Sargasso #1

Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies was an unfortunately short lived, project by Hodgson scholar Sam Gafford. Only three issues were produced.

Sam Gafford’s “Introduction” lays out his intention that this journal address the lack of a specific outlet for exploration, in nonfiction and fiction, of the themes and concepts in Hodgson’s work.

Review: Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #1, ed. Sam Gafford, 2013.

Cover by Robert H. Knox

Shadow Out of Hodgson” by John D. Haefele lays out a case, even though S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz do not mention in Hodgson in their annotated version of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time, for the influence of Hodgson’s The Night Land on that work. First, Lovecraft mentioned Hodgson’s novel in several letters when the story was being written between November 10, 1934 and February 22, 1935. Second, there are several similarities in the narratives. First, like humanity in the Last Redoubt, the Great Race is under siege. Second, the consciousness of both narrators is projected into the future. Both stories feature libraries of metal bound books that the narrators access. Less convincing is Haefele seeing similarities between X descending the gorge on his way to the Lesser Redoubt and the narrator of The Shadow Out of Time, in contemporary times, descending into the uncovered structures of the Great Race.

Phillip A. Ellis’ “A Reassessment of William Hope Hodgson’s Poetry”, Phillip A. Ellis looks at almost all of Hodgson’s poetry and finds Hodgson’s poetry full of vivid physical tales as well as a preoccupation with, as Hodgson scholar Jane Frank noted, “strange visions, supernatural phenomena, hallucinatory events”. Poetry seems to have been a lifelong literary outlet for Hodgson. He took it up earlier than fiction writing and wrote most of his poems between 1899 and 1906. He even wrote poetry when he was in the army and Ellis thinks that, if would have had the chance to develop his facility more, he might have been a noted war poet. Ellis thinks most of the weaknesses in Hodgson’s poetry came from him being a self-educated poet lacking the necessary technical training. I’ve read a lot, but by no means all, of Hodgson’s poetry. Frankly, little stuck in my brain (but, then, most poetry doesn’t) apart from the prose poem “Grey Seas Are Dreaming of My Death”. I do agree with Ellis that Hodgson is best when he takes inspiration and metaphors from the sea.

William Hope Hodgson’s Sales Log: The Pleasures and Consequences of Collecting” from Jane Frank talks about buying, at auction, science fiction scholar Sam Moskowitz’s Hodgson archive. She and her husband Howard, a noted collector of sf, were not interested in the ephemera of manuscripts, copies, sales records, and photos, but they feared the collection would be broken up if someone else purchased it. and it would be lost to scholars. Frank talks about going through Hodgson’s sales records and uncovering various questions like alternate titles for stories, stories that don’t seem to exist anymore (and one seemingly lost in transit to America when the ship was torpedoed), and trying to discern the publishing history of stories that may have been rewritten and retitled depending on where Hodgson tried to sell the story. Hodgson may have been one of the first people to take a typewriter to sea, and he kept detailed records of his writing and submissions and kept carbon copies. (He evidently typed out his poetry and logs, but I didn’t think he was writing stories at that point.) However, he was also forced to use cheap paper and a lot of restoration work had to be done on his manuscripts after 100 years

Carnacki: The Blue Egg” is William Meikle’s second pairing of Hodgson’s Carnacki and Captain Gault. Gault has found a mysterious jewel, a legendary “roc egg” (though he doesn’t believe that) which was found by Crusaders in Persia and taken to Acre. He is taking it to Malta, but it has a strange effect on men – either repulsive or attractive. To keep its mental influence under control, Gault suggests Carnacki accompany him on the trip. An enjoyable tale, and, as I’ve said before, I like Meikle’s Carnacki better than Hodgson’s Carnacki.

The ‘Wonder Unlimited’– The Tales of Captain Gault” by Mark Valentine is a very informative article on Hodgson’s character Captain Gault. Valentine says that Captain Gault: Being the Exceedingly Private Log of a Sea-Captain is his least regarded work because nautical tales have not maintained the popularity of other genres. However, at the time Hodgson wrote the Captain Gault stories, sea stories of the swashbuckling or comic form were quite popular. Two contemporaries of Hodgson had popular nautical tales. C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne had a series character called Captain Kettle, and W. W. Jacobs worte humorous stories about fishermen gathering at the Cauliflower Inn on the London docks. Proving Valentine’s point is that Jacobs is not known now for these stories but for his story “The Monkey’s Paw”. Hodgson himself admired one Edward Noble whose tone is quite breezy like the Gault stories. Of course, Hodgson may have figured that, in addition to their popularity, sea stories were a natural fit for him given his nautical experience.

Hodgson claimed, in 1915, that neither The Night Land or Carnacki: The Ghost-Finder made him any money. Captain Gault stories were, Hodgson said, “boring little bits of fluff”. Certainly, in his lifetime, Hodgson sea stories were his most popular and remunerative work. The Gault stories seemed to be written in the style of Hyne’s Captain Kettle stories. Both are interested in enriching themselves, go up against a variety of antagonists, and have a personal code. However, Gault is also artistic, a musician, a “bon vivant”, and a romantic though frequently disappointed in women he meets. He also belongs to a secret society. “The Plans of the Reefing Bi-Plane” diverges from the series formula. It is the one Gault story that has Hodgson’s typical siege plot. Moskowitz says it’s like having Sherlock Holmes resolve a conflict not through deduction but a wrestling match. (Though that’s kind of how the Holmes’ story “The Final Problem” does end.)

