Out of the Void With William Hope Hodgson
It may have been during the first episode of The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel that William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective Carnacki and the series of short stories he appeared in was mentioned.
This was before the documentary gave a little too much screen time to YouTube/podcast conspiracy theorists and deviated from genuinely interesting exploration of a mysterious disappearance and the creepy hotel where it happened, veering into that absurd faked moon landing Room 237 territory.
Or it may have been someone on Twitter who mentioned the stories, if I was scrolling while watching The Vanishing… because I can’t just let myself focus on one thing at a time anymore. I can’t find a tweet from anyone I follow about Carnacki from that time, although a couple authors have mentioned him before.
Whatever the trigger, the author’s name rang a bell. I remembered quoting him before. But I wasn’t familiar with what he’d written. Authors and titles all start to sound familiar after a while, and #gsbauthorquotes has only made the mountain of my to read pile even more dangerous to climb.
Maybe it’s been my recent interest in writing more horror or occult and supernatural themed stories, but the Carnacki stories in particular piqued my interest in a way they hadn’t a few years ago when I first quoted Hodgson.
I had to get a copy of the stories which were originally published in the illustrated magazine The Idler beginning in 1910 with “The Gateway of the Monster.”
In 1913, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder was first published and included six tales. Three of the Carnacki stories were published posthumously, which led to debunked claims that two of them had been authored by August Derleth, the editor of the 1948 Arkham House edition. That edition was the first time all the Carnacki stories appeared together and further editions and collections have typically published all nine.
Hodgson was killed at the Fourth Battle of Ypres when struck by artillery fire. His death is recorded as either the 17th or 19th of April, 1918. Despite his sailing experience Hodgson had insisted on joining the Officer Training Corps and receiving a commission in the Royal Artillery. Reenlisting following a serious injury he returned to the front where he’d be killed.
That’s kind of how I ended up with this amazing, grotesque, pulptastic vintage paperback, or at least reading it now.
Since the exact date of Hodgson’s death in World War I is unknown—either April 17th or 19th—it seemed a good time to pull this one out and read a little.
Oddly, it begins with “The Thing Invisible” and not “The Gateway of the Monster” which was the first to be published. It seems “The Thing Invisible” was the last of the tales to be published in Hodgson’s lifetime, in 1912. When the single volume of stories was published a year later, this story was placed first, perhaps due to its popularity. Readers may have been more likely to recognize that title having just seen it in The New Magazine. That’s how the stories have generally been reprinted since, even with the addition of the three posthumous tales.
I’ve only read the first story so far, but it’s been enjoyable and I’m definitely slipping down the rabbit hole of adaptations and other works inspired by Hodgson’s occult creations.
Given how much of his writing built upon his years of experiences at sea, I’d love to read a fictional story about why he insisted on staying on land. A specter who chased him from the sea and eventually found him in Belgium. Or perhaps I’ve listened to The Magnus Archives’ episode “The Piper” about Wilfred Owen’s death in World War I too many times.
Even if that particular story doesn’t exist, I’m sure there are enough homages and adaptations beyond Hodgson’s original work to keep me entertained for a while.
Reading Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man”
I recently finished Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man”… but really didn’t love it. When I saw this one available through the library on my Libby app, I was excited for some classic detective noir, but that wasn’t what this ended up being. It’s been a while since I’ve read Hammett, and maybe my enjoyment of his “Maltese Falcon” is clouded by my love of the movie.
It may have been just a case of high expectations, but generally think I know what I’m getting into when it comes to classic detective fiction or a typical hard boiled story.
Still, I expected more out of Nora, since I knew a little about the eventual Nick & Nora movie franchise that started from this novel. I went into it thinking she’d be more of an equal player, moving Nick along by investigating herself, but she was barely more than decoration and someone for Nick to talk at.
But I’m also disappointed with the plot; it feels overly complicated—red herrings are necessary but everyone is someone else and everyone who’s working together is really working together with someone else. After a while the tangled web became unnecessarily convoluted.
Maybe it’s a product of its time as far as writing male and female characters, and maybe it’s an attempt by Dashiell Hammett at writing something a little lighter instead of hard boiled crime fiction that didn’t translate so well for me.
All that said, while it may have been a disappointing departure from what I expected from the author and genre, I’ll still read more Hammett.Maybe I’ll like the movies better…