Carnacki the Ghost-Finder Critical Essays

William Hope Hodgson


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Hodgson’s combination of classic detection with occult investigations was not without precedent. Hodgson’s Carnacki is a younger version of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Martin Hesselius (introduced in “Green Tea,” 1869), a doctor of “metaphysical medicine,” and Algernon Blackwood’s title character of the story collection John Silence, Physician Extraordinary (1908). Unlike them, Carnacki has no medical training, but he does have a strong scientific bent, illustrated by his invention of an ingenious “Electric Pentacle,” a variation of the cabalistic five-pointed star enclosed within a circle and intended to act as a barrier against malevolent occult forces. Carnacki refers to his use of formulae from ancient magic rituals as a “curious thing for a Twentieth Century man” that might provoke “cheap laughter” from some. Carnacki, however, will not allow himself to be “blinded” by ridicule: “I ask questions and keep my eyes open.”

This self-deprecating definition by Carnacki of his character touches on aspects of the stories that seem to border on parody. The floor that sports puckered lips in “The Whistling Room” and the haunting of the Grey Room by a “monstrous hand” in “The Gateway of the Monster” are shown to be powerful agents of destruction that are nevertheless more grotesque than horrific. The trap that releases a deadly weapon is a clever but deflating conclusion for “The Thing Invisible.” In other conclusions, a man emerges from a basement cistern...

(The entire section is 619 words.)