Well, Land o’ Goshen and spit in my grits – greydogtales is almost scholarly today. We have H P Lovecraft on Hodgson, editor James Bojaciuk analysing the entity ‘The Hog’ (and involving Lewis Carroll at the same time), and our usual oddities. Throughout this concluding week we’ll look at William Hope Hodgson themes, commentaries and legacies.
An oddity first. We offer you the only US film version of Hodgson’s story The Voice in the Night. This was aired as part of the mystery series, Suspicion (1957-1958). The executive producer of the series was a guy called Hitchcock. Never heard of him. The actors included Barbara Rush of It Came from Outer Space, James Coburn and Patrick McNee! It’s a bit dark, by the way. Literally.
We did say we’d have some more critical commentary on Hodgson, so it’s only proper to start with H P Lovecraft, from his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (revised until 1927). As Carnacki and The Night Land have been well covered here, it seemed only fair to concentrate on some of Hodgson’s other fiction:
“Of rather uneven stylistic quality, but vast occasional power in its suggestion of lurking worlds and beings behind the ordinary surface of life, is the work of William Hope Hodgson, known today far less than it deserves to be. Despite a tendency toward conventionally sentimental conceptions of the universe, and of man’s relation to it and to his fellows, Mr. Hodgson is perhaps second only to Algernon Blackwood in his serious treatment of unreality. Few can equal him in adumbrating the nearness of nameless forces and monstrous besieging entities through casual hints and insignificant details, or in conveying feelings of the spectral and the abnormal in connection with regions or buildings.
“In The Boats of the Glen Carrig (1907) we are shown a variety of malign marvels and accursed unknown lands as encountered by the survivors of a sunken ship. The brooding menace in the earlier parts of the book is impossible to surpass, though a letdown in the direction of ordinary romance and adventure occurs toward the end. An inaccurate and pseudo-romantic attempt to reproduce eighteenth-century prose detracts from the general effect, but the really profound nautical erudition everywhere displayed is a compensating factor.
“The House on the Borderland (1908) — perhaps the greatest of all Mr. Hodgson’s works — tells of a lonely and evilly regarded house in Ireland which forms a focus for hideous otherworld forces and sustains a siege by blasphemous hybrid anomalies from a hidden abyss below. The wanderings of the Narrator’s spirit through limitless light-years of cosmic space and Kalpas of eternity, and its witnessing of the solar system’s final destruction, constitute something almost unique in standard literature. And everywhere there is manifest the author’s power to suggest vague, ambushed horrors in natural scenery. But for a few touches of commonplace sentimentality this book would be a classic of the first water.
“The Ghost Pirates (1909), regarded by Mr. Hodgson as rounding out a trilogy with the two previously mentioned works, is a powerful account of a doomed and haunted ship on its last voyage, and of the terrible sea-devils (of quasi-human aspect, and perhaps the spirits of bygone buccaneers) that besiege it and finally drag it down to an unknown fate. With its command of maritime knowledge, and its clever selection of hints and incidents suggestive of latent horrors in nature, this book at times reaches enviable peaks of power.”
And if you want to get seriously critical, then we recommend the book Voices from the Borderland, edited by Massimo Berruti, S T Joshi and Sam Gafford, one of the collaborators in this tribute:
Voices from the Borderland
With refence to last week’s Night Land feature, I recently came across an interesting comment by E F Blieler, an editor who introduced Dover’s collections of ghost stories and who wrote A Guide to Supernatural Fiction (1983).
“As for The Night Land: It’s a mess. In my Hodgson paper in Supernatural Fiction Writers I said, “It is hard to think of another situation in which a reasonably competent author has so mangled a good idea.” Despite this, I would keep it in print for its visionary and emotional qualities. It’s what Orwell would call a good bad book.”
Actually, I’d have said that Hodgson was a good author who misjudged his approach to a quite astonishing idea, but let’s not argue, girls.
Now, for a somewhat different look at Hodgson’s ideas, we have James Bojaciuk on the nature of WHH’s Hog, in A Concluding Oink. This was first heard, give or take a word, in Sam Gafford’s excellent Sargasso (The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies), Issue 2.
A Concluding Oink
There is nothing more precious than what has been lost.
