Wednesday, December 9, 2009

298. The House of the Borderland – William Hope Hodgson

History: This book was published in 1908. The book is a milestone that signals the leaving of the realistic nature of supernatural fiction of the late 19th century. Hodgson follows out of the ghost story and the gothic to create a newer cosmic horror
Plot: Two good friends go off to a remote village in rural Ireland. The two men - Mr. Tonnison and Mr. Berreggnog - soon discover that the people in the village are untalkative and secretive, but willing to help them on their way. They soon discover why this is. On the third day of their trip they travel in the opposite direction to the one that they had been travelling insofar, and stumble upon a large chasm with what appears to be the ruins of a very strangely shaped house in the middle of it. As they explore the house, they discover within a mouldering journal that describes the last days of the man who owned this house before it was destroyed. They go back to the camp and begin to read the strange tale of the man.
The manuscript begins with a discussion of how the man came to own the house and how he lives his daily life with his sister and his faithful dog Pepper. He confides that he is starting the diary as it will contain a record of all the horrors that he had experienced in the house. He begins describing a vision he sees of the vast plain of the demons, and of the demons he sees there and the discovery that a house exactly like his exists in the exact center of this dreaded plain. Along the way, he sees the horrible swine things that would come to haunt him in the future.
After this vision of the "arena" as he calls it, he becomes fascinated with the pit adjacent to his house, and begins to explore it. While exploring, he is attacked by the half-man, half-pig creatures that he names "the swine-things". The struggle with these creatures lasts for several nights of greater and greater ferocity, yet in the end, the man had killed several of the swine things, and apparently had driven them off.
A short time after his encounters with the swine-things, the man is sitting in his study, contemplating what was wrong, when he notices that day and night had begun to speed up, each day lasting shorter and shorter periods of time until the point where there was no definition between day and night any longer, just a never-ending dusk. As he watches, the world slowly grinds to a halt as the sun goes out after several million millennia. Once the world ends, the man winds up floating through space, watching the colossal onslaught of the Dark Sun slowly swallow up the solar system. In the midst of this the luminous souls of angelic or human creatures begin to drift past him, including the one woman the man ever loved. He eventually wakes up, and discovers that it was all a dream, until he finds Pepper had died and decomposed into dust in the time he had been on his spectral journey. Other than this, life is normal.
As he reels from the death of his beloved dog, the man is beset by another evil, a presumably large and malicious beast that is never seen, only heard as a padding in the yard. This creature wounds the new dog and infects it with some sort of luminous disease. The man shoots the increasingly suffering dog but not before becoming infected himself. The manuscript finishes with the man locked in his study as the creature is breaking down the door of his study.
The conclusion sees Tonnison and Berreggnog looking for information on the man and his circumstances, but finding out very little. They leave Kraighten and never return.
Review: The House on the Borderland is about mood, about achieving an effect of dread in the contemplation of the unexplained and the vastly unknowable. It drips with poetic passages and vivid, imagistic prose and, even if Hodgson is sometimes a bit over-zealous in administering the comma, he writes with clarity and a strong descriptive sense that balances ornateness of prose with a purposeful narrative drive. It just didn’t make sense. All fantasy novels that work, do so because it adds up, and this did not. In addition, the readers are left with a mystery as well. Hanging.
Opening Line: “And the noise of the water rises upward, and blends--in my sleep--with other and lower noises; while, over all, hangs the eternal shroud of spray.”
Closing Line: “Right away in the west of Ireland lies a tiny hamlet called Kraighten.”
Quotes: "Suddenly, although there is no noise, I am awake--wide awake. I am acutely conscious of the nearness of some mystery, of some overwhelming
Presence. The very air seems pregnant with terror. I sit huddled, and just listen, intently. Still, there is no sound. Nature, herself, seems dead. Then, the ppressive stillness is broken by a little eldritch scream of wind, that sweeps 'round the house, and dies away, remotely."
Rating: Awful.

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