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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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"From the Tideless Sea" (Part I.) by William Hope Hodgson

NOTES BY M. GRANT KELLERMEYER: Aside from “Carnacki the Ghost-Finder,” Hodgson is probably most famous for what has been referred to as his Sargasso Sea Mythos – a series of horror stories set in the still body of water which he viewed as the ultimate setting to illustrate the heartless cruelty of Nature: a slimy, weedy, primordial quagmire rotating grimly like a great, deadly clock in the heart of the North Atlantic. The world’s only sea without a coastline, the Sargasso is 700 miles wide and 2,000 miles long – a clockwise rotating body of water bordered by four of the North Atlantic’s most powerful currents: the Gulf Stream to the west, North Atlantic Current to the north, Canary Current to the east, and the Equatorial Current to the south. The waters of the Sargasso are notoriously still and quiet: a peculiar deep, but translucent blue, you can see up to 200 feet down into its depths.

Named after the dense mats of golden-brown sargassum seaweed that grow in patchy mats over its surface, the Sargasso became notorious as a graveyard of ships marooned in its still waters, earning the nickname “the Horse Latitudes” when a Spanish ship travelling to the New World – stalled during a calm – was forced to kill and dump the bodies of their horses to preserve water. In “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Jules Verne outlandishly described a wild landscape of endless weeds choking the rotting hulks of dozens of ships from four different centuries. In spite of this grim reputation, the Sargasso Sea was not the romantic horror that we usually picture: the sargassum is omnipresent, but it floats in heavy patches, not in endless sheets, and while the waters fenced in by the Atlantic currents were indeed uncommonly still, there was always enough wind to push them forward – slowly but surely.

Overlapped by the territory known as “the Bermuda Triangle,” the Sargasso Sea is has become tangled in the sinister mythology of that territory outlined by lines traced between Florida, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico. The Triangle is famous for its mysterious disappearances, but even before it developed a distinct lore (starting in the early 1950s), the Sargasso Sea was notable for several bizarre incidents involving derelicts – a favorite theme of Hodgson’s – found abandoned in the weed-choked, cobalt blue waters. Most notable are the cases of the French merchantman, “Rosalie” – found abandoned in 1840 – and the “Ellen Austin,” an American schooner which found an unnamed derelict in 1881. In a plot worthy of Hodgson, the “Ellen Austin’s” captain sent a crew to man the mystery ship, parted ways, and later reencountered the vessel – once more abandoned, the new crew having vanished.

The first of Hodgson’s Sargasso Sea tales was “From the Tideless Sea,” describing the decades-long imprisonment of a ship in the weed-gagged waters. Scientifically speaking, Hodgson’s plot is ludicrous – especially in the age of steam, when – wind or no wind – freighters could chug across the Sargasso with no trouble whatsoever, but his story etched itself into the collective imagination of human culture: to this day, the common depiction of the Sargasso Sea is a vast, weedy wasteland cluttered with rotting hulls and populated by grotesque monsters: giant crabs, man-eating octopi, lurking krakens, and immense ships’ rats. Hodgson was not making a scientific description of the Horse Latitudes, but painting an impression of mankind’s relationship to Mother Nature: a treacherous, dehumanizing, merciless crone.

From the Tideless Sea

Part I.


The Captain of the schooner[1] leant over the rail, and stared for a moment, intently.

"Pass us them glasses[2], Jock," he said, reaching a hand behind him.

Jock left the wheel for an instant, and ran into the little companionway[3]. He emerged immediately with a pair of marine-glasses, which he pushed into the waiting hand.

For a little, the Captain inspected the object through the binoculars. Then he lowered them, and polished the object glasses.

"Seems like er water-logged barr'l as sumone's been doin' fancy paintin' on," he remarked after a further stare. "Shove ther 'elm down er bit[4], Jock, an' we'll 'ave er closer

look at it."

Jock obeyed, and soon the schooner bore almost straight for the object which held the Captain's attention. Presently, it was within some fifty feet, and the Captain sung out

to the boy in the caboose to pass along the boathook[5].

Very slowly, the schooner drew nearer, for the wind was no more than breathing gently. At last the cask was within reach, and the Captain grappled at it with the boathook.

It bobbed in the calm water, under his ministrations; and, for a moment, the thing seemed likely to elude him. Then he had the hook fast in a bit of rotten-looking rope

which was attached to it. He did not attempt to lift it by the rope; but sung out to the boy to get a bowline[6] round it. This was done, and the two of them hove it up on to

the deck.

The Captain could see now, that the thing was a small water-breaker[7], the upper part of which was ornamented with the remains of a painted name.

"H—O—M—E—B—I—" spelt out the Captain with difficulty, and scratched his head. "'ave er look at this 'ere, Jock. See wot you makes of it."

Jock bent over from the wheel, expectorated, and then stared at the breaker. For nearly a minute he looked at it in silence.

"I'm thinkin' some of the letterin's washed awa'," he said at last, with considerable deliberation. "I have ma doots if he'll be able to read it.

"Hadn't ye no better knock in the end?" he suggested, after a further period of pondering. "I'm thinkin' ye'll be lang comin' at them contents otherwise."

"It's been in ther water er thunderin' long time," remarked the Captain, turning the bottom side upwards. "Look at them barnacles[8]!"

Then, to the boy:—

"Pass erlong ther 'atchet outer ther locker."

Whilst the boy was away, the Captain stood the little barrel on end, and kicked away some of the barnacles from the underside. With them, came away a great shell of

pitch[9]. He bent, and inspected it.

"Blest if ther thing ain't been pitched!" he said. "This 'ere's been put afloat er purpose, an' they've been, mighty anxious as ther stuff in it shouldn't be 'armed.

He kicked away another mass of the barnacle-studded pitch. Then, with a sudden impulse, he picked up the whole thing and shook it violently. It gave out a light, dull,

thudding sound, as though something soft and small were within. Then the boy came with the hatchet.

