Sargasso #3

This is the newest and, with the death of Gafford, last issue of this magazine. While thinner than its predecessors, it’s still a worthwhile mix of fiction, criticism, poetry and illustrations.

Review: Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies #3, ed. Sam Gafford, 2016.

Sargasso 3
Cover by Ronald H. Knox

Josh Reynolds “Corpse-Light” is dedicated to “H. P. Lovecraft and W. H. Hodgson and all the shunned houses and derelicts quietly rotting.” It’s an entertaining story, and part of Reynolds series detailing the adventures of Randolph Carter and Harley Warren before the latter meets his end in Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter”. There is indeed a “shunned house” here. It’s on Wacalaw Island off the Carolina coast, deserted because of the Spanish Flu, and about to be turned into a golf course. Warren, reckless adventurer that he is, is looking for evidence of a particular fungus normally found in the pyramids of Egypt. It’s kind of a combination of Hodgson’s “The Derelict” and Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House”.

What’s a journal on Hodgsonian without a Carnacki tale? And James Gracey gives us one with “A Hideous Communion”. Moderately interesting, it has the occult detective going to Ireland and investigate sightings of his friend’s dead wife. The solution to the mystery is a novel one.

Since it combines Hodgson and geology, I, of course, was delighted with Joseph Hinton’s “The House on the Burren: The Physical and Psychological Foundations of The House on the Borderland”. It looks at Hodgson’s time in Ardrahan, Ireland where he lived from age nine to twelve. Ardrahan is 20 miles away from the Burren, an area of karst topography in Ireland which, with its sinkholes and caves, may have influenced the setting of Hodgson’s novel. R. Alain Everts’ biography of Hodgson, Some Facts in the Case of William Hope Hodgson, Master of Phantasy, claims that the local Catholics, who Samuel Hodgson was sent to convert, were hostile to him. Supposedly, there were threats to kidnap his children (though William Hope Hodgson spent a lot of that time in England at boarding school). Accounts from the 19th century quoted by Hinton paint the locals as few and poor and enslaved to the papacy. Some interpretations of The House on the Borderland have seen the swine-creatures as metaphors for the fear of the Irish peasant.

The House on the Borderland is the Hodgson work that gets the most attention this issue, and Liam Garriock effusively praises it in “The House on the Borderland: The Ultimate Horror Novel”.

Looking at the general motif of sinister pigs and pig men is Leigh Blackmore’s “’Ye Hogge’: Liminality and the Motif of the Monstrous Pig in Hodgson’s ‘The Hog” and ‘The House on the Borderland”. In a long and heavily illustrated essay, Blackmore looks at the use of porcine imagery in popular culture, liminality in The House on the Borderland, and Hodgson’s short stories. Blackmore agrees with critic Amanda Boulter that both of the Hodgson’s works are about infection of the body and spirit. Blackmore compares the colors of Carnacki’s electric pentacle to Hindu Chakra magic which associates certain colors with certain effects and points of the body though he admits that we don’t know how much, if anything, Hodgson knew about Hinduism. The only explicit Hindu allusion of Hodgson’s is in The House on the Borderland. Blackmore sees Hodgson as defining Carnacki’s Outer Monstrosities as “blind cosmic forces” with no special hostility towards man though no concern either. Carnacki compares them to sharks. To me, that analogy doesn’t hold up. The shark isn’t sentient enough to have a grudge against humans, but, in the right circumstances, the shark is very interested in a person. The shark is a biological machine created by blind cosmic forces, and that machine can be hostile towards humans. It’s interesting to compare that (though Blackmore doesn’t) to Hodgson’s “The Derelict” that has another living entity, a huge fungus on the derelict, created out of random cosmic forces and inimical to the humans it meets though it may be unthinking.

Joseph Hinton’s “A Particular Phase of Constructive Thought: Hodgson’s Trilogy of Novels” looks at Hodgson’s first three novels. In the preface to The Ghost Pirates, Hodgson said the novel closed “a particular strain of constructive thought”. Hinton looks at the similarities in those works. The novels present stories where normal reality intersects with another sphere of existence. (In The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” that occurs only at the beginning of the novel.) All three novels present solitary characters or a group of characters isolated. Sometimes the isolation isn’t purely physical but social too when characters don’t share all they know with other characters as in The Ghost Pirates. Sometimes old social rites are abandoned like the peculiar burial of a dead sailor in The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” where no service is said over him as if the men are in a place beyond the grace of God. These novels also show these other realms with entities or forces inimical to the characters, and a challenge to a humancentric and theologically explainable world. Hinton alleges that the Carnacki stories, published after The Ghost Pirates, were probably already written when that novel was published thus take on some, but not all, of those themes.

As I’ve noted, Hodgson often introduces his weird menaces with unexplained noises before they are revealed to sight. Ryan Jefferson’s “Utter Quiet in All the Land: A Recurring Motif” usefully looks at another Hodgson use of sound. Jefferson shows that Hodgson uses silence in contradictory ways. He plausibly argues Hodgson may have been influenced by his father, an Anglican clergyman, reading the Psalms and their mention of silence. In The Night Land, the greatest menace is the House of Silence. And it is not just a physical silence but a telepathic one. X does not telepathically hear the youth taken into the House of Silence. In “The Hog”, Carnacki senses the danger he is in by saying “silence was trickling around the room”. In the narrator’s vision of the plain with giant statues in The House on the Borderland, he mentions “abominable silence”. However, silence is also mentioned in the connotation of rest and tranquility in The Night Land. The Country of Silence is where X frequently went as a boy and is the burial place of the dead. In The House on the Borderland, the Sea of Sleep is said to be a place where “intense stillness prevailed”.

Terminal Eden: The Last Redoubt and the Closure of History” by Brett Davidson is overly long and disappointing from an author whose who fictional extensions of Hodgson’s The Night Land and critical articles I’ve generally liked. Davidson spends some time talking about H. G. Wells and Hodgson. The former’s vision is pessimistic in the concluding future vista seen in The Time Machine sees. It has no humans in it or civilization. Hodgson, on the other hand, puts both in the far future of The Night Land. Davidson then talks about the various books that would have been available to Hodgson including one he thinks may have been influential on Hodgson’s conceit of the Last Redoubt: Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun. Davidson writes too long on a subject he knows from his academic credentials – architectural theory – and doesn’t really, to me, make the connection to Hodgson clear. He does talk about how Hodgson seems to conceive of life and death as radiative forces as depicted in the image of the Dark Sun and Green Sun in The House on the Borderland, and Davidson seems to link this together with sort of a zeitgeist of scientific occultism that was present in the day even if Hodgson didn’t imbue it directly. However, Carnacki may have been influenced by Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, and Blackwood was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Davidson does interestingly note that the conception of time in most sf stories is cyclic. Hodgson’s vision of time is linear. The Last Redoubt, says Davidson, can be seen like a Pharaonic tomb – the storehouse and last repository of not a man but all of humanity.

This issues also has three poems by Charles Danny Lovecraft.

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