For a couple years now, Neil Gaiman (rock-star writer of fantasktika and virtually his own internet meme) has been promoting the concept of turning Halloween into a gift-giving holiday. This year a Twitter campaign has been launched with his participation as All Hallows Read.
I think this is a really wonderful idea. As Mr. Gaiman has alluded to previously, there are no existing holidays that are explicitly about giving a book—despite how often some of my friends and family get books from me on other holidays. And Halloween is the ideal time for story telling. I have an early school memory—grade two or three—of a substitute teacher doing a reading to a small group of us around Halloween. Maybe six of us sat cross-legged in a semi-circle around her in a small room off the main classroom. She went all out and dimmed the overhead lights and held a flashlight under her chin. She read The Tell-Tale Heart to us and I’ve been a lifelong fan of Poe ever since. I wish I could remember her name and could tell her what a difference that simple act of sharing a good story made to me.
Borderland was published in 1908 and was very influential on writers such as H.P. Lovecraft who would go on to lay the foundation of the contemporary genres of horror, science-fiction and fantasy—weird stories. Lovecraft gave Hodgson special regard in his groundbreaking essay Supernatural Horror in Literature. He describes Hodgson’s unique skills in terms of his ability to convey ”…vast occasional power in its suggestion of lurking worlds and beings behind the ordinary surface of life…” H.P.L. singles out Borderland in particular as perhaps Hodgson’s best book. The influence of Borderland on Lovecraft’s work is undeniable.
What makes the book really special to the reader today is its casual disregard for what we now see as the boundaries of sub-genres. Hodgson was writing in a period before people began making clear distinctions between SF, fantasy and horror. To the modern reader, Borderland is a wild mix of survival horror, alien invasion SF, contagion & body transformation horror and a kind of new age spirituality involving astral projection. All of these seemingly disparate elements mesh better than one might expect. The whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
And in the spirit of Halloween, The House on the Borderland is genuinely creepy. In particular, the siege and survival horror parts of the story, which begin early in the novel, still posses considerable power to freak us out. Later, when the story detours into bizarre, disease-based body transformation, the book becomes truly unsettling and darkly doom-laden.
The House on the Borderland is unlike almost any other work of horror or dark fantasy and holds great rewards for the adventurous reader. Just writing about it makes me want to dig out my copy and curl up next to the fireplace and get lost in Hodgson’s supremely eerie world again.