Or, a book by William Hope Hodgson that doesn’t suck.
That’s right, it’s time to return to the history of fantasy and William Hope Hodgson. I’m sure you’re pleased. This is a kind of breakout crossover hit, or whatever they call those these days. What I mean by that is it’s sorta science fiction as well as fantasy. Or something. Look, the bookshelves in stores weren’t labeled separately like they are now back then so it didn’t matter. Boats of the “Glen Carrig.”
Before the book starts the good ship (or not so good ship?) Glen Carrig sank and two lifeboats made it off. There’s no indication of what happened to the boat or if there were more than two boats’ worth of people. Also, one boat drifts off in the night and is never heard from again. So the book follows the other boat. In that boat is our narrator, the bo’sun (never named), and Some Other Guys – who actually are named sometime, presenting an odd effect of making naming specificity the red shirt of this novel.
Eventually the boat lands on an island with a river. The crew paddles it upriver and they find a ship, ruined and beached. They hole up there for the night after looking for supplies, and several of them are woken up by a slithering, scraping sound, described at one point as the sound of a wet cloth being rubbed across all the walls and floors outside. This happens again the next night. They never see this creature, save a glimpse through a porthole at night, and basically it’s a giant slug that probably ate the old crew of the ship.
They go out for water and food and find a bunch of weird trees, basically imagine if you could sculpt a tree out of the material mushrooms are made from. Those are the trees on this island. One has a funky “excrescence” – a lump – that looks like a bird. Another has one that looks like a human face. After a bunch of fucking around and one of the named crew members getting lost, the bo’sun figures out what we probably all knew several paragraphs ago (in the book, not this post): that the trees absorb things that touch them. They hack at one of the trees and the bo’sun wishes he could burn the forest down. Then they leave.
That’s right. That wasn’t even the novel. This book says, “Hey, here’s a bunch of weird shit. Oh yeah, I know, that’s fucked up. Well guess what? Child’s play!”
Actually though, the mushroom trees are probably the coolest thing. They have that kind of Zoidberg Effect, where they’re not part of the main plot so they can just be cool and suggestive and not really need explanations or elaboration. They’re just there. This can also be called the Boba Fett Effect (Boba Effect? Bob-Effectt? Boba Feffectt?).
So what happens next is another island, after drifting for a while in the Sargasso Sea (this is important if you’re interested in Hodgson, as he wrote enough Sargasso Sea stories to fill a book – no, seriously, a whole book). This new island is bigger, but more desolate, and they poke around a while and finally find some fresh water. They set up camp. The narrator wakes up in the night, his neck stinging from weird marks that are round and big, not at all like bug bites. Tension mounts in a slow, nineteenth century way, and then everyone sees the creatures sneaking into camp: giant, rubbery slug/octopus men!
Yeah, seriously. They have masses of tentacles for arms and legs, and their “footprints” look like giant slug trails. They take one of the sick men and fucking eat him out near their egg-laying area. There follows a standard, guard the camp at night with a big fire going section, in which there are lots of gleaming, dish-like eyes in the darkness, and the fire runs low, and then… and then…
They spot a ship on the other side of the island. They just, you know, didn’t bother to go all the way around. There’s a ship. Just sitting there. With a bunch of shit nailed together to form walls and a roof over the deck. And that’s because the octopus/snail slug dudes have been attacking them too. For years! They’ve just been stranded there.
They, and I shit you not, try to build a giant catapult to send a strong hawser line across so they can get to the ship. This, uh, doesn’t work. The narrator has the bright idea to try a kite, and eventually they get one to work. First they send letters, and then they use the light line they had to haul the hawser across, making a weird bucket system thing that they use to send the narrator across – cause in this situation the one person who is not a sailor is the person you send over. Sure. He meets the lady who’s been stranded and they fall in love, because that’s what you do in a Hodgson story (see The Night Land). They proceed to laboriously tow the ship out to clear water by tying it to the rowboat and, well, rowing it out. This is less bullshit than it sounds. It just takes a long time. And Hodgson, former sailor, lets it take that much time in the novel. Basically it’s getting-to-know-you time for the narrator and his lady friend.
There are a few more attacks by the squid dudes, but at this point everyone has them figured out and not much happens. They escape the Sargasso, and in an odd note the narrator tells us they made it all the way back to England, refusing offered help along the way. I don’t know about you, but if someone came along with fresh(er) food and a ship with some fucking sails I think I’d hop on board and live the life of luxury until we reached port. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe there’s a reason I don’t get assaulted by squid people.
That’s the book There’s actually a very cool kind of afterword, where the narrator finally tells us his name and that his son has been transcribing the story. The cool part is he says he built a little house on his land for the bo’sun and they sit around sometimes, after everyone else goes to bed, and talk about the dark places of the earth. It has to do with the thematic issues that interest me, like the implied lack of evil on the part of the squid dudes – who show rudimentary intelligence but not enough to grasp concepts like “good” and “murder, not food” and the idea that the narrator, despite his education and experiences, doesn’t get that. But, you know, whatever, save that shit for my diss., yo.