We will always long for John Watson’s tin dispatch box, for we will never discover the particulars of the lighthouse, politician, and the trained cormorant, nor we will ever uncover the truth behind the Giant Rat of Sumatra (for which, even now, the world is unprepared to learn). Carnacki, the infamous Ghost-Finder, leaves us in a similar bind. Dodgson, the biographer, and Hodgson, the literary agent, never saw fit to tell us the “horrible Black Veil business,” where young Aster died and Carnacki was only saved by the water circle. Nor could they bring themselves to certify the Yellow Finger Experiments. Carnacki’s history is at a loss.
There is one such case we can track and, in fact, track past Carnacki’s conclusion to its blasphemous source. In “The Whistling Room,” Carnacki tells his dinner party that this case was “no mere Aeiirii development; but one of the worst forms, as the Saiitii; like that ‘Grunting Man’ case—you know.” We may imagine that Dodgson and all nodded in perfect understanding. We, however, are left befuddled. We are only honorary dinner guests, and such tales are not for us.
Yet, Carnacki would tell his guests of another—or, perhaps, the same—grunting man. In “The Hog” we receive a shower of details: a man, Bains, arrives on Carnacki’s doorstep. He believes himself mad. Every night he dreams he is separated from his body and hounded through an incomprehensible maze. Pig-men give chase; they squeal, loudly, speaking to each other in grunts and ineffable oinks. Suddenly, Bains finds himself oinking in their choir. Carnacki attempts a sleep experiment but, as so often happens in occult detection, everything goes terribly wrong.
“As the rolling chaos of swine melody beat itself away on every side, there came booming through it a single grunt, the single recurring grunt of the HOG; for I knew now that I was actually and without doubt hearing the beat of monstrosity, the HOG.” The Sigsand Manuscript, that anchor of strength and sanity which whispers the seductive whisper that yes, men can hold back the dark, recoils from the Hog. It is something that terrifies his scarred old soul. The Hog is an Outer Monstrosity, Sigsand knows, and “in ye earlier life upon the world did the Hogge have power, and shall again in ye end. And in that ye Hogge had once a power upon ye earth, so doeth he crave sore to come again.”
We shall not go mightly in depth into Carnacki’s technology. That is a topic deserving an essay all its own. But some words must be spared to explain the following: Carnacki had devised an ingenious “color defense.” A number of circular light bulbs primed in different colors: combinations could bring about protection (green or blue “God’s color in the heavens”) or summon all Hell’s children (“…reds and purple… are fairly dangerous… [and]’focus’ outside forces”). To the spirit world, these circles of light project a dome against—or encouraging—influence.
The Hog, which Sigsand knew to be terrified off, enters Carnacki’s light defense through Bains, calling out to him as a mother to her sow.
I must take umbrage with a fellow scholar. Neal Alan Spurlock’s article “Ab-Reality: The Metaphysical Vision of William Hope Hodgson” (Sargasso #1) states the Hog “is not really a single entity, per se; instead, it seems to embody all the pig/swine-related beings, a sort of totem for their species, and the species itself seems merely to be a product of a momentary mixture of human and ab-human, only possible in the borderland space of the House and its surrounding area. The swine-things only exist in a particular moment in time…” (133-4). This is very good scholarship when it comes to digging deep into Hodgson’s themes and, I may admit, made my third rereading of The House on the Borderland all the more enjoyable. Yet, if we were to look at The House on the Borderland and “The Hog” as two pieces of a Hodgsonian universe, this piece of Mr. Spurlock’s theory falls away. The Hog becomes elevated from a momentary manifestation snorting through our history into something abnormal and indefatigable: something which the Recluse could only watch in horror, barely protected by a psychic bubble; something that terrified Sigsand; something Carnacki, for all his technology and knowledge, was unable to counter.
In this view, the ab-natural is not merely momentary: it is eternal.
But let us touch on Spurlock again: though one of his theories has been pushed away, he makes a thrust which pins the Hog’s nature: “The threat is entropy itself, the rule of time, the tendency of all things, matter and energy, to decay into less and less structured forms. The threat comes into our universe not spatially, but temporally, from the future. For it is the breakdown of matter and energy that allows for this alien force to invade at all. The future—the far future—is not where the enemy wins the war and occupies our territory, but where the enemy begins their existence and thrives, just as our form of life thrived at our end of time. They are at their most powerful in the highly entropic universe near the end and we, as highly complex… entities, are proportionately weakened. This process… forces… our Human-Current to fall, and the Hog-Current to arise” (132-3). From only the data available in The House on the Borderland, this is an admirable survey of the state of Hodgson’s universe. Man can only live in a small, shrinking hospitable zone (or, for clarity, a space of time) with entropic forces closing in.
