The House on the Borderland
by William Hope Hodgson

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Chapman Hall: London, 1908
314 pages

collected in —
The House on the Borderland and Other Mysterious Places:
    The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson
, volume 2

The House on the Borderland
    and Other Novels

April 2006


The House on the Borderland could be thought of as two novels, one fantasy / realistic and the other fantasy / science fiction, jammed together at an awkward angle; plus, William Hope Hodgson adds a realistic frame around the story, forming a third layer.

Frames are too often unnecessary, but this one serves useful purposes, anchoring us in today's time and in a solid-built country house in a remote corner of the West of Ireland. So the two fantastic narratives impinge firmly upon our real world.

Of the two major portions in The House on the Borderland, one narrative consists of a siege of the lonely country house by swine-like beings. Hodgson hits many of the terrifying chords when we feel we are surrounded, outnumbered, besieged. Yet his narrator is a brave, reasonable, and competent man: he is rightfully scared, but never a fool. The hoggish attackers are relentless and frightening, without spicing by the current "horror" style of goop-and-maggots. The house and garden where much of the action takes place feel quite realistic. It's not quite breathless nightmare, but there are passages —

And then we have the cosmic portion of the narrative. This involves ancient mythologies, and even more, a vast cosmology of time and space. The mythological references are imaginative fantasy, striking and a little chilling. On the other hand, the space-time vastnesses seem simple now to a more recent reader: a gosh-wow prelude to a flood of science fiction stories that handle all that much more thoroughly and satisfyingly. Pioneering, but dated. Nevertheless, the imaginative flow of all this carries us along.

Where these two narratives overlap here and there, show Hodgson to be an early master. There are some puzzles and paradoxes worthy of the best.

In tone, The House on the Borderland lays a clear line to H. P. Lovecraft. Fear may be strongest when some great unknown comes right into our everyday lives, and the most reasonable of men see things that seem to turn existence inside-out. So here Hodgson's competent narrator, and realistic setting in the frame, ground us before a mythic abyss.

A memorable story.


© 2006 Robert Wilfred Franson

Note. Do not confuse this with another novel by Hodgson, The Night Land (1912). The latter is over three times as long, and to my mind, obtusely written and interminably dull. The Night Land has interest to historians of fantastic literature, but I cannot recommend it as a novel.


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