Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hodgson’s Hogs

“…it would be after dinner, as I sat reading, that, happening to look up suddenly, I saw something peering in over the window-ledge the eyes and ears alone showing.
     “’A pig, by Jove!’ I said, and rose to my feet.”

H.P. Lovecraft reportedly detested sea food and found sea creatures especially revolting.  Perhaps because of that fact his fictional monstrosities often resemble enormous marine invertebrates.  Though not known for certain, details in the appearance of Hodgson’s supernatural creatures suggest that he experienced moderate to severe porcine phobia.

It is difficult to see how a pig or hog would engender much fear or suspense in a horror or fantasy story.  Pigs are not predators and are relatively easy to get away from.  In America they are often found roasting on a spit or else fried or baked to pieces—porcine components are often on the table at nearly every holiday.  Hogs in their wilder form as boars can be aggressive and ill-tempered, but cannot compare with the anxiety a bear or mountain lion or even a rattlesnake can bring.

Horror takes the form of a hog in some of Hodgson’s fiction, most notably in his weird novel, The House on the Borderland (1908) where the ‘house’ is besieged by malevolent “swine-things”.  This book is still worth reading—despite the unfrightening alien creatures—if only for the eerie setting and hallucinogenic vision of earth’s end near the climax of the novel. 

In The House on the Borderland Hodgson is successful in sustaining an unearthly atmosphere through careful attention to physical details in various scenes.  There is the wonderful trippy sequence in which the narrator stands still and experiences cosmic time vastly speeded up, allowing him to see the future of the solar system eons hence. 

Other stories in the author’s  ‘Hog Mythos’ are less entertaining, though useful in coming to understand the evolution of pulp fiction and one author’s contribution to it.  One of the problems seems to be that the main character is often passive—he moves very little and does nothing but observe swirling horrors all around him.  In the midst of a climactic struggle, movement seems clumsy and contrived. 

Movement is limited in the Carnacki stories anyway, because the narrator is often stuck precariously inside a protective circle—created either by spells or glowing technology or both.  Much of what goes on is essentially a visual bad trip, interesting for a little while but ultimately tedious.   The presence of pigs does little to intensify the mood.

The Hog was originally published in Weird Tales in January of 1947.  It is a long story within a story, in which Hodgson’s character Carnacki, the detective who specializes in occult matters, attempts to save a client from “soul destruction” at the hands, (or feet) of evil, cosmic—pigs.  The unfortunate Mr. Bains has been having terrifying nightmares in which he hears the grunting and squealing of pigs. 

Every now and then he hears “a gargantuan GRUNT, breaking through the million pig-voiced roaring…”  Even worse, Bains has begun to grunt himself, as if in reply.  The voices of the pigs appear to come from somewhere deep below, singing a kind of demonic chant led by “the voice of the swine-mother of monstrosity beating up below through that chorus of mad swine-hunger…”  Many Americans will stop reading at this point.  It is a challenge to make a common food item terrifying. 

The Hog may be an elaborate metaphor about the seductions of evil.  In my view, the metaphor would have been more powerful had the story been set near a barbecue pit at dinnertime.

The story is especially marred by frequent repetitive techno-babble about devices and procedures that Carnacki uses to keep the negative “tensions” at bay.  The device he employs in this story is an upgrade of the one he used in The Gateway of the Monster (1910).  It emits light of different colors to create a defensive shield.  We learn that of the colors blue is most effective:  “Neither forget that in blue, which is God’s colour in the Heavens, ye have safety.”  Yellow and red—not so much.  Here we have a clue about Hodgson’s color preferences, in addition to his feelings about common farm animals.

This procedural detail by the way comes from Hodgson’s version of the Necronomican, a resource he calls the Sigsand Manuscript. As an amateur Calvinist, I was intrigued by the theology expressed in this ancient work:  “Avoid diversities of colour; nor stand ye within the barrier of the colour lights; for in colour hath Satan a delight.”  This sounds like excellent advice.

Unlike The Gateway of the Monster, which relies on pseudo-occult procedures, (see last month’s post “Carnacki’s Protective Pentacle Procedure”), Hodgson gives more emphasis to objective observation of supernatural events.  There are still several Biblical allusions that frame the situation as a struggle between good and evil.  But readers definitely hear more about the technology the detective applies in the situation.  Though preposterous, the author makes an effort at the end of the story to dispassionately explain what Bains and Carnacki experienced.  It is tempting to see this as evidence of a paradigm shift in horror fiction of this kind, away from the occult and towards the scientific.

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