Thursday, October 21, 2010

The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson

The House, located in our dimension within a remote region of Ireland, is a simulacrum of its celestial archetype, a tear or portal in the universe by which the reclusive narrator of the tale encounters the terrifying gods of ancient lore, gigantic and inhuman. In the physical present, the house is besieged by swinish creatures from the depths of the earth, noxious beings which resemble a creature of unimaginable foulness which assails the narrator, driving him to madness at novel’s end.

Following several chapters in which the narrator seeks to preserve the house from the repugnant creatures, he is ultimately translated into a realm beyond time and space. As the physical universe accelerates, he witnesses the decline and death of the earth, the sun, and, ultimately, the universe before he returns, like Muhammad from his night journey, to his familiar study, with only one important bit of evidence revealing that his journey has not been a hallucination. The excursion through the dying cosmos is, it must be admitted, rather overlong, veering towards tediousness, but still with some remarkably evocative passages - not least being the recluse’s recognition that it is his own body that has crumbled to dust on the stone floor after the passage of eons. There is a certain unreality in the recluse’s tale that gives one pause to consider if his experiences are no more than madness, a worm in the brain. (His elderly sister, with whom he lives, seems quite unaware of the remarkable occurrences passing within the environs of the old house.)

It has been rightly noted that Hodgson’s tale is a transitional form between the gothic romance and Lovecraft’s tales of ancient evils and unspeakable interstellar horrors. Despite a curious and overindulged attention to the details of imagined astronomical phenomena – dark nebulae, green suns and the like – The House on the Borderland stands, even as it utilizes the standard narrative tricks of the nineteenth century while finding new ways to exploit old fears, as a classic work of modern horror.

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