Carnacki the Ghost-Finder | William Hope Hodgson | Sphere Books | 1981 (First published 1913) | 239 pages
“I am not given to either believing or disbelieving things ‘on principle,’ as I have found many idiots prone to be, and what is more, some of them not ashamed to boast of the insane fact.”
The telling of the ghostly tales is always the same. Carnacki gathers his long-suffering group of companions—Dodgson, Jessop, Arkwright, and Taylor—for a dinner, revealing nothing until the time is right. After settling into a comfortable chair with an after-dinner smoke from his pipe, Carnacki finally gives his captive audience what they want: a detailed account of his latest case of occult detective work.
Carnacki seems relentlessly cheerful in his retelling, imploring his friends to keep up by frequently peppering his monologue with repetitive calls of “Do you follow?” However, his breathless delivery seems to occasionally undercut any potential horror derived from the scene.
The cases vary from instances of hauntings to strange manifestations, but are not always supernatural in origin. A good fifty years before Scooby Doo ushered in its gang of meddling kids unmasking evildoers perpetrating ghostly deeds, Carnacki uncovers (The House Among the Laurels) the hidden wire used to mysteriously slam shut a door, and the secret ceiling recess where an otherwise inexplicable rain of blood drops originates.
Although drawing on some mystical properties, such as the defensive force provided by a pentagram drawn on the floor, Carnacki also utilizes a system of scientific methods to battle the forces of the occult. In The Gateway Monster and The Hog, he implements a battery-powered series of vacuum tubes that channel electric current to boost the effectiveness of the pentacle. Carnacki also elaborates, in some detail, the inherent powers of the spectrum, with a system of colored vacuum tubes providing an additional line of psychic defense.
Although some cases are revealed as frauds, most are ultimately supernatural in their origins. Psychic forces manifest in the material world, and Carnacki references an entire arcane body of work in his methodology. Drawing material from these fantastic texts, he battles instances of “induced hauntings” (The Horse of the Invisible) and psychical imprint of past evil deeds (The Gateway of the Monster), before facing his ultimate deadly test in The Hog.
Whereas most of the earlier accounts are retold with a breezy good humor, the tale of The Hog presents an epic struggle against a malevolent intrusion from an “Outer Level” of existence. Carnaki’s success, although foregone by the structure of the telling, seems tenuous. Saddled with his stricken client—who is incapacitated, and reduced to making grunting noises—in a fragile series of electric-powered vacuum tubes installed to defend against a powerful psychical intrustion, Carnacki nearly succumbs to the black pit of an interdimensional void, through which comes the snout of a gigantic hog.
In addition to the previously cited metaphysical text references, this tale unpacks an entire cosmology on the nature of “psychic gases” in the solar system, the creatures spawned by it, and their intrusion into our world. But following all the long-winded pontificating comes relief, as Carnacki eventually finishes his tale and (once again) curtly dismisses his audience:
‘Out you go!’ he said using the recognised formula in friendly fashion. ‘Out you go! I want a sleep.’