By William Hope Hodgson
A neglected proto-Lovecraftian classic.
Ballantine Book. Adult Fantasy Series.
February 1971. $0.95
Cover art by Robert LoGrippo
Vacations over and I loaded my parents on the plane this morning for their flight back to Ohio. So that means it’s time to get back to the blog. Oh yeah!
Since I’ve had so much "William Hope Hodgson" on the brain lately I figured that I'd do another one of his books. This time, though, it’s a novel and not a collection of short stories.
I’ll be honest and say that my re-read of “The Boats of the Glen Carrig" was a little over two years ago. So I won’t be going into a highly detailed plot synopsis. I first read it back in the very early 1970s. As a 10 year old I had no idea who “Hieronymus Bosch” was, but the Bosch inspired cover art by “Robert LoGrippo” drove me on the spot into begging my parents to buy me the book. It didn’t hurt that I recognized Mr. Hodgson as being the author of, my favourite horror story at the time, “The Voice in the Night”. I knew that story from the copy of “More Tales to Tremble By” owned by the "Johnny Clem Elementary School" Library. I had borrowed it so many times that I considered it my own personal property. It’s a wonder that I never stole it.
Before I get I get into the story, I want to first talk about Mr. Hodgson’s writing style in general. I like it! I have read several reviews lately where people have complained that his language is archaic, that Mr. Hodgson sacrificed description in favour of mood and atmosphere and lastly that he loved run on sentences. Now I’ll agree that his “The Night Land” is an unreadable mess, but I knocked off “Boats” in one afternoon two years ago and had no trouble with it as a ten year old either. I don’t know if this means that your average modern/young reader will enjoy it today or not. As a child my only talent (and to be fair, my only talent in my entire life.) was that I learned to read at an early age and learned too read well. 40+ years ago the great majority of the genre writing that was considered appropriate for young readers was mostly stuff written between the 1890s and pre-WWII. There was no YA horror market/Industry ala R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series and the like. This means that back then we were cutting out reading teeth on the likes of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, Howard Philips Lovecraft and of course William Hope Hodgson.
That’s not a bad reading list for ten year olds! So I’m completely at home with Mr. Hodgson’s writing style. Come to think about it I’ve also seen such complaints being raised against “Abraham Merritt" lately. I think that this is a terrible shame that many people shy away from “old” novels and stories fearing that they will have trouble with the writing "style". These are all wonderful fantasists who aside from a few writers such as “Darrell Schweitzer” have no peers in the modern world are far as pure imaginative genius is concerned.
Let’s move on to the novel since I guess that that’s more than enough autobiographical BS and “opinionation” than any one is interested in hearing.
“Boats” was written back in 1907 and wasn’t reprinted until 1971 when the late great Mr. Lin Carter published it as the 25th volume in his legendary “Adult Fantasy Series” from “Ballantine Books”. It was also published in magazine form back in 1945 in the June issue of “Famous Fantastic Mysteries”. There were only 6 editions between 1907 and 1971, with the sixth edition being the Ballantine paperback edition. This Ballantine edition was the first true paperback edition which finally reached a mass audience who appreciated the book. I’m of the opinion that thanks to the efforts of Lin Carter “Boats” is still in print to this day.
I hadn’t read any “H. P. Lovecraft” yet when I first read “The Boats of the Glen Carrig”, but looking back one sees just how much of an influence Mr. Hodgson’s stories had on HPL. If you like your horrors to be nameless, oozing, tentacled and slimy then you just love this novel! Trust me; I wouldn’t lie to you about this!
The novel jumps write into the middle of the action. We find the characters already manning the two remaining life “boats” from the abandoned “Glen Carrig”. There is absolutely no exposition explaining why they abandoned ship or even what has happened to the Captain and the rest of the crew. The narrator is a young English nobleman who had booked passage on the ship. After spending some time at sea the come upon a fairly large forested island that is extensively criss-crossed by streams and small rivers. The row up on of these streams and end up discovering an abandoned ship. The derilict ship seems, upon investigation, to have been abandoned in great haste. They find personal belongings, equipment and supplies that have been left lying by the original crew. They even find a very disturbing journal left by a female passenger. They decide to spend the night on the derelict and wisely barricade themselves in one cabin after becoming frightened by what they read in the journal and by the oppressive and frightening atmosphere hanging over the island it self. I said that this is a wise decision to barricade them selves in a cabin since the end up spending the entire night being besieged by some large, shapeless and tentacled horror that seems to be intent on making away with as many of the crewmen as possible. After spending an exhausting and nightmarish night fighting off the monster they go in search for a spring of fresh water that was mentioned in the journal they found. This doesn’t go as well as they had hoped. They do discover the spring from which they can replenish their supply of fresh water. Unfortunately they also come across some trees into which to have humans fused into them. These fused entities also emit horrible screams that have a paralyzing affect on the seamen and narrator. They decide that removing themselves from the island and taking their chances on the open sea would be the best course of action.
They end up being set upon by a Typhoon once both boats are back at sea. I find this to be a fascinating section since Mr. Hodgson himself spent many years at sea when he was a very young man. So when he describes how they skilfully ride out the storm for days at end is an education in itself. He speaks with knowledge and experience as he describes the technologies and skill that is needed to do this.
Once the storm subsides our narrator discovers that the 2nd boat has gone missing during the storm. Don’t let this worry you though, we discover in the afterward that they safely made their way back to England.
Our dauntless crew final come across another island which upon first view seems to be a much more promising safe haven than the previous island. But being a good horror novel we soon learn that they’ve gone from the frying pan into the fire.
This new island turns out to be even more dangerous and nightmarish than the first island. Even though there is plenty of food, water and even wood with which they can repair the boat so they can continue their homeward journey, it is also occupied by beings of the best Lovecraftian tradition even though “Boats” predates HPL by 20 years.
It’s the occupants of this island that cause the crew the greatest trouble. So instead of “man vs. nature” we get “man vs. the unnatural”. Mr. Hodgson really earns our money in the, the second half of the book. We have the following problems.
Seriously, this novel is firing on all cylinders during this last half. It’s a race against time, technological limitations and monsters. Lots and lots of monsters!
Trust me; this section has to be read to be believed! I don’t want to spoil your fun, so go out and find it! It’s available on-line since its public domain. You can also order it new from Amazon or used from Abebooks and Ebay.
This book is a must read if you love the fantastic, horror and adventure. It also give us quite a bit of insight into how HPL developed his “vision”
Mainly though, this is a wonderfully fun and entertaining novel that will reward your efforts in obtaining a copy. To put it simply, I love this book!!
If you want to know a little bit more about William Hope Hodgson and his stories then please follow this link to my earlier post on his “Best of” collection. HERE!
Take care and thanks for stopping by!