalina tells his employees.
When Antarek doesn’t show up one night after a job, Kalina goes looking for him at the brewery where he was sent to clean a chimney. The brewery stopped operating years ago. Eventually the property was picked up cheap by a family. They don’t know what happened to Antarek but complain the chimney is still smoking.
Another apprentice is sent out, and he doesn’t come back either. Kalina, whom the narrator says was a wise man, seems to know what’s up. He takes the narrator with him when they go to the brewery. Continue reading ““The White Wyrak””→