What this analysis misses is a key quote from the Sigsand Manuscript: “in ye earlier life upon the world did the Hogge have power, and shall again in ye end.” From dust to dust, from entropy to entropy; what thou wert, thou shall be. The universe began in a state which promoted Hog-kind. The universe ends in a state hospitable to Hog-kind. We exist in a small temperate zone where the “Hog-Current” cannot exist and we thrive. The Hog can only appear briefly under ideal conditions. It seems the Hog can recruit members of humanity into its entropic race. It had nearly absorbed Bains. We are left to wonder if the rest of the Hog’s swine things—which pursued Bains nightly—are other men it has stolen. We do not know the scope of its activities.
Entropy acts as an infection: it latches onto men. The stable routine of existence (our superficial complexities) are attacked first: Bains can no longer sleep. This allows the Hog—and its ilk—to step in and begin to claim his mind. In this way, the Hog collects followers in every age and place: agents of entropy ready to be deployed (much like the attacking army of swine-things in The House on the Borderland). Dreams are the only thing sufficiently entropic to allow the Hog entry: thus it was with Bains (and, perhaps, thus it was for Lady Mirdath and the Narrator from The Night Land). If, as Spurlock suggests, time is no barrier for the Hog, then perhaps Bains was intended to be one of the attacking force.
When Carnacki encountered the Hog it was, in fact, stopped. But not by Carnacki. He and all his colors were useless. An outside agent appeared and blasted the Hog back to its home. Perhaps this agent was God, perhaps a god, perhaps an angel, perhaps something other: Carnacki gives us the clearest view of his universe’s spectral-epistemology, but he never gives us a clear look at the “positive” (i.e. non-entropic) forces.
Carnacki ends his adventure as confounded as we are. He has no answer. He is merely relieved the ordeal is over. Yet, we can track the Hog’s trail further. In 1908, Hodgson edited a small volume which two campers discovered in the Irish woods. They were Tonnison and Berreggnog, two stout men who ran back to civilization after finding a river—and by that river the wreck of the house—and inside that wreck of a house, a tattered, water-washed book. The writer of the book is unknown: he came to that wreck of a house when it still stood whole. He brought provisions, he brought money, he brought his sister, he brought his dog, he brought all of his advancing years and aging bones.
He bought the house to die in it; he succeeded, but he had to watch the house die first. We shall call him, as Hodgson did, the Recluse.
The swine-things re-emerge: they swarm his house, seeking entry. We shall deal with his description of them further in this article. Unfortunately, Carnacki left us no note of the swine-things’ appearance. We can only compare the pig-men Bains encountered and the swine-things the Recluse encountered in one area: sound.
The Recluse described the swine-things’ sound as: “Out in the gardens rose a continuous sound. It might have been mistaken… for the grunting and squealing of a herd of pigs. But, as I stood there, it came to me that there was sense and meaning to all these swinish noises. Gradually, I seemed to be able to trace a semblance in it to human speech… it was no mere medley of sounds; but a rapid interchange of ideas.”
Bains described the grunts as “It’s just like pigs grunting… only much more awful. All the grunts, squeals and howls blend into one brutal chaos of sound—only it isn’t a chaos. It all blends in a queer horrible way. I’ve heard it. A sort of swinish clamouring melody that grunts and roars and shrieks in chunks of grunting sounds, all tied together with squealing’s and shot through with pig howls. I’ve sometimes thought there was a definite beat in it…”
These descriptions are virtually identical: A continual sound; grunts as if from a herd of pigs; the sense that the grunts are not random, but part of a pattern. This weighs strongly in favor of the proposition that the unseen pig-men encountered by Carnacki and the swine-things encountered by the Recluse are in fact the same species.
Let us consider their god.
The Recluse was subject to a series of visions: vast, apocalyptic visions which left him witness to the death of the universe, or to a not-quite-existent-plane. In one of these visions he found himself in another world. The House sat on that plane. Up around it rose great, bestial “statues.” These “statues” were not things of stone and steel, but living beings locked into an immortal “life-in-death.” Some readers may be reminded of the Necronomicon’s infamous couplet: “That is not dead which can eternal lie, / and with strange aeons even death may die.”
