William Hope Hodgson’s The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”

Paul R. Potts

About This Article

In 2006 and 2007 I was actively contributing to Wikipedia, and wrote much of the current articles about William Hope Hodgson and his works. It may seem obvious now, but at the time I had not really fully internalized what Wikipedia is meant to be: an encyclopedia and tertiary source that assembles secondary material. Habits learned as an English major die hard, and so I would frequently wander away from writing simple chapter summaries into offering analysis and interpretation, which actually comprises “original research” and so is not wanted on the site. And so I present this article, containing excerpts from my contributions to that Wikipedia article. It does not match the current article, and does not exactly match any of the previous drafts of the article, but is assembled from my contributions to the page dated August 4, 2006 through March 14, 2007.

Further down, after my notes on The Boats fo the “Glen Carrig,” the book, there is information about my recording of the book, which I serialized as a podcast.

It should probably be obvious that an article with a section called “Plot Summary” will contain spoilers, but in case it isn’t: this article contains spoilers!


The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” is a horror novel by William Hope Hodgson, first published in 1907. Its importance was recognized in its later revival in paperback by Ballantine Books as the twenty-fifth volume of the celebrated Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in February 1971.

The novel is written in an archaic style, and is presented as a true account, written in 1757, of events occurring earlier. The narrator is a passenger who was traveling on the ship Glen Carrig, which was lost at sea when it struck “a hidden rock.” The story is about the adventures of the survivors, who escaped the wreck in two lifeboats.

Modern readers may find the writing style more tedious to read than Hodgson’s other works, because there is no dialogue in the usual sense, and Hodgson’s sentences often become very long, using semicolons and numerous prepositional phrases. The style is similar to the style Hodgson uses in his novel The Night Land, although Boats is a much shorter novel and easier to complete.

While The Night Land is an early example of science fiction, Boats is primarily a survival and adventure story with elements of horror, in the form of monsters. The monsters do not necessarily require a supernatural explanation (i.e., there are no ghosts, as in Hodgson’s novel The Ghost Pirates or some of his Carnacki stories), but there are also few explanations given. Boats in its strong use of concrete detail evokes a lost world, and is also an interesting case study in human relationships and class mores, as the class distinctions between the narrator and the crew members are broken down by the shared situation they find themselves in, but are eventually re-established.

The text is out of copyright and is available online via Project Gutenberg and other sources. An unabridged recording of the novel is available in the form of a podcast.

Literary Significance

H. P. Lovecraft in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature” has the following to say about the novel:

In The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” (1907) we are shown a variety of malign marvels and accursed unknown lands as encountered by the survivors of a sunken ship. The brooding menace in the earlier parts of the book is impossible to surpass, though a letdown in the direction of ordinary romance and adventure occurs toward the end. An inaccurate and pseudo-romantic attempt to reproduce eighteenth-century prose detracts from the general effect, but the really profound nautical erudition everywhere displayed is a compensating factor.

Plot Summary

The survivors first encounter a dismal, muddy, flat land, which the narrator calls the “land of lonesomeness,” and paddle the lifeboats up a creek. The air is filled with strange cries and growls. They come across an abandoned ship, and climbing aboard, discover food. The ship appears to have been evacuated in haste, with coins and clothing left behind.

While spending the night aboard the ship, the survivors are attacked by a strange tentacled creature. They find troubling notes left by a female passenger aboard the ship, one of which makes reference to a nearby spring. The men locate the spring, but after filling their water containers, they discover horrifying plants that have taken on human shapes, and which produce blood-curdling cries. The survivors head back out to sea with all due haste.

Back on the open sea, the survivors confront a tremendous storm. The second boat becomes separated from the first, although the narrator reveals that those aboard will eventually make it back to London. The story now concentrates entirely on the survivors in the first boat. The men set up a canvas covering to shield the boat from breaking waves and a “sea anchor” which keeps the boat perpendicular to the waves. The storm is a long ordeal, but the boat and the men come through unscathed.

After surviving the storm, the men encounter giant, floating masses of seaweed, and enormous crabs. They pass a number of lost, ancient vessels in this Sargasso Sea, which the narrator calls the “cemetery of the oceans.” After encountering giant crabs and a weird humanoid creature they locate a habitable island. While the men explore, young seaman Job remains in the boat, and is attacked by a giant “devil-fish” (an enormous octopus). Job is struck with an oar and gravely injured. The bo’sun bravely risks his life to bring Job ashore, but Job remains unconscious. The narrator discovers that the boat is badly damaged, and it must be repaired before it can be used again.

