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Literary Essays on Gothic Horror, Ghost Stories & Weird Fiction

from  Mary  Shelley  to  M.  R.  James —

by M. Grant Kellermeyer

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"Out of the Storm" by William Hope Hodgson

NOTE BY M. GRANT KELLERMEYER: The following remarks on this story come from Mr. Chris William’s 2008 article on “Out of the Storm” from his superb horror blog, TenHornedBeast. Mr. Williams’ words eloquently and astutely analyze this text, and I have nothing more to add to them; his writing appears here by his permission: “For Hodgson the sea is never a benign environment, rather it is the lair of monsters and ancient terrors, phantom derelicts and the ghosts of the sea-dead rising to revenge themselves on the living. Mariners find themselves cast away on dripping, alien islands that have risen temporarily from the ocean floor or they are buffeted and blasted by spectral winds that converge from the four corners of the earth. The sea is a borderland of the soul, a liminal neither/neither place that partakes both of the sacred and the profane. A place where the boundaries that separate us from the beyond are blurred and merged, where it is possible to hear in the wash of the waves the beast rising from the deeps. Of all Hodgson’s sea stories “Out Of The Storm”, first published in 1909, stands apart in it’s abject horror. The story begins conventionally enough with a tone of Edwardian domesticity as a caller pays a visit to a scientific friend to find him receiving a message from a sinking ship via a strange telegraph-like machine. But as the narrative unfolds we are subjected to an intense and hallucinary description of a man at the point of death, mortally afraid and in the grip of dire spiritual revelation. The son of an Anglican vicar Hodgson must have been well aware of the Christian symbolism associated with the sea. The figure of the steadfast mariner who clings to his faith and is rescued from the swell, Jonah’s time in the belly of the whale and the deluge that cleansed the world of the sinful were all fitting subject for pious hymns, sermons and pamphlets but in “Out Of The Storm” the narrator sets these traditional Christian motifs of salvation and redemption, so familiar to Hodgson’s readers, at naught. Instead God is mocked and abjured and in his extremity the narrator deifies and glorifies the raging storm.”

Out of the Storm


"Hush!" said my friend the scientist, as I walked into his laboratory. I had opened my lips to speak; but stood silent for a few minutes at his request.

He was sitting at his instrument, and the thing was tapping out a message in a curiously irregular fashion—stopping a few seconds, then going on at a furious pace.

It was during a somewhat longer than usual pause that, growing slightly impatient, I ventured to address him.

"Anything important?" I asked.

"For God's sake, shut up!" he answered back in a high, strained voice.

I stared. I am used to pretty abrupt treatment from him at times when he is much engrossed in some particular experiment; but this was going a little too far, and I said so.

He was writing, and, for reply, he pushed several loosely-written sheets over to me with the one curt word, "Read!"

With a sense half of anger, half of curiosity, I picked up the first and glanced at it. After a few lines, I was gripped and held securely by a morbid interest. I was reading a

message from one in the last extremity. I will give it word for word:—

"John, we are sinking! I wonder if you really understand what I feel at the present time—you sitting

comfortably in your laboratory, I out here upon the waters, already one among the dead. Yes, we are doomed. There is no such thing as help in our case. We are sinking—

steadily, remorselessly. God! I must keep up and be a man! I need not tell you that I am in the operator's room. All the rest are on deck—or dead in the hungry thing which is

smashing the ship to pieces.

I do not know where we are, and there is no one of whom I can ask. The last of the officers was drowned nearly an hour ago, and the vessel is now little more than a sort of

breakwater for the giant seas.

"Once, about half an hour ago, I went out on to the deck. My God! the sight was terrible. It is a little after midday: but the sky is the color of mud—do you understand?—

gray mud! Down from it there hang vast lappets of clouds. Not such clouds as I have ever before seen; but monstrous, mildewed-looking hulls. They show solid, save where

the frightful wind tears their lower edges into great feelers that swirl savagely above us, like the tentacles of some enormous Horror.

"Such a sight is difficult to describe to the living; though the Dead of the Sea know of it without words of mine. It is such a sight that none is allowed to see and live. It is a

picture for the doomed and the dead; one of the sea's hell-orgies—one of the Thing's monstrous gloatings over the living—say the alive-in-death, those upon the brink. I

have no right to tell of it to you; to speak of it to one of the living is to initiate innocence into one of the infernal mysteries—to talk of foul things to a child. Yet I care not! I

will expose, in all its hideous nakedness, the death-side of the sea. The undoomed living shall know some of the things that death has hitherto so well guarded. Death knows

not of this little instrument beneath my hands that connects me still with the quick, else would he haste to quiet me.

"Hark you, John! I have learnt undreamt of things in this little time of waiting. I know now why we are afraid of the dark. I had never imagined such secrets of the sea and the

grave (which are one and the same).

"Listen! Ah, but I was forgetting you cannot hear! I can! The Sea is—Hush! the Sea is laughing, as though Hell cackled from the mouth of an ass. It is jeering. I can hear its

voice echo like Satanic thunder amid the mud overhead—It is calling to me! call—I must go— The sea calls!

"Oh! God, art Thou indeed God? Canst Thou sit above and watch calmly that which I have just seen? Nay! Thou art no God! Thou art weak and puny beside this foul

Thing which Thou didst create in Thy lusty youth. It is now God—and I am one of its children.

"Are you there, John? Why don't you answer! Listen! I ignore God; for there is a stronger than He. My God is here, beside me, around me, and will be soon above me. You

know what that means. It is merciless. The sea is now all the God there is! That is one of the things I have learnt.

"Listen! it, is laughing again. God is it, not He.