Will the real protagonist please stand up?
New guest blogger NUTS4R2 looks at the archetypal heroes of classic fiction. ...
"I read, and, in reading, lifted the Curtains
of the Impossible that blind the mind,
and looked out into the unknown."
William Hope Hodgson was born on 15th November 1877 in Essex, England. Hodgson's father, an Anglican priest, was frequently moved, and served 11 different parishes in 21 years, including one in County Galway, Ireland. This setting was later featured in Hodgson's novel The House on the Borderland. Hodgson ran away from his boarding school at the age of thirteen in an effort to become a sailor. He was caught and returned to his family, but eventually received his father's permission to be apprenticed as a cabin boy and began a four-year apprenticeship in 1891. Hodgson's father died shortly thereafter, of throat cancer, leaving the family impoverished, and while William was away, the family subsisted largely on charity.
After his apprenticeship ended in 1895, Hodgson began two years of study in Liverpool, and was then able to pass the tests and receive his mate's certificate, after which, he then began several more years as a sailor. At sea, Hodgson experienced bullying. This led him to begin a programme of personal training. In 1899, at the age of 22, he opened W. H. Hodgson's School of Physical Culture, in Blackburn, England, offering tailored exercise regimes for personal training. He began writing articles such as Physical Culture versus Recreative Exercises (published in 1903). One of these articles, Health from Scientific Exercise, featured photographs of Hodgson himself demonstrating his exercises.
The market for such articles seemed to be limited, however, so inspired by authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle, Hodgson turned his attention to fiction, publishing his first short story, The Goddess of Death, in 1904, followed shortly by A Tropical Horror. He also contributed to an article in The Grand Magazine, taking the 'No side' in a debate on the topic "Is the Mercantile Navy worth joining?". He published his second novel, The House on the Borderland in 1909, again to positive reviews. Another of his published novels, Out of the Storm, is a short horror story about the death-side of the sea, in which the protagonist, drowning in a storm, rants about the horrors of a storm at sea. Hodgson is also known for his short stories featuring recurring characters like the detective of the occult Carnacki - The Casebook of Carnacki, The Ghost Finder, and the Captain Gault stories.
Despite the critical success of his novels, Hodgson remained relatively poor. His last novel to see publication, The Night Land, was published in 1912, although it likely had its genesis a number of years earlier. After the outbreak of world war 1 in 1914, Hodgson joined the University of London's Officer's Training Corps, - refusing to have anything to do with the sea despite his experience and Third Mate's certificate. He received a commission as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, but in 1916 he was thrown from a horse and suffered a broken jaw and a serious head injury. He received a mandatory discharge, and returned to writing. Refusing to remain on the sidelines however, Hodgson recovered sufficiently to re-enlist. His published articles and stories from the time reflect his experience in war. He was killed by an artillery shell at Ypres in April 1918; sources suggest either the 17th or 19th. He was eulogised in The Times on 2 May 1918.