Things become difficult for the men on the island. The narrator is attacked in his sleep by some kind of tentacled creature, which leaves marks on his throat. The unconscious Job is discovered missing, and a frantic search is carried out. His dead body is discovered in the valley, drained of blood. The men, filled with rage, burn down the island’s forest of giant toadstools, the flames lasting through the night. In the morning, they bury Job on the beach. The bo’sun grimly starts making his repairs to the boat, using wood recovered from another wrecked ship.

Ascending to the highest point of the island, the men find that they are quite near to a ship embedded in the weed, and while keeping watch they see a light aboard the ship. Those aboard the ship have built a protective superstructure, which can be closed to resist attacks by the creatures that inhabit the “weed-continent.” The men manage to establish contact with the crew using words written on large pieces of canvas, and begin planning strategies to rescue the people aboard.

The evenings on the island get progressively worse. The men are attacked repeatedly by hideous, foul-smelling, tentacled humanoid creatures that swarm over the island in the dark; these can only be kept at bay with huge bonfires. The narrator and several other men are injured in an attack. A seaman named Tomkins goes missing, and Job’s body disappears from his grave, evidently removed by the ghoulish “weed-men.”

Although in dire straits themselves, the men on the island retain a strong desire to aid those aboard the ship trapped in the seaweed. Coastal life-saving operations historically could use a small mortar (later known as a “Lyle gun”) to fire a projectile carrying a light rope, which was carefully pre-coiled in a basket to avoid fouling. This would be used to haul a stronger rope, which could be pulled taut and used to accommodate a Breeches buoy that could be slid along a rope hawser. This possibility is discussed. The men on the island ask the people aboard the trapped ship if they have a mortar aboard. They reply by holding up a large piece of canvas upon which is written “NO.”

The narrator advocates the construction of a giant crossbow to fire a line over to the trapped ship. The bo’sun assents, and the men build the elaborate crossbow, composed of a number of smaller bows that can be fired together to propel a single arrow.

The bow can easily launch an arrow past the vessel, but unfortunately when even a light line is attached, the arrows fall far short. All is not lost, though, because another crew member manages to build a large box kite which succeeds in carrying a line to the ship on the first attempt. The men manage to use the light line to pull across successively stronger lines, until they have a heavy rope stretched between the island and the ship. The bo’sun attaches this to a conveniently located boulder, while, the crew of the ship attaches the line to the stump of a mast and uses a capstan to gradually winch the ship closer to the island.

Two groups exchange letters by pulling an oilskin bag along the connecting rope. We learn that the ship, which was attacked by a devil-fish, has been stuck in the weed for seven years, and the captain and more than half of the crew are dead. Fortunately the ship carried a great deal of food, and so those aboard have not gone hungry. Indeed, the ship is even able to supply the men on the island with fresh bread, wine, ham, cheese, and tobacco.

When the ship is close enough, and the rope high enough above the weed to ensure a safe passage, the narrator rides a Breeches buoy to the ship, where he receives a hero’s welcome. He discovers that there are several women aboard: the captain’s wife, who is mad; the “buxom woman” who is now the cook, and the young and eligible Mistress Madison. The narrator and Mistress Madison develop a romance and Mistress Madison, who was only twelve years old when the ship was trapped in the weed, looks forward to re-joining the wider world as a young woman of nineteen. But they are not out of the weeds yet: the bo’sun sends a note indicating that he has doubts about the state of the rope, which has frayed slightly, and insists that it is too dangerous for the narrator to return the way he came. The weed is still a dangerous place, and the ship is attacked again by the devil-fish and by the weed-men. But the crew of the ship works through the night to winch the ship closer to the island, and it is finally freed from the weed altogether.

The rest of the men from the island tow the ship around to the far side of the island using the now-repaired lifeboat. The men board, and the combined group spends nearly seven weeks making the ship ready to sail: they disassemble the superstructure, repair the masts, and install sails. They try to avoid the floating masses of weed, but brush against one accidentally and are again boarded and attacked by weed-men. Victory against the weed-men is overshadowed by sorrow when it is discovered that the captain’s wife has disappeared during the attack. A somber but determined crew finally make it back to London.

We learn that the narrator is a man of some wealth. He marries Mistress Madison, gives gifts to the crew members, and provides a place for the bo’sun, who is now his close friend, to live upon his estate. In the closing of the story the narrator describes how he and the bo’sun often talk about their adventures, although they change the subject when the narrator’s children are around, because “the little ones love not terror.”


