Library of Weird Fiction / Masters of the Weird Tale: William Hope Hodgson

by William Hope Hodson

The purpose here is not only to review a great deal of the career of one of our favorite, and one of our earliest, weird storytellers, but also to compare two of the definitive volumes released from Centipede Press, being the Masters of the Weird Tale and the Library of Weird Fiction: Hodgson editions. All stories found in either volume are below. The review does not apply to the comprehensive 5 volume the Nightshade release, which contains his entire catalog of fiction.

First, a couple of blanket statements are in order. The Masters book is physically much larger than the Library, and the Masters contains much additional material that is standard to the series, such as extensive illustrations and the overall production quality of the book itself, not to mention four entire novels. However, the Library of Weird Fiction book is nothing to scoff at, containing two novels itself, and the table of contents between the two may differ more in short stories than you would expect.

More depth below, but here is a table of how the stories break down comparatively. They’re reordered alphabetically so it’s easy to spot the differences:

Masters of the Weird Tale Library of Weird Fiction
A Tropical Horror A Tropical Horror
Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani
Demons of the Sea
From the Tideless Sea From the Tideless Sea
Out of the Storm Out of the Storm
The Albatross
The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ – novel
The Derelict The Derelict
The Finding of the Graiken The Finding of the Graiken
The Gateway of the Monster The Gateway of the Monster
The Ghost Pirates – novel The Ghost Pirates – novel
The Goddess of Death
The Haunted Jarvee The Haunted Jarvee
The Haunted Pampero
The Haunting of Lady Shannon
The Hog The Hog
The Horse of the Invisible The Horse of the Invisible
The House Among the Laurels The House Among the Laurels
The House on the Borderland – novel The House on the Borderland – novel
The Mystery of the Derelict
The Night Land – novel
The Riven Night
The Room of Fear
The Searcher of the End House The Searcher of the End House
The Stone Ship
The Terror of the Water-Tank
The Thing in the Weeds
The Thing Invisible The Thing Invisible
The Voice in the Night The Voice in the Night
The Whistling Room The Whistling Room


Novels:

The House on the Borderland

A couple of travelers come across a manuscript among ruins that details a man’s life in his house and the creatures that came for him.

After meaning to get to it for months, this novel was picked up for a brief moment yesterday. A few hours later, having had no intention of doing so, it was finished. Nothing feels traditional about the novel and it requires the active participation of the reader’s imagination. It’s not one where you can sit back and let it wash over you, you must engage.

Coming in at number 8 on Centipede’s top 100 horror novels of all time, this book is a mind-bender, containing everything that’s ever happened as well as everything that will ever happen.

After having read most of the author’s career, this is the story, the masterpiece that few authors, even the most successful, ever hit. It’s a staggering work, and it’s a profound experience reading in the luxurious Library edition. Reputably there are some serious typos in the Masters edition of this story which might pull you back from the magic (check Nguyen’s Amazon review), so check the Library of Weird Fiction edition.

This is Hodgson’s finest work, and is easily one of the best novels I’ve read.

5 stars

The Ghost Pirates – The novel is the story of a crew long at sea, some of whom begin hearing and seeing things, a phenomenon not too uncommon in their circumstances. As the visions become more frequent, the visuals clearer, and as people begin to disappear, decisions must be made about how seriously to take the threat, assuming it exists.

This one has three elements working against it. First, the language barrier from tales written in this time (1909) compared to today’s mainstream fiction. Second, a huge portion of the dialogue here is in pirate-speak, so there’s a bit of a hurdle getting used to it. And third, the pirate-speak isn’t today’s pirate-speak of Johnny Depp, it’s yesterday’s, so the language challenges compound each other.

Now the good news. While you’ll spend the first half of the novel getting used to the language and dialects of the pirates, something happens early in the second half. You get spooked–the story, its language, is working. And it might not if told any other way than it is. These guys are at sea on a ship of leaking wood and rope that’s nothing like the alloyed, indestructible metals and plastic compounds of today. It’s an environment that’s as alien to most of us as planet XBR-27 would be. The wording makes us focus differently, peering into the darkness in concentration because it’s tough to make out what is happening. Just like these guys did. You do get used to the style, and it’s an effective method of telling this story.

3- stars

The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’ – This one is an adventure novel dealing with a shipwrecked crew on a monstrously inhabited island. The crew begins struggling with issues such as dehydration and starvation, but the pluck and sensibility of the captain keeps everyone alive and kicking long enough for them to realize the other boat shipwrecked on the island, which they had thought to be abandoned, is actually still crewed. Unable to reach the craft through conventional means communication is established and the rescue efforts begin.

