WHH Short Fiction: “A Tropical Horror”

Essay: “A Tropical Horror”, William Hope Hodgson, 1905.

This was the second story Hodgson had published, and there’s no rationalized mystery like in his first, “The Goddess of Death”. That story was set in a small English town. Hodgson realized pretty quickly that his nautical experience was his strength.

Hodgson introduces his characteristic tentacle horrors here right in the third paragraph when a sailor is grabbed off the deck. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “A Tropical Horror””

Schweitzer and Lovecraft on Hodgson

There still are a lot of William Hope Hodgson stories I’ll be looking at as well as Hodgson criticism. However, I’m mostly taking stuff in the way I read it.

These are both in The William Hope Hodgson Megapack.51GClMcTj+L._SY346_

The first, “A Note About Hodgson”, is from author and critic Darrell Schweitzer.

He justifiably says going to sea gave

Hodgson the formative experience of his life, and surely contributed to the sense of vastness, solitude, and cosmic strangeness found in his best work.

Schweitzer argues that Hodgson still has no peer “or even serious challenger” for writing the creepiest sea horror stories. Schweitzer talks briefly about Hodgson’s novels, the Carnacki stories, and regards “The Derelict” and “The Voice in the Night” as two of his most notable stories. He thinks that, given that Hodgson was turning to short stories, many of them not supernatural, when he died that, if he hadn’t have been killed in World War I, he would have become a “pulp generalist”. He concludes by stating that Hodgson is like Arthur Machen or David Lindsay – writers whose works are not particularly popular but “because of their utter uniqueness” refuse to die.

H. P. Lovecraft’s “Notes on Hodgson” is taken from his Supernatural Horror in Literature. He calls Hodgson’s style uneven but sometimes powerful. While he thinks Hodgson had a tendency “toward conventionally sentimental conceptions of the universe, and of man’s relation to it”, only Algernon Blackwood matches him in describing “unreality”. Continue reading “Schweitzer and Lovecraft on Hodgson”

WHH Short Fiction: “The Stone Ship”

Essay: “The Stone Ship”, William Hope Hodgson, 1914.

This, behind his “The Voice in the Night”, is probably Hodgson’s most famous weird nautical short story.

Essentially, it’s a sea gothic with a haunted ship full of strange and monstrous beings. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “The Stone Ship””

WHH Short Fiction: “The Island of the Ud”

Essay: “The Island of the Ud”, William Hope Hodgson, 1914

Besides Carnacki and Captain Gault, Hodgson created two other series characters, neither of which appeared more than twice.

As Hodgson scholar Mark Valentine has pointed out in regards to Captain Gault, sea stories were a popular genre when Hodgson wrote them. It was natural, given the rates they fetched and his own talent for nautical settings, he’d write them.

The story introduces us to the much put upon Cabin-boy Pibby Tawles and the brutal Captain Jat. Tawles is continually kicked, clouted, and smacked by Jat – sometimes even when they are both running for their lives. Apprentices and cabin boys being abused and bullied is a frequent element of Hodgson’s sea fiction and drawn from is own unpleasant days as a boy at sea.

But Tawles keeps his eyes open and manages to best (at least in terms of getting the treasure they seek) the stingy Jat who never shares their finds.

Jat, in his own way, is fond of Tawles. He confides things to Tawles he doesn’t to the rest of his crew – mostly because he doesn’t want to share any loot he finds. Tawles not only keeps his mouth shut, but he’s rather handy with pistols, a skill Jat helped hone with their shooting matches. (At one point, Tawles is quite prepared to shoot Captain Jat when the latter goes into one of his fits of rage.)

The plot is classic pulp: the rescue of a girl tied to a post on a strange island and waiting to be served up to the natives’ strange god. Jat knew her once when he was on the island before. (Jat’s two great interest are women and treasure.) He also knows the islanders, a savage bunch of mostly naked and masked women, collect pearls to give to their god, a giant crab.

Jat doesn’t get the girl – she throws herself off their boat after they free her and try to take her back to Jat’s ship. But he does get a lot of pearls and “graciously” gives Tawles one – and a chipped one at that.

That’s ok. In the struggle to free the girl from the stake, a lot of pearls fell into the boat and Tawles picked them up when Jat wasn’t looking.

There is an element of weirdness in the story with one of Hodgson’s fusions of human-alien forms (the hog-men of The House on the Borderland, the fungal-human hybrids in “The Voice in the Night”, and, in a way, the weed men of The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”). Some of the women on the island seem to be human and just wearing giant crab pincers on their arms. Others seem to actually be some kind of hybrid of crab and human.

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“The Harbor-Master”

This week’s bit of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Harbor-Master”, Robert W. Chambers, 1904.untitled

The narrator of this is engaging story is a 24 year old general supervisor of the waterfowl section of the Zoological Gardens in Brooklyn, New York. We never do get his name.

Among his many jobs is answering the various letters from people offering to sell or donate exhibits of alive and stuffed animals. (The zoo does not hire people to collect samples.) The letters and answers are reviewed by the narrator’s supervisor Professor Farrago.

