For a couple of centuries, this house has had a reputation, a bad one, and until I bought it, for more than eighty years, no one had lived here.
I am not superstitious, but I have ceased to deny that things happen in this old house — things that I cannot explain; therefore, I must ease my mind by writing down an account of them, to the best of my ability; though, should this, my diary, ever be read when I am gone, the readers will but shake their heads and be the more convinced that I was mad.
This house, how ancient it is! though its age strikes one less, perhaps, than the quaintness of its structure, which is curious and fantastic to the last degree. Little curved towers and pinnacles, with outlines suggestive of leaping flames, predominate.
I have heard that there is an old story, told amongst the country people, to the effect that the devil built the place . . .
William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) was an English author best known for The Night Land (1912) and, this, his second novel, The House on the Borderland. Noted by H. P. Lovecraft as “a classic of the first water,” it is considered a literary milestone that signaled a radical departure from the typical Gothic fiction of the late 19th century, ushering in a newer more realistic and scientific cosmic horror that left a marked impression on those who would become the great writers of weird tales of the mid-twentieth century.
The story within the story is a hallucinatory account of an old recluse and his very strange house in which he experiences attacks by supernatural swine-beasts, travels to otherworldly dimensions, and bears witness to the destruction of the solar system — “it is galactic adventure, prophetic fantasy, macabre romance, and drugless trip, and brilliantly unites its many disturbing elements, easily equalling, if not surpassing, all predecessors and contemporaries.”
"This extraordinary novel defies categorization."
And what a book it is! I absolutely adore it.
So much so, that I’ve read it three times cover to cover, and spent many an hour editing its text. So many, in fact, that I stopped keeping track. Oh, God, the editing . . . days turned into weeks turned into months turned into “Has it been a year, really?”
I remember once, in Seventh Grade English, our teacher told us to place commas where you would naturally take a breath while speaking. At the time, that seemed to make perfect sense. Then, a year later, in Eighth Grade English, our teacher absolutely lost her mind when we explained what we had been taught. “No wonder your comma use is atrocious!” she screamed with exasperation, quickly followed with a terrifying growl and a wild, hair-pulling gesticulation to really drive home her incensed frustration.
Flash forward twenty-five years and I finally understood that frustration when reading Borderland for the very first time. Page after page, I wondered: was Hodgson taught that same thing and did he write this book while running a marathon? Comma comma comma, cheese and rice! A reviewer on Goodreads sums it up well: “this novel, features the, most ridiculous use, of the comma, in the English, language.” However, that same reviewer immediately follows that truth with another regarding the text as a whole: “it is impressively effective and fascinating as a horror tale.”
Effective and fascinating, indeed, which is why I’ve labored over the text for well over a year. Because I want you, dear reader, to adore this book as much as I do — and do so without tripping over a stray comma (or six) every other sentence.
A Co-Heathen suggested I keep count of the commas I removed as that might be some interesting trivia to add here, and I thought so, too, until (much like the days spent editing) I lost track. The last tally was over two hundred. At that point, weeks into editing, I decided to just focus solely on the editing because so, many, commas . . .
Additionally, I took issue with the chapter numbering of the original text. Since this is a story within a story (within another story, really, when you take into account Hodgson’s introduction and his various footnotes as Editor), it seemed more logical and natural to make Tonnison and Berreggnog’s portions of the story the Prologue and Epilogue since they bookend the main story. As a result, I’ve renumbered the chapters accordingly.
Speaking of tripping, you may have noticed that Alexis Lykiard referred to this book as a “drugless trip.” Certainly, if you have any experience with psychedelics, before or by the time you reach the end of the very first chapter the thought will likely occur to you: “Old dude be straight trippin’!” If not then, then most certainly by the time you reach Chapters 15 or 16. Once our old man is floating through the cosmos, I was reminded of the Czech psychiatrist Stanislav Grof recounting his first experience with LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide): “This thunderbolt catapulted me out of my body. First, I lost my awareness of my immediate surroundings, then the psychiatric clinic, then Prague [Czechoslovakia], and finally the planet. At an inconceivable speed, my consciousness expanded to cosmic dimensions. I experienced the Big Bang, passed through black holes and white holes in the universe, identified with exploding supernovas, and witnessed many other strange phenomena that seemed to be pulsars, quasars, and other cosmic events.”
For me, this story reads as if Hodgson had some kind of psychedelic experience from which he drew to craft this spellbinding tale. Debatable, I’ll admit, but what a compelling topic to debate!
That notion absolutely influenced the direction in which I took the cover art: it’s trippy because this story is trippy and was most likely informed by a trippy experience.
But maybe you’ll disagree. If so, I hope you’ll debate me.
Regardless, if this is your first time reading Borderland, then I hope you enjoy the book as much as I have and do. And if you’ve read this book before and you’re now reading our version for the first time, then I hope our alterations make it even more enjoyable than you remember.
“Hodgson hands us the whole of Time and Space in a couple chapters. The Big Bang in my private universe as a science fiction/fantasy reader and, later, writer . . . this is where the screaming really starts, out in the void, with no-one left to hear.” –Terry Pratchett
“Perhaps the greatest of all Mr. Hodgson’s works . . . the wanderings of the narrator’s spirit through limitless light-years of cosmic space and Kalpas of eternity, and its witnessing of the solar system’s final destruction constitute something almost unique in standard literature. A classic of the first water.” –H.P. Lovecraft
“Will produce genuine gooseflesh!” –The New York Times
“The tale is quite indescribable; its power is proved by the fascination with which it holds the fancy spellbound.” –Daily Telegraph
“An imaginative tour de force whose power transcends its patchwork construction; the cosmic vision sequence makes it equally interesting as a scientific romance, but it definitely strikes what its admirer H. P. Lovecraft sought to define as ‘the true note of cosmic horror.'” –Neil Barron
“Hodgson’s imagination opens up endless vistas of time and space and rushes down them, headlong, leaving the reader breathless in his wake. The House on the Borderland, with its dizzying leaps through outer and inner space, remains a unique vision. It is good to see Hodgson’s work once more receiving the attention it deserves.” –Fantasy: The 100 Best Books
Published: April 3, 2019
Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.42 inches
Weight: 7.7 ounces
Cover: Matte Finish
Interior: Black & White on Cream Paper
Pages: 166 (+2 POD)
Annotations: 65 Footnotes
William Hope Hodgson
April 3, 2019