"Stan' clear!" said the Captain, and raised the implement. The next instant, he had driven in one end of the barrel. Eagerly, he stooped forward. He dived his hand down and

brought out a little bundle stitched up in oilskin[10].

"I don' spect as it's anythin' of valley," he remarked. "But I guess as there's sumthin' 'ere as 'll be worth tellin' 'bout w'en we gets 'ome."

He slit up the oilskin as he spoke. Underneath, there was another covering of the same material, and under that a third. Then a longish bundle done up in tarred canvas. This

was removed, and a black, cylindrical shaped case disclosed to view. It proved to be a tin canister, pitched over. Inside of it, neatly wrapped within a last strip of oilskin, was a

roll of papers, which, on opening, the Captain found to be covered with writing. The Captain shook out the various wrappings; but found nothing further. He handed the

MS[11]. across to Jock.

"More 'n your line 'n mine, I guess," he remarked. "Jest you read it up, an' I'll listen."

He turned to the boy.

"Fetch thef dinner erlong 'ere. Me an' ther Mate 'll 'ave it comfertable up 'ere, an' you can take ther wheel.... Now then, Jock!"

And, presently, Jock began to read.

— THE LOSING of the “Homebird” —

"The 'Omebird!" exclaimed the Captain. "Why, she were lost w'en I wer' quite a young feller. Let me see—seventy-three. That were it. Tail end er seventy-three w'en she left

'ome, an' never 'eard of since; not as I knows. Go a'ead with ther yarn, Jock."


"It is Christmas eve. Two years ago to-day, we became lost to the world. Two years! It seems like twenty since I had my last Christmas in England. Now, I suppose, we are

already forgotten—and this ship is but one more among the missing! My God! to think upon our loneliness gives me a choking feeling, a tightness across the chest!

"I am writing this in the saloon of the sailing ship, Homebird, and writing with but little hope of human eye ever seeing that which I write; for we are in the heart of the

dread Sargasso Sea—the Tideless Sea of the North Atlantic[12]. From the stump of our mizzen mast[13], one may see, spread out to the far horizon, an interminable waste

of weed—a treacherous, silent vastitude of slime and hideousness!

"On our port side[14], distant some seven or eight miles, there is a great, shapeless, discoloured mass. No one, seeing it for the first time, would suppose it to be the hull of a

long lost vessel. It bears but little resemblance to a sea-going craft, because of a strange superstructure which has been built upon it. An examination of the vessel herself,

through a telescope, tells one that she is unmistakably ancient. Probably a hundred, possibly two hundred, years. Think of it! Two hundred years in the midst of this

desolation! It is an eternity.

"At first we wondered at that extraordinary superstructure. Later, we were to learn its use—and profit by the teaching of hands long withered. It is inordinately strange that

we should have come upon this sight for the dead! Yet, thought suggests, that there may be many such, which have lain here through the centuries in this World of

Desolation. I had not imagined that the earth contained so much loneliness, as is held within the circle, seen from the stump of our shattered mast. Then comes the thought

that I might wander a hundred miles in any direction—and still be lost.

"And that craft yonder, that one break in the monotony, that monument of a few men's misery, serves only to make the solitude the more atrocious; for she is a very effigy of

terror, telling of tragedies in the past, and to come!

"And now to get back to the beginnings of it. I joined the Homebird, as a passenger, in the early part of November. My health was not quite the thing[15], and I hoped the

voyage would help to set me up. We had a lot of dirty weather for the first couple of weeks out, the wind dead ahead. Then we got a Southerly slant, that carried us down

through the forties[16]; but a good deal more to the Westward than we desired. Here we ran right into a tremendous cyclonic storm. All hands were called to shorten

sail[17], and so urgent seemed our need, that the very officers went aloft to help make up the sails[18], leaving only the Captain (who had taken the wheel) and myself upon

the poop. On the maindeck; the cook was busy letting go such ropes as the Mates desired.

"Abruptly, some distance ahead, through the vague sea-mist, but rather on the port bow[19], I saw loom up a great black wall of cloud.

"'Look, Captain!' I exclaimed; but it had vanished before I had finished speaking. A minute later it came again, and this time the Captain saw it.

"'O, my God!' he cried, and dropped his hands from the wheel. He leapt into the companionway, and seized a speaking trumpet. Then out on deck. He put it to his lips.

"'Come down from aloft! Come down! Come down!' he shouted. And suddenly I lost his voice in a terrific mutter of sound from somewhere to port. It was the voice of the

storm—shouting. My God! I had never heard anything like it! It ceased as suddenly as it had begun, and, in the succeeding quietness, I heard the whining of the kicking-

tackles[20] through the blocks. Then came a quick clang of brass upon the deck, and I turned quickly. The Captain had thrown down the trumpet, and sprung back to the

wheel. I glanced aloft, and saw that many of the men were already in the rigging, and racing down like cats.

"I heard the Captain draw his breath with a quick gasp.

"'Hold on for your lives!' he shouted, in a hoarse, unnatural voice.

"I looked at him. He was staring to windward with a fixed stare of painful intentness, and my gaze followed his. I saw, not four hundred yards distant, an enormous mass of

foam and water coming down upon us. In the same instant, I caught the hiss of it, and immediately it was a shriek, so intense and awful, that I cringed impotently with sheer


"The smother of water and foam took the ship a little fore-side of the beam, and the wind was with it. Immediately, the vessel rolled over on to her side, the sea-froth flying

over her in tremendous cataracts.

"It seemed as though nothing could save us. Over, over we went, until I was swinging against the deck, almost as against the side of a house; for I had grasped the weather rail

at the Captain's warning. As I swung there, I saw a strange thing. Before me was the port quarter boat[21]. Abruptly, the canvas cover was flipped clean off it, as though by a

vast, invisible hand.

"The next instant, a flurry of oars, boats' masts and odd gear flittered up into the air, like so many feathers, and blew to leeward[22] and was lost in the roaring chaos of foam.

