Sunday, September 27, 2009

THE GHOST PIRATES

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

Saturday, September 26, 2009

THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND

By William Hope Hodgson

Nowadays critics like to talk about the “New Weird”. Me, I’m still getting a handle on the Old Weird. A good place to grab it seems to be at The House on the Borderland.

The book is the second of William Hope Hodgson’s trilogy of dislocation, survival, and doom. The first was The Boats of the Glen Carrig. Like its predecessor, House on the Borderland also employs a first person narrator. But instead of being castaway in a boat at sea, the narrator is trapped in his own home adrift in time itself.

The nameless narrator tells how he came tot he house to live with sister in a remote part of Ireland. He soon finds that he has terrifying experiences. Whether they are dreams, insane delusions, or real journeys is never quite clear, but the narrator finds himself hurled through space and time to an amphitheater under the last dying sun. Giant forms of animal headed gods watch as the narrator battles hideous pig-beings, the last human fighting for survival in front of his home which has traveled too.

Just as quickly the narrator is whirled back to his own time where the pig-beings have broken through to besiege his home. While his sister is mysteriously absent, the narrator and his faithful dog Pepper battle the pig-beings on our own plane. Then things get really weird.

The narrator explores the cellars of his home and a strange pit on his property, all the while he is subject to attacks of time-slippage where he lives millions of years seemingly in a moment. The end of the Earth becomes a familiar sight.

House on the Borderland is a very strange story. Often Hodgson’s love of bizarre imagery overwhelms the pace of the narrative. Critics will find a cornucopia of material for Freudian, Jungian or other forms of analysis. But readers do get to some memorably weird places, which is the point after all.

-Dave Hardy

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

THE BOATS OF THE GLEN CARRIG

By William Hope Hodgson

William Hope Hodgson was a sailor who left the sea to run a physical fitness and health food store before he took up writing. His stories are filled with deeds of action, physical courage, and adventures at sea.

Boats of the Glen Carrig tells the adventures of a boat of castaway sailors shipwrecked near the Sargasso Sea in 1757. The narrator is a passenger of the Glen Carrig. He gives a dead-pan recitation of the strange events that befell the unfortunate seafarers. They find a rotting hulk in a creek on a nameless island where strange and unnatural things roam at night. It’s a place to make a ship-wrecked sailor long for the sea.

The castaways escape only to find themselves trapped in a continent of floating seaweed locked tight about another island. They battle monsters that creep about the forests of fungi at night. Around the island are more hulks of vessels entombed in the seaweed. Led by the clever and courageous boatswain, sailors fight tooth and nail to survive the horrors the encounter.

Boats of the Glen Carrig is a unique sort of book. It is crammed with Hodgson’s deep nautical lore and told in an Eighteenth-century style. The result is sometimes awkward and sometimes a bit overloaded with nautical terms. But for all that it may work a bit better, for it avoids the contrived style of a professional writer making up a crazy story and sounds like an old sailor telling a crazy story. At times I felt like I was hearing an echo of a Ray Harryhausen script channeled by an old salt. At other times I thought of the wildly improbably D&D scenarios of teenagers whose imaginations were fired with Coke and Doritos. The story has a na├»ve love of wonder and action that ranges from Lovecraftian horror to Howardian blood-lust.

Hodgson was a favorite of H.P. Lovecraft, I expect that Robert E. Howard would have liked his work too. Myself I truly enjoyed it. The story has a freshness that overcomes the occasional amateurishness. It is also part of a trilogy of sorts that includes The House on the Borderland and The Ghost Pirates. Boats of the Glen Carrig is a delightful, creepy, action-packed monster-story of a kind that you just don’t see anymore.

-Dave Hardy