Carnacki the Ghost-Finder

10 Mar 2006

I’ve been reading the Carnacki stories from The House on the Borderland and Other Mysterious Places: The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson Volume 2, published by Night Shade Books.

I’m enjoying them so much that we are forgoing our Saturday evening video tomorrow and will instead do a reading of the second Carnacki story, The Gateway of the Monster. I previewed the story this morning before leaving for work — they are quite short, which is ideal for someone without much free time to read. Last night I read the first one, The Thing Invisible.

The text is out-of-copyright and is actually available online: see Wikipedia which has links to a couple of online versions of the texts. If you don’t want to buy the new Night Shade edition, which is very nice, you can read it online or print it out without violating copyright. The wonders of expiring copyright! In fact, I’m going to do this so we have a couple of reading copies and can keep the bound copy in nice condition.

The two stories would make a good screen adaptation, and could be done with a relatively low budget. If you read the text closely, you realize that the protagonist is not a very traditional hero: he is actually an introvert, and rather self-deprecating. There is an undercurrent of “of course, I knew there was a rational explanation all along!” humor.

While Carnacki is skeptical, he also gets worked up into a state of terror (much to his embarassment) even when nothing actually supernatural is happening — his imagination runs away with him. This is a great device as it encourages the reader’s imagination to do the same. I can imagine Hugh Laurie playing Carnacki. In my mind he is not a tough guy. He is very competent technically, and fascinated by the supernatural, and brilliant, but when he hears a creepy noise under the right circumstances, he gives out an embarassingly high-pitched scream of terror; in The Gateway of the Monster he keeps twitching and knocking over his vials of holy water and other protective devices when threatened by a supernatural entity. In The Thing Invisible he crashes headlong into his camera while wearing a dressing gown over a suit of armor. There is a definite element of slapstick here, but I would not want it to veer into pure camp.

In the written stories the framework — consisting, basically, of Carnacki inviting some friends to have dinner with him, then sit around and listen while he tells the story, and perhaps ask a question or two at the end — would need to be beefed up a bit. He probably needs a housekeeper or gentleman’s gentleman — I can’t imagine that he cooks the dinners himself. It would be nice to see the telegrams that summon Carnacki to investigate the various supernatural phenomena. Some of the occult artifacts might benefit from a little history.

I’m going to take a crack at writing a Carnacki screenplay. I’ll try to get Isaac involved — he needs some writing assignments. If I think the result is worth reading, I’ll make it available here.

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