Sunday, November 4, 2012

William Hope Hodgson and the H. P. Lovecraft Connection

Horror and fantasy before the Great War unleashed its own horror

Lovecraft was a voracious reader and one author that clearly had an influence on young Lovecraft was the works of William Hope Hodgson whose books all date to before WWI.  Hodgson had a fascinating and varied career as a sailor, bodybuilder, personal coach, poet, author, and military member.  In fact, he died in WWI in April 1918 at Ypres.  Had he lived, who knows what other books he would have written.  As it is, he was a great influence to readers and writers.

These works were always scarce, hard to find and not sought out much by the average reader.  I first read The Boats of the Glen Carrig, and House on the Borderland when Ballentine published the Adult Fantasy Series, bringing back into print important and rare books of influence in the genres of Science Fiction, fantasy, and horror at an affordable price.  I read The Night Land somewhat later.  Long before Project Gutenberg, these editions were the only way an average person could read these scarce tomes.  In fact, if you follow the link, there is a list of published works that are a primer of horror and fantasy.  Now with the internet and on-line book finders such as, it is possible to turn up had to find books. 

I posted this blog entry to interest new readers to Hodgson or Lovecraft and to provide a rudimentary introduction to some of Hodgson’s works.  I am by no means a Lovecraft or Hodgson scholar and the advanced reader won’t find much here that he/she hasn’t already found out about this fascinating author.  Really this has been a trip down memory lane for me and if nothing else, the blog reader will find a few links of interest and some free downloadable books.  You just can’t beat free these days.

H. P Lovecraft had a bit to say about Hodgson’s The Boats of the Glen Carrig in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature  (1927):

"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 Night Land (1912) is a much longer and more ambitious book, that seems to presage Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.  Lovecraft absorbed much in his reading and little escaped his eye, filing away information like a computer for later inquiry or incorporation.  The House on the Borderland (1908) is perhaps the best known of Hodgson’s works to the modern reader, and one can see elements in Dreams in the Witch House.  China Miéville traces the origin of "the tentacle" as an object of horror in H. P. Lovcraft in the book, The Boats of the Glen Carrig, about ships trapped Devil’s Triangle of the Sargasso Sea in  his 2009 essay, The Tentacles.

Lovecraft’s early milieu is one that needs study to understand how genres of fantasy & horror evolved and then much later fused with elements of science fiction and reading the books that Lovecraft read can help our understanding of that time. The influences on the Cthulhu Mythos is varied and deserves study and our attention.  Interest in Hodgson’s works are now at an all time high and editions are more plentiful and easier to find.   However, you need not go out of pocket because Project Gutenberg has these  Hodgson novels available for free download:

The House on the Borderland
The Boats of the Glen Carrig
As well as two other novels
Carnacki, The Ghost Finder
And a short story by Hodgson from another source  The Fifth Message from the Tideless Sea
Lovecraft’s Supernautal Horror in Literature download

Additional links of interest

Undoubtedly I have missed some obvious links and observations, but this little bit should be enough to entice and send an inquiring mind off into the aether of the internet for more information and stories.  Happy hunting and happy reading.


  1. Forgive me, but Lovecraft only encountered Hodgson's work in 1934. I believe the tentacle motif cited by China derives from "Count Magnus" - Lovecraft read M. R. James just a few months before writing "The Call of Cthulhu".

  2. I’m glad you have brought this up because I think some confusion stems from a Wikipedia article on Hodgdson: “Hodgson's work is said to have had an influence on H.P. Lovecraft, even though Lovecraft did not read his works until 1934.”

    I suggest the date of 1934 in the Wikipedia article may be a typo – perhaps it’s supposed to be 1924, or another date entirely, since Lovecraft certainly mentions Hodgson and James in his 1927 essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature. I hope that one of the readers of this blog will find out the truth. I do know the essay was revised in 1934, but I don’t a list of the revisions.

    Hodgdson’s, The Boats of the Glen-Carrig was published in 1907 and Montague R. James, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, in which the story Count Magnus appears, was published in book form in 1904. Lovecraft drew from many sources for his works and de-emphasized some writer’s styles in his works, a few over time, such Merritt and Dunsany. It’s fun to trace those influences in his works.

    I haven not yet been able to get a copy of China Mieville’s essay, The Tentacle, so citing it on the strength of a Wikipedia article was probably sloppiness on my part, but this is no scholarly work (obviously), just some fan musings. Again, I’d like to thank you for pointing out inconsistency with the dates, it shows people are indeed paying attention.

    The Text of Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature