The House on the Borderland

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson.

William Hope Hodgson The House on the Borderland

The House on the Borderland offers an odd mixture of visionary fiction, scientific speculation, and gothic horror. The bulk of the book purports to reproduce a bound manuscript found in the ruins of a strange house in the wilderness of Ireland, while it is framed by the relevant experiences of the two sport fisherman who stumble upon it. They don’t directly partake of any supernatural incidents, but they find the outre manuscript believable for some reason.

The author of the manuscript, who is perforce the narrator for most of the book, is an unnamed “recluse” living with his sister in the isolated house. He undergoes unexplained transports in space and time, including an extensive episode of several chapters during which he witnesses the decline and destruction of the universe from a station in the house.

In addition, the house seems to be under intermittent siege from malign influences, perhaps originating from a fathomless pit below it. These take the principal forms of bestial humanoids and a luminescent infection of some kind. The former have the heads of “swine,” and I was given to wonder if this story had been influential on the early Dungeons and Dragons creators, inducing them to give their “orcs” pig heads.

The tale isn’t too long, but it doesn’t move very quickly. There is little dialogue, and the recluse gives too little information about himself for readers to become invested in the character. A plot regarding his lost (deceased, evidently) beloved is more a matter of rare allusion. An obliterated section of the manuscript evidently dealt with his visionary encounter with her at the “Sea of Sleep.” The recluse’s dog Pepper takes up more of his attention than his sister Mary, who is in fact praised particularly for tending to Pepper.

Still, the ending of the manuscript involves a reasonable amount of narrative tension, and the further efforts of the fishermen to substantiate the story only deepen the enigma. Although the book as a whole hangs together somewhat awkwardly, it is easy to see how it influenced H.P. Lovecraft and other 20th-century horror writers, transitioning from gothic visitations to a sort of tale that would highlight cosmic alienation, disease, and unexplained irruptions of nonhuman actors. [via]