3 stars

And finally, the gorilla in the room. This thing is a monster of a novel:

The Night Land – This massive novel is the story of a young man at the end of the world, where the sun has been extinguished and all manner of monstrosities overrun the land, who undertakes a Mordor-like journey to save the love of his life. From one of the two last strongholds of man left on the planet, a massive, 7-mile-high pyramid, he establishes contact with his love with a mild telepathic power. She responds from the other, lesser pyramid across the earth.

This book has been described as a sprawling, post-apocalyptic novel, and that it is, but it also has a kind of adolescent fantasy feel to it. Like the kind of James Bond, hero and heroine stuff we would have written as children had we the ability. It uses a particular style of language that isn’t really a hindrance but doesn’t contribute well to flow. Unfortunately, while it’s a large novel, it feels about 3 times longer than its page count. The combination of the style with the theme of the story makes for a challenging read.

Not to say it’s bad, it most certainly is not, but most good books call to us when we’re away, and this one does not. A great many people may start a book like this and never finish.

As a final point, and in direct contrast to The House on the Borderland, this story is a bit too juvenile to fully engage. Instead, this is a story to let wash over you. Steep yourself then move on. It’s a fine adventure tale, but doesn’t bring with it the weight and sense of wonder of some of his other works.

2 stars

Carnacki stories:

The Carnacki are one of the earliest examples of the ‘Occult Detective.’ Most of these stories take place entirely in the safety of Carnacki’s home, with his friends over for dinner, drinks, pipes, and stories relating his latest adventures. Carnacki is an educated man with an extensive history of dealing with the occult, and while he never starts any of his missions with the wide-eyed belief of Fox Mulder, he’s not a pure skeptic either, choosing to let all events play out as they may. He’ll be ready for whatever the outcome. Utilizing common sense, intellect, books, sigils, scattered occult paraphernalia, and (importantly) his self-devised electric pentacle, he digs into each supernatural mission, real or imagined, and does his best to bring everything to a close. He’s often successful, but not infallible, and his friends hold him in the highest regard. These are largely detective stories with rationale providing the drive forward in the face of strange events, and generally involve the investigation of a mansion, castle or room.

The Gateway of the Monster – 2+
The House among the Laurels – 3
The Whistling Room –2+
The Horse of the Invisible – 4
The Searcher of the End House – 3
The Thing Invisible – 3
The Hog – 2-
The Haunted Jarvee – 2-

Most of these stories are better than fair (2 stars), with a couple of them just on the underside.

There’s one knockout in the Carnacki collection, “The Horse of the Invisible.” While these stories tend to unravel as mysteries, supernatural involvement or not, this one had some real scariness to it as Carnacki tries to save a recently engaged girl from the old family curse of being killed by an invisible horse whenever a member of the family is betrothed. It’s the strongest of all Hodgson’s Carnacki stories and highly recommended.

Sargasso Seas stories:

“From a Tideless Sea” – Here we have a story within a story of a marooned boat, caught in a strange web of seaweed with nearly the entire crew dead. A man and the captain’s daughter, wed just two days before the captain passed away, attempt to survive for years while under attack by unknown monsters.

3+

“The Mystery of the Derelict” – A crew caught in a calm sea spots a derelict vessel caught in the same, and despite an oncoming storm investigate the ship, and a fierce battle to escape ensues when they discover what occupies the ruined vessel.

3

“The Thing in the Weeds” – During the night two crewmen are investigating a strange sound when their lights are forcibly smashed and massive, thudding impacts are heard amidst the screams of the first mate. The second crewman returns a few seconds later with a new light to find the first mate gone, and he enlists the help of the captain and the second mate to discover the disturbance while the rest of the crew hides below deck. The opening here is top notch: “This is an extraordinary tale.

4

“The Finding of the Graiken” – A man’s wife has been lost at sea, and months later our narrator comes into possession of wealth and a yacht. To alleviate his friend’s remorse they journey on the seas, but the distressed man commandeers the ship from his friend, converting the crew, and sails to an unknown destination with our narrator as prisoner.

3+

Other Sea stories:

“A Tropical Horror” – A nameless monster from the sea terrorizes a ship and her crew, and a couple of crew members attempt to wait out the slaughter while in hiding.

2+

“The Voice in the Night” – Two men aboard a schooner are hailed during the night, as a man in a rowboat, refusing to come aboard or receive any light on him whatsoever, requests provisions and tells the men of the horrors that have befallen him and his wife.

