‘Sargasso’ and William Hope Hodgson
William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) is an author more people should be aware of. He wrote essays, short fiction, novels, and poetry, most in the genres of horror, fantastic, and science fiction. Much of his short fiction appeared in pulp magazines in the U.K. and U.S.
Because he had ran away to be a Merchant Marine at age 13, an experience he grew to hate, many of his stories were clearly influenced by this, especially his “Sargasso Sea” stories. Most pulp fans are probably aware of him due to his occult detective, Carnacki, or perhaps his various sea stories or mention of his works by H.P. Lovecraft.
For those wanting to delve further into Hodgson, there is a semi-annual journal, Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies. Three issues have appeared so far in 2013, 2014, and 2016. All are available on Amazon. These journals have essays, poetry, artwork, and even short fiction, all focused on Hodgson and his work. They are edited by Sam Gafford, a long-time scholar and editor of Hodgson’s works. I’ve gotten all of them over the years and look forward to each one.
I have previously posted on Carnacki. Hodgson’s most well-known short fiction is “The Voice in the Night,” which has been adapted several times, include a Japanese film most know as Attack of the Mushroom People. Other fiction includes his short stories of Captain Gault, a smuggler.
His novels are The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (1907), The House on the Borderland (1908), The Ghost Pirates (1909), and The Night Land (1912). There is also The Dream of X (1912), which is an abridgment of The Night Land. Per research by Gafford, these works were actually written in reverse order long before publication. This is shown in the fact that the earliest written ones are marred by Hodgson’s attempt at writing in an archaic style that makes them difficult to read.
The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” is a mix of adventure novel and horror novel, as the survivors of a sunken ship travel through a bizarre land of dangerous creatures before finding another ship besieged by weed creatures in the Sargasso Sea. They team up and are able to escape.
What may be his most well-known novel to most is The House on the Borderland, where a recluse and his sister reside in a isolated house being besieged by swine creatures, as the recluse takes a bizarre mind trip to other dimensions. His journal is found in the ruins years (decades?) later, and this comprises the story. The Ghost Pirates is another nautical tale, of a ship attacked by ghostly specters who slowly take the crew and the ship itself, expect for a lone survivor, who relates the tale.
The Night Land is probably his masterpiece, a massive work. In the far future, the Sun has burned out, and what remains of mankind (500 million) is now housed in an immense pyramid 8 miles high, each layer another city, some 1300 of them: the Great Redoubt. This is all powered by the “Earth Current,” through this they are able to generate heat, light, and a force field to protect themselves from what now dwells outside. This includes huge monstrous Watchers who lurk, waiting for the current to fail. The creatures outside the Redoubt want to consume human souls!
The narrator makes telepathic contact with a survivor of a Lesser Redoubt that has fallen and been wiped out. She is his reincarnated lover from centuries before, and after others have failed in a rescue, he sets out alone into the “night land” to find her and return with her to the Great Redoubt.
It’s sad that Hodgson died in World War I at the age of 40. What might he had written had he lived? But thankfully, due to the efforts of people like Sam Gafford, much of his work is readily available today. Nightshade Books did a five-volume reprint series a few years back which should be looked for.