The boat, herself, lifted in her chocks, and suddenly was blown clean down on to the maindeck, where she lay all in a ruin of white-painted timbers.

"A minute of the most intense suspense passed; then, suddenly, the ship righted, and I saw that the three masts had carried away. Yet, so hugely loud was the crying of the

storm, that no sound of their breaking had reached me.

"I looked towards the wheel; but no one was there. Then I made out something crumpled up against the lee rail. I struggled across to it, and found that it was the Captain.

He was insensible, and queerly limp in his right arm and leg. I looked round. Several of the men were crawling aft along the poop. I beckoned to them, and pointed to the

wheel, and then to the Captain. A couple of them came towards me, and one went to the wheel. Then I made out through the spray the form of the Second Mate. He had

several more of the men with him, and they had a coil of rope, which they took forrard. I learnt afterwards that they were hastening to get out a sea-anchor[23], so as to keep

the ship's head towards the wind.

"We got the Captain below, and into his bunk. There, I left him in the hands of his daughter and the steward, and returned on deck.

"Presently, the Second Mate came back, and with him the remainder of the men. I found then that only seven had been saved in all. The rest had gone.

"The day passed terribly—the wind getting stronger hourly; though, at its worst, it was nothing like so tremendous as that first burst.

"The night came—a night of terror, with the thunder and hiss of the giant seas in the air above us, and the wind bellowing like some vast Elemental[24] beast.

"Then, just before the dawn, the wind lulled, almost in a moment; the ship rolling and wallowing fearfully, and the water coming aboard—hundreds of tons at a time.

Immediately afterwards it caught us again; but more on the beam, and bearing the vessel over on to her side, and this only by the pressure of the element upon the stark hull.

As we came head to wind again, we righted, and rode, as we had for hours, amid a thousand fantastic hills of phosphorescent flame[25].

"Again the wind died—coming again after a longer pause, and then, all at once, leaving us. And so, for the space of a terrible half hour, the ship lived through the most awful,

windless sea that can be imagined. There was no doubting but that we had driven right into the calm centre of the cyclone—calm only so far as lack of wind, and yet more

dangerous a thousand times than the most furious hurricane that ever blew.

"For now we were beset by the stupendous Pyramidal Sea; a sea once witnessed, never forgotten; a sea in which the whole bosom of the ocean is projected towards heaven in

monstrous hills of water; not leaping forward, as would be the case if there were wind; but hurling upwards in jets and peaks of living brine, and falling back in a continuous

thunder of foam.

"Imagine this, if you can, and then have the clouds break away suddenly overhead, and the moon shine down upon that hellish turmoil, and you will have such a sight as has

been given to mortals but seldom, save with death[26]. And this is what we saw, and to my mind there is nothing within the knowledge of man to which I can liken it.

"Yet we lived through it, and through the wind that came later. But two more complete days and nights had passed, before the storm ceased to be a terror to us, and then,

only because it had carried us into the seaweed laden waters of the vast Sargasso Sea.

"Here, the great billows first became foamless; and dwindled gradually in size as we drifted further among the floating masses of weed. Yet the wind was still furious, so that

the ship drove on steadily, sometimes between banks, and other times over them.

"For a day and a night we drifted thus; and then astern I made out a great bank of weed, vastly greater than any which hitherto we had encountered. Upon this, the wind

drove us stern foremost, so that we over-rode it. We had been forced some distance across it, when it occurred to me that our speed was slackening. I guessed presently that

the sea-anchor, ahead, had caught in the weed, and was holding. Even as I surmised this, I heard from beyond the bows a faint, droning, twanging sound, blending with the

roar of the wind. There came an indistinct report, and the ship lurched backwards through the weed. The hawser, connecting us with the sea-anchor, had parted.

"I saw the Second Mate run forrard with several men. They hauled in upon the hawser, until the broken end was aboard. In the meantime, the ship, having nothing ahead to

keep her "bows on," began to slew broadside towards the wind. I saw the men attach a chain to the end of the broken hawser; then they paid it out again, and the ship's head

came back to the gale.

"When the Second Mate came aft, I asked him why this had been done, and he explained that so long as the vessel was end-on, she would travel over the weed. I inquired why

he wished her to go over the weed, and he told me that one of the men had made out what appeared to be clear water astern, and that—could we gain it—we might win free.

"Through the whole of that day, we moved rearwards across the great bank; yet, so far from the weed appearing to show signs of thinning, it grew steadily thicker, and, as it

became denser, so did our speed slacken, until the ship was barely moving. And so the night found us.

"The following morning discovered to us that we were within a quarter of a mile of a great expanse of clear water—apparently the open sea; but unfortunately the wind had

dropped to a moderate breeze, and the vessel was motionless, deep sunk in the weed; great tufts of which rose up on all sides, to within a few feet of the level of our


"A man was sent up the stump of the mizzen, to take a look round. From there, he reported that he could see something, that might be weed, across the water; but it was

too far distant for him to be in any way certain. Immediately afterwards, he called out that there was something, away on our port beam[27]; but what it was, he could not

say, and it was not until a telescope was brought to bear, that we made it out to be the hull of the ancient vessel I have previously mentioned.

"And now, the Second Mate began to cast about for some means by which he could bring the ship to the clear water astern. The first thing which he did, was to bend a sail to

a spare yard, and hoist it to the top of the mizzen stump. By this means, he was able to dispense with the cable towing over the bows, which, of course, helped to prevent the

ship from moving. In addition, the sail would prove helpful to force the vessel across the weed. Then he routed out a couple of kedges[28]. These, he bent on to the ends of a

short piece of cable, and, to the bight of this, the end of a long coil of strong rope.

