I 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.