Tuesday, August 23, 2011

100 Books 46 - William Hope Hodgson's CARNACKI THE GHOST-FINDER

It's hard to read something like this collection of short ghost stories from the turn of last century as anything but historical research; so much that I love is derived from them, alludes to them, perhaps even just outright rips them off. I feel I've read them already. I know Carnacki's oft-consulted Sigsand Manuscript from its frequent use by Warren Ellis' character Gravel, for instance; references to his patented electric pentagram abound everywhere. And ghost stories share a common DNA, don't they?

So yes, it's hard, but not impossible, to simply read these stories for pleasure. It helps if you like ghost stories, which I do on occasion; it helps also if you like detective stories, which I also do. For Carnacki is above all else a detective, albeit of a very special kind; an ancestor with Stoker's Van Helsing of all the ghost and monster hunters that have populated the the bookshelves, longboxes, movie theaters and TV screens since Carnacki first started hosting his dinner parties and telling a select group of friends of his adventures -- a common feature of each story is a rather abrupt dinner party scene as a sort of intellectual throat-clearing on the part of Hodgson and his character, an excuse to tell a spooky story, from back when it was thought such excuses were needed.

Delightfully, Carnacki and his stories do not require supernatural beliefs to enjoy them; indeed, Carnacki is in many ways the pioneer of the Scooby Doo ending (though perhaps the Sherlock Holmes of "The Speckled Band" is its true baby daddy), in which his meddling efforts at unraveling an apparent ghost story instead reveal human motives and machinations.

At other times the haunting has no mundane explanation. I refrain, though, from tellling you which stories are which: find out for yourself!

Also delightfully, it doesn't matter which is the case for Hodgson to genuinely raise chills. He has a vivid, cinematic imagination and the narrative chops (dinner party bookends aside) to make me see and hear and even smell the spooky. There's a reason so many other creators have paid him homage, and it's not just because he didn't have a copyright troll in his corner.

Good stuff!

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