William Hope Hodgson: Magical Unrealism

Posted by: on Nov 5, 2012 | 5 Comments

portrait of William Hope Hodgson William Hope Hodgson is still ahead of his time.

It’s hard to attach labels like “horror” or “science fiction” or “fantasy” to his stories because Hodgson wrote before such epithets properly existed – in the early 1900s, the age of jolly, slimy old King Edward.

The Night Land, Hodgson’s longest novel, is literally the most brilliant thing I’ve ever read. It’s the seed of virtually every genre of science fiction, from cyberpunk to space opera. Part medieval romance, part post-apocalyptic epic, part cosmic horror allegory, part utopian fantasy, the story is set in the world of the unimaginably distant future, in which the sun has died and humanity lives in a massive, pyramidal fortress, surrounded by demons but sustained by a mysterious force called the “Earth Current”. Hodgson wrote The Night Land 100 years ago, but it will still be just fresh and strange and wonderful 100 years from now. And beyond.

But the best thing about Hodgson’s writing, for me, is his complete and utter lack of cynicism. Hodgson believed in the power of love and courage above all the cruelty, horror and desolation of modernity. He, like HP Lovecraft, was writing a counterpoint to the materialist, “relativist” world of the emergent 20th Century. But unlike Lovecraft, who saw only madness and self-annihilation, Hodgson saw the triumph of hope and the human spirit. His stories are not only beautiful works of the imagination, they are beautiful works of the spirit.

I freely admit Hodgson’s not the easiest writer to get comfortable with. The overall style of The Night Land is… strange. Virtually every paragraph begins with “And”, for instance. But, for me at least, the strangeness of the style only adds to the story. Hodgson frequently wrote in the first person, in the voice of someone not accustomed to writing but with an intensely passionate need to tell their story. Every sentence of The Night Land drips with that unadulterated passion, which more than makes up for the occasional – and intentional, in my opinion – awkwardness of the prose.

Nor is The Night Land Hodgson’s only masterpiece. The House on the Borderland is the first piece of his that I read. Like The Night Land, it changed my perception of reality, permanently. In some ways The House on the Borderland anticipated Einstein and general relativity. And Hodgson’s Carnacki stories are utterly magnificent – so magnificent, they deserve their own post.

This is my 100th entry on Arvidland, and I can’t of a better way to celebrate than with a post on William Hope Hodgson, the forgotten master. Hodgson died in 1918, in Belgium, in the muck and smoke of The Great War. He never made very much money off of his stories, and he’s been all but forgotten. But his spirit lives on in those few people who read and understand. Amor vincit omnia, William.


  1. Brian Bixby
    November 9, 2012

    I’ve read “The House on the Borderland,” which has something of the same feel of vast periods of time, though without the more extreme style of “The Night Land.” And the Carnacki stories, along with a scattering of some others. I guess now, having read your review, I’m going to have to set down and tackle “The Night Land” and the other two long works.

  2. Rvid
    November 15, 2012

    You’re gonna love The Night Land, Brian! I was about to offer a criticism of it, but doing so would mean cracking open a few semi-spoilers. Bottom line: it’s worth reading. I look forward to hearing your thoughts once you’re through.

  3. Rafael
    November 20, 2012

    Hmm, the plot of “Night Land” sounds a bit familar. Did you get some inspirations for “The Band of the Crow” from it?

    And it sounds interesting. Maybe I can read it, when university doesn’t eat me first:-D.

    By the way: How is your book going on? Do you make good progress with the rewriting and editing?

    With friendly greetings from Germany

    Rafael 🙂

  4. Rvid
    December 5, 2012

    You know, honestly… yes! I had never thought of it before, but I absolutely did.

  5. News and items | william hope hodgson
    June 23, 2014

    […] Arvid Nelson wrote a very nice blog post about Hodgson which I’m sad to say I’ve only recently discovered. Nice overview of Hodgson’s work and Arvid makes the case for Hodgson as a writer of “Magical Realism”. Arvid is the writer of the very fine comic series REX MUNDI among other things. […]

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