Names play a very minor role in this novel. As there is no dialogue, characters never speak the names of other characters. The narrator’s name, John Winterstraw, appears only in the book’s subtitle. The bo’sun, who plays a key role in the novel, is never given a name in the novel. Several other characters are never named, such as the “buxom woman,” the “big seaman,” and the “captain’s wife.”

Only one other important character is given a name: Mistress Mary Madison is the 19-year-old survivor aboard the Seabird who eventually becomes the narrator’s wife. Job is a young ordinary seaman who is killed; Tomkins is a seaman who disappears during a weed-man attack; Jessop is the seaman who builds the kite; George is an apprentice who reads the stories left by a passenger aboard the ship in the creek; Josh is the name of the seaman leading the men in the second boat.


Hodgson’s language in this novel is archaic and flowing. His sentences tend to be very long, often using semicolon-separated independent clauses and numerous prepositional phrases. Here is an example of one of his longer sentences:

Yet, to please the fellow, I put my hand upon the line, which we had made fast in the evening to a large piece of rock, and so, immediately, I discovered that something was pulling upon it, hauling and then slackening, so that it occurred to me that the people in the vessel might be indeed wishful to send us some message, and at that, to make sure, I ran to the nearest fire, and, lighting a tuft of weed, waved it thrice; but there came not any answering signal from those in the ship, and at that I went back to feel at the rope, to assure myself that it had not been the pluck of the wind upon it; but I found that it was something very different from the wind, something that plucked with all the sharpness of a hooked fish, only that it had been a mighty great fish to have given such tugs, and so I knew that some vile thing out in the darkness of the weed was fast to the rope, and at this there came the fear that it might break it, and then a second thought that something might be climbing up to us along the rope, and so I bade the big seaman stand ready with his great cutlass, whilst I ran and waked the bo’sun.

Hodgson also tends towards tongue-twisting alliteration:

Thus we had her sparred, all but a bowsprit and jibboom; yet this we managed by making a stumpy, spike bowsprit from one of the smaller spars which they had used to shore up the superstructure, and because we feared that it lacked strength to bear the strain of our fore and aft stays, we took down two hawsers from the fore, passing them in through the hawse-holes and setting them up there.

Note the large number of consecutive or nearly consecutive words beginning with the letter “s” — sparred, stumpy, spike, smaller, spars, superstructure, strength, strain, and stays. Hodgson shows a certain playfulness of style throughout the book. For example, note the adjacent homophones ladder and latter in the excerpt below:

…Josh called out to the bo’sun that he had come upon a ladder, lashed across the fo’cas’le head. This was brought, also several hatch covers. The latter were placed first upon the mud, and the ladder laid upon them; by which means we were enabled to pass up to the top of the bank without contact with the mud.


Hodgson’s style in this novel is notable for its degree of descriptive detail. It is also significant that in certain passages Hodgson chooses to provide almost no detail. Physical artifacts in the novel are described with loving attention.

…we carried all the loose woodwork of the boat into the tent, emptying the lockers of their contents, which included some oakum, a small boat’s hatchet, a coil of one-and-a-half-inch hemp line, a good saw, an empty, colza-oil tin, a bag of copper nails, some bolts and washers, two fishing-lines, three spare tholes, a three-pronged grain without the shaft, two balls of spun yarn, three hanks of roping-twine, a piece of canvas with four roping-needles stuck in it, the boat’s lamp, a spare plug, and a roll of light duck for making boat’s sails.

Hodgson also provides extensive, convincing details of the storm, the construction of the giant bow, the construction of the kite, and the repairs of the Seabird.


Uncanny creatures such as the weed-men are described, but very little detail is given. We are given much more information about the narrator’s reactions to these things than the things themselves:

Now it is scarcely possible to convey the extraordinary disgust which the sight of these human slugs bred in me; nor, could I, do I think I would; for were I successful, then would others be like to retch even as I did, the spasm coming on without premonition, and born of very horror. And then, suddenly, even as I stared, sick with loathing and apprehension, there came into view, not a fathom below my feet, a face like to the face which had peered up into my own on that night, as we drifted beside the weed-continent. At that, I could have screamed, had I been in less terror; for the great eyes, so big as crown pieces, the bill like to an inverted parrot’s, and the slug-like undulating of its white and slimy body, bred in me the dumbness of one mortally stricken.

The Narrator

We are not told the narrator’s name in the body of the text, althouth the subtitle indicates the story is told by “John Winterstraw, Gent.” The “Gent.” (short for Gentleman) is a hint about the narrator — he is a man of status. His son, James Winterstraw, presumably doesn’t get to call himself a Gentleman, at least not yet, although in what may be the only deliberate humor in the book, he does give himself praise for writing down his father’s story “very properly and legibly.” The name “Winterstraw” may be a hint that the narrator is now an older man, in the “winter” of his life, recounting an adventure from his younger days.

