William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland

I don’t have a man cave. Yeah, we finished part of our basement a couple years ago, and I love it and spend a ton of time down here (especially with my kids), but it isn’t even remotely a man cave.

Or is it? Actually, I’m not even sure what makes a man cave a man cave. Does one need vines growing on the walls or colorful explosions of sports memorabilia? If those are the requirements, I’m cooked because the

My Wife's Idea of a Man Cave

finished part of our basement is painted a tasteful beige and boasts color-coordinated sea foam blue and chocolate brown throw pillows.

As you might have guessed, my wife was the decorator.

So why am I boring you with details about the room in which I’m sitting?

Because it’s cozy.

The vents blow straight down on me—I’m a guy who likes a warm room—and the lowish ceilings create the illusion I’m in some sort of posh military bunker. When I’m sitting here in my incongruous, stained Lazy-Boy recliner (my wife’s one reluctant concession to my complete lack of taste), I feel sheltered, hidden, and able to write or read or think with utter abandon.

In fact, I think I’ll dub this The Beige Womb.

My Idea of a Man Cave

And the feeling I get sitting down here is very similar to the feeling I got when reading William Hope Hodgson‘s The House on the Borderland, a novel that will cause many hardcore aficionados of the horror or dark fantasy genres to threaten you with bodily harm if you refuse to read it. I think there’s even a William Hope Hodgson society somewhere, and if there is, I want you all to know that I have read the book. Slowly, thoroughly, and completely. I did read the book and there’s no reason at all to get angry, and there’s especially no reason to don your pig-like beast costumes for a mid-day raid of my basement.

Cozy, Creepy, Cool

The House on the Borderland (1908) is one of my favorite pre-1950s thrillers (and yes, I use the word thriller intentionally—I’ll get to that later). Along with an outstanding book called The Dark Chamber, this novel is one of the best things I’ve discovered from that era in the last several years of my reading life. I suspect that members of Hodgson’s society, as well as many science fiction and fantasy fans will cite the “cosmic” moments in the latter stages of the book as their favorites. And while I appreciated and respected those, here are the things that really made the novel special for me…

1. The Writing: “Well, duh,” some of you might say, and if you did, I don’t blame you (I mean, I won’t like you anymore, but I won’t blame you). Hodgson’s use of language is as lyrical as it is precise. This, as much as the author’s incredible imagination, makes the book a joy to read.

2. The Atmosphere: The endless preamble above already touched upon this, but I’ll say it here again. The House on the Borderland is a story of uncanny intimacy. It places you in the main character’s shoes and allows you to live in his world. It’s the perfect book for a desolate winter’s day or a starry summer night. Whenever you read it, it’ll transport you.

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3. The Villains: If I write about the creatures here, I fear I’ll demystify them and therefore make you less likely to read Hodgson’s book. What I will say is that they shouldn’t work and that they wouldn’t work for an author with less skill. But with WHH, baby, they really frighten.

4. Pepper: It’s an old screenwriting trick to give a guy a dog if you want the audience to identify with him. I find this trick cheap and tawdry and I’m above such—oh, who the heck am I kidding? There’s a dog in the book I’m almost done editing, a novel called Loving Demons. I don’t think I put my dog—Petey, a name that will carry a lot of meaning for you horror fans—in the novel to endear my characters to the audience, but I guess it doesn’t hurt.

In the case of The Recluse (the protagonist of Hodgson’s novel), it helps. A lot.

We worry as much about poor Pepper as we do the protagonist, and that makes what takes place in the novel all the more nerve-wracking. Which brings me to the final thing I enjoyed about this book:

5. The Thrills: The biggest and most wonderful surprise I experienced while reading The House on the Borderland was how scary it really was. Sure, it was imaginative—I’d heard about it for years, after all, and I expected it to gaze into the nether regions of eldritch worlds populated by ancient gods and cosmic horror and blah, blah, blah, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how dang frightened I was while reading it. The tale really is gripping, especially when The Recluse is battling the evil or venturing into The Pit.

So read this book already. It’s short, creepy, and a classic.

William Hope Hodgson: Perpetrator of Awesomeness

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