William Hope Hodgson is possibly best known for the disturbing-on-so-many-levels novel The House on the Borderland (1908). He was a prolific writer of early weird fantasy and horror, and admired by many of his contemporaries, including H.P. Lovecraft.
What I know him best for, in addition to The House on the Borderland, are his short stories about the occult detective Thomas Carnacki. The Carnacki stories are notable among occult detective series, in that the alleged haunting that Carnacki is investigating will sometimes have a non-supernatural cause. It’s a bit like Scooby Doo meets Dr. Hesselius.
And like Dr. Hesselius, Carnacki takes a scientific approach to occult investigation. I like the Carnacki series, but I must confess that I’m not a big fan of Hodgson’s pseudo-scientific jargon. Carnacki’s chief reference is the fictional Sigsand Manuscript, which he quotes from in faux-Early English. There are numerous obscure references to the Saaamaaa Ritual, and passing, unexplained mentions Saiitii-type manifestations, and Aeiirii-type ones… rereading a few of the stories recently, I came across a scene where Carnacki recognizes an utterance of the “Unknown Last Line of the Saaamaaa Ritual” (but, but — how can he recognize it if it’s unknown??). I had to laugh.
The story I’ve picked for tonight’s winter tale is “The Searcher of the End House”, which takes place early in Carnacki’s career and is low on the technical jargon, but rich in good old-fashioned investigation. The Carnacki stories are narrated after the fact by Carnacki to a group of his friends, as they sit in Carnacki’s library after dinner. The “ghost story in the library” device is a classic format for the traditional winter tale (though of course, it needn’t be a library).
And then that night again my mother’s door was slammed once more just after midnight. I caught up the lamp, and when I reached her door, I found it shut. I opened it quickly, and went in, to find my mother lying with her eyes open, and rather nervous; having been waked by the bang of the door. But what upset me more than anything, was the fact that there was a disgusting smell in the passage and in her room.
The 1913 edition of Hodgson’s collection Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder is available on Project Gutenberg. The 1947 edition included three additional stories.
The painting above is Moonlight, the Old House (1906), by Childe Hassam. Sourced from WikiPaintings.