After my last piece about William Hope Hodgson and Carnacki the Ghost Finder, I realized no one out there was going to write that Magnus Archives-esque narrative of Hodgson’s death in World War I, so I started writing it myself.
As I got started on the actual writing and making some notes, I thought it might be good to have some letters or journals of soldiers from the war. This site, referencing R. Alain Everts’ essay about the life of William Hope Hodgson, seems promising and mentions some sources that help understand what Hodgson would have experienced.
But as I thought about where I wanted to story go, centered around a specific incident I’d read about during Hodgson’s career as a sailor and how to twist it into something supernatural, I realized some of the author’s own journals might be helpful as well. Apparently he kept diaries throughout his life and I went looking for some published collections of them or even those print on demand collections of poor quality page scans.
What I found instead was a special collection at the University of California of short stories, legal papers, photographs, correspondence and an undated “diary and log of an expedition at sea.”
So now I get to feel like a real writer doing research that doesn’t involve a multitude of conflicting Wikipedia pages! I was able to request scanned copies of the diary, which hopefully will give me an idea of how Hodgson sounded. I realize this isn’t a big deal for most writers even those who applied themselves in undergrad. I did not. Trust me, I paid for it. Or rather, I defaulted and then paid for it. While a part of me wishes I had done the work at the time, I get to have some fun now discovering these collections and resources.
I’ve been reading “Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder” and there are a handful of phrases and words that Hodgson seems fond of using. But you don’t necessarily know if that a product entirely of the narrative voice or Hodgson’s own. Perhaps with his own diary, and later on, letters or correspondence from other parts of the collection, I’ll be more comfortable with how he might have told a friend a story of say, a malicious spirit that’s been hunting him for years, demanding payment for the soul Hodgson stole from it, and which may have finally caught up with him in the trenches of Belgium.
Or it could be forty pages of single sentence entries remarking on who of the crew had scurvy now. Still, it’ll be fun to find out.
History, Podcasts and the Craft of the Metanarrative
Episode seven of “The Magnus Archives” has been one of my favorites, weaving together the horror of war, historical figures and folklore in a tragic haunting manner.
Set during World War I, “The Piper” tells of the narrator’s experience with Wilfred Owen, who was an English poet and soldier. He was one of the leading poets of the First World War, writing on the horrors of trenches and gas warfare. His poem “Dulce et decorum est” condemns the rallying cry that “it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.”
Owen was killed in action during the crossing of the Sambre–Oise Canal, exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice, which is fictionalized in the archive statement in this episode along with the calling of the Pied Piper as almost a god of death who stalked the battlefields. It is said that his mother received word of his death while the bells of the nearby church tolled for the end of the war.
I haven’t read very much of Owen’s poetry but this episode did a great job capturing the bleakness and horror of which he wrote.
“The Magnus Archives” is not a new podcast, but while I may be four years and about 180 episodes behind, just in case I wasn’t the last person to ever hear of it, I wanted to share how creepy, thought provoking and thoroughly enjoyable the show has been.
I hope more of the episodes begin to play with historical events or figures as connections between archive statements and subjects begin to appear as this episode was one of their best. From a pure entertainment standpoint, this podcast has been great, but even more than that, the structure of it and the storytelling had been excellent with a fine balance between the individual stories and the connecting story arcs.
Definitely worth checking out as much as a short story anthology as a lesson in crafting narratives.