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  • TITLE: The House on the Borderland
  • AUTHOR: William Hope Hodgson

    The structure is interesting, in that the story is twice removed from the reader. Author Hodgson, acting as editor, purportedly received this manuscript of the Recluse from two vacationing fisherman, Tonnison and an unnamed narrator who tells their story of finding it in some ruins overlooking a chasm that was “disagreeably gloomy” (The House on the Borderland and Other Mysterious Places, Collected Works, Volume 2, Night Shade Books, ISBN 1892389398, c.2004, p.10). Although Hodgson, as a character, adds his fantastic opinion that the MS shows thoughts and emotions are as corporeal as material objects, the insertion of not one but two separate and so-called “objective” expositors adds an almost subconscious veracity to the tale.

    And this one needs a creel full of charitability because it is just about the biggest fish story on the one that got away you are likely to encounter.

    The house is located in an “ancient garden” (p.11) and is cantilevered over “some unholy place in the bowels of the world” (p.63) fondly referred to as The Pit. The Recluse lives there with his sister Mary and his dog, Pepper. Most self-styled hermits are loners, but Mary can be excused because she has “nothing in common” (p.127), although she cleans the house, fixes the food, and does the chores while smiling up her vacuous personality. Pepper, well, since the Recluse is a bit difficult to warm up to, he draws the most sympathy because he is a loyal but victimized innocent.

    The adventure is made up to two major events: the attack of the Swine things and traveling to the end of Time and Space and back again. Christian allegory aside, many legends, deistic figures, scientific and philosophical theory streak by like meteors into the sun, as this is a universe “watched by a thousand mute gods” (p.115). It is so easy to see the Swine things as Circe's island escapees from an Odysseus-like voyage, but they are probably more Hell's minions, “as something foul and hostile to the great and good in humanity” (p.37). The dynamic tension is between “the Machine of a Universe” (p.87) and what's represented by The Celestial Globes, or that “fragile flake of soul-dust” (p.18). An Afterlife is confirmed by the Recluse visiting the Sea of Sleep and re-uniting with the love of his life. And, although while there, he stubbornly claims “I shall stay on here, whatever happens” (p.125), the Recluse's ultimate fate and preoccupation seems to be that he “shall become a terrible mass of living corruption” (p.130). Ultimately, this is a “history of a man's terror and hope and despair” (p.132).

    Hodgson is the fulcrum between the supernatural ghost stories of Poe and Hawthorne, and the alien-based terrors of H.P. Lovecraft and Company, ad nauseam. Like many fantasists arriving in the 20th Century, he is much more interested in “the terrors that underlie many things” (p.115) than salvation or the triumph of good over evil. In that respect, his oeuvre is historically quaint yet viscerally pumping enough “impenetrable gloom . . . [of] hell-fog . . . so tortured with woe” (p.114) as to be a delight to the glutted, modern sensibility.



    ********** --Illustration by Jason Van Hollander, Ibid, p.1


    (just for giggles, notice the misspelling of the author's name on the cover of the Gollancz publication!)


    © copyright 10/02/2006 by Larry Crawford

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