Review of House on the Borderland

House on the Borderland Graphic NovelAre you ready for some “cosmic horror?” Get ready to confront the insignificance of humanity when compared to the mysteries of the infinite cosmos. Get ready to encounter horrendous creatures with great power and strength to match their unworldly ugliness.   Get ready to confront any fears that you might have of things that originate from the great unknown!

H.P. Lovecraft is said to have coined the term “cosmic horror”  and defined themes that were mentioned in the previous paragraph. Those aforementioned attributes describe Lovecraft’s work to the tee. However, Lovecraft originally used “cosmic horror” to describe the work of an earlier author.  This author is William Hope Hodgson. The novel is House on the Borderland. 

It goes without saying that Hodgson and The House on the Borderland influenced Lovecraft a great deal. In fact, Hodgson’s influence went beyond one man’s fancy to inspire a new movement in horror literature.

From Wikipedia:

“The book was a milestone that signalled a radical departure from the typical Gothic fiction of the late 19th century. Hodgson created a newer more realistic/scientific cosmic horror that left a marked impression on those who would become the great writers of the weird tales of the middle of the 20th century, particularly Clark Ashton Smith, and H. P. Lovecraft.[3]


Okay readers, remember when I wrote about the haunted houses of Lovecraft? You don’t?  Well – here are the links for ya!

I am referring back to these posts because what I have written in those articles ties into this one. The key take away is that though Lovecraft wrote of haunted houses, he did not fill them with your average gothic ghosts. Likewise with Hodgson – Lovecraft’s mentor.

Yet, many tropes of the gothic tradition can be found in House on the Borderland. For instance, there is a gigantic castle-like house with multiple floors, a cellar with a mysterious trap door, a man who lives alone in the house with the exception of his elder sister and his dog; a man who is a recluse and likes to occupy his time reading in the study. However, the house is not haunted by the spirits. For the most part, there are no ghosts, with one possible exception. The narrator meets his former lover on a couple occasions. Presumably she had passed away. But yet, their meeting does not occur within the house on a dark and stormy night.  Her spirit does not traipse the hallways or frighten him out of his sleep with groans and moans.  Their meeting occurs when the narrator crosses over into another dimension,  a dimension which he calls “The Sea of Sleep”.  She hovers over the waters as the two struggle to communicate.  Otherworldly dimensions are a common theme in this book.  This story is as much an exploration of fantasy and science fiction as it is horror, maybe even more so.  However, the fantastic and horrific events are centered inside a house.

The book begins with two men who take a trip to the countryside of Ireland for some camping and fishing. While on their leisurely expedition, they stumble onto a large house that sits on the edge of a cliff.  They venture inside to find the place abandoned, save for a manuscript.  The manuscript gives the account of a recluse, the aforementioned narrator. A bizarre account it is! Makes me wonder if this narrator had tabs of LSD sprinkled inside his shrooms.


The narrator writes in the first person, describing how a gigantic pit HOuse on the borderland swinesuddenly develops in front of his house. The pit produces swine-like creatures that attack the house, forcing the narrator to barricade the doors and windows.  From the top of a tower, with his shotgun, he picks them off one by one.  Later on, while in his study, he gazes out his window only to have a rather strange session in stargazing.  The speed at which the celestial bodies traverse across the sky increases with each rotation. Day and night are soon seconds away from each. In a matter of hours he experiences eons. He witnessed the destruction of the sun.  But he is introduced to a green sun; a fiery jade that perhaps is the sun of all suns; the sun at the center of all universes.

House_on_the_Borderland black sun

Not your average haunted house story, eh? It’s quite a read, although the overuse of commas is burdensome.  Maybe it’s the times; perhaps I am just not used to so many of these phrase separators. Maybe commas are sparse in today’s literature because the limited resources of such punctuation marks were unnecessarily drained back in 1908 when the book was first published. A hypothetical example, of such overuse, just so you might understand, could be, in fact, this very sentence that you are reading, at present time.  Punctuation style notwithstanding, it is a very intriguing book.


So what kind of metaphor would best describe the difference between gothic and cosmic horror? Maybe it’s like the difference between classical and jazz music, where gothic = classical and jazz = cosmic.  Hmmm…..nah!  Jazz is an exercise in testing the limits of a given structure and I don’t think that is what cosmic horror is attempting to do.  How about prog rock vs. punk rock? (gothic = prog/cosmic = punk). Again, nah! Punk is an exercise  in simplicity and getting back to the basics. The cosmic genre is not that either.

