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The Casebook of Carnacki, The Ghost Finder
William Hope Hodgson
Wordsworth Press, 192 pages

William Hope Hodgson
One of 12 children of an Anglican priest, William Hope Hodgson (Nov. 15, 1877-Apr. 17 1918) was born in Blackmore End, Essex, England. William ran away to sea at 13, was hauled home, before beginning his apprentice ship in 1891. Treated badly by a second made he learned judo and began body-building, and also took up photography. Coming to hate the sea, in 1902 he set up an exercise club near Liverpool, where he taught body-building to local policemen. Around 1904 he began writing tales of horror at sea, supplementing his income with photography. His first published story was "A Tropical Horror," The Grand Magazine, June 1905. Early in 1907, the episodic novel The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" was published, and in 1908 the earthbound The House on the Borderland, termed by H.P. Lovecraft "a classic of the first water." The year 1909 saw the publication of another tale of horrors at sea, The Ghost Pirates. Hodgson continued with tales of an occult detective (Carnacki the Ghost Finder); an The Night Land a tale of horror at the end of time, lauded by Lovecraft and C.A. Smith. When WWI broke out Hodgson, who had married the year before, entered the Royal Field Artillery and trained as a Lieutenant. Receiving a serious head injury in a fall, he recovered and returned to the front lines near Ypres, Belgium, where as an advanced scout, he was blown up by a German shell, at the age of 40.

SF Site Review: The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" and Other Nautical Adventures

Nightshade Books eds.
Wildside Press eds.
Spirit Lake Press eds.
Hobgoblin Press eds.
Coppens and Frenks eds.
Hodgson in Swedish
The Ghost Pirates in French

A extensive site dedicated to Hodgson's The Night Land
Philippe Druillet's illustrations to Hodgson books
Artistic rendering of W.H. Hodgson
Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series Hodgson covers
Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult covers

BIOGRAPHY: 1, 2 (in Spanish), 3, 4 (in Spanish), 5 (in Finnish), 6 (in Japanese), 7 (in Greek), 8

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (in Spanish), 6 (in French)




Past Feature Reviews
A review by Seamus Sweeney

The Casebook of Carnacki, The Ghost Finder Just as we have (nearly) forgotten what was then a seemingly endless string of filmic James Bond imitators of the 1960s, the vast impact of Sherlock Holmes on popular literature at the turn of the twentieth century is now underestimated. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation opened the door to a series of fictional detectives, most of whom were pale imitations of the original. Time winnows away much dross, but as W.H. Auden said, "Some books are unjustly forgotten; none are unjustly remembered."

The psychic detective married the detective story with another cultural motif of the era, one whose prominence has diminished somewhat: spiritualism. Carnacki, created by W.H. Hodgson, is the exemplar of the psychic detective. Wordsworth Press, in a repackaged edition of their 2006 release, have published an edition of Hodgson's The Casebook of Carnacki, The Ghost Finder, part of their Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural series.

Hodgson was one of the legion of writers and artists who would meet their deaths on the battlefield of World War I. Even by the standards of that War to End War, his death at forty was replete with tragic ironies; having been thrown by a horse and injured in 1916, Hodgson returned to the fray only to be killed in Ypres in April 1918.

Carnacki first appeared in The Idler in 1910. Carnacki is an eccentric character, who regularly has four friends to dinner. Carnacki holds forth to the company after dinner about one of his experiences, which form the narrative core of the story. All the stories end with the same rather endearing event; Carnacki falls silent, and then suddenly evicts his guests with the words "Out you go!" The friends depart, each time "through the darkness to our various homes."

No outright religious context is mentioned, but there is a mythos behind the stories which is hinted at rather than described. We read repeatedly of the Sigsand text, and the incredibly powerful Saaamaaa ritual. There is a physicality and specificity to much of the description, especially in the story "The Hog." Carnacki draws various pentacles and protective circles with a great deal of ritual precision. An example: "After I had drawn the circle, I took a bunch of the garlic, and smudged it right 'round the chalk circle, a little outside of it. When this was complete, I called for candles from my stock of material. I set the police to lighting them, and as they were lit I took them and sealed them down on the floor, just within the chalk circle, five inches apart. As each candle measured approximately one inch in diameter, it took sixty-six candles to complete the circle; and I need hardly say that every number and measurement has a significance."

Sometimes Carnacki reveals, for want of a better term, a rational explanation; at other times he solemnly informs that he has been dealing with forces beyond this world. At times, Hodgson tells rather than describes -- tending to directly tell the reader "it was horrible/terrible" rather than allowing the reader's flesh to creep of its own accord. These were the relatively early days of recognisably modern horror fiction, so much which now seems old fashioned was innovative at the time.

Hodgson's magnum opus is commonly held to be The House on the Borderland, which like two of these stories is ostensibly set in Ireland. The Irish setting is not quite incidental; early on the narrator recounts coming to an area where only Irish is spoken, not English, emphasising the strangeness of this part of what was then officially part of the United Kingdom. The House of the Borderland turns from a somewhat exciting tale of possibly supernatural beings besieging a remote house into an interminable intergalactic, interdimensional dream sequence. Its interest is now largely for historical reasons; the Irish setting, the cosmic preoccupations revealed by the reverie. These stories, however, are fresh and entertaining and don't outstay their fictional welcome. They teeter on the edge of hoariness without quite falling over. Readers will enjoy these tales, in their various homes.

Copyright © 2014 Seamus Sweeney

Seamus Sweeney is a freelance writer and medical graduate from Ireland. He has written stories and other pieces for the website and other publications. He is the winner of the 2010 Molly Keane Prize. He has also written academic articles as Seamus Mac Suibhne.

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