Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Masters of Terror Volume 1 - William Hope Hodgson

It's interesting that Corgi chose Hodgson for the first in its Masters of Terror series back in 1977. He was out of copyright by then, of course, and one cannot be a paperback master when they still have to pay royalties. Interest in Hodgson had revived earlier in the decade when one of his Carnacki stories was dramatised in Hugh Greene's TV series The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, but I suspect it was the reappraisal of H P Lovecraft that was going on at the same period which led to this publication, because it was Lovecraft who first described Hodgson as a master.

The introduction is by Peter Tremayne, who can always be counted on to do his homework. OK, he is slightly wrong about the dates of Hodgson's apprenticeship at sea - but I only discovered the real dates thanks to being able to view the actual documents online. Tremayne has seen publications which I haven't but will do now.
He discusses the seven stories and the reasons for their inclusion in short but effective order. 'A Tropical Horror' from 1904 was Hodgson's second published story and his first in the genre he was to make exclusively his own - sea-horror. 'The Voice in the Night' is another such, as is 'The Mystery of the Derelict', which Tremayne considers a classic. The fourth story - 'The Terror of the Water-Tank' - is here because it is one of Hodgson's rare attempts at land-based horror. I'm afraid I found it trivial.
The narrator of 'The Finding of the Graiken', one of Hodgson's Sargasso Mythos stories, was too like the narrator of 'The Terror of the Water-Tank' to hold my attention - a middleclass lightweight who does not personally confront the horror. In that respect Hodgson's most effective form was one he hit upon almost from the start: get the hero to spot the horror in the first few paragraphs, then have him confront it face to face (always supposing the horror has a face) and survive to tell us the tale. That is why, in my opinion, 'The Stone Ship' is my favourite in this collection. I had not come across it before - hadn't even heard of it - but it is classic Hodgson: a young hand spots a mysterious wreck, a search party goes aboard and confronts a truly ghastly horror which is revealed in a spectacularly gruesome manner.
The final story, clumsily called 'The Derelict' and thus easily confused with the earlier story, is included because it combines the sea-horror of Hodgson's early period with the science-fiction otherworldly horror of his masterpiece novel The House on the Borderland and the last, still controversial epic The Night Land.

All in all, then, a great introduction to the signature work of an undervalued writer with a useful and authoritative introduction to point you in the right direction for further exploration.

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