Wednesday, September 25, 2013

SARGASSO: A Review

If you know of Sgt. Janus then you’re probably aware that he was directly inspired by William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki stories. That’s why I was thrilled to hear that author/editor Sam Gafford has assembled a tribute to the author, SARGASSO, the first volume in what’s being called “The Journal of William Hope Hodgson Studies.”

Gafford is to be complimented on what he's crafted here, a professional collection of essays and fiction focused upon furthering the cause of Hodgson illumination. Much of the volume’s entries bemoan the fact that the author is not better known, but I believe that SARGASSO will definitely move us toward that “sweet spot” of wider popularity.

It should be also noted that the book/periodical also highlights H.P. Lovecraft as well as Hodgson, sometimes to the latter’s loss, and that all entries are not equal in readability, but overall I can recommend SARGASSO to anyone who admires either author or simply loves Edwardian fantasy literary criticism.

Being who I am, I gravitated toward the two fiction pieces in the collection first. William Meikle’s Carnacki ode, “The Blue Egg,” deftly combines the Ghost Finder with another of Hodgson’s recurring characters, Captain Gault; the result is mysterious and exotic, everything a tale of the two titans should be. I wasn’t as terribly fond of Pierre Comtois’ “A Question of Meaning,” which seems to be a mash-up between Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and Hodgson’s Nightland epic; it begins well and involves some interesting characters, but the end came too quickly and left me unsatisfied.

John D, Haeffele’s essay is a good look at Lovecraft’s opinion on Hodgson’s work – he was an admirer – and Mark Valentine’s run-down of the Captain Gault stories was very welcome to me, not having yet read those tales. That essay alone made me want to rush out and correct that error. Leigh Blackmore’s discussion of terms used in two Carnacki stories was also fascinating, but I would have preferred a bit more his own opinions in lieu of the full outlines of the stories themselves. “William Hope Hodgson’s Sales Log” surprised me as to how interesting such a thing could be – here’s hoping Jane Frank can tell us more in the future. As it is, the article was almost a cliff-hanger.

Brett Davidson’s and Neal Ann Spurlock’s works will be of interest to those who want a deeper glimpse into weightier meaning behind Hodgson’s writing, but for me, they kind of made my head hurt in their depth. That’s just me, of course, being the more superficial non-fiction reader that I am. And while I’m sure Phillip Ellis’ treatise on Hodgson’s poetry is superb, poetry itself has always left me cold, no matter the poet. Again, I can’t criticize an essayist for choosing a subject that’s just not my cup of tea – it’s a brew to the liking of many others, assuredly. Emily Alder’s piece on Hodgson’s penchant for the sea was good, drawing similarities between his Nightland work and his sea fiction.

The book’s interior artwork is very nice and appropriately atmospheric – I would have liked to have seen some of them printed larger – and the beautiful swirl of colors that is SARGASSO’s cover is striking and effective. Gafford will be hard-pressed to top that one with subsequent issues.

And that’s the real question here: will there be more of SARGASSO? I certainly hope so. It’s a worthy project to bring greater attention to a worthy author. Lovecraft’s had his time; let W.H. Hodgson step into the limelight for a change.

Please consider ordering a copy of SARGASSO; I think you’ll find it worthwhile for many different reasons. Send an inquiry to sargassomagazine@yahoo.com for more information, and tell them Sgt. Janus sent you.

3 comments:

  1. Sorry I made your head hurt, but thank you very much for your compliment! --Brett

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    1. Hey, man, it means you did your work! Kudos!

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  2. For the benefit of interested parties: I've found the Carnacki stories online:

    http://archive.org/stream/carnackitheghost10832gut/10832.txt
    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10832

    (Given that Mr. Hodgson has been in the past tense long enough for his work to be in the public domain by now, I hope I'm within bounds by plugging a venue where his stories can be read for free.)

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