The House on the Borderland Critical Essays

William Hope Hodgson


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The nature of the plot of The House on the Borderland makes it nearly impossible to classify. Its mixture of monsters, science fiction, space and time travel, supernatural mystery, and allegorical fantasy make the novel unique.

The chapters of the story dealing with the attack of the swine-things from the pit beneath the house, coupled with the traditional haunted-house setting, place the novel between the ghost stories of M. R. James, in which the supernatural entities begin to assume physical form and do real damage, and the cosmic, tentacled monsters of H. P. Lovecraft. In fact, many of Lovecraft’s ideas and themes can be traced to suggestions in The House on the Borderland and other works by William Hope Hodgson.

The other, contrasting plot of cosmic journeys through time and space develops the more modest ideas of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) and foreshadows the billion-year visions of Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937). Hodgson’s descriptions of the future of the universe, extrapolated from the astronomical knowledge of the time, raise the novel above the more common “attack of the monsters” tale. The fact that the strange juxtapositions and allegorical suggestions in the novel are not spelled out or explained away adds depth and interest to the readers experience.

The House on the Borderland was written early in Hodgson’s fiction career, which began in 1904 and continued until he was killed during World War I. It is a departure from the bulk of his work, which dealt with supernatural and monstrous horrors of the sea. It does, however, suggest the imaginative power of what was to become his most famous novel, The Night Land (1912), the story of a journey through the fantastic landscape of Earth millions of years in the future.

The contradictory plots and themes of The House on the Borderland did not seem to bother critics of the day, and the book received good reviews upon publication, with writers praising Hodgson’s fertile imagination. Later critics have been more disturbed by the works faults, such as the seemingly unnecessary, sentimental love passages and the discordant counterpoint of the story lines. It is still considered by many to be a classic and an important milestone in the development of the genres of science fiction and horror.