I know – how bout I stop with this literature vs. music comparison? How about I cease this fruitless delineation altogether?  Even better!  Goth is goth and cosmic is cosmic.  And that is that.


H.P. Lovecraft and Haunted Houses Part 2 – Houses as Portals to Alternate Dimensions

Lovecraft2Here is my second piece on the macabre author HP Lovecraft.  In the first article, I wrote that Lovecraft was not a teller of ghost stories.  Instead of retelling what is essentially the same story – a spirit of the departed comes back to haunt a house – Lovecraft develops uniquely twisted tales that churn out equally bizarre entities.  This is true for the three stories I reviewed previously as well as the two tales I am reviewing for this post: The Strange High House in the Mist and Dreams in the Witch House.

This is not to say that the inhabitants of his strange houses are prohibited from taking on some of the attributes of the   standard apparition. They may possess ghostly features that are familiar to readers of paranormal lore. In the two stories that I am reviewing in this post, entities appear and disappear. They walk within the sky.  And yet, some of these entities appear as deities rather than ghosts. (See Nereids and Tritons.)  Then there’s Brown Jenkin, who is a familiar that takes on an  appearance that is vastly different from the average, ghostly white spirit.


Witnesses said it had long hair and the shape of a rat, but that its sharp-toothed, bearded face was evilly human while its paws were like tiny human hands. It took messages betwixt old Keziah and the devil, and was nursed on the witch’s blood—which it sucked like a vampire. Its voice was a kind of loathsome titter, and it could speak all languages

the_strange_high_house_in_the_mist_So once again, Lovecraft’s entities march to the beat or their own cadaverous drum. Ah but wait! There is something else that sets these two stories apart. Not only are the houses inhabited with beings of myth and the occult, but they also possess portals to alternate dimensions. “The Strange High House in the Mist” rests on top of a mountaintop where the front wall “stood flush with the cliff’s edge, so that the single narrow door was not to be reached save from the empty aether.” Nevertheless, “beings” do come-a- knocking; beings that materialize right out of the misty air of the sky, beings that invite a mundane man along on their heavenly parade. Within the bizarre architectural angles of The Witch House lurks an unearthly geometry that gives way to “spiral black vortices” that lead to the demon “Azathoth, which rules all time and space from a black throne at the centre of Chaos”

In a way, these houses can be seen as way stations on the edge of Heaven and Hell.  The mountaintop house opens its doors to celestial deities whereas the witch’s house unlocks demonic dimensions. However, “Heaven and Hell” is too simple of a dichotomy; analytically lazy.  Although frequented by immortal heroes of myth, “The Strange High House in the Mist” is not without its demons.  Dark shadowy creatures come to the house. Sometimes they knock on its door, but other times they try to sneak in through the windows.  In the case of Dreams in the Witch House, the pathway into the demonic dimension is not only open to evil or unrepentant souls. It is obtainable to the mathematical genius that can navigate within the geometric and physical laws of higher realms (although the protagonist does get pulled into this dimension unwillingly and repeatedly though a series or dreams)

What can be said about these houses is that they lead from an ordinary dimension to the extraordinary, whether for good or evil; whether by scientific or spiritual means.  Jim Morrison, based on the ideas of William Blake and Aldous Huxley, had this to say about his famous rock and roll band:

There are things known and things unknown and in between are The Doors

This is what the houses in these stories represent: doors that lead to the unknown. However, do these doors swing both ways? In The Strange High House in the Mist, the protagonist returns, but he his soul has remained behind. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Read the story and decide for yourself. Read the Dreams in the Witch House as   well to learn of the fate of its protagonist. These are good reads. Challenging, heavy on the prose, but well worth it.


H.P. Lovecraft and Haunted Houses

LovecraftI finally tore off the plastic that wrapped H.P. Lovecraft – The Complete Fiction in pristine newness. This classic-bound tome that I bought from Barnes & Noble sat on my bookshelf for a long time, waiting to be fondled – such a dirty, dirty book! I had several of Lovecraft’s stories in digital format, so there was no hurry to tear open this book and strip away its protective packaging. But I did not have his complete works. Not on my Kindle device, not on my Nook. I wanted to see if he had written any haunted house tales. The easiest way to check on this was to open the classic-bound book. And so I did.