The Recluse recognized two of these gods: “I knew that I was looking at a monstrous representation of Kali, the Hindu goddess of death… My glance fell back upon the huge beast-headed Thing. Simultaneously, I recognized it for the ancient Egyptian god Set, or Seth, the Destroyer of Souls…‘The old gods of mythology!’” (see also greydog note at end) What is the researcher to do with this?
First, many—if not all—of the world’s myths are accounts of the Outer Monstrosities at work in the world of man: scribes rationalized them, sanitized them. They rewrote their gods and made them safe. Homer took them, took them softly, and bound the gods up from what may have been the Outer Monstrosities infesting men and creating a war full of blood sacrifices into a tale of honor, heroism, and the waste of war; Akhenaten discovered that his peoples’ mythology was built on worshipping the monsters that sought to kill them and absorb their world into chaos. He came in contact with the all-powerful, holy God who protected Carnacki in “The Hog” and sought to change his nation’s worship to righteousness.
The statues were merely what the Recluse’s mind perceived them as: the closest equivalent to what he could understand were the old gods. Therefore his mind substituted the myth for blasphemes.
The statues’ purpose is so far beyond us that we, wretched mortals that we are, could ever comprehend.
We must pause our theorization as he did. The Recluse was not alone on that plane. Among these “statues” lurked the Hog. Let us compare the Recluse’s description with Carnacki’s. The Recluse described the Hog as “a gigantic thing, and moved with a curious lope, going almost upright, after the manner of a man. It was quite unclothed, and had a remarkable luminous appearance. Yet it was the face that attracted and frightened me the most. It was the face of a swine.”
Carnacki described it as “I seemed to be staring down into miles of black Aether at something that hung there—a pallid face floating far down and remote—a great swine face. And as I gazed I saw it grow bigger. A seemingly motionless, pallid swine-face rising upward out of the depth. And suddenly I realized I was actually looking at the Hog… It stuck me that it glowed very slightly—just a vague luminosity.”
As with the swine-things, the two descriptions of the Hog itself. are virtually identical: gigantic, swine-faced, luminous. The safe, sane conclusion is that the Hog which Carnacki met and the Hog which the Recluse met are, in fact, the same creature.
Thus we seem to have come to the end of the rope: we know the Hog’s goal (to expand the time of its own possible existence by introducing entropy into our own era); we know the Hog’s methods (forming an army of swine-things; swine-things are produced by invading the dreams [i.e. personal reality] of common men); we know the Hog has been encountered by both Carnacki and the Recluse; we know that the Hog is ultimately victorious. The House on the Borderland is destroyed; it seems the house is—or is one of—the linchpins holding reality together. The Recluse, in a vision, watches the final destruction. We know all—and shudder.
But If I may be forgiven a whimsy, we may yet follow the hog tracks deeper into Hell. Consider what Berreggnog and Tonnison found near the ruins of the House: “And then, without any warning whatsoever, the river we had followed so confidently, came to an abrupt end—vanishing into the earth.” And then, a touch later, the men came across “a great open space, where, not six paces in front of us, yawned the mouth of a tremendous chasm… The abyss was, as Tonnison put it, like nothing so much as a gigantic well or pit going sheer down into the bowels of the earth.” Upon their exit from the ruins, Tonnison and Berreggnog were pursued by the man-like things which inhabited the forest.
Thus we can begin to build a profile for the hog-entrances to this world: near a river (good, good), a forest filled with man-like animals (fascinating), and a pit which drops to the bowels of the earth (very good). It should be expected that whoever descends will come face-to-face with the swine-things.
These are exactly the conditions met with by the most famous of subterranean explorers. I am not speaking of Arne Saknussemm, nor Otto Lidenbrock, nor David Innes. Instead, I am speaking of someone far more honored and far more eminent than they: Alice Liddell.
That Alice Liddell. The one who began “to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the [river] bank.” The one who looked into the thick bushes and saw “a rabbit. . .with a waistcoat-pocket, [and] a watch to take out of it.” The one who fell down a tunnel which “dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well… down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end?”
The Alice Liddell, in short, whose first journey to Wonderland conforms to every one of the items we should expect from a portal into the Hog’s world. If Spurlock is correct that the Hog is a being of pure entropy, then we have found its home. This may seem insane, yet, consider: Wonderland is a place where entropy is consuming the physical world.
