I told you I wasn’t done with William Hope Hodgson.
With this post, I think I can claim to have blogged more about William Hope Hodgson than anybody else in the English-speaking world. Whether any of it was useful you will have to judge. But, as Joe the Georgian said, “Quantity has a quality all its own”.
Since I spent about $50 for this book, something I rarely do unless it’s a reference work, I guess I can now be considered a hardcore Hodgson fan. Considering that was the list price for this book when it was published by Tartarus Press and I got it new, I got a good deal – and there must not be that many hardcore Hodgson fans.
So, what did I get for my money?
131 of the book’s 365 pages is Hodgson fiction, specifically for a collection entitled Coasts of Adventure which was never published in his lifetime. In 2005, that might have been significant (frankly, I didn’t do my blogger diligence and check how many were anthologized before showing up here). But, now, you can get every one of these stories in Night Shade Books’s five volume The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson.
This is another winning collection of Carnacki stories from Meikle.
Carnacki doesn’t always save those who seek his assistance, and “The Photographer’s Friend” is one such case. The case begins with strange apparitions showing up in the photographer’s pictures.
“Fins in the Fog” is another team up between Carnacki and Captain Gault. Carnacki finds the Captain an amiable pirate. This one has Gault showing up at Carnacki’s house with spectral sharks pursuing him.
In “The Cheyne Walk Infestation”, Carnacki doesn’t have to go anywhere to investigate odd happenings. His own apartment is threatened by giant, vicious millipedes. Told via Carnacki’s journal this story is related to the earlier “The Shoreditch Worm”.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I like Meikle’s Carnacki better than William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki.
There are two reasons for that.
First, Meikle will often work in odd bits of history or folklore into his stories, and Hodgson didn’t do that. (Of course, Hodgson presented his stories as contemporary. Their setting is now over a 100 years old.)
Second, Meikle’s Carnacki doesn’t go on at length about his photographic methods or how he checks a dwelling out. His Carnacki will simply say something like, “You all know my methods by now.”
Meikle’s Carnacki stories are presented roughly in chronological order. This is, currently, the second of Meikle’s Carnacki anthologies. Don’t worry, though, you won’t be lost if you jump around in the publication order of them.
“The Banshee” does allude to some of the menaces Carnacki has faced in the past and how be vanquished them. Here an old friend in Scotland has heard the banshee’s cry which means, according to family lore, he will die if he hears it seven times. So, naturally, Carnacki sets out to help him. Unusually, Carnacki tells most of the story to his friend – and series regular – Dodgson by letter. Continue reading “Carnacki: The Watcher at the Gate and Other Stories”→
Sawyer argues that, while H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land both feature trips into the far future where Earth is dying, they differ greatly.
Wells looks forward, Hodgson looks backwards.
Both The Night Land and The House on the Borderland present their stories as found manuscripts from long ago. Even The Night Land, a tale of the far future, is presented in an old manuscript. Wells presents his story in the present. His narrator speaks to his contemporaries.
Hodgson style is “sickly, verbose, over-sentimental, and grotesque” according to Lin Carter’s introduction to the reprinted The Night Land.
However, Hodgson may have been attempting alienation via language, through both future wonders and archaic prose. His tenses tangle in passages. Sawyer thinks Hodgson’s archaic language, his frequent protestations of uncertainty and addresses to the reader, work against evoking the future. Continue reading ““Time Machines Go Both Ways””→
Harksen uses a theory from literary critic Martha C. Nussbaum that the style a story is written in can be used to gain insight into its meanings. She has three criteria for the style: how general is it, how precise is it in describing places and people, and what explanations are given for events.
Harksen argues that, contrary to many critics of Hodgson who maintain some of his stories work despite their style, Hodgson’s style tells us things. Here he looks at the subject of love. There are three subjects of the narrator’s love: the formal affection he gives his sister and about whom get little, his beloved dog Pepper where things are much more specific, and his romantic love for a long dead woman.
In the latter, Birchby sees the opening beneath the house as a vulva-like opening. And what comes out of that opening but swine-men, there speech “glutinous and sticky”? Continuing with what Birchby sees as the novel’s general disgust with the body and sex, the narrator’s true love does not allow herself to be touched in the Sea of Love. Much is made of the house sinking into a pool of water. We are told the Sea of Sleep is a womb the narrator enters. The set of symbols adds up to an alleged disgust of sexual intercourse and a belief that virginal love is best.
On a more defensible level, Birchby sees three fetishes at work in The Night Land: the striptease, feet, and domination (Naani even kisses the narrator’s hand after he flogs her). Birchby also contends The Night Land symbolizes a “mother-fixation” on the part of the hero given that “mother” shows up in the novel’s final line.
Birchby doesn’t explicitly claim this analysis reveals the character of Hodgson, but it is implied.
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.
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””→