Carnacki the Ghost-Finder is a collection of occult detective short stories by English writer William Hope Hodgson. It was first published in 1913 by the English publisher Eveleigh Nash. In 1947, a new edition of 3,050 copies was published by Mycroft & Moran and included three additional stories (the last three listed below). In 1951 Ellery Queen covered the Mycroft & Moran version as No. 53 in Queen’s Quorum: A History of the Detective-Crime Short Story As Revealed by the 100 Most Important Books Published in this Field Since 1845.
For several decades subsequent to the Mycroft and Moran edition, Carnacki collections routinely if not always contained all nine stories. Project Gutenberg Ebook #10832 (2004) contains only the first six stories, however, and arranges them in sequence of their 1910 and 1912 magazine publication. Some other publications follow Project Gutenberg, perhaps using its text.
Carnacki uses a fictional ancient text, the “Sigsand Manuscript”, as a resource to protect himself against supernatural influences. Carnacki refers to “Aeiirii” and “Saiitii” manifestations, the latter being more dangerous and capable of overcoming Carnacki’s protective devices, and several rituals, including the “Saaamaaa Ritual”, with its mysterious “eight signs” and “unknown last line” that is invoked in “The Whistling Room” by a mysterious power. There are references to even more arcane fictional works, including the “Incantation of Raaaee”, but no further information is provided in the stories. But he also uses several pieces of mechanical gear, well in advance of the Ghostbusters gang. No drawn on the ground protective pentacles for Carnacki, his is fully electrified. He uses cameras and recording equipment and is fully open to a natural or supernatural explanation for events. This makes him one of my favorites characters.
Carnacki the Ghost-Finder contains the following tales:
- “The Gateway of the Monster” was the first story, published, January 1910. In an ancient mansion, the bedroom known as the Grey Room was the site of a grisly murder generations ago. Carnacki is summoned to investigate a noisy spirit that tears off the bedclothes and slams the door(s). The manifestation is far more powerful than he expects, and he spends a miserable, terrified night in his electric pentacle while a horrible apparition in the form of a giant human hand pounds at his defences. This is one of my favorites. Carnacki misinterprets something and has a very close call.
- “The House Among the Laurels” A deserted mansion in Ireland displays signs of haunting, including what appears to be blood dripping from the ceiling, and several men have been found dead in the house. Is it a prank or a haunting? Carnacki recruits a group of burly local men to investigate, along with several dogs, and they attempt to stay the night within the mansion. During their ordeal doors slam, the fire goes out, a dog is killed, and the entire group bolts from the house in terror”
- The Whistling Room” When a chamber in a mansion manifests a loud, eerie whistling, Carnacki is called to investigate. He makes an exceedingly thorough search of the room, but can find no explanation. He is still not convinced of the supernatural nature of the sound until he climbs a ladder outside and peers into the room through the window: the floor of the room itself is puckering like a pair of grotesque, blistered lips. He hears Tassoc, the mansion’s owner, calling for help, and enters the room via the window. But Tassoc is not in the room—only an extraordinarily dangerous supernatural entity.
- “The Horse of the Invisible”According to Hisgins family tradition, any first-born female will be haunted by a ghostly horse during her courtship. This story has been long considered a legend, but now for the first time in seven generations there is a first-born female, and her fiancée has just suffered a broken arm after an attack by a mysterious assailant. Carnacki is summoned to investigate. He and the woman, Mary, and her fiancée, Beaumont, hear hoofbeats in the night, but no horse is seen. Many people present hear the hoofbeats, but no one can find an explanation; Carnacki sets up the electric pentacle around Mary’s bed. The hoofbeats are heard again during the night, but nothing else happens. No marks of hooves can be found around the grounds the next morning. The following evening, hoofbeats and neighing are heard on the grounds, and Mary is heard screaming. Carnacki rushes out with his camera, and snaps a picture, but sees nothing after the blinding flash.
“The Horse of the Invisible” was adapted as an episode of the 1970s British TV series, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. I saw this and enjoyed it. It’s a good series and I thought Donald Pleasence was very well cast as Carnacki in this episode. He matched the Carnicki in my mind I suppose and you can always count on Mr. Pleasence for a good performance.
“The Searcher of the End House” Carnacki investigates a haunting in his own mother’s house. The first indication that something is amiss comes when Carnacki, up late reading, hears his mother knocking, so he thinks, on the banister to tell him to go to his bed. She does not remember doing so the next day, and it happens again the following night. When Carnacki looks in on her, he finds her door open, but she is sound asleep. A strange mildew smell is in the bedroom. Carnacki investigates the house, including the three cellars, but can find no explanation. This story winds up having many layers and since I try very hard to have a “no spoilers” policy I won’t give any clues. This may be the best plotted story in the series, though.
“The Thing Invisible” A chapel attached to an Edwardian manor house contains an ancient, cursed dagger that has just apparently almost murdered someone of its own accord, and naturally, Carnacki is called in to investigate. He spends the night in the chapel wearing armour with his camera ready to photograph any mysterious phenomena. All night he hears mysterious noises. As he approaches the altar, the dagger nearly kills him.
“The Hog” This story was first printed in Weird Tales (Jan 1947). Carnacki faces perhaps his most powerful adversary: a disturbing hog spirit of giant proportions which is trying to enter our world, manifesting as a series of horrifying nightmares. He is equipped with a new variant on the electric pentacle involving rainbow-colored tubes. When connected to the head of the dreamer these tubes fluctuate in color and light intensity. Carnacki photographs the tubes on a slowly moving strip of paper which he specially develops to create raised images. When the paper is run under the reproducer of a specially modified phonograph the sounds heard by the dreamer are reproduced.
- “The Haunted Jarvee“Carnacki decides to go for a voyage aboard the Jarvee, his old friend Captain Thompson’s antique sailing ship, for purposes of rejuvenation, but also to investigate the ambiguous complaints of ghosts his friend had been making for some time. Carnacki performs his standard methods of exhaustively and completely searching the designated area to eliminate obvious physical causes of a haunting. Finding nothing, Carnacki is left to wait. After four days, whilst performing his usual patrol along the ship’s poop deck with the Captain, his old friend suddenly points out to him a shadow of some sort on the ocean’s surface, speeding towards the ship. He notices similar shadows converging on the ship from all of the cardinal directions. The closer they get to the Jarvee, the harder it is to see them, and eventually they disappear from sight. At first nothing appears to happen but then quite suddenly in the night the ship is assailed by a violent storm. I like this story for both Carnacki’s analysis and attempts to solve the problem and for the wonderful descriptions of the weather and behavior of the ship. William Hope Hodgson served as a cabin boy and then several years at sea as a mate and his writing in this story reflects his experience.
- “The Find” Carnacki investigates a seemingly impossible book forgery. It is the only Carnacki story without any hint of the supernatural.
Unlike many pieces of occult fiction from the period, I think Carnacki hold up well. Maybe it’s his open-mindedness, or his attempts to use what would be considered scientific procedures and equipment. It could be just the dry, direct way he recounts his adventures to the select group of friends he invites to dinner at his house, not embarrassed to mention his mistakes or his fear in scary situations. Whatever it is, I’ve returned for an evening with Carnacki many times and enjoyed each occasion.