"After that, he had the starboard quarter boat lowered into the weed, and in it he placed the two kedge anchors. The end of another length of rope, he made fast to the boat's

painter[29]. This done, he took four of the men with him, telling them to bring chain-hooks, in addition to the oars—his intention being to force the boat through the

weed, until he reached the clear water. There, in the marge of the weed, he would plant the two anchors in the thickest clumps of the growth; after which we were to haul the

boat back to the ship, by means of the rope attached to the painter.

"'Then,' as he put it, 'we'll take the kedge-rope to the capstan, and heave her out of this blessed cabbage heap!'

"The weed proved a greater obstacle to the progress of the boat, than, I think, he had anticipated. After half an hour's work, they had gone scarcely more than some two

hundred feet from the vessel; yet, so thick was the stuff, that no sign could we see of them, save the movement they made among the weed, as they forced the boat along.

"Another quarter of an hour passed away, during which the three men left upon the poop, paid out the ropes as the boat forged slowly ahead. All at once, I heard my name

called. Turning, I saw the Captain's daughter in the companionway, beckoning to me. I walked across to her.

"'My father has sent me up to know, Mr. Philips, how they are getting on?'

"'Very slowly, Miss Knowles,' I replied. 'Very slowly indeed. The weed is so extraordinarily thick.'

"She nodded intelligently, and turned to descend; but I detained her a moment.

"'Your father, how is he?' I asked.

"She drew her breath swiftly.

"'Quite himself,' she said; 'but so dreadfully weak. He——'

"An outcry from one of the men, broke across her speech:—

"'Lord 'elp us, mates! wot were that!'

"I turned sharply. The three of them were staring over the taffrail. I ran towards them, and Miss Knowles followed.

"'Hush!' she said, abruptly. 'Listen!'

"I stared astern to where I knew the boat to be. The weed all about it was quaking queerly—the movement extending far beyond the radius of their hooks and oars.

Suddenly, I heard the Second Mate's voice:

"'Look out, lads! My God, look out!'

"And close upon this, blending almost with it, came the hoarse scream of a man in sudden agony.

"I saw an oar come up into view, and descend violently, as though someone struck at something with it. Then the Second Mate's voice, shouting:—

"'Aboard there! Aboard there! Haul in on the rope! Haul in on the rope——!' It broke off into a sharp cry.

"As we seized hold of the rope, I saw the weed hurled in all directions, and a great crying and choking swept to us over the brown hideousness around.

"'Pull!' I yelled, and we pulled. The rope tautened; but the boat never moved.

"'Tek it ter ther capsting!' gasped one of the men.

"Even as he spoke, the rope slackened. "'It's coming!' cried Miss Knowles. 'Pull! Oh! Pull!'

"She had hold of the rope along with us, and together we hauled, the boat yielding to our strength with surprising ease.

"'There it is!' I shouted, and then I let go of the rope. There was no one in the boat.

"'For the half of a minute, we stared, dumfoundered. Then my gaze wandered astern to the place from which we had plucked it. There was a heaving movement among the

great weed masses. I saw something waver up aimlessly against the sky; it was sinuous, and it flickered once or twice from side to side; then sank back among the growth,

before I could concentrate my attention upon it.

"I was recalled to myself by a sound of dry sobbing. Miss Knowles was kneeling upon the deck, her hands clasped round one of the iron uprights of the rail. She seemed

momentarily all to pieces.

"'Come! Miss Knowles,' I said, gently. 'You must be brave. We cannot let your father know of this in his present state.'

"She allowed me to help her to her feet. I could feel that she was trembling badly. Then, even as I sought for words with which to reassure her, there came a dull thud from

the direction of the companionway. We looked round. On the deck, face downward, lying half in and half out of the scuttle[30], was the Captain. Evidently, he had

witnessed everything. Miss Knowles gave out a wild cry, and ran to her father. I beckoned to one of the men to help me, and, together, we carried him back to his bunk. An

hour later, he recovered from his swoon. He was quite calm, though very weak, and evidently in considerable pain.

"Through his daughter, he made known to me that he wished me to take the reins of authority in his place. This, after a slight demur, I decided to do; for, as I reassured

myself, there were no duties required of me, needing any special knowledge of shipcraft. The vessel was fast[31]; so far as I could see, irrevocably fast. It would be time to talk

of freeing her, when the Captain was well enough to take charge once more.

"I returned on deck, and made known to the men the Captain's wishes. Then I chose one to act as a sort of bo'sun over the other two, and to him I gave orders that

everything should be put to rights before the night came. I had sufficient sense to leave him to manage matters in his own way; for, whereas my knowledge of what was

needful, was fragmentary, his was complete.

"By this time, it was near to sunsetting, and it was with melancholy feelings that I watched the great hull of the sun plunge lower. For awhile, I paced the poop, stopping

ever and anon to stare over the dreary waste by which we were surrounded. The more I looked about, the more a sense of lonesomeness and depression and fear assailed me. I

had pondered much upon the dread happening of the day, and all my ponderings led to a vital questioning:—What was there among all that quiet weed, which had come

upon the crew of the boat, and destroyed them? And I could not make answer, and the weed was silent—dreadly silent!

"The sun had drawn very near to the dim horizon, and I watched it, moodily, as it splashed great clots of red fire across the water that lay stretched into the distance across

our stern. Abruptly, as I gazed, its perfect lower edge was marred by an irregular shape. For a moment, I stared, puzzled. Then I fetched a pair of glasses from the holdfast[32]

in the companion. A glance through these, and I knew the extent of our fate. That line, blotching the round of the sun, was the conformation of another enormous weed


"I remembered that the man had reported something as showing across the water, when he was sent up to the top of the mizzen stump in the morning; but, what it was, he

had been unable to say. The thought flashed into my mind that it had been only just visible from aloft in the morning, and now it was in sight from the deck. It occurred to

me that the wind might be compacting the weed, and driving the bank which surrounded the ship, down upon a larger portion. Possibly, the clear stretch of water had been

but a temporary rift within the heart of the Sargasso Sea. It seemed only too probable.

