Carnacki The Ghost Finder Wiliam Hope Hogdson The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult

Introduction by Wheatley outlining the short life and tragic ending of Hodgson. He did his bit in WW1 and was killed going back for more, despite being badly wounded and having a good excuse for passing the baton. Wheatley doesn’t mention that, like R E Howard, Hodgson was a bodybuilder. Wheatley does draw attention to the Scooby do versus genuine haunting tropes and points out that they add the sparkle of not knowing if it’s authentic supernatural or not.

The Thing Invisible Carnacki gathers his toadies by the fireside and reels off a tale of a knifed butler in the chapel of Jarnock’s place in South Kent: Butlers, chapels, mansions, oak fires and pipes will immediately take you back to the upper classes of the 1900s. No surprise as this was first published in 1913. It’s a somewhat incredible tale as Carnacki tries to work out if a hanging knife in the chapel is supernaturally motivated.

The Gateway of the Monster The Luck Ring of the Andersons proves to be an important element of Carnacki’s second haunted mansion. The butler is even more terrified than the previous chap for very good reasons. Carnacki, equally mixing funk with bravery, confronts that ever horrific bunch of thrown bedclothes by drawing a pentacle. Right up Wheatley’s street. He also uses electricity and a camera to help catch the culprit. If you’re an animal lover, watch out for the cat. I’m afraid Hodgson wasn’t as bothered as you might be.

The House among the Laurels It’s off to Ireland to visit another house with supernatural problems. If you like dogs I’d shy away from this tale. I’m getting a feeling Hodgson wasn’t keen. It’s remarkably similar to the previous tale in its use of Pentacles and cameras, but adds to the colour by using six policemen who volunteer on the basis of some cash. There are two dead tramps in this house but the living leave a worse impression.

The Whistling Room This is the Carnacki exemplar, a truly wonderful tale, which on rereading I realised had inspired me, quite unconsciously, to write in a similar vein (The Other House, the other Voice). Quite embarrassing to see my pale imitation.

Well, we are off to Ireland again but to a bigger house, known as a shanty to the new buyer or a castle to mere mortals. Carnacki meets his soon-to-be wed chum ‘pigging it’ elsewhere as he works up the courage to brave the castle’s whistling room for a bet. His Irish rivals have set him up. Carnacki mentions at least five other cases from the ‘Yellow finger’ to the ‘nodding door’ during this eerie tale and gives marvellous hints about his protective spells which really lend a reality to the proceedings. I’m not giving away any spoilers even though most of you will have read this as it’s simply worth rereading and if you haven’t, you should. There is one perfect haunting line that follows the momentary cessation of the horror: “There came a sense of dust falling continuously and monotonously…”. This suggested to me that Hodgson was really living his stories.

The Searcher of the End House This is a somewhat convoluted and overcomplicated tale which starts well with Carnacki and his sweet old mum renting a cottage. Disturbed in the night by a knocking noise and a bad smell, Carnacki ends up with a cast of thousands searching the house, seeing visions and smelling smells. Hodgson puts forward and interesting perspective on the birth of the soul and makes a good take on different people sensing different things.

The Horse of the Invisible Carnacki produces a bunch of photographs of a beautiful but frightened girl as a lead in to another house with a problem; in the case, the house is in Lancashire and the problem is a horse which appears every time one of the Higson family ladies starts getting keen on a chap. Girls are rare in the family and seem to appear only to be killed in strange circumstances before they get the chance to enjoy a honeymoon. The story throws up some quaint images as Carnacki arranges his electric pentacle around the girl’s bed – has this become a Lancastrian custom? This is a bit of an Equus backwards tale, full of Electra and other sinister subconscious mutterings.

The haunted JARVEE Just for a change it’s not a house but a boat. Surprising though, as someone intimately familiar with the sea one would have expected more maritime tales form Hodgson. It starts with shadows slinking across the ocean surface, which in itself is quite a sinister image. When chaps fall, or are tossed, out of the rigging we head for the funk and fear and it’s out with both pentacles, electric and chalk. This is a great story for the pure image of a pentacle on a ship as protection from the vast ocean and Hodgson’s explanation is neat.

The Find is a neat tale of printing books and old bookshops, short and enjoyable and missing the usual pentacles.

The Hog Poor old Bains, a little man possessed in awful fashion. This is an exciting yarn where Carnacki has a real fight on his hands. It’s an openly occult story that grips from beginning to end.

I hadn’t quite realised how much of an inspiration Hodgson was. Looking back to his more occult work, The House on the Borderland and the like, is like looking back on a ghost of oneself.