WHH Short Fiction: “The Wild Man of the Sea”

Review: “The Wild Man of the Sea”, William Hope Hodgson, 1926.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

Something of a grim story from Hodgson. There’s no happy ending here.

William Hope Hodgson hated his life in the Mercantile Navy. He wrote an essay about that. (Yes, I’ll cover that in a future post – far up the line.) Despite his experiences, he continued to live by the sea. He lived in the coastal town of Borth, Wales. When he and his wife relocated to France, they moved into a coastal town. I suppose the rent may have been cheap, but, perhaps, Hodgson wanted to be by the sea. On the other hand, when he enlisted in the military for World War One, he refused to serve in the Navy despite his experience, so, perhaps, Hodgson did come to hate the sea.

This story mixes a romanticism about the sea with brutal seamen.

Jesson is hired by Captain Gallington. The Captain calls him the “best sailorman” he ever knew. He is a master of all the “practical arts” of being an able-bodied seamen like all the ways of splicing ropes together.

But some of the other sailors are jealous of Jesson’s skills and knowledge and, when misfortune strikes the vessel, they think him a “Jonah” in need of being cast overboard.

Jesson is a rather mystical sort, in love with the sea. Cabin boy Jeb regards him as a hero, an idol – not only because Jesson stopped the other sailors from brutalizing him, but for Jesson saying things like

Take the sea, lad, to be your companion. You’ll never lack. A sailor lives very near to God if he would only open his eyes. Aye! Aye! If only they would realise it. And all the time they’re lookin’ for the shore and the devil of degeneration.

Jeb learns of the plot against Jesson, warns him, even joins him in the fight though there is little he can do. Jesson and Jeb die though Jesson kills two of his attackers.

This is another Hodgson story where news and accounts of dark deeds or weird happenings at sea are suppressed. No official mention is made about the incident, but the Captain and First Mate have their suspicions and haze the crew so badly that, when San Francisco is reached, they leave the ship gladly and without pay.

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