Space is wrong. One must run—run as fast as one can, faster than a train—in order to stay in the same place; however, standing still will move you across the countryside at impossible speeds. At other times, as Achilles and the Tortoise discovered, movement is literally impossible. There is an infinite gulf of space between the merest footstep (for example, suppose you wanted to move an inch: that inch can be divided to one-half, one-fourth, one-eighth, one-sixteenth, one-thirty-second, one-sixty-fourth, and so on, forever. In our place and time, it’s a mathematical trick. In Wonderland, on occasion, it’s an unalterable law. Movement is impossible).
Time is wrong. As the Red Queen said to Alice, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” With entropic memories that work in all directions—I am not so limited to confine entropic minds to two directions—Wonderlandians punish criminals, then hold a trial, then allow the crime to be committed. “…there’s the King’s Messenger. He’s in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn’t even begin till next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.” Time has so far broken down that cause and effect no longer operate. Wonderland is a society on the edge of entropic dissolution.
The reader may already be asking: what about the swine-things?
Swing-things are born here. It is as Spurlock suggested. The Hog and its children come from the end of entropy’s rule. The Hog, for convenience, may create swine-things in any age (consider the unfortunate Bains) but the bulk of its army comes from this dissolute age.
In her first adventure in Wonderland, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, Alice stumbles into a peppery kitchen. A Duchess and a Cook and a Baby, screamingly madly, sneezing madly, singing madly, in a cacophony of spice. The Duchess gives Alice the Baby; Alice takes it, without complaint, feeling it would be murder to leave it behind.
Consider the description of the baby.
“Alice caught the baby with some difficulty, as it was a queer-shaped little creature, and held out its arms and legs in all directions, ‘just like a star-fish,’ thought Alice… The baby grunted again, and Alice looked very anxiously into its face to see what was the matter with it. There could be no doubt that it had a very turned-up nose, much more like a snout than a real nose; also its eyes were getting extremely small for a baby: altogether Alice did not like the look of the thing at all. ‘But perhaps it was only sobbing,’ she thought, and looked into its eyes again, to see if there were any tears. No, there were no tears.”
Thus is Alice’s description of the baby-pig. Let us compare it to the Recluse’s description of the swine-things. “The nose was prolonged into a snout… I think it was the eyes that attracted me the most; they seemed to glow, at times, with a horribly human intelligence, and kept flickering away from my face… [the swine-thing’s claws] bore an indistinct resemblance to human hands, in that they had four fingers and a thumb; though these were webbed up to the first joint, much as are a duck’s… I may explain my feeling better by saying that it was more a sensation of abhorrence; such as one my expect to feel, if brought in contact with something superhumanly foul.”
Can there be any doubt that what Alice described as “tears” that weren’t tears is the Recluse’s horrible “glow”? Can there be any doubt that what Alice described as a “very turned-up nose” was the Recluse’s “nose… prolonged into a snout”? Can there be any doubt that the appendages Alice described as “like a star-fish” are not the same nubby, webbed appendages the Recluse described? Can there be any doubt that what Alice described as “not [liking] the look of the thing at all” is the Recluse’s “sensation of abhorrence”?
What of the Duchess? We are provided with two distinct possibilities. First, she was exactly what she seems: an entropically-insane noblewoman whose baby was chosen by the Hog. Second, she was far more than she seems: an aspect or manifestation of the Hog itself. Alice does not describe her. The illustration amended to her account shows a huge, swinish head.
What we know is this: Alice encountered the swine-things at their birth. We do not know how they form, save that they reshape a human body to a hoggish mien. We do not know the intimate details of their biology, save that which Alice and the Recluse witnessed in passing. We know nothing. Only three facts are evident: First, the Hog is eternal; Second, the Hog is encroaching on our existence, making agents in every time and place; Third, as Carnacki and the Recluse attest, the Hog will win.
Back in Wonderland, the infant swine-thing slipped out of Alice’s arms and ran away, squealing, leaving us with a concluding oink.
greydog adds: Listeners might also note that the Egyptian god Set was connected with the Hog quite directly. Set was, amongst other things, the Black Boar who swallowed the moon each month, obscuring its light, and was associated with the pig in its role as an ‘unclean’ animal. This suggests that the pharaonic Egyptians were already well acquainted with the danger posed by the Hog.
Yet to come this week: Short essays, an interview with Sam Gafford, the last few links and a general dissolution into exhausted protoplasm…