“The Home-Coming of Captain Dan” by William Hope Hodgson

Paul R. Potts

It’s always a bit risky to publish a URL, because it may be long-gone by the time you read it. But in 2009 I recorded a different Hodgson story about the same Captain Dan, called simply “Captain Dan Danblasten.”

If the blog post about the podcast episode is still where I left it in 2009, you can find it here: http://hodgecast.blogspot.com/2009/10/captain-dan-danblasten.html. If the blog post is gone, and you know what to do with a podcast feed, you might be able to find the feed file here: http://thepottshouse.org/pottscasts/hodgecast/index.xml. If podcasting is not a thing anymore, or is still a thing but not your thing, but you can download and play an MP3 file, or you know a bright twelve-year-old who can, I left the MP3 file here for you, or for that bright twelve-year-old: http://thepottshouse.org/pottscasts/hodgecast/Captain%20Dan%20Danblasten.mp3.

The links were all still working in 2016, which is a bit miraculous if you think about it. In fact, there is more of my stuff up there, including a reading of the entire Hodgson novel The Boats of the Glen Carrig. But if none of those links work, you might be able to find it by searching for “Captain Dan Danblasten” on iTunes, or on Google. If you are reading this by candlelight or oil lamp and there is no more Google, or iTunes, or Internet, then I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I can help you. It was bound to happen. Good luck!

The printed text of “Captain Dan Danblasten” came from The Dream of X and Other Fantastic Visions: The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson, Volume 5, published by Night Shade Books.

Last night I read aloud (as a bedtime story) the Hodgson story “The Home-coming of Captain Dan.” This is also found in the Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson, Volume 2, from Night Shade Books — if you want to buy just one of the volumes, I would recommend this one, since it contains The House on the Borderland, the Carnacki stories, and a scattering of other adventure stories that represent some of Hodgson’s best work.

Hodgson is best known for his science fiction and ghost stories, many with a sailing theme. “The Homecoming” is a little bit different, though. There is nothing supernatural about it. It is primarily a character sketch, at least by word count, although it is also a conventional short story involving a treasure hunt with an ironic twist, in the mode of O. Henry.

Hodgson is frequently a bit weak on character development, and in particular does not often describe them in much detail, although he makes up for it a bit by giving characters various dialects and mannerisms. Captain Dan is richer than many of his characters. He’s abrasive, hilarious, and contains elements of both broad and subtle humor.

NOTE: spoilers lie ahead, for those who continue reading!

In the “broad” category, he’s a heavy drinker, muttering phrases in gutter French, and he bellows like Yosemite Sam, firing off his pistols here and there to punctuate his orders. In the “subtle” category, he’s actually a lonely romantic at heart, at least as far as his own slightly peculiar notion of romance goes, and we find out that he’s actually smarter than everyone around him, as he manages to get the last laugh long after his death.

There is also some humor in “The Homecoming” which I think is not quite as fit for polite company as I would expect. When “Cap’n Dan” meets up with his former sweetheart, twenty years later, who presumed he was lost at sea, and married another man, he sums up his opinion of the other man by repeatedly calling him the “tip ’o my thumb.”

I puzzled over this phrase for a moment, but then I help up my hand in puzzlement (with a closed fist) and realized that this was probably an insult to the widow’s dead husband’s manhood — looking “something like a man’s penis, only smaller!” (If you don’t recognize that quotation, see Spider Robinson’s story “Fivesight,” from the Callahan’s collection Time Travellers Strictly Cash.) There’s also the funny detail that he fathered five daughters, another indication that his manhood was not all it could be (yes, I know this has more to do with chromosomes than virility, but consider when it was originally written, and the prevailing stereotypes).

Cap’n Dan gets his revenge, in somewhat sexist fashion, against the woman who had the gall not to wait indefinitely for him to return from the sea. But it all ends neatly, if a bit sadly.

Hodgson also uses the trick of apparently citing primary source materials from the time to back up his story, giving Cap’s Dan a veneer of historical authenticity. That’s doubtful, but it is a neat little bit of world-building and it does make the story feel more realistic.

Anyway, we all enjoyed the story, and I hope you will enjoy it someday, too!

Ann Arbor, Michigan
April 26, 2006

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