It is notable that after this hint about his status, for many pages the narrator does not describe himself to any significant extent. We learn that he is physically the lightest of the men, which makes him the best qualified to ride between the island and the ship by rope, but that is just about the only detail given.

Other Characters

It is not just the narrator who is not described in detail. No descriptions are given for most of the characters, except for an occasional term used to describe their physical size (for example, the “big seaman”); we also learn that the bo’sun is “a great man” (that is, a very large man). Most are never given names; we know the bo’sun only by his title. There is no quoted conversation or speech whatsoever. The narrator provides only summaries of conversations. This means that it is not possible to distinguish characters by their speech patterns.

While the male characters are barely described, it is notable that the two two of the female characters, Mistress Mary Madison and “the buxom woman,” have characters that are described by their actions. Mistress Mary Madison sings a song and dances a jig; the buxom woman embraces the narrator. The character of the bo’sun can also be gleaned from his heroic behavior.


The novel starts in the middle of the story. The subtitle reads:

Being an account of their Adventures in the Strange places of the Earth, after the foundering of the good ship Glen Carrig through striking upon a hidden rock in the unknown seas to the Southward. As told by John Winterstraw, Gent., to his Son James Winterstraw, in the year 1757, and by him committed very properly and legibly to manuscript.

We learn nothing else about what happened to the Glen Carrig, its captain, or any of the other people aboard the ship. The text begins:

Now we had been five days in the boats, and in all this time made no discovering of land. Then upon the morning of the sixth day came there a cry from the bo’sun, who had the command of the lifeboat, that there was something which might be land afar upon our larboard bow; but it was very low lying, and none could tell whether it was land or but a morning cloud. Yet, because there was the beginning of hope within our hearts, we pulled wearily towards it, and thus, in about an hour, discovered it to be indeed the coast of some flat country.

From this point onward, the narrative follows the adventures of the group of men aboard the first lifeboat. For fourteen out of the book’s seventeen chapters, the story unfolds very slowly and deliberately, with very little omitted. But it isn’t until the end of chapter fifteen that the narrative begins to compress time significantly. Then, seven weeks are elided:

Now, the time that it took us to rig the ship, and fit her out, was seven weeks, saving one day.

And the bulk of the entire trip back to London is condensed to a single sentence:

And so, after a voyage which lasted for nine and seventy days since getting under weigh, we came to the Port of London, having refused all offers of assistance on the way.

The final epilogue in only a few words brings us back to the “now” of the book’s subtitle, the point in time in which the narrator’s story is transcribed.


The Significance of the Style

Hodgson uses style to enhance the particular effect he was trying to achieve in this novel: that is an adventure story that is convincing in its realism, and thus also frightening because of the imaginative horrifying elements. Hodgson makes an interesting choice in providing very few details about his narrator and the other characters. This makes the story less driven by character and more by events, which might tend to leave readers unable to sympathise strongly with characters. However, the compensating lack of detail makes the narrator serve as a nearly transparent camera lens, allowing the reader to vicariously experience the events of the story. The affected, archaic prose style and obscure nautical vocabulary helps the reader believe that the narrative was written a hundred years or more before its publication.

Realism: Detail Present and Detail Missing

Hodgson’s use of realistic detail provides a very strong grounding in the physical world. The framing of the story as a record of allegedly real events, written down during the narrator’s lifetime, enhances this sense of realism. But while mundane objects such as pieces of wood used in repairing the boat can be examined closely by daylight, the men are never able to obtain a a live or dead weed-man to examine; the wounded and dead are carried off, and when the men do find a dead weed-man he is underwater, and tantalizingly out of reach. The tentacled creature retreats from the ship in the creek before it can be clearly seen; the note left by the female passenger provides only a cryptic hint about the fate of the passengers. Hodgson was well aware that monsters are more frightening when one can’t perceive them clearly, and so the reader is left to visualize the creature starting from only the roughest of sketches.

Parallel Narratives

The shipwreck back-story is somewhat parallel to the story of the second ship, the Seabird, whose captain was also lost. This provides a common background for the narrator and Mistress Madison, making the rapid development of a romantic relationship more believable. Both characters are shipwrecked literally, but also figuratively, in that their lack of back-story isolates them from their familial and societal contexts, and both have developed surrogate parents.

