WHH Short Fiction: “The Heathen’s Revenge”

Essay: “The Heathen’s Revenge”, William Hope Hodgson, 1988.

NSB Vol 2
Cover by Jason Van Hollander

I can hear the gnashing of contemporary teeth with the opening.

There are still many people who refuse to recognize that in spite of evolution, education, progress – call it what you like – there remains a tremendous difference between the East and the West.

Not being a universalist about human nature and believing in biological differences in “ancestral populations”, I am nonplussed.

The narrator is a member of the Police Secret Service in some unnamed British colony.

Missionary Hallett invites his fiancé Mary Kingston to join him there and marry him.

Hallett has run afoul of Jurwash, a native priest, by insulting him some way. Jurwash kidnaps Mary and a chase ensues. (There’s also a lot of references to the members of the Police Secret Service beating information out of the natives.)

The story concludes with a pulp cliché.

Mary, “almost naked”, is chained in front of some native idol. The narrator is chained up too, but Hallett manages to free Mary and kills Jurwash in the process.

Months later, neither Hallett or Mary remember any of this.

So far as he is concerned, the latter can continue in his own particular brand of sin, calling it religious self-respect, or whatever he likes. We in the S.P. call it something else.

(No, I don’t know why the Police Secret Service is called S.P.)

In that remark, is the narrator hinting at hypocrisy on Hallett’s part? After all, the narrator tells us earlier in the story:

What exactly Hallett did, above all his other offences, to raise the undying hatred of Jurwash—a somewhat ragged native in the eyes of any European but the holiest priest of a tribe of priests, in the eyes of the native—I do not know. I can well imagine it was something idiotic and brutally insulting—and also very innocent! It depends, of course, how you look at it. If you had Jurwash the Holy, I have no doubt your views would have been quite as serious as his. Which was about as serious as it could be.

Perhaps Hodgson, who, after all, was a missionary’s son – at least when he lived in Ireland – knew the type.

On the other hand, maybe the narrator just regards the natives as barbarous.

Given that there were adventure pulp magazines, even some specializing in “Oriental adventure”, why was Bessie, Hodgson’s wife, unable to sell the story in her lifetime? I think because, apart from the narrative voice, it’s a rather pallid story. Mary chained up naked is not the only thing unoriginal. It strikes me as competent but nothing more.

Or, maybe it was the rather ambiguous tone that doesn’t make it clear how much the narrator sympathizes with Hallett or the natives:

For instance, it is no misstatement to say that there are places where the heathen maintain the dignity of the gods against the efforts of the missionary or the stranger.

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