"Thus it was that I meditated, and so, presently, the night found me. For some hours further, I paced the deck in the darkness, striving to understand the incomprehensible;

yet with no better result than to weary myself to death. Then, somewhere about midnight, I went below to sleep.

"The following morning, on going on deck, I found that the stretch of clear water had disappeared entirely, during the night, and now, so far as the eye could reach, there was

nothing but a stupendous desolation of weed.

"The wind had dropped completely, and no sound came from all that weed-ridden immensity. We had, in truth, reached the Cemetery of the Ocean!

"The day passed uneventfully enough. It was only when I served out some food to the men, and one of them asked whether they could have a few raisins, that I remembered,

with a pang of sudden misery, that it was Christmas day. I gave them the fruit, as they desired, and they spent the morning in the galley, cooking their dinner. Their stolid

indifference to the late terrible happenings, appalled me somewhat, until I remembered what their lives were, and had been. Poor fellows! One of them ventured aft at dinner

time, and offered me a slice of what he called 'plum duff[33].' He brought it on a plate which he had found in the galley and scoured thoroughly with sand and water[34].

He tendered it shyly enough, and I took it, so graciously as I could, for I would not hurt his feelings; though the very smell of the stuff was an abomination.

"During the afternoon, I brought out the Captain's telescope, and made a thorough examination of the ancient hulk on our port beam. Particularly did I study the

extraordinary superstructure around her sides; but could not, as I have said before, conceive of its use.

"The evening, I spent upon the poop, my eyes searching wearily across that vile quietness, and so, in a little, the night came—Christmas night, sacred to a thousand happy

memories. I found myself dreaming of the night a year previous, and, for a little while, I forgot what was before me. I was recalled suddenly—terribly. A voice rose out of the

dark which hid the maindeck. For the fraction of an instant, it expressed surprise; then pain and terror leapt into it. Abruptly, it seemed to come from above, and then from

somewhere beyond the ship, and so in a moment there was silence, save for a rush of feet and the bang of a door forrard.

"I leapt down the poop ladder, and ran along the maindeck, towards the fo'cas'le[35]. As I ran, something knocked off my cap. I scarcely noticed it then. I reached the

fo'cas'le, and caught at the latch of the port door. I lifted it and pushed; but the door was fastened.

"'Inside there!' I cried, and banged upon the panels with my clenched fist.

"A man's voice came, incoherently.

"'Open the door!' I shouted. 'Open the door!'

"'Yes, Sir—I'm com—ming, Sir,' said one of them, jerkily.

"I heard footsteps stumble across the planking. Then a hand fumbled at the fastening, and the door flew open under my weight.

"The man who had opened to me, started back. He held a flaring slush-lamp[36] above his head, and, as I entered, he thrust it forward. His hand was trembling visibly, and,

behind him, I made out the face of one of his mates, the brow and dirty, clean-shaven upper lip drenched with sweat. The man who held the lamp, opened his mouth, and

gabbered at me; but, for a moment, no sound came.

"'Wot—wot were it? Wot we-ere it?' he brought out at last, with a gasp.

"The man behind, came to his side, and gesticulated.

"'What was what?' I asked sharply, and looking from one to the other. 'Where's the other man? What was that screaming?'

"The second man drew the palm of his hand across his brow; then flirted his fingers deckwards.

"'We don't know, Sir! We don't know! It were Jessop! Somethin's took 'im just as we was comin' forrid! We—we—He-he-HARK!'

"His head came forward with a jerk as he spoke, and then, for a space, no one stirred. A minute passed, and I was about to speak, when, suddenly, from somewhere out upon the deserted maindeck, there came a queer, subdued noise, as though something moved stealthily hither and thither. The man with the lamp caught me by the sleeve, and then, with an abrupt movement, slammed the door and fastened it.

"'That's IT, Sir!' he exclaimed, with a note of terror and conviction in his voice.

"I bade him be silent, while I listened; but no sound came to us through the door, and so I turned to the men and told them to let me have all they knew.

"It was little enough. They had been sitting in the galley, yarning, until, feeling tired, they had decided to go forrard and turn-in. They extinguished the light, and came out

upon the deck, closing the door behind them. Then, just as they turned to go forrard, Jessop gave out a yell. The next instant they heard him screaming in the air above their

heads, and, realising that some terrible thing was upon them, they took forthwith to their heels, and ran for the security of the fo'cas'le.

"Then I had come.

"As the men made an end of telling me, I thought I heard something outside, and held up my hand for silence. I caught the sound again. Someone was calling my name. It

was Miss Knowles. Likely enough she was calling me to supper—and she had no knowledge of the dread thing which had happened. I sprang to the door. She might be

coming along the maindeck in search of me. And there was Something out there, of which I had no conception—something unseen, but deadly tangible!

"'Stop, Sir!' shouted the men, together; but I had the door open.

"'Mr. Philips!' came the girl's voice at no great distance. 'Mr. Philips!'

"'Coming, Miss Knowles!' I shouted, and snatched the lamp from the man's hand.

"'The next instant, I was running aft, holding the lamp high, and glancing fearfully from side to side. I reached the place where the mainmast had been, and spied the girl

coming towards me.

"'Go back!' I shouted. 'Go back!'

"She turned at my shout, and ran for the poop ladder. I came up with her, and followed close at her heels. On the poop, she turned and faced me.

"'What is it, Mr. Philips?'

"I hesitated. Then:—

"'I don't know!' I said.

"'My father heard something,' she began. 'He sent me. He——'

"I put up my hand. It seemed to me that I had caught again the sound of something stirring on the maindeck.

"'Quick!' I said sharply. 'Down into the cabin!.' And she, being a sensible girl, turned and ran down without waste of time. I followed, closing and fastening the companion-

doors behind me.

"In the saloon, we had a whispered talk, and I told her everything. She bore up bravely, and said nothing; though her eyes were very wide, and her face pale. Then the Captain's voice came to us from the adjoining cabin.