The Lack of Details about the Characters

By leaving out most of the details about the men, while focusing on their environment, their adversaries, their skills, and their ships, it seems that Hodgson sought to make the characters in the story less particular and more generic, so that the story could focus more upon the strange and uncanny landscapes and creatures. A narrator of a high socio-economic status, but who displayed very few personal qualities, allows the readers to more readily fantasize that they are themselves in the narrator’s place, and enter the story more fully.

The Ironic Rescue

As soon as the survivors of the Glen Carrig realize that the derelict ship is inhabited, the narrator begins speaking in terms of “rescuing” those in the ship:

Then, suddenly, it seemed to come to us to realize that they were among the weed, and we upon the hill-top, and that we had no means of bridging that which lay between. And at this we faced one another to discuss what we should do to effect the rescue of those within the hulk.

In fact, it becomes a matter of honor to point out the purity of their motives:

…suddenly, our whole desire to leave the island, was changed into a determination to rescue the people in the hulk, and, indeed, had our intentions not been such we had been veritable curs; though I am happy to tell that we had no thought at this juncture but for those who were now looking to us to restore them once more to the world to which they had been so long strangers.

The word “rescue” appears several more times, but gradually it becomes clear that those in the hulk are safer and more comfortable than the men on the island! The “rescuers” receive fresh bread, wine, and other delicacies from those aboard the ship. It is ironic that in working so hard to “rescue” those aboard the ship, the survivors of the Glen Carrig ultimately enable the ship to “rescue” them; it is not a single heroic rescue, ultimately, but cooperation and mutual sacrifice that enable both parties to escape from the deadly Sargasso Sea.

Female and Male Environments

While all of the survivors of the Glen Carrig are male, it is significant that the Seabird is home to three female characters: Mistress Madison, “the buxom woman,” and “the captain’s wife.” Once aboard the Seabird, the narrator interacts primarily with the women. In this “female environment” there are even two children and a bit of singing and dancing. No male characters aboard the Seabird are named, and they are mentioned only in passing. This serves to portray the men in this “female environment” as entirely secondary, even subservient, to the women.

The Narrator and the Hero

The narrator is the character through which we experience most of the story. Since the narrator is first aboard the ship trapped in the weed, he receives a hero’s welcome, and develops a romance with Mistress Madison. But he is not really the hero; that role actually belongs to the bo’sun, who shows extremes of endurance, ingenuity, and bravery. One more than one occasion, he puts his own life in danger for the sake of his men:

Now I could not imagine how to save the lad, and indeed I fear he had been left to destruction — for I had deemed it madness to try to reach the boat by swimming — but for the extraordinary bravery of the bo’sun, who, without hesitating, dashed into the water and swam boldly out to the boat, which, by the grace of God, he reached without mishap, and climbed in over the bows.

The bo’sun knack for carpentry combines with his self-sacrificing qualities to make him a somewhat Jesus-like figure, although this symbolism is not strongly emphasised in the story.

By separating these two roles Hodsgon allows us to come to appreciate the bo’sun’s quiet heroism ourselves; he is an “unsung” hero, whereas if the narrator had been written as the hero, we might question his objectivity and think that he was primarily engaged in self-aggrandizement.

The narrator’s relationship to the bo’sun is complex: his first response seems to be admiration, but he soon develops a desire for his approval:

And for this, and many other matters, I had grown to like the man, the which I could almost believe at times, was his regarding of me; but his words were too few for me to gather his feelings; though I had hope that they were as I surmised.

The bo’sun is clearly stronger, braver, and smarter than the narrator (at least in his knowledge of carpentry, sailing, and survival at sea). For example, he understands quickly why the water caught in the salt-encrusted canvas can’t be drunk, while the narrator and the other men seem surprised:

…we had near a breaker-full of water collected in the canvas, and were about to run it off into one of the breakers, when the bo’sun cried out to us to hold, and first taste the water before we mixed it with that which we had already. At that, we put down our hands and scooped up some of the water to taste, and thus we discovered it to be brackish and quite undrinkable, at which I was amazed, until the bo’sun reminded us that the canvas had been saturated for many days with salt water, so that it would take a great quantity of fresh before all the salt was washed out.

