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.
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.
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.