"'Is Mr. Philips there, Mary?'

"'Yes, father.'

"'Bring him in.'

"I went in.

"'What was it, Mr. Philips?' he asked, collectedly.

"I hesitated; for I was willing to spare him the ill news; but he looked at me with calm eyes for a moment, and I knew that it was useless attempting to deceive him.

"'Something has happened, Mr. Philips,' he said, quietly. 'You need not be afraid to tell me.'

"At that, I told him so much as I knew, he listening, and nodding his comprehension of the story.

"'It must be something big,' he remarked, when I had made an end. 'And yet you saw nothing when you came aft?'

"'No,' I replied.

"'It is something in the weed,' he went on. 'You will have to keep off the deck at night.'

"After a little further talk, in which he displayed a calmness that amazed me, I left him, and went presently to my berth.

"The following day, I took the two men, and, together, we made a thorough search through the ship; but found nothing. It was evident to me that the Captain was right.

There was some dread Thing hidden within the weed. I went to the side and looked down. The two men followed me. Suddenly, one of them pointed.

"'Look, Sir!' he exclaimed. 'Right below you, Sir! Two eyes like blessed great saucers! Look!'

"I stared; but could see nothing. The man left my side, and ran into the galley. In a moment, he was back with a great lump of coal.

"'Just there, Sir,' he said, and hove it down into the weed immediately beneath where we stood.

"Too late, I saw the thing at which he aimed—two immense eyes, some little distance below the surface of the weed. I knew instantly to what they belonged; for I had seen

large specimens of the octopus some years previously, during a cruise in Australasian waters.

"'Look out, man!' I shouted, and caught him by the arm. 'It's an octopus! Jump back!' I sprang down on to the deck. In the same instant, huge masses of weed were hurled in

all directions, and half a dozen immense tentacles whirled up into the air. One lapped itself about his neck. I caught his leg; but he was torn from my grasp, and I tumbled

backwards on to the deck[37]. I heard a scream from the other man as I scrambled to my feet. I looked to where he had been; but of him there was no sign. Regardless of the

danger, in my great agitation, I leapt upon the rail, and gazed down with frightened eyes. Yet, neither of him nor his mate, nor the monster, could I perceive a vestige.

"How long I stood there staring down bewilderedly, I cannot say; certainly some minutes. I was so bemazed that I seemed incapable of movement. Then, all at once, I

became aware that a light quiver ran across the weed, and the next instant, something stole up out of the depths with a deadly celerity. Well it was for me that I had seen it in time, else should I have shared the fate of those two—and the others. As it was, I saved myself only by leaping backwards on to the deck. For a moment, I saw the feeler wave

above the rail with a certain apparent aimlessness; then it sank out of sight, and I was alone.

"An hour passed before I could summon a sufficiency of courage to break the news of this last tragedy to the Captain and his daughter, and when I had made an end, I returned to the solitude of the poop; there to brood upon the hopelessness of our position.

"As I paced up and down, I caught myself glancing continuously at the nearer weed tufts. The happenings of the past two days had shattered my nerves, and I feared every moment to see some slender death-grapple searching over the rail for me. Yet, the poop, being very much higher out of the weed than the maindeck, was comparatively safe; though only comparatively.

"Presently, as I meandered up and down, my gaze fell upon the hulk of the ancient ship, and, in a flash, the reason for that great superstructure was borne upon me. It was

intended as a protection against the dread creatures which inhabited the weed. The thought came to me that I would attempt some similar means of protection; for the

feeling that, at any moment, I might be caught and lifted out into that slimy wilderness, was not to be borne. In addition, the work would serve to occupy my mind, and help

me to bear up against the intolerable sense of loneliness which assailed me.

"I resolved that I would lose no time, and so, after some thought as to the manner in which I should proceed, I routed out some coils of rope and several sails. Then I went

down on to the maindeck and brought up an armful of capstan bars[38]. These I lashed vertically to the rail all round the poop. Then I knotted the rope to each, stretching

it tightly between them, and over this framework stretched the sails, sewing the stout canvas to the rope, by means of twine and some great needles which I found in the

Mate's room.

"It is not to be supposed that this piece of work was accomplished immediately. Indeed, it was only after three days of hard labour that I got the poop completed. Then I

commenced work upon the maindeck. This was a tremendous undertaking, and a whole fortnight passed before I had the entire length of it enclosed; for I had to be

continually on the watch against the hidden enemy. Once, I was very nearly surprised, and saved myself only by a quick leap. Thereafter, for the rest of that day, I did no

more work; being too greatly shaken in spirit. Yet, on the following morning, I recommenced, and from thence, until the end, I was not molested.

"Once the work was roughly completed, I felt at ease to begin and perfect it. This I did, by tarring the whole of the sails with Stockholm tar ; thereby making them stiff, and

capable of resisting the weather. After that, I added many fresh uprights, and much strengthening ropework, and finally doubled the sailcloth with additional sails, liberally

smeared with the tar.

"In this manner, the whole of January passed away, and a part of February. Then, it would be on the last day of the month, the Captain sent for me, and told me, without any

preliminary talk, that he was dying. I looked at him; but said nothing; for I had known long that it was so. In return, he stared back with a strange intentness, as though he would read my inmost thoughts, and this for the space of perhaps two minutes.

"'Mr. Philips,' he said at last, 'I may be dead by this time to-morrow. Has it ever occurred to you that my daughter will be alone with you ?'

"'Yes, Captain Knowles,' I replied, quietly, and waited.

"For a few seconds, he remained silent; though, from the changing expressions of his face, I knew that he was pondering how best to bring forward the thing which it was in

his mind to say.

"'You are a gentleman——' he began, at last.

"'I will marry her,' I said, ending the sentence for him.

"A slight flush of surprise crept into his face.

"'You—you have thought seriously about it?'

"'I have thought very seriously,' I explained.

