“I have personally no doubt at all but that there is some extraordinary virtue in the old magick figure.
Curious thing for a twentieth century man to admit, is it not…but then, as you all know, I never did, and never will allow myself to be blinded by a little cheap laughter.”
Strax hunts ghosts.
Well, not literally. But Dan Starkey takes on William Hope Hodgson’s turn of the century Weird Tales featuring the occultically inclined detective and debunker of supernatural doings. With Big Finish tackling such oddball classics of weird fiction, can Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin be far behind?
These are essentially Companion Chronicles-esque affairs, with Starkey handling most of the narration and joined solely by Joseph Kloska’s Dodgson on the framing narrative end. The tales appear to be unabridged, with each short story running about an hour, and provide due entertainment to those inclined to this sort of material: fans of Holmes, M.R. James and the early gothic novel should feel quite comfortable here.
Elements hearken straight back to Anne Radcliffe and Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (gasp! The room was haunted by a giant ghostly hand!“) and the stories’ age shows in more ways than the uninitiated may expect – there’s a bit of business with a dead cat in Gateway that certainly rung a rather wrong note.
Some early “ghost hunter” methodology is on display here, including a specially rigged camera (Gateway of the Monster, Horse of the Invisible, Thing Invisible), but Hodgson equally applies a nod of respect towards the dark arts, with Carnacki also working an odd, “modernized” variant of some defensive low magickal operations at various points (Gateway of the Monster, Whistling Room).
What makes Carnacki a bit bizarre is that the stories often move towards Houdini cum Penn & Teller territory, in that there are some very rational explanations for the apparent “supernatural” goings on…and yet, equally often (and at times in the very same story!), the existence of the forces of the unseen is ratified and paid due respect.
Are these straight up ghost stories? Holmesian mysteries? One thing these are certainly not are M.R. Jameslike explorations of personal guilt and self-delusionary psychology with apparent (but arguably illusory) supernatural manifestation. When Hodgson decides there actually is an occult force involved, be assured it is, at least within the confines of his scripted world.
Interestingly, Big Finish adapts the better part of the nine Carnacki tales, but avoids “the hog”, “the haunted Jarvee” and “the find”: hardly enough held back for a possible “volume 2”. One can only presume the Idler and New Magazine stories fall under a different rights holder to the final three.
Hodgson has only rarely been paid respect in the modern era – beyond a Weird Tales collection or two and the odd gathering of his tales in print, the sole example which comes to mind is 1971’s excellent Rivals of Sherlock Holmes series, where none other than Donald Pleasance essayed the role for the “Horse of the Invisible” episode.
As such, Carnacki may come somewhat out of left field for the modern listener: an unfamiliar archaism appearing without warning from the dusty shelves of the prior century…and barely that, just vaulting the cusp thereof from the nineteenth.
But for those with a taste for the hidden riches to be found in earlier and more dignified and inquisitive times, Carnacki should come as a breath of fresh air and a pleasant, if all too rare diversion from an increasingly grim, mechanized and impersonal world.