The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodgson

“In blood there is the Voice which calleth through all space. Ye Monsters in ye Deep hear, and hearing, they lust. Likewise hath it a greater power to reclaim backward ye soul that doth wander foolish adrift from ye body in which it doth have natural abiding. But woe unto him that doth spill ye blood in ye deadly hour; for there will be surely Monsters that shall hear ye Blood Cry.”

Those words from the Sigsand manuscript, an ancient mystical defence against the “Outer Monstrosities,” were quoted by Thomas Carnacki, a creation of the writer William Hope Hodgson in a story first published in 1947, a year in which much blood was spilt around the world. Hodgson was not to witness it, this work of his and many others published posthumously, the author’s own blood having been spilled on the fields of France in 1918, his curtailed career having predated and inspired H P Lovecraft and Dennis Wheatley.

Edited by Xavier Aldana Reyes and published by the British Library, The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodgson gathers ten of his short stories originally printed between 1905 and 1973, four of them featuring Carnacki, The Gateway of the Monster, The Horse of the Invisible, The Whistling Room and The Hog, the “occult detective” a forerunner to John Constantine and Felix Castor who combines the ancient arts and science to investigate unquiet spirits and the havoc they wreak.

Told verbally to his friends gathered around the fireplace after dinner, despite his smugness and frequent interrogative of variations upon “Do you follow?” it is apparent that Carnacki was a favourite of both Hodgson then and Reyes now, the structure of the tales full narratives rather than the more abstract pieces which make up much of the rest of the volume, though the first three all follow a overly predictable pattern of an old house, a curse of some form and the process of investigation and exorcism.

The Horse of the Invisible featuring a larger roster of characters than was typical for Hodgson, despite the broader base with which to work he does not use or develop them effectively and essentially all three are variations on a theme which only finds variation – though not improvement – in the attempted demonic possession The Hog which also expands Carnacki’s use of novel technologies beyond his usual “electric pentacle” as he uses various illuminated colours to repel a hideous dreamstate realising itself as physical manifestation.

Carnacki speaking with confident authority, with a century of hindsight it is quite apparent the attempts to conceive and describe the minutiae of the hauntings and his spurious defences against them are nonsense, but told in the first person it allows Carnacki to create atmosphere and dread in his immediate audience and by extension in Hodgson’s readers without particular narrative effort.

The other tales presented also often take the form of a narrative told after the fact by a survivor or witness, and through them the horrors of the deep and unknown sea are omnipresent, first glimpsed in the opening piece, A Tropical Horror, as a hundred and thirty days out from Melbourne the Glen Doon and her crew are besieged by a risen tentacled horror barely glimpsed from within the locked compartment in which the narrator is trapped.

The oldest story included, a prototype, primitive and unformed, the wrap of the discovery of the hulk by another ship aims to give the brief tale veracity, and to a reader in 1905 when few were well travelled or educated, who is to say what they might have believed might be found in the distant and alien south seas? Published two years later, The Voice in the Night is an immediate step forward in terms of structure as another vessel is caught in a deep fog only to be hailed by an unseen supplicant, begging for provisions and not to be observed.

A radio transmission transcribed by those who vicariously witness the tragedy, Out of the Storm is a vivid description as can only be written by one who knows the sea and the sky and what they are capable of, “a picture for the doomed and the dead… I know now why we are afraid of the dark… I had never imagined such secrets of the sea and the grave (which are one and the same).”

The Derelict takes the central idea of The Voice in the Night and develops it into a more immediate and consuming threat while The Thing in the Weeds revisits A Tropical Storm in an expanded and more comprehensive manner, this time the seamen more prepared for what they encounter, the collection closing with The Riven Night, a brief and forgettable oddity; while published and placed last the style indicates it is likely one of Hodgson’s earlier efforts, a reminder of how far he came in his short career.

The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodgson is available from now from the British Library



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