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.