Today marks the beginning of a week of weird voyages and strange seas here at WFR. The trope in which a plot pulls its characters to exotic locales has a long and rich history, both within Weird fiction and more mainstream traditions. It seems most often to be used for the purpose of displacing the characters and reader from the familiar, leaving open possibilities not previously available in order to reveal stranger (and often darker) truths. Joseph Conrad understood the potentially alienating power of place and used it with compelling effect in Heart of Darkness, and many Weird authors have used it in similar fashion, such as Lucius Shepard in his exotic tale Kalimantan, which appears to specifically invoke the classic Conrad piece.
Lovecraft sent geologist William Dyer on a famous Weird voyage to one of the strangest and most farflung places accessible to mankind, Antarctica, at which he discovered many profoundly unsettling truths in At the Mountains of Madness. Likewise, the sea provides one of the loneliest settings one can find, and it remains perhaps the least robustly understood part of the planet to this day. One might even consider the lack of stability beneath the feet of such voyagers as a figurative way of examining the instability of the world in a Weird tale. Perhaps this is why William Hope Hodgson set so many of his stories there, away from the hope that might be provided by civilization and the stability of known geography and dry land. Numerous tales in The Weird turn on similar premises: Jean Ray’s nautical tale of terror, “The Mainz Psalter,” Leena Krohn’s fantastical travelogue, “Tainaron,” and Michel Bernanos’s “The Other Side of the Mountain,” itself inspired by the author’s trips to Brazil.
The act of waking up under an unrecognizable sky holds the power to instill a sense of wonder in us all, and wonder (whether the disquieting kind or otherwise) is at the heart of Weird fiction. To examine just how rich the tradition of the weird voyage is, throughout the week we’ll be bringing you several of these tales, both classic and new:
- “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson
- “The Upper Berth” by F. Marion Crawford
- “The Rainbow” by Kristen Roupenian
Each of these pieces deftly examines the unfamiliar locales of the world and our place within it in masterful fashion. Next time you travel, travel Weird.