The table of contents listed several possible haunted house stories. I read three of them:

  • The Picture in the House (Originally published in National Amateur –1921)
  • The Rats in the Walls (Originally published in Weird Tales – 1924)
  • The Shunned House (Also Published originally in Weird Tales – 1937)



Before I get into the specifics of these haunting tales, it would help to take note of a few things about the author himself.  What do I know of Lovecraft? He was a prolific horror writer of the early part of the twentieth century.  He wrote short stories and novelettes for various pulp magazines, including Weird Tales.  He did not achieve fame until after his death and he died in poverty. 

God, what I wrote seems pretty damn sad.  But I want to look at in another way, a way that is, shall I say, more inspiring? Lovecraft reminds me of today’s blogger and indie writer.  Fame is far away, but indie writers plug away at the keyboard, not for riches but on account of their “love” for the “craft” (“Lovecraft!” Sorry, I had to!).  Their work is displayed either in the blogosphere or at self-publishing outlets such as Kindle Direct Publishing at  These writers network with other writers. The communities of writers read each other’s work and offer praise and constructive criticism.  And they have fun!

There was no Internet back in Lovecraft’s day. Perhaps the pulp magazine was the blog of yesteryear – the place for unknowns to share their work with the larger world. Or, at least, with that small portion of the larger world that sought out genre specific tales at a cheap price. Through these magazines and other journals, such as the United Amateur Press Association (ohhh but how “indie” sounds so much better than “amateur!”), Lovecraft shared his work. He corresponded with other such writers via handwritten letters and befriended them, even though they never met person to person. Ahh, such is the way with today’s indie writers, only the Internet makes the process so much easier.

As an indie horror writer, I knew I had to pay homage to Lovecraft eventually. So I will to so now. However, he was not a gigantic contributor to the paranormal genre. Ghosts are usually the key ingredients for any haunted house tale. But Lovecraft didn’t have that much to say about ghosts.

From the introduction of H.P. Lovecraft – The Complete Fiction:

As Lovecraft’s work progressed, he himself began eschewing traditional supernaturalism more and more. He had, in fact, never used such conventional tropes as the vampire, the ghost, or the werewolf…

…in his most characteristic work Lovecraft devised conceptions and entities entirely his own.

Lovecraft envisioned gigantic aliens, vengeful deities, ravaging sea monsters, and terrifying savages.  He plucked out the horrors within science, religion and civilizations and for the most part left the ghost behind to haunt the minds of other writers.  This being said, what then haunts the creepy old houses that sometimes show up in his tales?  The answer- very weird things!

PictureInTHeHouseThe Picture in the House – In this story, the house is haunted by a graphic book depicting cannibalism, a weird-bearded old codger, and a ceiling that drips blood.  A weary traveler rests inside a backwoods farmhouse.  He thinks it’s abandoned, until he meets its dweller – and unkempt, white bearded old man who at first commands the visitor’s respect. Later, he brings only terror to the guest as he watches his face contort in perverted ecstasy at a book depicting a butcher that has several human limbs hanging on the walls.  Then for the finally whammy, blood drips form the ceiling.

ratsinthewallsThe Rats in the Walls – What else might haunt a house? I know – how about rats in the walls? The protagonist moves into an ancient monastery where “indescribable rites had been celebrated there.” At night, the cats stare at the walls in fright. Why? The scurrying of the rats. Hundreds. Thousands. Maybe more. The cats hear them. The protagonist hears them. But the servants do not.   Eventually, the protagonist follows the sound down to the cellar. Then he follows it to even greater depths as he explores a passageway that is hidden underneath a stone altar, and this leads to a very horrible scene. Thousands upon thousands of human bones, all containing the gnaw marks of rodents.


The Shunned House – The haunter of this tale is perhaps the weirdest yet.  Sort of a vampire, but not quite.  Maybe a spirit, but that doesn’t work either.  Its substance is best described as a gas.  It flows out the chimney and makes strange images appear in the smoke. It takes on bizarre fungal forms on the earthen cellar floor.  It arises in the form fumes that take can overcome a person and transform his face into faces of the dead. But underneath the cellar floor it exists in a gelatinous form. Oh and it sucks the breath out of sleepers.  Yeah, I would shun this house too, I think.

There are more stories of cursed and doomed domiciles in my book and I look forward to reading them. Who knows what other kinds of bizarre creatures haunt the houses of Lovecraft’s tales!