In Appreciation of William Hope Hodgson

Clark Ashton Smith

Among those fiction writers who have elected to deal with the shadowlands and borderlands of human existence, William Hope Hodgson surely merits a place with the very few that inform their treatment of such themes with a sense of authenticity. His writing itself, as Mr. Lovecraft justly says, is far from equal in stylistic merit: but it would be impossible to withhold the rank of master from an author who has achieved so authoritatively, in volume after volume, a quality that one might term the realism of the unreal. In some ways, Hodgson's work is no doubt most readily comparable to that of Algernon Blackwood. But I am not sure that even Blackwood has managed to intimate a feeling of such profound and pervasive familiarity with the occult as one finds in The house on the Borderland. Hideous phantoms and unknown monsters from the nightward gulf are adumbrated in all their terror, with no dispelling of their native mystery; and surely such things could be described only by a seer who has dwelt overlong on the perilous verges and has peered too deeply into the regions veiled by invisibility from normal sight.

However, The House on the Borderland, though probably the most sustained and least faulty of Hodgson's volumes, is far from being his most unique achievement. In all literature, there are few works so sheerly remarkable, so purely creative, as The Night Land. Whatever faults this book may possess, however inordinate its length may seem, it impresses the reader as being the ultimate saga of a perishing cosmos, the last epic of a world beleaguered by eternal night and by the unvisageable spawn of darkness. Only a great poet could have conceived and written this story; and it is perhaps not illegitimate to wonder how much of actual prophecy may have been mingled with the poesy.

The books above mentioned are, in my opinion, Mr. Hodgson's masterpieces. However, the first portion of The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" maintains a comparable level of imaginative power; and one regrets that the lost mariners should have escaped so soon from the malign and mysterious dimension into which they were carried. One must also accord a more than formal praise to The Ghost Pirates, which is really one of the few successful long stories dealing with the phantasmal. Its rout of ghastly and persistent specters will follow the reader long after they have seized the haunted ship!

It is to be hoped that work of such unusual power will eventually win the attention and fame to which it is entitled. Beyond doubt, accident and fatality play a large part in such matters; and many meritorious books and works of art are still shadowed in obscurity. Hodgson, though little known, is in good company. How many, even among fantasy lovers, have heard of the great imaginative artist, John Martin, or the equally great and macabre imaginative poet, Thomas Lovell Beddoes?

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