The House on the Borderland
Cover of The House on the Borderland
|Author||William Hope Hodgson|
|Publisher||Chapman and Hall|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Pages||300 pp (1st edition)|
The House on the Borderland (1908) is a supernatural horror novel by British fantasist William Hope Hodgson. The novel is a hallucinatory account of a recluse's stay at a remote house, and his experiences of supernatural creatures and otherworldly dimensions.
American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft listed The House on the Borderland and other works by Hodgson among his greatest influences, and Terry Pratchett has called the novel "the Big Bang in my private universe as a science fiction and fantasy reader and, later, writer".
Tonnison and Berreggnog make a fishing holiday to the remote village of Kraighten in rural Ireland. On the third day of their stay, they stumble upon the ruins of a strangely shaped house on a large lake. They discover the mouldering journal of the Recluse, an unidentified man who recorded his last days in the house before its destruction.
The Recluse begins his journal with descriptions of how he acquired the house, along with his daily life with his sister and his faithful dog, Pepper. He started the diary to record the strange experiences and horrors occurring in and around the house. The Recluse relates a vision in which he travels to a remote and vast arena, "the Plain of Silence", surrounded by mountains with representations of mythological beast-gods, demons, and other "bestial horrors" on their slopes. In the center of the plain stands a house almost identical to his own, save that the house in the arena is much larger and appears to be made of a green jade-like substance. Along the way, he sees a huge, menacing humanoid with swine-like features.
Shortly after his vision of the "arena," he is attacked by humanoid pig-like creatures that he names "the swine-things", which appear to come from the depths of a great chasm under the house. The struggle with these creatures lasts for several nights of increasing ferocity, but the man kills several of the creatures and drives them off. As he searches for the origin of the swine-things, the man finds a pit beyond the gardens where a river descends into the earth. There he finds a tunnel leading to the great chasm. A rock slide dams the water in the pit. The man is trapped, but Pepper rescues him. The house transports the Recluse to an unknown place called "the Sea of Sleep" where he briefly reunites with his lost love.
Tonnison and Berreggnog must stop reading as the house collapses and destroys much of the journal. Except for an enigmatic fragment, the book becomes unreadable between the passage describing "the Sea of Sleep" and a later entry titled "The noise in the night". They realise that the water from the dammed pit has overflowed to create the lake. They suppose that the destroyed section of the journal may have explained other mysteries about the house.
As the Recluse's story continues, he notices that the passage of day and night has increased in speed, eventually blurring into a never-ending twilight. As he watches, his surroundings decay and collapse to dust. The dead world slowly grinds to a halt and the sun goes out after several million millennia. Once the world ends, the man floats through space, seeing angelic, human, and demonic forms passing before his eyes. Later, he finds himself back in his own study on Earth, with everything apparently returned to normality, with one exception: Pepper is dead.
The malicious swine-beast from his earlier journeys to the "arena" has followed him back to his own dimension. The creature infects the man's new dog with a luminous fungal disease. Although the man shoots the suffering animal, he also contracts the disease. The manuscript ends with the man, by then partly covered by the fungal growth, locked (from the outside only) in his study as the creature comes through a trap door in the basement from the chasm under the house. As he ponders suicide to end his suffering, the creature tries to open the study door and the diary abruptly ends.
Tonnison and Berreggnog search for information about the man and his circumstances. They learn that the house was long believed to be evil before the unsociable old man and his elderly sister acquired it. Monthly supplies were brought in by a man who would say nothing about the Recluse. After several years, the man returned early one day from his delivery trip and said that the house had mysteriously fallen into the chasm. The two travellers leave Kraighten and never return. The novel ends with a five-verse poem titled "Grief", found behind the fly-leaf of the diary.
Characters in The House on the Borderland
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- Messrs Tonnison and Berreggnog: Two British gentleman who escape to Ireland for an enjoyable week of fishing.
- The Recluse: The author of the manuscript, an unknown man who owns the House on the Borderland, his narrative is the basis of the novel. He is a middle-aged, studious man who sought out the house as a place he could live out his days in solitude. He has a rational view of the world that becomes shaken by his experiences. He is cared for by his elderly, spinster sister.
- Mary: The Recluse's old sister, she lives with him and acts as his housekeeper.
- Pepper: His dog, a large, sturdy, brave and loyal beast who does anything to help out his master, regardless of the danger.