"'Ah!' he said, as one who comprehends. And then, for a little, he lay there quietly. It was plain to me that memories of past days were with him. Presently, he came out of his

dreams, and spoke, evidently referring to my marriage with his daughter.

"'It is the only thing,' he said, in a level voice.

"I bowed, and after that, he was silent again for a space. In a little, however, he turned once more to me:—

"'Do you—do you love her?'

"His tone was keenly wistful, and a sense of trouble lurked in his eyes.

"'She will be my wife,' I said, simply; and he nodded.

"'God has dealt strangely with us,' he murmured presently, as though to himself.

"Abruptly, he bade me tell her to come in.

"And then he married us.

"Three days later, he was dead, and we were alone.

"For a while, my wife was a sad woman; but gradually time eased her of the bitterness of her grief.

"Then, some eight months after our marriage, a new interest stole into her life. She whispered it to me, and we, who had borne our loneliness uncomplainingly, had now this

new thing to which to look forward[39]. It became a bond between us, and bore promise of some companionship as we grew old. Old! At the idea of age, a sudden flash of

thought darted like lightning across the sky of my mind:—FOOD! Hitherto, I had thought of myself, almost as of one already dead, and had cared naught for anything

beyond the immediate troubles which each day forced upon me. The loneliness of the vast Weed World had become an assurance of doom to me, which had clouded and

dulled my faculties, so that I had grown apathetic. Yet, immediately, as it seemed, at the shy whispering of my wife, was all this changed.

"That very hour, I began a systematic search through the ship. Among the cargo, which was of a 'general' nature, I discovered large quantities of preserved and tinned

provisions, all of which I put carefully on one side. I continued my examination until I had ransacked the whole vessel. The business took me near upon six months to

complete, and when it was finished, I seized paper, and made calculations, which led me to the conclusion that we had sufficient food in the ship to preserve life in three

people for some fifteen to seventeen years. I could not come nearer to it than this; for I had no means of computing the quantity the child would need year by year. Yet it is sufficient to show me that seventeen years must be the limit. Seventeen years! And then——

"Concerning water, I am not troubled; for I have rigged a great sailcloth tun-dish, with a canvas pipe into the tanks; and from every rain, I draw a supply, which has never run short.

"The child was born nearly five months ago. She is a fine little girl, and her mother seems perfectly happy. I believe I could be quietly happy with them, were it not that I have

ever in mind the end of those seventeen years. True! we may be dead long before then; but, if not, our little girl will be in her teens—and it is a hungry age.

"If one of us died—but no! Much may happen in seventeen years. I will wait.

"My method of sending this clear of the weed is likely to succeed. I have constructed a small fire-balloon, and this missive, safely enclosed in a little barrel, will be attached.

The wind will carry it swiftly hence.

"Should this ever reach civilised beings, will they see that it is forwarded to:—"

(Here followed an address, which, for some reason, had been roughly obliterated[40]. Then came the signature of the writer)

"Arthur Samuel Philips."


The captain of the schooner looked over at Jock, as the man made an end of his reading.

"Seventeen years pervisions," he muttered thoughtfully. "An' this 'ere were written sumthin' like twenty-nine years ago!" He nodded his head several times. "Poor creatures!"

he exclaimed. "It'd be er long while, Jock—a long while[41]!"

NOTES BY M. GRANT KELLERMEYER: Hodgson’s most famous entry in the Sargasso Sea Mythos was the 1907 novel, “The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig” – a false document

purporting to be the fragment of a transcript of a story of a shipwreck told by a survivor to his adult son. The shipwreck itself is not described, but the novel begins “in media res”

with the lifeboats drifting into the mats of sargassum. Here they encounter a stranded ship besieged by mutated, maneating “weed men,” whom they defeat after a protracted, gruesome battle. One year previously, Hodgson wrote “From the Tideless Sea,” beginning his obsession with the weed-choked gyre. While most of the Sargasso stories are less fantastical than “Glen Carrig,” all share the same heavy atmosphere, dreary optics, and desert-like descriptions.

Hodgson was not the first man to mythologize the Sargasso Sea: Columbus famously encountered it en route to the West Indies, and some sources claim that his men feared being tangled in the weed (a ludicrous fear, it turned out: even the prow of a small wooden caravel would slice through sargassum like a warm knife through butter). Jules Verne would describe it as a weed-gagged expanse with the hulls of antique wrecks floating just below the surface, observable by the submersible “Nautilus.” Perhaps inspired by Verne, writers Julius Chambers (1896’s “In Sargasso”) and Thomas A. Janiver (1898’s “In the Sargasso Sea”) predated Hodgson with novel-length works that established the folkloric vision of a green, shaggy shipping graveyard of the North Atlantic, what L. Sprague de Camp called “an impenetrable tangle of weed holding fast the remains of ships of all ages from Spanish galleons on.” But Hodgson saw it as more than a spooky freak of Nature: to him it became what one writer calls “a distinctly supernatural ‘borderland.’”

So many of Hodgson’s works of horror do indeed revolve around liminal zones and borderlands where the Natural and supernatural realms blur into a sinister, crepuscular murkiness. It was Hodgson – primarily through “From the Tideless Sea” and “The Boats of the ‘Glen Carrig’” – who made Chambers and Janiver’s romantic adventures into an established mythology believed by many to be either factual or an exaggeration of facts. Aside from the floating weed mats – which drift in broken up patches, not in vast meadows – the uncanny clarity of the unusually blue water, and the tendency of the winds to be particularly weak in that zone, none of the fantastical imagery he has helped to popularize are accurate.