One can see, as Hodgson constructs his plots, the same sort of methodical cleverness he exhibited in binding Houdini. The stories exhibit a “gently cynical worldliness”.

Hodgson creates a little world of hustling, hoaxing, and cunning, a thieves’ den, where minor chicanery is always in the offing and wit, coolness, and audacity are valued.

Hodgson seems to have had a boisterous sense of humor that shows up in the Gault stories as well as a lot of puns. A line from Gault, “I guess Life is either Training or Degeneration.” seems like something a physical fitness fan would say.

Valentine concludes his essay with:

The ingenuity and self-assurance, but also the breezy good humor and the personal and particular code of conduct of Captain Gault, are facets of his character that we may feel were shared by his creator.

’Always Sea and Sea’: The Night Land as Sea-Scape” from Emily Adler is a fruitful article though I don’t agree totally with her conceit that, as the Gothic romance moved away from the centrality of the central building or house with secrets as in Ann Radcliffe, other things, like the sea, served the same purpose. It’s not a totally absurd claim though. The sea in Hodgson’s stories is often a claustrophobic setting one can’t escape (at least for most of the story) that’s full of secrets. Adler notes that imagery and metaphors from the sea even show up in the two Hodgson novels set on land: The Night Land and The House on the Borderland. In the latter novel, there is the Sea of Sleep, a zone with the narrator’s love and where he can’t go, possibly death, possibly on the border between life and death. In The Night Land, the Sea of This Country is a place of rejuvenation. In The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”, Hodgson reverses the direction of the metaphor, and the sea is sometimes described in terms of land.

One trouble with perceiving the stranded ship in The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” or the Last Redoubt as equivalents of a Gothic castle is that the danger in a Gothic castle comes from within, not from without. Adler is on firmer ground when she talks about the cartography and navigation in the Night Land. Because of the metal of the Last Redoubt and the Earth Current around it (presumably Hodgson was thinking of the magnetic field around a wire carrying current), X cannot use a compass to navigate the Night Land, or, at least, use it to navigate to the Lesser Redoubt. It only works as an aid in returning to the Last Redoubt. Like sailors in the days before compasses, X has to navigate the Night Land by its surface features and monsters. The Night Land functions like an ocean. Adler makes the interesting point that the retrogression to more basic methods of navigation and cartography “is in keeping with other signs of humanity’s entropic, declining situation.”

Brett Davidson, who has written his own sequels to The Night Land give us “The Long Apocalypse: The Experimental Eschatologies of H. G. Wells and William Hope Hodgson”. The “long apocalypse” is, as opposed to a regular apocalypse which is a sudden unveiling of mysteries and the nature of the world, the slow unveiling of truth. Here, that is the nature of deep time and the fate of the Earth and universe as depicted in H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland and The Night Land. Both, in particular, use the image of altered suns in their stories to depict the end of life on Earth.

Davidson argues that, while Wells’ vision is purely scientific based on the theories of the time, Hodgson is combining scientific notions, philosophy, and mysticism in his depictions of the green and black suns in The House on the Borderland. Furthermore, Hodgson’s suns seem symbolic of the forces of life and death and emit “radiative forces” that act exactly in the manner that light and gravitation do. Davidson compares the episodic nature of Hodgson’s novels to the revelations of nature found in Dante: first literal meanings then “allegorical, analogical, and anagogic” meanings. He argues that Hodgson’s subsuming seeming supernatural phenomena into science also shows up in Carnacki’s electrical pentacle.

Ab-Reality: The Metaphysical Vision of William Hope Hodgson” from Neal Alan Spurlock is a perhaps a too long article. He spends a lot of the article just talking about general scientific and philosophical topics, but he does provide some useful definitions. His argument is that Hodgson’s stories, particularly “The Hog”, The House on the Borderland, and The Night Land, use the menaces in them to represent the forces of entropy. Hodgson “shows us a universe where the war might be lost, but the fight still means everything”.

I’ve talked about Pierre V. Comois’ “A Question of Meaning” elsewhere

Things Invisible: Human and Ab-Human in Two of Hodgson’s Carnacki Stories” from Leigh Blackmore starts with a brief look at the low opinion some writers of weird fiction have for Hodgson’s Carnacki tales. Blackmore looks at the Carnacki pastiches of other writers but spends most of his time on the concept of the “abhuman” in two Carnacki tales: “The Thing Invisible” and “The Horse of the Invisible”. When Hodgson uses the term “abhuman”, he is denoting “cosmic horrors beyond human ken and experience”.

Besides the gloriously psychedelic cover, the book has some black and white illustrations for Hodgson works and poetry by Phillip A. Ellis.

Definitely a feast for the Hodgson fan who wants either academic articles on Hodgson or clever stories taking off on that author’s work.



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