A House-Boat on the Styx

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
A House-Boat on the Styx
Scan of "A House-Boat on the Styx" (English, cover).jpg
Front cover of the first edition
Author John Kendrick Bangs
Illustrator Peter Newell[1]
Country United States
Series Associated Shades
Genre Fantasy short stories
Publisher Harper & Brothers
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 171 pp
OCLC 859421539
LC Class PS1064.B3 H6 1896[2]
Followed by The Pursuit of the House-Boat

A House-Boat on the Styx is a fantasy novel written by John Kendrick Bangs in 1895.

The original full title was A House-Boat on the Styx: Being Some Account of the Divers Doings of the Associated Shades. The novel was first published by Harper Brothers in 1896 with illustrations by Peter Newell (24 plates).[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The premise of the book is that everyone who has ever died (up to the time in which the book is set, which seems to be about the time of its publication) has gone to Styx, the river that circles the underworld.

The book begins with Charon, ferryman of the Styx being startled—and annoyed—by the arrival of a houseboat on the Styx. At first afraid that the boat will put him out of business, he later finds out that he is actually to be appointed the boat's janitor.

What follows are eleven more stories (for a total of twelve) which are set on the house boat. There is no central theme, and the purpose of the book appears to be as a literary thought experiment to see what would happen if various famous dead people were put in the same room with each other. Each chapter is a short story featuring various souls from history and mythology. In the twelfth chapter the house boat disappears, leading into the sequel, The Pursuit of the House-Boat.


A House-Boat on the Styx appears to have no original fictional characters in it. All are borrowed—with varying degrees of licence—from either history or mythology.

Bangs' idea of setting people in the afterlife (called Bangsian fantasy after his name) is quite similar to a book called God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut.

Throughout the book, there is a running joke that Shakespeare didn't actually write any of his own plays, that they were actually ghostwritten by Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, and other contemporaries. Will always tries to change the subject quickly when authorship comes into conversation.

Heroes in Hell, the first book in a series of fantasy short story collections by various authors, has a similar, albeit more modern, theme.

Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series is similar in that the main characters are, for the most part, historical figures who are resurrected on a planet with one great river winding around it, and Farmer credited the book as one of his inspirations for the series.[3]

The book was on the Publishers Weekly list of 10 best-selling novels in the US, 1896.


  1. ^ a b Catalog record (New York: Harper, 1896). HathiTrust Digital Library. Retrieved 2016-08-04.
      Contents and Illustrations, pp. v-viii, list 12 chapters and 24 plates. The illustrations are not credited but they are clearly signed by Peter Newell, the credited illustrator of the sequels.
  2. ^ "A house-boat on the Styx; being some account of the divers doings of the ...". LC Online Catalog. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2016-08-04.
      Links include electronic copy at HathiTrust Digital Library.
  3. ^ The Magic Labyrinth of Philip José Farmer, p. 70-71 (1984)
  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 39.

External links[edit]