The House on the Borderland takes you on a hallucinatory and confusing trip through time and space.
The House on the Borderland is a supernatural weird fiction tale that is both hallucinatory and weird. Full with otherworldly creatures and beings, and a quest through time and space and dimensions, this novel was one of the first to abandon the Gothic horror genre and leave the Victorian ghost stories behind.
It combines a realistic setting with science fiction and the supernatural and in doing so creating a whole new genre like weird fiction and cosmic horror, that was later on further formed and shaped by Lovecraft amongst others.
Although this novel isn’t exactly an easy or relaxing read, it is an important work in the horror genre and especially the cosmic, Lovecraftian, weird fiction subgenre. It explores other worlds, our world and more importantly our fleeting human lives.
Tonnison and Berreggnog, the narrator of the story are on a fishing holiday, when they stumble upon the ruins of a house, an overgrown garden and a large lake. They also discover a journal that was written by an unnamed Recluse who wrote down his unbelievable story. While Berreggnog reads this story to Tonnison, the narrative jumps to the story of the Recluse.
He writes that he bought this isolated house to live in as a recluse with his sister Mary and his dog Pepper. Soon he discovers a great pit underneath the gardens and is attacked by swine-like creatures. But he is also plagued by terrible hallucinations taking him to otherworldly dimensions, to behold godlike creatures and the swine-like creatures and in the middle of this Plain of Silence stands his house.
While the nightly attacks keep getting worse, his hallucinations take him on a terrifying journey witnessing the death of Earth, floating through the universe, where he encounters his long lost love by the Sea of Sleep.
Why you should read it
It is definitely not an easy read. The short story begins very pleasantly and mysterious. But once we get to the hallucinatory part, where the Recluse drifts off into outer space and gets lost into the great expanse, the reader gets lost as well in a universe of words and gets entangled in an overgrowth of elusive events and of intangible and incomprehensible meaning. The reader can certainly lose his grip on the story, as the Recluse looses his grip on reality. Lost in a universe that is forever expanding.
This difficult part where you can loose track of the story is just a part of the bigger story. The exciting trip Tennison and Berreggnog make and the discovery of the mysterious house, or what is left of it, is a great read. As is the Recluse’s first encounter with the beasts, his descent into the cave and the nightly attack. All of this is written in a pleasant understandable way and takes you on a very enthralling journey of mystery and horror.
The hallucinatory trip the Recluse takes is hard to get through, but still the sentences and the descriptions are speaking of wonder and beauty and show how insignificant our small existence really is. It’s a frightening and a wonderful experience and it has a very specific tone and rhythm to it. It can be mesmerizing and confusing at the same time, to the Recluse but also to the reader.
The hallucinatory surreal dreamlike scenes are varied with these action packed scenes and keep the story balanced out. The internal musings of the Recluse don’t become too prosaic, for he always tries to reason with his own mind, trying to rationalize it and understand it, without ignoring the obvious dangers, how hard to believe they might be.
My favorite part
The descent into the cave with Pepper is very thrilling and the claustrophobic feel to it is very tangible. Although nothing really happens, you can feel the threatening and foreboding atmosphere, and that there is something lurking in the dark. And worse, the pit is right underneath the house, and a heavy trap in the basement is the only thing that stands between the swine things and the Recluse. The very idea is really terrifying.
But the nightly attacks are very well-written too. Seen and felt through the experience of the Recluse it certainly comes to life creating a horrifying event.
The first hallucinatory trip the Recluse is set onto is the most appealing one and not that hard to understand. His descriptions are easy to follow and create a surreal and horrifying scene that is shown before him.
A favorite quote
‘The mountains were full of strange things – Beast-gods, and Horrors so atrocious and bestial that possibility and decency deny any further attempt to describe them. And I – I was filled with a terrible sense of overwhelming horror and fear and repugnance; yet, spite of these, I wondered exceedingly.’
‘Then all at once, something caught my vision, something that came ‘round one of the huge buttresses of the House, and so into full view. It was a gigantic thing, and moved with a curious lope, going almost upright after the manner of a man. It was quite unclothed, and had a remarkable luminous appearance. Yet it was the face that attracted and frightened me the most. It was the face of a swine.’
Scare factor: ★★★★☆
Surreal factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
The House on the Borderland is written by William Hope Hodgson and first published by Chapman & Hall in 1908 and reprinted many times. It consists of 156-300 pages approximately, depending on the edition.