Carnacki, the Ghost Finder, William Hope Hodgson

Read this because Eugene Thacker uses some of it to good effect in In the Dust of This Planet.

Odd to come at this after reading Lovecraft (or, for that matter, Ligotti). Unlike Lovecraft’s heroes, Carnacki seems to have no special affinity for the otherworldly. He’s a scientist, not a man of culture, and doesn’t feel himself to be an outsider. There’s nothing gothic or romantic about him, nor about the Hodgson’s prose, which tends towards the slangy (“funk” for fear, most notably), as if he’s, well, an Edwardian bro. He and his fellows seem to eat a lot of sandwiches, sometimes for breakfast, and their drink of choice is whiskey (try to imagine any of Lovecraft’s characters having whiskey and sandwiches!). The prose gets weird only when Carnacki tries to describe the ab-human or ab-normal. Strangely enough, the usual breeziness works. We might characterize the difference from Lovecraft this way: in the Carnacki stories, being normal is no protection from the otherworldly. Even dull people might get it. The weirdness might be anywhere.

Except….the Carnacki stories suffer from the usual humanism of ghost stories. Here’s where Lovecraft’s totally inhuman monsters are an enormous improvement. If every ghost is the ghost of–or directed at–a human, moreover, if every ghost lurks in some fancy house or with some fancy family, then the stories’ weirdness just doesn’t go far enough. We’re in a world in which certain deaths matter and most don’t: not the deaths of nonhumans, and not even most human deaths. There’s nothing here to shake humans out of their complacency, as they’re reminded with every ghost that the same species and class divisions of their Edwardian world also order the otherworld. I’m reminded of a friend who believes she has a ghost in her apartment, and I wanted to know if it could be, say, a chicken ghost, or a trilobite: why should we, who are, I hope, not humanists, always require the ghost to be human?

Some favorite bits below, some admirable, some just…silly.

“Another hour passed, after this, in an absolute quietness. I had a sense of awful strain and oppression, as though I were a little spirit in the company of some invisible, brooding monster of the unseen world, who, as yet, was scarcely conscious of us.”

“As the door flew open, the sound beat out at us, with an effect impossible to explain to one who has not heard it–with a certain, horrible personal note in it; as if in there in the darkness you could picture the room rocking and creaking in a mad, vile glee to its own filthy piping and whistling and hooning.”

“In addition to wearing the necklet, I had plugged my ears loosely with garlic.”

“There came a sense as of dust falling continually and monotonously, and I knew that my life hung uncertain and suspended for a flash, in a brief reeling vertigo of unseeable things.”

“it was a true instance of Saitii manifestation, which I can best explain by likening it to a living spiritual fungus.”

“And, indeed, as you are all aware, I am as big a skeptic concerning the truth of ghost tales as any man you are likely to meet; only I am what I might term an unprejudiced skeptic. I am not given to either believing or disbelieving things ‘on principle’, as I have found many idiots prone to be, and what is more, some of them not ashamed to boast of the insane fact.”

“I buckled on the plate armor and found it extraordinarily uncomfortable, and over all I drew on the chain mail. I know nothing about armor [Note: You don’t say?], but from what I have learned since, I must have put on parts of two suits. Anyway, I felt beastly, clamped and clumsy and unable to move my arms and legs naturally.”

“By ten o’clock, I had everything arranged, with the two pitchforks and the two police lanterns; also some whisky and sandwiches. Underneath the table I had several buckets of disinfectant.”