4

“Out of the Storm” – A man visits his scientist friend to find him maniacally scribbling away a one-sided conversation an invention of his is picking up. It seems a man in the midst of shipwreck is losing his sanity as a few survivors turn on each other and he begins to think of the water as God.

5-

“The Derelict” – Another tale of seafaring, a small group of men board a derelict vessel they find floating in a viscous substance at sea, and their panic rises as they slowly begin to comprehend the nature of the ruined craft.

3+

“The Haunted Pampero” – A young man obtains a ship and is to be captain, but the ship is reputed to be haunted and his wife is quite unhappy with the new possession. An excellent passage that doesn’t play quite as well out of context, when his wife has expressed her displeasure at him taking the ship and is now insisting on accompanying him on the voyage, reads, “And so, like a sensible loving fellow, he fought every inch of the ground with her; the natural result being that at the end of an hour he retired–shall we say ‘retreated’–to smoke a pipe in his den and meditate on the perversity of womankind in general, and his own wife in particular.” During the voyage strange occurrences happen on the ship, and the Captain begins to wonder if the stories of the haunting are true.

3-

“Demons of the Sea” – A ship finds herself in unsettled seas, where turbulent splotches are localized, the water temp is far above normal and strange mists leak through. They eventually cross paths with another ship, seemingly manned, and as the new ship approaches the crew’s terror builds.

4-

“The Riven Night” – Here is the recounting of a sea voyage where the Captain, married after a long pursuit of his love, was together with her for but 6 weeks before she passed and is undertaking the present trip in a melancholy state when the ship runs across strange lights and phantoms on the water.

3+

“The Albatross” – This is the story of a mate who spies an albatross with a strange piece of silk tied to it, and when it’s captured finds a note detailing a lone woman stranded on a derelict vessel with the crew dead. She has enough food for one week and gives her coordinates, and the note is discovered 18 days later and 250 miles away while the crew ponders her rescue among the deathly-calm seas where they themselves are stranded.

3-

“The Haunting of the Lady Shannon” – An oft-drunken Captain is having disciplinary issues among his crew, and a death toll begins to mount with no ready explanation for the murders.

3

“The Stone Ship” – Seafaring men hear a strange gurgling, like a running stream, during the night and out of sight of their still ship. As no one can fathom what could cause the sound, the Captain and a small group of men embark on a rowboat to discover its source.

3+

Miscellaneous stories:

“Goddess of Death” – A statue is coming to life and killing people, and two men chase it down.

2+

“The Room of Fear” – A mother’s greatest peeve is cowardice, which she sees in her son when he first moves into his own room. Her insistence that he ‘grow up’ struggles with the boy’s fear as the shadowy hand that materializes over him each night in the room presses him down. Besides the novel The House on the Borderland, this is among the great writings of Hodgson and is notably only present in the Library of Weird Fiction volume, not the Masters book.

5-

“Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani” (AKA “The Baumoff Explosive”) – One of the best arguments for the Masters series over the Library series, this is the story of one learned, respected man of medicine offering a proof to a friend and peer that the darkness on the hill after Christ’s crucifixion was a physical manifestation from the Man/God himself, not external, unrelated phenomena. This sounds like a mouthful, but it’s an easily digestible horror story and an amazing work and is notably present only in the Masters volume.

4+

“The Terror of the Water-Tank” – Murders are occurring on the top of a local water tank, and investigators are at a loss for a culprit. They eventually settle on a man in possession of stolen property, but evidence shows he couldn’t have committed the crime and it’s up to two men to arrive at the truth.

3-

And there you have it. When it’s all said and done, you should be quite happy going after the Library of Weird Fiction book that doesn’t contain the (reputed) typos in the best story, the novel The House on the Borderland. Only the Masters edition has the excellent “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani” and “The Stone Ship,” as well as the novel The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig.’ However, the Masters book is missing “The Room of Fear,” which seems tough to excuse. Most of the knockout stories are present in both editions.

Despite a misgiving here or there, the Masters book is an easy purchase if the opportunity ever presents itself. This is amazing material. For those looking at neither Masters nor Library but loving good stories, you can’t go wrong with the novel The House on the Borderland and the short stories “Out of the Storm” and “The Room of Fear,” wherever you can find them.

*Gaps were filled between the Library of Weird Fiction and Masters of the Weird Tale editions with e-books.

Library of Weird Fiction: William Hope Hodgson – 4 stars

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