There may indeed have been a couple dozen or so ships or yachts which became becalmed in the Sargasso, and perhaps half a dozen were abandoned there by impatient crews, mutineers, or survivors of disaster, but the primary reason that the North Atlantic Gyre is identified with tangled derelicts and ghost ships is because of its geography. It is situated in the middle of the busiest shipping lanes in modern history – the triangular corridors between the resource-rich Western Hemisphere, Africa, and Europe – and is girded by the Atlantic’s most powerful currents, which empty their refuse into it. Jules Verne romantically describes timber from the American heartland – having fallen into the Mississippi, rushed to the Gulf of Mexico, and collected by the Gulf Stream – floating amidst the refuse of four continents in the trash heap of the Atlantic.


Of course, abandoned ships (especially ships carrying buoyant cargos of timber from Canada and New England to Europe – essentially unsinkable once abandoned) were ditched in these currents, and many were found bobbing in the Sargasso, sometimes streaked with green weeds, dismasted by weather, and caught dead in a region with neither currents nor wind to propel it. Such sights were reported with sensational gusto in papers and sailors’ berths, leading to Hodgson’s imaginative world of desperate immobility. But his conception – which he took proud ownership of, calling the Sargasso Sea his “birthright” and “hunting ground,” when angrily denouncing another writer of setting horror stories there – proved immortal.

The trope has reappeared in science fiction, fantasy, adventure, and horror films, comics, and stories ever sense. Most notably in the theories of Charles Fort and his successors, in Edward Corley’s 1978 “Sargasso,” multiple episodes of multiple incarnations of “Star Trek,” 1968’s unabashedly Hodgsonian “The Lost Continent,” memorable episodes of “Johnny Quest,” “The X-Files,” and “The Venture Bros,” the 1925 children’s adventure book “Don Sturdy in the Port of Lost Ships,” the Doc Savage book “The Sargasso Ogre,” and far more comic books than I will ever be able to list adequately. While Hodgson was not the first to introduce this fanciful and evocative image – of an endless landscape of rotting hulks from five different centuries overrun by vast growths of shaggy weed (hanging from the yards like Spanish moss, spilling down the gunwales, and climbing up the rigging like cobwebs), sometimes hiding the existence of aggressive octopi, giant crabs, or mutated weed people – he was right about one thing: it remains his birthright, and all modern incarnations of the Dread Sargasso Sea owe Hodgson a debt of gratitude.


[1] A ship with fore-and-aft sails (tall sails projecting from the back of a mast, held up by an upward projecting spar) on two or more of its masts

[2] Binoculars

[3] Steps leading below the deck

[4] “Shove the helm down a bit” – to turn the wheel in that direction

[5] A long pole with a hook used to pull in an approaching boat or to recover floating material

[6] A lasso of sorts

[7] A wooden cask for storing water aboard ship

[8] The amount of the stony little crustaceans which grow on the bottom of ships are indicative of the time the cask has spent in the water, not unlike the way that moss or rust or dust indicate the time an object has stayed unmoved

[9] This waterproofing, tar-like substance has been daubed over the cask to keep it afloat, but easily comes off in a shell, suggesting its old age

[10] A waterproof fabric made from canvas covered in tar – this is what raincoats used to be made out of

[11] Manuscript

[12] A gyre of deep, still water in the middle of the North Atlantic located approximately between northern parallels 20 (Cuba) to 35 (Raleigh, North Carolina), and western longitudes 70 (east of Bermuda) to 40 (west of the Azores Islands). The world’s only sea without a coastline, the Sargasso is 700 miles wide and 2,000 miles long – a clockwise rotating body of water bordered by four of the North Atlantic’s most powerful currents: the Gulf Stream to the west, North Atlantic Current to the north, Canary Current to the east, and the Equatorial Current to the south. The waters of the Sargasso are notoriously still and quiet: a peculiar deep, but translucent blue, you can see up to 200 feet down into its depths. Named after the dense mats of golden-brown sargassum seaweed that grow in patchy mats over its surface, the Sargasso became notorious as a graveyard of ships marooned in its still waters, earning the nickname “the Horse Latitudes” when a Spanish ship travelling to the New World – stalled during a calm – was forced to kill and dump the bodies of their horses to preserve water

[13] The rear-most mast of a sailing ship, usually the smallest

[14] Left

[15] Health and the lack of health were obsessions of Hodgson’s and feature regularly in his work

[16] A reference to degrees 49-40 of northern latitude: roughly the latitudes between Paris and New York

[17] Rapidly pull up the sails to prevent the masts from being blown away in high winds

[18] A very uncommon need

[19] The left-front of a ship: roughly 10 to 11 o’clock

[20] Pulley ropes used to raise and lower rigging

[21] The lifeboat on the left-front side of the ship

[22] The direction that wind is heading – opposite of windward

[23] A heavy weight – not unlike a regular anchor – which is lowered from a ship’s side to give it stability in rough seas, to keep it from capsizing, and to keep it from drifting far off course

[24] A spirit connected with a particular element of nature

[25] St Elmo’s fire: a glowing light caused by electricity in the air, especially noted during storms

[26] This scene is highly reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Descent into the Maelstrom”

[27] Directly to the left – 9 o’ clock

[28] Small anchors which could move a ship forward incrementally by the power caused by their being raised and lowered

[29] A towline

[30] A hatchway

[31] That is, “stuck”

[32] An iron staple or hook

[33] A cake made of spices, raisins, and currants

[34] Hodgson’s hypochondria rears its head again

[35] Or “forecastle” – the area bellow the forward quarter of the deck where the common sailors slept, ate, and entertained themselves

[36] A crude, homemade lamp: grease, oil, or fat is packed into a dish or bowl or cup, and a strip of cloth is laid into it and lit as a wick

[37] This improbable – in fact, impossible – scene is borrowed from Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”

[38] Bars used to turn the capstan – the crank which raises the anchor

[39] Naturally, she is pregnant

[40] Hodgson likely does this to underscore the sheer isolation of his characters: even after their story is found it is still impossible to forward it to their family from their life before hand: they will live and die as strangers

[41] A dismayed reference to the amount of time the little family would spend waiting hopelessly for aid, and – more to the point – the time that it would take them to slowly starve to death

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