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William Hope Hodgson Locked Room
William Hope Hodgson (1877 – 1918) was an English author. He produced a large body of work, consisting of essays, short fiction, and novels, spanning several overlapping genres including mystery, horror, fantastic fiction, and science fiction. Hodgson used his experiences at sea to lend authentic detail to his short horror stories, many of which are set on the ocean. Early in his writing career Hodgson wrote poetry, although few of his poems were published during his lifetime. He also attracted some notice as a photographer and achieved renown as a bodybuilder. He died in World War I at age 40.
Hodgson was born in Blackmore End, Essex, the son of Samuel Hodgson, an Anglican priest, and Lissie Sarah Brown. He was the second of 12 children, three of whom died in infancy. The death of a child is a theme in several of Hodgson’s works including the short stories “The Valley of Lost Children”, “The Sea-Horses”, and “The Searcher of the End House”. Hodgson’s father was moved frequently and served 11 different parishes in 21 years, including one in County Galway, Ireland. This setting was later featured in Hodgson’s novel The House on the Borderland.
Hodgson ran away from his boarding school at age 13, in an effort to become a sailor. He was caught and returned to his family, but eventually received his father’s permission to be apprenticed as a cabin boy and began a four-year apprenticeship in 1891. Hodgson’s father died shortly thereafter, of throat cancer, leaving the family impoverished; while William was away, the family subsisted largely on charity. After his apprenticeship ended in 1895, Hodgson began two years of study in Liverpool and was then able to pass the tests and receive his mate’s certificate; he then began several more years as a sailor.
At sea, Hodgson experienced bullying. This led him to begin a program of personal training. According to Sam Moskowitz, his relatively short height and sensitive, almost beautiful face made him an irresistible target for bullying seamen. When they moved in to pulverize him, they would learn too late that they had come to grips with easily one of the most powerful men, pound for pound, in all England. In 1899, at age 22, he opened W. H. Hodgson’s School of Physical Culture in Blackburn, England, offering tailored exercise regimes for personal training. Hodgson also practised his photography, taking photographs of aurora borealis, cyclones, lightning, sharks, and the maggots that infested the food given to sailors. He also built up a stamp collection, practised his marksmanship while hunting, and kept journals of his experiences at sea. In 1898, he was awarded the Royal Humane Society medal for heroism for saving another sailor who had fallen overboard in shark-infested waters.
Hodgson first published fitness articles, only later turning his attention to fiction, publishing his first short story, “The Goddess of Death”, in 1904, followed shortly by “A Tropical Horror” (1905). In 1906, the American magazine The Monthly Story Magazine published “From the Tideless Sea”, the first of Hodgson’s Sargasso Sea stories. Hodgson continued to sell stories to American magazines as well as British magazines for the remainder of his career, carefully managing the rights to his work in order to maximize his remuneration. While still living with his mother in relative poverty, his first published novel, The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”, appeared in 1907, to positive reviews.
Despite the critical success of his novels, Hodgson remained relatively poor. To try to bolster his income from short story sales, he began working on the first of his recurring characters, Thomas Carnacki, featured in several of his most famous stories and partly inspired by Algernon Blackwood’s occult detective John Silence. The first of these, “The Gateway of the Monster”, was published in The Idler (1910).
In 1912, Hodgson married Betty Farnworth, known also as Bessie, a girl from Cheadle Hulme and a staff member who wrote the “agony” column for the women’s magazine Home Notes. Both were 35. They moved to the south of France and took up residence there, owing in part to the low cost of living. When war broke out in Europe, the Hodgsons returned to England. Hodgson joined the University of London’s Officers’ Training Corps. Refusing to have anything to do with the sea despite his experience and Third Mate’s certificate, he received a commission as a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. In 1916, he was thrown from a horse and suffered a broken jaw and a serious head injury; he received a mandatory discharge, and returned to writing. Refusing to remain on the sidelines, Hodgson recovered sufficiently to re-enlist, only to be killed by an artillery shell at Ypres in April 1918.
After his death, Hodgson’s work was largely forgotten. In the 1930s, however, Hodgson’s supernatural fiction was anthologised in both Colin de la Mare’s They Walk Again (1931) and Dennis Wheatley’s A Century of Horror Stories (1935); this began a revival of interest in Hodgson’s work.
While the first six Carnacki stories were collected during Hodgson’s lifetime, “The Haunted Jarvee” appeared posthumously in 1929, and two more Carnacki stories, “The Find” and “The Hog,” were published in 1947 by August Derleth. Some critics suspected that Derleth might actually be the author of these two stories, but that theory has been discounted.
William Hope Hodgson Locked Room Short Stories
Detective: Mr. James
Collection: Murder Impossible
Available only in used hardcover editions.
