William Hope Hodgson

The Eldritch Horrors of William Hope Hodgson

William Hope Hodgson was a British writer of horror and supernatural fiction. His career ended far too early when he was killed in action during World War 1, but his writing had a profound influence on other writers of weird fiction. His bleak vision of the future seemed to bear a premonition of the horrors of the coming world war.

Some of William Hope Hodgson's most noted works include:

William Hope Hodgson (author)
William Hope Hodgson

William Hope Hodgson Biography

Hodgson was born in Essex, England on November 18, 1877, the son of an Anglican minister. At the young age of only 13, Hodgson ran away from home in order to go to sea. He was caught and returned to his family, but Hodgson was relentless in his desire for adventure and so a year later his father consented and allowed his teenaged son to join the merchant navy as an apprentice cabin boy.Hodgson;s romantic notions of a life at sea soon faded in the light of the reality of life in the merchant navy. The ship was small and filthy. The food was infested by maggots. The men bullied and abused him.

Despite these hardships, Hodgson attained the rank of a petty officer, and attended mariner's school where he earned a Third Mate's Certificate. He kept a voluminous journal of his adventures and took photographs of his life on board ship, as well as the marvels that he saw - from extreme weather phenomena to exotic locales.

Hodgson eventually left the merchant navy, disgusted by the life and hardships of the sea, but his experiences on the oceans of the world would have a profound experience on his writings and many of his stories are set on ships or on islands, such as the Boats of the Glen Carrig and the The Ghost Pirates.

Hodgson also gained a reputation as an athletic trainer and he was noted for his great physical strength. A small short boy when he entered the service, Hodgson was routinely picked on and abused by officers and fellow sailors. In reaction, he had developed his body to a high degree of strength and stamina through a rigorous regimen of physical training while serving at sea, in order to defend himself against the bullies that harassed him and other young sailors.

William Hope Hodgson in His Uniform During World War 1
William Hope Hodgson in His Uniform During World War 1

Later Life and Career as a Writer

After he left the merchant navy, Hodgson devoted himself to writing. He had received little formal education, but he a had a natural talent and was able to draw on his experiences around the world to create vivid stories. Following the maxim that a writer should write about the things that he knows, most of Hodgson's early stories dealt with life at sea, and weird adventures of sea faring men. But he later found his stride as a writer of original weird fiction, creating memorable tales such as the House on the Borderland, the stories of Carnacki the Ghost Finder, and what I consider his masterpiece, The Nightland.

His years after leaving the navy were hard. Although his writings were well received by the public and sold fairly well, William Hope Hodgson struggled to earn a living as a writer. He supplemented his small earnings by working as a physical trainer. However, even this failed to earn him a good living.

In 1912, when he was 35 years old, Hodgson married fellow writer Betty Farnsworth. Prior to her marriage, Betty had worked for a newspaper, where she authored a Dear Abby style advice column. However, in Hodgson's days, it was socially unacceptable for a married woman to maintain an independent career and so Betty resigned from her job. Hodgson now had to support birth himself and his new wife; his financial worries increased.

To try to make ends meet, the newly married couple relocated to the South of France which was the cost of living was cheaper. Unfortunately, World War 1 broke out just a year later.

Hodgson immediately returned to England where he enlisted in the armed forces. Despite his experience at sea, Hodgson refused to serve in the navy and was instead assigned to an officer training program for the army. Upon his graduation, Hodgson was posted to the Western Front in France. He was wounded and offered a discharge, but he refused and instead insisted on returning to the front lines. He was killed on or about August 17, 1918 at the Battle of Ypres. Newspaper accounts said that he had died bravely, while trying to lead fellow soldiers to safety during an artillery barrage.

Books and Short Stories by William Hope Hodgson

Hodgson was only 40 years old when he died, but he left behind a considerable body of work which was characterized by a unique use of pseudo archaic language, and vivid imagery. His writings are suffused by a sense of dread and preternatural horror, which influenced many writers in the horror and science fiction genre, including H.P. Lovecraft.