On Swine Things - or How a Bad Review Inspired me to Read a Book
There is something joyous in learning new things. It's one of life's most amusing properties, keep your mind open and the lessons never seize.
I got a idea for a cosmic horror story yesterday. It's a good idea, occupying my mind and so yesterday I decided to do some research. This brought me, and this isn't the first time I read about this book, to William Hope Hodgson's THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND.
I never read it before. Maybe mainly because reading the wikipedia plot description (Yes, I spoiled myself on it, can't say it was much of a spoiler as it didn't contain the beauty of the novel but still...) you learn there are Swine creatures in it and since this always brought me to the Spitting Image parodies of the 80's (for some reason!) I never actually read the book.
Yesterday I decided to actually read it.
It came out in 1908 and so predates Lovecraft and, before, the only thing I knew about this book was that it inspired H.P. Lovecraft.
What got me to read this book was not the high praise I've heard about it through the years. I've heard from different people anything from it being great, to it being essential when it comes to cosmic horror. None of those things got me to read it.
Yesterday however I read a review of the book - someone had found it cheap at a library sale and decided to read it. They HATED it. Seemed to hate everything about it and so I learned two things.
a) that a bad review is much more likely to drive me to experience entertainment, or read books than high praise and
b) I really HAD to read this book because it seemed like my jam to a t.
So this weekend I've been huddled up with THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND by a man aptly (??) named Hope (I really liked that someone who writes such dire fiction was named Hope).
I'm not a reviewer. I'm not good at reviewing. I tend to see people's points. In fact I could understand the writer of the bad review of this book. This wasn't his kind of thing at all and so he couldn't understand what the hell was happening in this NAKED LUNCH of cosmic horror. I, however, only tend to talk about things I really like - hence negating this idea that I learned today, that maybe bad reviews are better motivators than good ones?
I felt at home in the narrative. Diving into the multi layered storytelling was easy and I delighted in this feeling of being in the middle of someone who flew by the seat of his pants, and only edited it to make it sound good - not to make it sound more sane, logical or less chaotic. This speaks to my soul.
It is dreamlike and horrific with a hint of anything a good cosmic horror story should have. The unknown, giant godlike faces in cosmos, unbelievable travels beyond time and space, love, loss, isolation, loneliness, fear, anxiety and paranoia. I even liked the swine creatures that for so long kept me from reading this book. They reminded me of the first time I read I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson and the way the human in the story is the odd one out (and yea, read the book, if you haven't - the ending is SO MUCH BETTER than in the Will Smith film) - the last of his kind in a world full of .. to him ... monsters. They were delightfully creepy, especially when there were mentions of eldritch screams and a great beast god. I also found a connection to the video game BLOODBORNE and Rom the vacuous spider who resides in the Moonside Lake. It seemed a direct descendant of the Silent Sea were the protagonist spends eons with his love, happily in some sort of cosmic, blind, dark bliss. While Bloodborne is very interested in eyes, however, THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND talks a lot about silence, and mentions "monstrous eyeless beings".
The house itself is a conduit, a thing of the cosmos that allows the protagonist to transcend his own existence and travel beyond the humanly possible, to see things people wouldn't believe.
I'm glad I waited till now to read it. It will fuel my latest idea. I'm disappointed in myself for ignoring it till now. It is the true start of cosmic horror. A child of its time, obviously, but a story I can imagine came out in a creative burst, a story that took on a life of its own, I imagine. And it's beautiful - or as beautiful as a cosmic horror story can be. Truly terrifyingly beautiful.
I'm glad I read that review, I wouldn't have read it otherwise I possibly would have let that image of the Spitting Image rule my view of the Swine things. And as this is a rave, I don't expect I'll persuade anyone to read it, but just know that you're missing out - especially if you love cosmic horror, like I do - this book is a must read.