It seems only right that I should include a review on this blog of the story which inspired its name. Even though House on the Borderland is not a ghost story, it is supernatural and disturbing in a very distinctive and meaningful way.
The story, as with so many supernatural tales, employs the framing technique. Here, two travellers to a lonely and desolate part of Ireland, discover a diary within the ruins of an abandoned house. The narrative which follows is the macabre tale that so deeply haunts the two travellers from within its tattered pages.
The story proper concerns the reclusive owner of the peculiar house which stands atop the cliffs of a lonely lake. He lives here with only his spinster sister Mary and faithful dog Pepper. Peculiar things begin to happen within the vicinity of the house and lake – events which concern the fabric of time and space itself. The protagonist experiences something like astral projection and travels to the far flung reaches of the universe, where he witnesses peculiar sights and terrifying creatures; and through time, to witness the world unravel about him.
The main focus of horror within the story are strange swine-like creatures which appear from the vicinity of the lake and which go on to beseige the man within his house. Yet it is not these beastly vermin which really add terror to the tale – though their presence certainly adds acute tension and suspense. No, it is the protagonist’s visions or journeys through time that are truly horrific. As he is flung into the future, he sees the world unwind around him. Eons pass as he sits within his own study and time rots the foundations of his home, as the lanscape all about him erodes into dust.
There is no solid explanation for the things the man experiences but this only adds to the sense of isolation and the hopeless fragility of existence that Hodgson creates. He weaves a story where the immensity of the universe, the insignificance of man, the impossibility of understanding are all strakly realised. We are taken from the depths of dank tunnels beneath a lake in the harsh wilderness of Ireland, to the edge of the universe and the lonely dance of death and rebirth amid the stars.
H.P. Lovecraft cited William Hope Hodgson as one of his greatest influences, and it’s not difficult to see why. In a mythos which is interwoven with tales of astral projection and monstrous god-like beings which inhabit the distant stars – and which are equally remote and incomprehensible – the influence is clear.
Much as I appreciate Lovecraft’s work, I have yet to encounter anything in his tales which approaches the enormity of the menace that Hodgson evokes here. Hodgson’s world is alien, mysterious and revels in its inaccessibility. The very point of this tale seems to be that we cannot comprehend what the Recluse experiences or feel anything more than utter horror and insignificance through his revelations.
The House on the Borderland is a story of transition – it is the desolate boundary stone between our fragile reality and everything else that exists beyond our comprehension. It is a place between the stars, between the past and future, between reality and unreality. The House stands at the cross-roads of existence, between the possible and impossible. And this is where the greatest significance lies for me. All tales of the supernatural are tales of the borderland – the place where the veil extends between the world we perceive and the realities we cannot. In the borderland we encounter the things we can neither explain nor understand. It is a place we pass through, which will touch us and change us but which ultimately we cannot understand. Most of all the borderland is the place that lies between life, and death – and its very existence throws into stark relief, that we can never truly perceive what lies beyond.