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””→