Note: Missing bullion
This story was first published in 1911 in Everybody’s Weekly
The narrator, who is the ship’s second mate, is aboard “one of the fast clipper-ships running between London and Melbourne at the time of the big gold finds up at Bendigo.” The captain, named Reynolds, complains to him of a strange whispering in his cabin, and asks if the second mate will trade cabins with him. The previous captain, Captain Avery, had previously died in this room, of no known cause. Although the second mate agrees to the switch, believing the captain’s concern to be nonsense, in a few nights he is hearing a mysterious whispering as well. The ship carries a very valuable cargo of gold bullion, so the mate gives orders to open and examine the special compartment holding the gold, which is positioned just below the captain’s cabin in the lazarette. He awakens the captain, and they enter the lazarette and examine the compartment. The whispering can clearly be heard, but again the source of it cannot be found. The second mate and captain open the sealed room, and find that the thirteenth of the sixty chests is missing! However, when the captain leaves and returns with the purser, and they examine the chests again, they are all present and accounted for. The bullion chests continue to appear and disappear until they finally reach London.
The Horse Invisible (1913)
Collection: Carnacki the Ghostfinder
Available in paperback and ebook editions.
Note: Hoofbeats in The Night!
According to Hisgins family tradition, any first-born female will be haunted by a ghostly horse during her courtship. This story has been long considered a legend, but now for the first time in seven generations there is a first-born female, and her fiancee has just suffered a broken arm after an attack by a mysterious assailant. Carnacki is summoned to investigate. He and the woman, Mary, and her fiancee, Beaumont, hear hoofbeats in the night, but no horse is seen. Many people present hear the hoofbeats, but no one can find an explanation; Carnacki sets up an electric pentacle around Mary’s bed. The hoofbeats are heard again during the night, but nothing else happens. No marks of hooves can be found around the grounds the next morning. The following evening, hoofbeats and neighing are heard on the grounds, and Mary is heard screaming. Carnacki rushes out with his camera, and snaps a picture, but sees nothing after the blinding flash. Beaumont is struck in the head, but not badly injured; he claims that he has seen an enormous horse’s head. The hoofbeats are again heard during the night. The decision is made to accelerate the wedding plans, in the hopes that the haunting will disappear with the successful conclusion of the courtship, but this ghostly horse will not be dissuaded until Carnacki solves the case.
The Thing Invisible (1913)
Collection: Carnacki the Ghostfinder; The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked Room Mysteries
Available in paperback and ebook editions.
Note: A dagger with a mind of its own?
A chapel attached to an Edwardian manor house contains an ancient, cursed dagger that has just apparently murdered someone of its own accord, and naturally, Carnacki is called in to investigate. He spends the night in the chapel wearing armour with his camera ready to photograph any mysterious phenomena. All night he hears mysterious noises. As he approaches the altar, the dagger nearly kills him. The photographic evidence settles it, though – there is a rational explanation!
The Inn of The Black Crow
Detective: John Dory
Collection: Tales of Land and Sea (UK) 1984
Currently not available.
Note: A lost story?
Not available even in Delphi complete collection. Original sources not found. All we know is that John Dory is a secret exciseman confronted with a death by unknown means inside a locked room at an The Inn of The Black Crow.
The Haunting of The Lady Shannon (1975)
Collection: The William Hope Hodgson Megapack
Available in paperback and ebook editions.
Note: An attack from nowhere!
The story was first published in 1975 in the collection Out of the Storm edited by Sam Moskovitz.
A young seaman on board the Lady Shannon, discussing Captain Teller and his cruelty and violent tendencies, encourages the other seamen to stand up to the man. Overhearing the discussion are three apprentices. The fate of another seaman, Toby, at the hands of the captain and second mate is revealed:
“Last trip they treated one of the ordinaries so badly that the poor chap went queer – silly. Mind you, he acted like a goat and gave both the second mate and the skipper slack; but they knocked all that out of him and some of his brains as well, I believe. Anyway, he went half-dotty before the end of the voyage.”
A few days later, Seaman Jones, a vocal advocate of standing up for himself, bites off a plug of tobacco and is noticed by the second mate. He refuses to throw his tobacco overboard and the mate attacks him. They fight, and Jones severely injures the mate. The captain begins shouting and firing his revolver, although he only wounds one man by accident. The first mate also attacks Jones; in the fracas, the captain throws his revolver and accidentally strikes the first mate, who is knocked unconscious. One of the apprentices, Tommy, involuntarily shouts “Hurray!” and is attacked by the captain, who beats him, knocking him unconscious. Jones meanwhile attacks the second mate, and is also knocked unconscious, while the first mate has recovered. At the end of the complicated fracas Tommy, the second mate, and Jones are all unconscious. The second mate recovers with the administration of whiskey.
Two nights later, Jones is still only semi-conscious. As the second mate keeps watch, he abruptly screams and falls; he is found to be dead of a stab wound, although the weapon and the source of the attack are unknown; the attack seemed to come out of nowhere, right under the captain’s watchful eye. The captain is deeply disturbed, and musters the entire crew for inspection. Everyone is present and accounted for, except Jones and Tommy. We learn that, in the opinion of the first mate, Jones is near death, and the apprentice Tommy is also still too badly injured to have committed the murder. The captain and the first mate are baffled, and become suspicious that the cause was supernatural.