One day he’s surprised that Farrago actually wants him to respond to a letter from Burton Halyard, a man who claims he has some living great auks to sell for the princely sum of $10,000. Great auks are thought to have gone extinct around 1870 when the last ones were seen in Labrador. Halyard’s letter cryptically says that he may have an even more remarkable specimen for them – an amphibious biped – which seems even more ludicrous. However, he says that, when the narrator arrives, he’ll meet people who have seen it and are believable.

So the narrator is off to Black Harbor. We’re never told where on the Atlantic coast or even the state or Canadian province that Black Harbor is in. I’d guess, given that we hear of mica mining, that it’s New Hampshire. Continue reading ““The Harbor-Master””

WHH Short Fiction: “The Mystery of the Derelict”

Essay: “The Mystery of the Derelict”, William Hope Hodgson, 1907.

In between publishing “From the Tideless Sea” and its sequel “The Fifth Message”, Hodgson had, published another tale set in the Sargasso Sea, “that grim cemetery of the ocean”.

Unlike some Hodgson sea stories, we don’t start out at night or in a mysterious fog. The crew of the Tarawak spot, while they’re becalmed in the Gulf Stream, a “great, shapeless bulk” against the rising sun. It looks “exceedingly old” with an odd, “roof-like superstructure” on its deck. It lies within the weed which covers its side.

The Captain, however, does not take the Mate’s suggestion to take a boat and go the seven miles to investigate the hulk. He expects the wind to come up soon and wants to get under way.

That night the wind does come, and another vessel is sighted astern. The watch, slightly after midnight, notes something odd happening on board the second vessel, a small barque. Lights appear to be moving around on deck, and she seems to be dropping farther back. The First and Second Mates, watching the ship through spyglasses, realize the barque has caught itself in the weed near that old hulk. The flashes of light are shooting. They can even hear the shots.

The Captain is awakened. He discusses with the officers whether they should go investigate. But the Tarawak doesn’t have the men to spare for an armed party to put down a mutiny. The Tarawak is “under-manned as is the modern fashion”. That’s a bit of Hodgson’s dissatisfaction with his life as a sailor showing up as it does in many of his sea stories.

At dawn the next day, a noise is heard from the barque:

very faint, long-drawn-out, screaming, piping noise . . . the cry of a little wind wandering out of the dawn across the sea — a ghostly, piping skirl, so attenuated and elusive was it; but there was in it a weird, almost threatening note

Signal flags are hoisted, but the barque does not respond, so an armed party is sent over to investigate.

It finds the barque snagged in the weed. Its jibboom has pierced the hulk’s superstructure.

There is no one aboard, but they find broken lamps and abandoned guns and capstan-bars.

The crew then goes to the old ship and looks at that odd structure on deck. It’s beautifully built though now rotting and, in its center, is a sort of platform that the First Mate speculates was meant as sort of a lookout.

The men are about to go below decks of the old hulk when they hear a whining noise.

Then a swarm of giant rats appears, “thousands and tens of thousands of them”.

The men retreat back to their boat. But that isn’t safe. The rats, “in black multitudes”, scurry across weed towards the boat.

A desperate battle ensues, but the rats are beaten off, and the men return to the Tarawak. A storm comes up and they are blown far from the Sargasso Sea.

Hodgson doesn’t present this story as an account by a narrator but an oft told story.

The story ends with a speculation on the origin of those rats:

Whether they were true ship’s rats, or a species that is to be found in the weed-haunted plains and islets of the Sargasso Sea, I cannot say. It may be that they are the descendants of rats that lived in ships long centuries lost in the Weed Sea, and which have learned to live among the weed, forming new characteristics, and developing fresh powers and instincts. Yet, I cannot say; for I speak entirely without authority, and do but tell this story as it is told in the fo’cas’le of many an old-time sailing ship — that dark, brine-tainted place where the young men learn somewhat of the mysteries of the all mysterious sea.

Hodgson has wrought an interesting variation on his Sargasso Sea stories and The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”. They, apart from the strange weed men of that novel, feature merely giant versions of marine creatures. Here the Sargasso Sea has wrought a change on a non-marine creature albeit the rat ubiquitous on board ships.

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WHH Short Fiction: “The Fifth Message”

Essay: “The Fifth Message”, William Hope Hodgson, 1907.

“The Fifth Message” is the title of this one in The Complete Works of William Hope Hodgson. However, it was actually published as “More News from the Homebird” and later as “From the Tideless Sea (Second Part)”. It was published in August 1907, eighteen months after its prequel and the same year as Hodgson’s The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”.

 The story opens with sort of a frame summarizing the events of the first story and telling us that the second, third, and fourth messages from the Homebird have not yet been received.

Arthur Samuel Philips wrote this message too, and it describes events on the Homebird in 1879. Like the previous messages, it has been sent out on Christmas Eve.

We hear about how Philips, his wife, and their daughter have gotten on and how they are threatened with a new menace besides the giant octopi which threatened them in the first story. Continue reading “WHH Short Fiction: “The Fifth Message””