Note that even when he describes the bo’sun in affectionate terms, the narrator also refers to his shortcomings, such as his lack of formal education:

I told how that I had read that the ancients made mighty weapons, some of which could throw a great stone so heavy as two men, over a distance surpassing a quarter of a mile; moreover, that they compassed huge catapults which threw a lance, or great arrow, even further. On this, he expressed much surprise, never having heard of the like…

And his difficulty with writing and spelling:

Presently, the second mate came in with a note from the bo’sun, which he laid upon the table for the girl to read, the which she beckoned me to do also, and so I discovered that it was a suggestion, written very rudely and ill-spelt…

Despite these shortcomings, it is hinted that had the narrator not gotten to know Mistress Madison first, the bo’sun could have been a contender for her affections:

Now when the boat came near, the men in her scanned us very curiously; but the bo’sun took off his head-gear, with a clumsy grace that well became him; at which Mistress Madison smiled very kindly upon him, and, after that, she told me with great frankness that he pleased her, and, more, that she had never seen so great a man, which was not strange seeing that she had seen but few since she had come to years when men become of interest to a maid.

Note that the narrator can’t resist describing the bo’sun’s “grace” as “clumsy.”

The narrator’s age is mentioned: he is only 23 years old, so it is possible also that he looks to the bo’sun as a father figure. The bo’sun seems to step into the role of father when he gives his approval to the relationship between the narrator and Mistress Madison:

Of our love one for the other, I think yet, and ponder how that mighty man, the bo’sun, came so quickly to a knowledge of the state of our hearts; for he gave me a very sly hint one day that he had a sound idea of the way in which the wind blew, and yet, though he said it with a half-jest, methought there was something wistful in his voice, as he spoke, and at that I just clapt my hand in his, and he gave it a very huge grip. And after that he ceased from the subject.

This “father-feeling” does not disappear, although as we will see, it becomes sublimated in a class-appropriate relationship.

The Role of Class: Distinctions Hidden and Restored

The style Hodgson develops serves to obscure, for the bulk of the story, most of the hints that would otherwise exist about the class differences between the narrator and the other survivors of the Glen Carrig, particularly the bo’sun.

This places the story slightly in the realm of fantasy: is it realistic to think that a wealthy, privileged passenger would adapt so quickly to the privation of the lifeboat, eating and sleeping in close quarters with the seamen, and wind up serving competently as a fighting man and sailor? It could be viewed as wish-fulfillment, for a middle-class reader who would like to believe that he or she could adapt to working-class circumstances and learn the ropes without apparent effort. While the narrator gets the girl, and portrays himself as more quick-witted than most of the crew, there are various points in the narrative at which he gets some slight comeuppance. His giant crossbow fails to shoot a rope from the island to the weed-trapped brig, while Jessop’s kite succeeds immediately. The narrator is also wounded, but his wounds are almost comically minor; he receives welts on his neck that look to the other sailors “like the bites of a fly,” and his toe is bitten by a weed-man (other survivors, such as Job, were not so fortunate). In this wish-fulfillment world the narrator wishes to be challenged — but not too hard —, and rewarded within it; his adventure is practically a holiday.

We begin to see the narrator’s sense of class reassert itself once he reaches the Seabird. Here, in his relationship with the women of the ship, class distinctions are still manifest. The “buxom woman” behaves deferentially to the narrator, and seeks his approval for her shipboard marriage; she is obviously conscious of his class and status relative to hers:

…it was the woman in the galley who answered my question; for she turned and, with something of a red face, informed me that they were hers, at which I felt some surprise; but supposed that she had taken passage in the ship with her husband; yet in this I was not correct; for she proceeded to explain that, thinking they were cut off from the world for the rest of this life, and falling very fond of the carpenter, they had made it up together to make a sort of marriage… And so she came to an end of her story, expressing a hope that she had done no wrong by her marriage, as none had been intended.

She elevates the narrator to the position to pass judgement on her behavior, and seems to feel relief at his approval.

When some of the trappings of civilization have been restored and the Seabird is ready to set sail, the bo’sun re-asserts the importance of the class distinction between the narrator and himself. The narrator’s response is to continue to play the role of sailor:

Now, after the rum, the bo’sun bade the crew to clear up the gear about the decks, and get matters secured, and at that I turned to go with the men, having become so used to work with them; but he called to me to come up to him upon the poop, the which I did, and there he spoke respectfully, remonstrating with me, and reminding me that now there was need no longer for me to toil; for that I was come back to my old position of passenger, such as I had been in the Glen Carrig, ere she foundered. But to this talk of his, I made reply that I had as good a right to work my passage home as any other among us; for though I had paid for a passage in the Glen Carrig, I had done no such thing regarding the Seabird — this being the name of the hulk — and to this, my reply, the bo’sun said little; but I perceived that he liked my spirit, and so from thence until we reached the Port of London, I took my turn and part in all seafaring matters, having become by this quite proficient in the calling.

