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