You may purchase William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland here.
My dear unknown friend,
I was pondering this morning how to convey the pleasure I find in reading collections of critical essays. As I contemplated this I grew to realize once again I was exploring territory delineated by Mark Fisher in his elegant work The Weird and The Eerie. As Mr. Fisher so gracefully illustrates one does not approach weird tales seeking the twin jolts of horror and terror. Rather weird tales entice the reader with the alluring combination of fascination and dread. We are not seeking the final solution of a locked room mystery, the thrilling finale of an adventure story or the intellectual satisfaction of plot threads woven together in a satisfying manner. Instead, as Lovecraft himself writes in “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, for a weird tale to be successful:
“A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain – a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space …. Therefore we must judge a weird tale not by the author’s intent, or by the mere mechanics of the plot; but by the emotional level which it attains at its least mundane point … The one test of the really weird is simply this – whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.”
Upon completion of such a tale the reader still finds pleasure in casting their mind back unto those vistas first revealed by the tale’s author, returning repeatedly to marvel over the expansive qualities of these imaginal constructions and experiencing once again those twined emotions of fascination and dread. Turning once again to Lovecraft, “Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.” In this regard critical essays can act as both guide books and maps, unearthing information that casts new light upon the material or the application of modern methods which grants us new modes of appreciation, allowing us a deeper appreciation for beloved and well-known works.
William Hope Hodgson is a writer desperately in need of just such a volume. The shortage of material surrounding Hodgson comes as no surprise given the dearth of biographical information concerning the man himself and the late discovery of his oeuvre. Even though Hodgson’s published trilogy, Boats of the “Glen Carrig”, The House on the Borderland and The Ghost Pirates, were known and favorably reviewed in his own lifetime these works and their successor, The Night Land, while earning their author critical praise did not reap the financial rewards he was yearning for and so Hodgson turned from writing novels to the hopefully more lucrative market of short fiction in demand at that time. When one reads William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland it is Hodgson’s drive, courage and tenacity that shine through more than anything else. This was a person undaunted by new challenges and I for one would love to see a thorough biography of the man, as daunting a task as this may prove to be.
Hodgson’s name would loom large in the annals of weird fiction merely for writing The House on the Borderland wherein he puts lie to the adage one cannot sustain an atmosphere of terror and dread for the length of a novel yet he also created the characters Carnacki the ghost-finder and Captain Gault the sea-faring smuggler. Then let us consider his sprawling work The Night Land. I consider the act of getting lost within the pages of The Night Land a coming-of-age ritual for any reader of weird tales, a clear demarcation point one may look back on as a definitive point in one’s self-education in weird fiction. Surprisingly however for a figure held in such high esteem there is a shocking lack of material, both biographical and critical, on either side of the Atlantic. Thankfully Hippocampus Press stepped in to fill that void.
William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland does this job admirably well. From the very first, if you have any interest at all in William Hope Hodgson purchase this book simply for the bibliography compiled by S. T. Joshi and Sam Gafford with Mike Ashley. I shudder to think how many years went into this exhaustive work. At just shy of one hundred pages Hippcampus Press could have easily sold the bibliography itself for twice the price of this book and aficionados would have snapped it up just as eagerly. Thankfully for all concerned Hippocampus includes nearly another two hundred pages of essays, both descriptive and critical, that make this book indispensable to all with even a passing interest in William Hope Hodgson.
The essays within Voices from the Borderland are separated into four sections. First we have “I. Some Studies of Hodgson’s Life and Early Reception”. I found A. Langley Searles’ “William Hope Hodgson: In His Own Day” to be of particular interest. With the essay’s use of quotations from contemporary periodicals discussing Hodgson’s works it casts quite a different light from the portrait that has been painted of Hodgson’s standing at the time. The second section labeled “II. Some Special Topics” is absolutely stuffed full of great material yet I will mention Emily Alder’s “The Dark Mythos of the Sea: William Hope Hodgson’s Transformation of Maritime Legends” as being especially noteworthy. “III. Studies of Individual Tales” contain essays on both Hodgson’s short fiction and his novels. This section would be particularly hard within which to point out a stand out piece as I keep oscillating between selections that brought new insights I return to frequently. I will say Mark Valentine’s “The “Wonder Unlimited”-The Tales of Captain Gault” makes several strong and telling points while “The House on the Borderland: On Humanity and Love” by Henrik Harksen has me yearning to read that classic novel yet again with new consideration. The final section, “IV: Comparative Studies” finishes off the essays with works comparing Hodgson to H. G. Wells, R. H. Barlow and H. P. Lovecraft. John D. Haefle’s essay “Shadow Out of Hodgson” should prove to be of particular interest to readers of this site as he looks to how Hodgson’s work in all probability influenced one of Lovecraft’s great pieces, “The Shadow Out of Time”.
With William Hope Hodgson: Voices From the Borderland Hippocampus Press once again proves why they hold such an esteemed position within the world of weird fiction. As I continue through their Library of Criticism I am continuously impressed with the rigorous standards of scholarship, craft and dedication evident within each volume. The striking cover illustration by Daniele Serra, the engrossing content, the clear, elegant layout and the clean copy all combine to impart not only an enchanting reading experience but also a gravitas appropriate to the material at hand. All involved with this project but especially the three editors of this volume, Massimo Berruti, S. T. Joshi, and Sam Gafford, should feel justifiably proud of their accomplishment. I eagerly look forward to reading more volumes within the Library of Criticism from Hippocampus Press. It’s telling that a significant portion of my bookshelf I turn to with increasing frequency as I write these reviews is dominated by two publishers, Hippocampus Press and Zero Books. If you are searching for thought-provoking reading material I recommend works from either publisher without reservation.
You may purchase William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland here.
Soundtrack for this review:
This review written by Acep Hale.
Featured image by Albert Goodman. Source Wikipedia Commons.