But for him it is just a role, because he can break out of the role when circumstances begin to return to normal:

Yet, in one matter, I availed myself of my former position; for I chose to live aft, and by this was abled to see much of my sweetheart, Mistress Madison.

The narrator has been given much, and so he gives back:

And I placed monies in the hands of the buxom woman, so that she could have no reason to stint my sweetheart, and she having—for the comfort of her conscience—taken her good man to the church, set up a little house upon the borders of my estate; but this was not until Mistress Madison had come to take her place at the head of my hall in the County of Essex.

He gives gifts to the crew, and even provides a home for the bo’sun:

Now one further thing there is of which I must tell. Should any, chancing to trespass upon my estate, come upon a man of very mighty proportions, albeit somewhat bent by age, seated comfortably at the door of his little cottage, then shall they know him for my friend the bo’sun; for to this day do he and I fore-gather, and let our talk drift to the desolate places of this earth, pondering upon that which we have seen—the weed-continent, where reigns desolation and the terror of its strange habitants. And, after that, we talk softly of the land where God hath made monsters after the fashion of trees.

The younger “son” is successful enough that he is able to become the provider for the “father.” But the class distinction is firmly in place: the bo’sun has a “cottage,” while the narrator has a “hall” and “estate.” The narrator’s generosity does not extend, ultimately, to breaking down completely the distinctions of class.


Reading William Hope Hodgson’s novel now, one can imagine that he or she is looking through a spyglass backwards through two lenses. First, it has been about 100 years since Hodgson wrote this novel. And second, Hodgson himself was writing about fictional events that he imagined had happened at least 150 years earlier. This puts some of the vocabulary at a double remove. Here are annotations for a few of the terms Hodgson uses in the text:

Then there came to her a sudden idea, and what must she do but propose that we should climb to the look-out, and to this I agreed with a very happy willingness. And to the lookout we went. Now when we had come there, I perceived her reason for this freak; for away in the night, astern the hulk, there blazed half-way between the heaven and the sea, a mighty glow, and suddenly, as I stared, being dumb with admiration and surprise, I knew that it was the blaze of our fires upon the crown of the bigger hill; for, all the hill being in shadow, and hidden by the darkness, there showed only the glow of the fires, hung, as it were, in the void, and a very striking and beautiful spectacle it was.

In context, this is an archaic usage of the term to indicate that that the climb to the look-out was done impulsively, on a whim.

…having loosed the hawser, which fell from the hill-top with a prodigious splash, we had the boat ahead, towing. In this wise we opened out, presently, the end of the hill; but feeling now the force of the breeze, we bent a kedge to the hawser, and, the bo’sun carrying it seawards, we warped ourselves to windward of the island, and here, in forty fathoms, we vast heaving, and rode to the kedge.

The passage describes how the Seabird, free of the weed, but with no sails or even masts, is moved away from the weed to the open sea. The ship is first towed by the now-repaired lifeboat from the Glen Carrig. When the ship passes the end of the island, the crew ties an anchor (kedge) to the tow-rope and throws it in the water to turn the ship, and shortens the rope to reduce the turning radius. The crew then stops hauling and allows the ship to complete the turn. See Kedging.

My Audiobook Podcast of The Boats of the “Glen Carrig”


In the summer of 2006, as one of my earliest podcasting efforts, I recorded the novel, mixed my narration with legally reusable music and sound effects, and released the resulting recordings under a Creative Commons license. If you know what to do with an RSS feed (look for commands in Apple Podcasts or other programs to to subscribe to a feed), the feed is still http://thepottshouse.org/pottscasts/hodgecast/index.xml.

Where to Find the Podcast

You can find the original blog post introducing the project here. That post is, as of July 2022, still on a Google Blogger blog, but I plan to migrate all the posts to my own hosted site in the near future. The podcast feed and audio files have always been on my hosted server. The feed is also listed on Apple Podcasts here, although I’m not sure that listing will stay up indefinitely.

The History of the Project

Back when I recorded this, I had only a very inexpensive headset microphone and an elderly Apple PowerBook G4 laptop to record with, in an acoustically-untreated room. My family was living in a small townhouse apartment in Ann Arbor, and to avoid traffic noise, as well as noise from my kids, I would stay up very late, typically recording between about 2 and 3 a.m. The microphone and recording process was unreliable, and I’d frequently get pops, glitches, and crackles in the digital audio. I would do re-takes to try to get the audio as clean as I could, but as my storage space and time were both very limited, and I was dedicated to finishing the project, I’d often just have to decide to push on to the next chapter.

