“William Hope Hodgson in the Underworld”

Review: “William Hope Hodgson in the Underworld: Mythic Aspects of the Novels”, Phillip A. Ellis, 2014.

Voices from the Borderland
Cover by Daniele Serra

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.

Frequently, the denizens of Hodgson’s underworlds are a mixture of inhuman and human: the abhumans of The Night Land, the swine men of The House on the Borderland, the weed men of The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”, and the titular pirates of The Ghost Pirates.

These underworlds are unknowable in a certain sense: the place the ghost pirates come from, the cosmic realms of The House on the Borderland, the island at the beginning of The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”, and, since X has to explore it, The Night Land. Again, in the case of the last two novels, “underworld” is metaphorical. You can see The Night Land as a recapitulation of the myth of Orpheus rescuing Eurydice from Hell.

There is usually a boon for the heroes who go into these underworlds. They gain experience beyond the mundane world. That’s what the narrator’s vision of the Sea of Sleep gives him in The House on the Borderland. X is reunified with his eternal lover in The Night Land. Only in The Ghost Pirates does the narrator not get some sort of consolation.

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