The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

Posted on 31st December 2010 in Reviews

House-on-the-Borderland-coverI remember being touched with an immense sense of sadness after first reading The House on the Borderland. On finding that its author William Hope Hodgson was killed in 1918 in the First World War, I couldn’t help thinking what a loss to the genre of weird fiction his death represented.

Though he wrote numerous other works, none are as prominent today as The House on the Borderland. First published in 1909, this book’s focus is quite heavily upon otherworldly cosmic supernatural horrors.

I was sad to think that maybe Hodgson would’ve returned to some of the more specific themes and style of writing found in this novel, possibly creating  a mythos that, based on what’s written here, might’ve been as rich as that found in H. P. Lovecraft’s works.

The House on the Borderland initially charts the exploits of a pair of friends enjoying a holiday in Ireland.  Whilst casually charting the course of a river they come to a quite unique chasm, overlooking which appears to be the ruins of an old house.  Whilst poking through the remnant foundations of the house they discover a journal detailing the final days of its last owner.  As they read through the journal, they are startled by its fantastic revelations, shocked by the deeper nature of what its writer has noted, and become altogether shaken by its implications.  And that’s before they’ve read of the matter of the threatening creatures that lurk beneath the cellar trapdoor…

The book is fairly short, so in the fashion of these reviews I’ll try not to give too much away, as there is much here to be enjoyed.  A highlight of the novel however is the author’s ability to convey a tremendous sense of terror and isolation, for both the journal’s author, the protagonists of the book and for ourselves.  Even though we the reader are safely removed from the third-party historic nature of the events recited, and through the layers of two other character’s surveying the ‘manuscript’ as it becomes known, such is the great sense of arcane, universal and pure, bestial evil, it’s very hard to come away from this novel untouched.

As an Englishman I like to think of Hope Hodgson as our own version of Lovecraft.  Though he’s not as prolific, he really did a great thing with The House on the Borderland.  Some have accused the book of having stilted language – of that charge it does stand occasionally guilty. But it’s not cumbersome in any way, and does little to distract from the story being realised for what it is: quite scary and touched with moments of brilliance.

9/10

Buy this book: UK/US

2 Responses to “The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson”

  1. Gerry Connolly says:

    I have just finished reading HotB, and quite a read it has been. WHH’s handling of accelerated time is pretty masterful, wonderfully anticipating later video representations (e.g. Koyanisqattsi). Something that really puzzles me is the sudden change in the protagonist’s relationship with his sister – it seemed almost as if there was some physical change in him that so disturbed her. Any thoughts?
    The only other WHH novel I have read is the Boats of the Glen Carrig. In my childhood my father had tried to read it aloud to me. Alas I was too young and he had to abandon this when I became too scared hearing about the island with the trees. Strangely, I made the same mistake with my own kids after I finally read the book about ten years ago: apparently the power of WHH’s prose is easy to underestimate!

    Gerry Connolly

  2. Will says:

    Thanks for your post. As regards his sister Mary, if you look at the first few chapters it’s clear to see that it’s his behaviour likely triggering a reaction in her. As far as she’s concerned he might be ‘losing it’ somewhat. He stays in his study for long periods of time where he has these ‘enlightening’ visions of the Solar System and such.

    He goes off, comes back with an injured dog and no real explanation…another time he and his sister are together in the garden, then he goes off and when he comes back he’s running toward with her with a gun in hand screaming ‘run for your life’. No wonder she does!

    Note – she never sees the pig people here. He shoots one in the night – yet the body is gone. At earliest opportunity she does what a normal person would want to do – leave the house by opening the door – yet he would prevent her from doing so, even to the point of forcibly removing her to her room, and then locking her in… He’s undergoing not just a physical change I think, but a mental one too, from her perspective.

    Now – I am not saying he’s imagining the whole thing, but the evidence is definitely there if one wanted to argue that as the case. It’s certainly a differing viewpoint anyway. Lets be honest – there’s something of the opiate user in his behaviour – losing days in his private study whilst having these fantastic visions…

    I recall reading a review Terry Pratchett made of this book once. He said something along the lines of the sister being mentally unstable, or something along those lines. Yet, I wonder if it was actually her that was the one with the issues?

    Myself, I think they lived on a piggy-human hell-cave and he was seeing astral projections without need of any hallucinogens. But again, there is evidence to argue all sides of the case if you’d so care to. Which makes it that much more of a rich book.

    I shall check out ‘The Boats of the Glen Carrig’.



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