In 2022, I have much better equipment, but finding quiet is still difficult, and with seven children at home, and a more-than-full-time job, time is still a problem. I’m no longer able to sacrifice sleep and record between 2 and 3 a.m., and still hope to be functional at work the next day. There’s also the fact that “you can’t step into the same river twice” — and it is pointless to try. When I find time that I can use for recording or production now, I tend to prefer to work on something new, rather than try to re-create something old. I only want to re-do the original if I can do a much better job than I did back then. To me, now, that means creating original music, and getting both a great vocal performance and meeting a very high technical standard. I may still do this project, one day, when I feel that I can make something that is much better than my original.

Performing the Novel

The text is difficult to read — a lot of Hodgson’s sentences are so painfully long that it is all I could do just to finish the sentence correctly. His other works aren’t nearly as difficult to read aloud. His other works, that is, except The Night Land, which also is written in a difficult style. Giving it nuance in the form of an emotional performance generally took a back seat to just struggling to pronounce all the words properly. Try it yourself: here’s one of the sentences I had to record. Yes, it is once sentence, and I’m certain it isn’t the longest in the novel. Try reading it aloud:

Yet, to please the fellow, I put my hand upon the line, which we had made fast in the evening to a large piece of rock, and so, immediately, I discovered that something was pulling upon it, hauling and then slackening, so that it occurred to me that the people in the vessel might be indeed wishful to send us some message, and at that, to make sure, I ran to the nearest fire, and, lighting a tuft of weed, waved it thrice; but there came not any answering signal from those in the ship, and at that I went back to feel at the rope, to assure myself that it had not been the pluck of the wind upon it; but I found that it was something very different from the wind, something that plucked with all the sharpness of a hooked fish, only that it had been a mighty great fish to have given such tugs, and so I knew that some vile thing out in the darkness of the weed was fast to the rope, and at this there came the fear that it might break it, and then a second thought that something might be climbing up to us along the rope, and so I bade the big seaman stand ready with his great cutlass, whilst I ran and waked the bo’sun.

If you like nautical jargon, try reading this paragraph out loud without making a single verbal “typo,” and putting all the pauses and moments of emphasis in their proper places:

And so, having gotten in our three jury lower-masts, we hoisted up the foreyard to the main, to act as our mainyard, and did likewise with the topsail-yard to the fore, and after that, we sent up the t’gallant-yard to the mizzen. Thus we had her sparred, all but a bowsprit and jibboom; yet this we managed by making a stumpy, spike bowsprit from one of the smaller spars which they had used to shore up the superstructure, and because we feared that it lacked strength to bear the strain of our fore and aft stays, we took down two hawsers from the fore, passing them in through the hawse-holes and setting them up there. And so we had her rigged, and, after that, we bent such sail as our gear abled us to carry, and in this wise had the hulk ready for sea.

Did you manage it? If you rearranged the words slightly you could easily make tongue-twisters: “sparred a stumpy spike from smaller spars to shore up the superstructure’s strength to bear the strain of the stays.” In fact, it is hard for me to believe that Hodgson wasn’t smiling with glee as he assembled these sentences, thinking “let ’em just try to read that out loud!”

Struggling with the Technology

Besides the difficulty of the text itself, I was driven to distraction by my equipment and software. The BLUE Snowball microphone I initially purchased for the project was unreliable. The Logitech USB headset I replaced it with was also unreliable. DSP Quattro, the editing software I used, was somewhat buggy. The particular way I found to mix down the music track with the voice track for each chapter (basically, playing both tracks together live and recording the output) had a tendency to produce dropouts. The mix had to be done correctly in a single pass, because I was recording the mix-down “live” — if I screwed it up, I knew that I would have to start the mix over. Due to some problem with the plug-ins, I was not able to get the compressor to run at faster than real time, and DSP Quattro didn’t seem to support any kind mix automation. I’d love to be able to take my original music tracks and just record a new voiceover track, and mix them — but because of the way I did this live mixdown, there are no mixed backing tracks. Even if I had been able to make them, I wouldn’t have had enough storage on my laptop to keep them.

Future Plans

I would love to produce a second novel — perhaps either The House on the Borderland or The Ghost Pirates. I won’t rule out anything else, too, including fullly dramatized audio!

Ann Arbor, Michigan and Pittsfield Township, Michigan
2006-2007, June 30, 2016, and June 28, 2022

Creative Commons Licence
This work by Paul R. Potts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The CSS framework is stylize.css, Copyright © 2014 by Jack Crawford.

Article IndexWriting Archive