The House On The Borderland (William Hope Hodgson)

Writing as he did at the beginning of the 20th century, Hodgson’s creativity in the realm of supernatural horror is impressive given what few authors preceded him in the genre. He actually broke new ground in horror fiction. Moving beyond the ghost stories which had, for the most part, made up the genre before him, he created landscapes and creatures that are gigantic in their physical and temporal dimensions. His universe is far older and larger than human and earth-centered histories allow, and subject to forces and intelligence completely removed from human concerns or anthropomorphized deity. H P Lovecraft was an admirer and its probable that his infamous Cthulu mythos creations were based on Hodgson’s ideas.

The setting: a found manuscript written by “an old man” (we never learn his name, although he is one of the spunkiest, toughest, bravest old men imaginable) living in a very mysterious house in a desolate area of western Ireland. A recluse, living only with his elderly sister and his dog, Pepper (an animal who proves to be one of the gutsiest, loyal pets you’ve ever encountered), he writes of the increasingly outre experiences he has recently undergone in this strange abode. We learn of his bizarre vision of a larger but identical house on some distant planet, watched over by the hideous gods and goddesses of Earth’s past. In the manuscript’s most exciting section, he tells of his battle with the “Swine Things” that besiege his home, and of his subsequent exploration of the great Pit from which they had emerged.

In a segment that takes up almost half of his history, the recluse tells of his incredible voyage through time, space and dimensions. This mind-expanding section boasts a sequence in which time super accelerates, and Hodgson’s descriptions here will surely bring to mind (and manage to outdo) the forward-traveling segment of the 1960 film “The Time Machine,” with its rapid-fire sun/moon transitions. Hodgson’s description of the last days of our planet and solar system, with a dead sun hanging ponderously in the sky over a frozen Earth, are almost as effective as H.G. Wells’ “Time Machine” novel. The recluse’s cosmic journey after Earth’s demise, and his visit to the Green Star and the “celestial orbs” (a conception of heaven and hell?), are as mind-blowing as the “star gate” sequence in 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and perhaps more meaningful. Any book that manages to rival Wells’ and top George Pal and Stanley Kubrick in the cosmic spectacle department has to pack some punch, right?

A major drawback is that Hodgson does not bother to explain any of his wonders or mysteries. The origin of the Swine Things, the meaning of the counterpart House on another planet, the cause of the hermit’s cosmic journey, the reason for the destruction of the House and many other conundrums remain mysteries: these are not just open to interpretation, but practically demanding some sort of explication on the part of the reader. I’m not usually a fan of such open-ended stories but here, it works somehow, only adding an aura of cosmic inscrutability to an already awe-inspiring affair. Hodgson writes simply in this novel, but still seemingly can’t resist the urge to play with the language a bit. But this affectation works, only increasing the strangeness quotient of the book. Not for nothing was “The House on the Borderland” chosen for inclusion in Newman & Jones’ excellent overview volume “Horror: 100 Best Books.” Read it today for the awe and the shudders, you won’t be able to forget it!

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