- Unnamed woman/Lover: The former sweetheart of the Recluse, she had died years before he purchased the old house in Ireland (her exact marital status not given). The house's ability to transport him inter-dimensionally to her remote abode at "the sea of sleep" is what holds him from leaving his house in Ireland. She warns him of the danger of remaining in his house and that it (and no doubt its counterpart "en-rapport" in the "arena" many parsecs and dimensions removed) was "long given over to evil and was founded on grim arcane laws". Yet they both agree that were it not for the fantastic ability of his house to bring them together (in her dimension), they would never have been reunited.
- Large Swine-Thing: A humanoid bipedal creature with the repellent head and face of a huge swine; of malign appearance and intent, it glows with a shimmering phosphorescence. The creature briefly appears during the Recluse's first visit to the "other" house in the remote arena of the "plain of silence", and once more near the end of the narrative, having somehow crossed back to the dimension (Ireland) of the Recluse. It is also able to exert some telepathic or hypnotic influence over the Recluse.
- Swine-Things: Humanoid bipedal creatures with pallid-coloured pig-like heads and stature approximately the size of a grown man. They emerge from "the pit" and make repeated stealthy attempts to break in to the house of the Recluse. They communicate with each other in a guttural and thick oleaginous speech which betokens a cunning sentience. Described by the Recluse as "half-beast, half-something else, and entirely unholy" with eyes which betray a "horribly human intelligence" ... "superhumanly foul".
- The Old House (on the inter-dimensional borderland): The old house is of such central importance to the story that it assumes something of a character's persona. The narrative of the Recluse informs us that the house has had a bad reputation for 200 years prior to his ownership (which is a few generations before the time of the book) and hence he acquired it for a ridiculously low price. Little else is revealed about its history, and the villagers of Kraighten (40 miles distant of Ardrahan, located somewhere in the west of Ireland) all shunned it and believed it to be haunted and that it "was built by the Devil". It is located a considerable distance downstream of the unnamed river near the village and is surrounded by a great garden. The stone house appears to have been built over a vast circular chasm (learned about half way through the journal), has a huge multiroom cellar embellished with weird fantastic sculptures, and is outwardly covered in "little curved towers and pinnacles, with outlines suggestive of leaping flames .... while the body of the building is in the form of a circle". As the title of the book hints, it is a "house on the borderland", a portal to other dimensions and serves as author Hodgson's means of transporting its owner the Recluse (and readers of the story) over vast distances of space and time. The house is linked to a larger counterpart with which it is "en-rapport"; located on a distant world (either in another dimension or at the other "end" of this universe). When Tonnison and Berreggnog discover the house (in Ireland) it has fallen into "the chasm". All that is left is an overgrown wilderness of a once-great garden estate and a small fragment of what was (probably) the study, on a huge spur of rock which juts out over a vast circular chasm. The story then becomes a flashback or framed narrative via the journal of the Recluse discovered by them in the ruins.
The book was a milestone that signalled a radical departure from the typical Gothic fiction of the late 19th century. Hodgson created a newer more realistic/scientific cosmic horror that left a marked impression on those who would become the great writers of the weird tales of the middle of the 20th century, particularly Clark Ashton Smith, and H. P. Lovecraft.
This novel was first published in Britain by Chapman and Hall, Ltd. London in 1908. Its most popular version was by Arkham House Press, Sauk City, Wisconsin, in 1946 as part of The House on the Borderland and Other Novels, the same publishers that brought out many books by other authors of weird fiction, such as H. P. Lovecraft.
In 2000, DC Comics’ mature reader imprint Vertigo published a 96-page color graphic-novel adaptation The House on the Borderland, with story by Simon Revelstroke and art by Richard Corben. The book is available in soft and hardcover and contains an introduction by British comic writer Alan Moore. Revelstroke updated Hodgson's initial "manuscript discovery" frame to 1952 Ireland, and while he made an effort to retain most of the original plot and dialogue, excepting the very last page, the climax is purely Revelstroke's invention. In the credits, Revelstroke listed himself as a "Carnacki Fellow" currently "teaching at the Glen Carrig School of Nautical Horticulture", both direct (and fictional) references to Hodgson's other literary works. The adaptation was nominated for a International Horror Guild Award for Best Illustrated Narrative.
As part of their debut EP Los Wattsons : Toma 1, the Spanish pop band, Los Wattsons, offered "La casa más allá del confín de la tierra", the lyrics and music of which strive to recreate the spirit of the Hodgson tale.
- Lovecraft, H. P. Supernatural Horror in Literature, http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/superhor.htm
- Pratchett, Terry: "On The House on the Borderland" in Horror: Hundred Best Books, page 100, edited by S Jones & K Newman, Carroll & Graf paperback, 1998
- "The Night Land: H.P.Lovecraft on William Hope Hodgson"
- Los Wattsons "Los Wattsons". Myspace.
- Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 150.
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