Forgotten Genius: 5 Lesser-Known Authors We’ve Come Across Who Have Blown Our Minds
March 7, 2023
One of the best things about our job is that we’re constantly reading more and learning more.
Which means that something new is constantly blowing our minds.
Yesterday’s revelation was about William Hope Hodgson, whose writing was shaped by all the time he spent working as a sailor. (He wrote about scary tentacle monsters before Lovecraft ever did!) It makes his nautical horror so convincing. His precise knowledge of the geography of a ship allows his writing to be incredibly clear, visual, and lived-in. And he also wrote occult detective fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and poetry!
We were talking about Hodgson yesterday morning, and it occurred to us that we run into this all the time: authors whose influential work has been largely forgotten or at least isn’t something that many people are still reading.
So we thought we’d put together a list of writers like this. Maybe it will become a recurring feature, like urban enchantments (where we talk about magical places you can find in cities) and curiosities (round-up posts of whatever media we’re consuming.) So let us know if you enjoy this, and maybe we’ll do more!
You’ve heard of Lovecraft, but have you heard of William Hope Hodgson?
We came across Hodgson (1877-1918) while researching sea monsters for our Wine-Dark Sea course. He wrote a lot of what is sometimes called “weird fiction,” or a kind of speculative fiction that highlights the insignificance of humanity against a universe that is bigger and more terrible than we can truly understand. Hodgson ran away to become a sailor at twelve, became interested in fitness and self-defense as a response to bullying, and eventually married an “agony aunt” (advice column writer) for a magazine he wrote for. He sadly was killed by an artillery shell during WWI. Check out his short story “A Tropical Horror” to experience a pre-Lovecraftian tentacle monster on the high seas!
You’ve heard of Hans Christian Andersen, but have you heard of Helena Nyblom?
Nyblom (1843 -1926) was a Danish-Swedish author of children’s stories and fairy tales who was active during the same period as Andersen, but her stories are nowhere near as well known and not super accessible in English. (If anyone has a lead on a good resource for her work, please let us know!) We came across her fairy tale “All the Wild Waves of the Sea” a few weeks ago and instantly loved it – it’s kind of a reverse “Little Mermaid,” with a human heroine who longs for the sea. You can read “All the Wild Waves of the Sea” here.
You’ve heard of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, but have you heard of Lafcadio Hearn?
Hearn (1850-1904) collected and translated Japanese folktales, especially ghost stories, and he’s often credited as introducing this body of work to a Western audience. He lived in Greece, Ireland, England, the US, and the Caribbean before settling in Japan, where he married Koizumi Setsuko, became a Japanese citizen, and took his wife’s last name. His process was fascinating, combining research in old books, collaborative storytelling with the help of Setuko, and translation for an international audience. You can read his collection Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things here.
You’ve heard of John Keats, but have you heard of Richard Middleton?
Middleton (1882-1911) was explicitly compared to Romantic poet John Keats during his life and shortly after his tragically early death due to suicide, but he has largely faded from popular consciousness. A writer and editor, he’s best remembered for his short story “The Ghost Ship,” an unbelievably clever and funny story involving ghosts, turnips, and everyday intimacy between the living and the spirit world. Fun fact: Raymond Chandler almost didn’t become a writer after meeting Middleton – he regarded Middleton highly and figured that if someone as great as Middleton couldn’t find success as a writer, what was the point of anyone else even trying? You can read “The Ghost Ship” here.
You’ve heard of Stephenie Meyer, but have you heard of Alexis Hall?
Hall burst into our literary awareness last year, and we’re just in awe of the work he creates. Everything he writes is in very deliberate conversation with pre-existing work, but it’s never derivative. As Sara’s old college friend Liz Shayne writes, “[i]t deliberately doesn’t transcend its genre, but it sure hits the apex.” Sherlock Holmes, MMORPGs, Great British Bakeoff, Lovecraft, historical and contemporary romance, he can and does write brilliantly across genre. But what happens when he starts with a thirty-something lesbian PI with purple eyes and a moody vampire ex-boyfriend that she can’t shake? Hall’s Kate Kane series takes Twilight as its initial inspiration, but it’s more urban fantasy in feel. The cast includes vampires galore, a lingerie model/ Alpha werewolf, faeries who speak in Middle English, and a Pygmalion statue. You can find Kate Kane here. (Also, Hall is a pen name, and he’s very private, so we don’t know a lot about his personal life. There are like no pictures of him on the Internet, which in itself is quite a feat – that’s why we don’t have his picture here. His biographies usually say things like “Alexis Hall is a pile of threadbare hats and used teacups given a semblance of life by forbidden sorcery” which is so ridiculously delightful we almost can’t believe he gets away with it.)
So what do you think? Will you check any of these writers out? Do you have any writers you love that you wish got more attention? Let us know in the comments!
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