Sunday, September 27, 2009


By William Hope Hodgson

The third of Hodgson’s trilogy of weird tales (Boats of the Glen Carrig and House on the Borderland were the first two), The Ghost Pirates is also about survival when the very boundaries of reality are under attack.

If you are expecting a stoned, metrosexual freebooter, be warned. Hodgson’s Ghost Pirates is more like H.P. Lovecraft as re-written by Joseph Conrad than Keith Richards meets Blackbeard. The narrator tells of how he shipped aboard the Mortzestus, trying to get back home from ‘Frisco to England. The Mortzestus is a Jonah, an unlucky ship that few man sail in twice. The narrator soon learns why. Shadow-men climb from the sea aboard the ship at night. Sailors report unexplainable and deadly happenings in the rigging. Soon the vessel is under siege.

Hodgson gives way to far more technical sea-jargon (perhaps necessarily) than in previous stories. However that artlessness gives the story a bit more verisimilitude: it is told as a sailor would tell it. The Mortzestus is essentially a haunted house at sea. The “ghosts” are no more explicable than the creatures that beset Hodgson’s other narrators. They come from somewhere else, wreak havoc and vanish.

While the story is slow paced, it does have much of Hodgson’s strange and creepy imagery. Perhaps the best image I retain is the glimpse of shadowy masts and a hull, seen backlit by a sinking sun at sea, slowly turning to stalk the doomed ship. Read this one when the lights are dim and the wind is howling off the sea.

-Dave Hardy

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