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October 09, 2003

Hobb's End


Let's say you've just found a five million year-old spaceship while excavating a new British underground station. The dead aliens inside the ship may have been responsible for human evolution -- and may not be as dead as you would like.

The excavation for Hobb's End tube is today's Underground locale. That is "hobb" as in hobgoblin or, indeed, hobbit. The name suggests something eldritch is in the offing.

One the best afternoons of my life was spent drinking beer with Robert Holdstock at the Crown, a pub in Bloomsbury. Holdstock is my favourite living author. I first read him in an issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction which included a novella whose story would later be finished in Mythago Wood and its sequel Lavondyss. I was eleven years old when I read that story and it remains one of the most important to me among all the others I have read since then. Cut to me many years later turning up two hours early for a book-signing at Forbidden Planet.

There is always some trepidation at meeting someone whose words have been an inspiration but Holdstock turned out to be every bit the scholar and gentleman his works suggest. I berated him for publishing Mythago Wood as a novella with no clear ending. It was years before I found out what happened. His excuse? The story was not yet finished and even he did not know the ending. Fair enough. Holdstock's stories address ancient history, archaeology, mysticism, psychology and folklore and in this way speak to most everything I find fascinating twenty years later. This brings me back to Hobb's End and the early influences on the life and thought of Robert Holdstock.

It turned out his boyhood favourite fiction was a series of British sf films which are not so well known in North America. Quatermass is a scientist-adventurer who encounters peculiar horrors. My favourite of these is from Quatermass and the Pit, a film whose conventions are familiar to fans of other British sf. The special effects are laughable and tight budgets constrain the story and the sets but the horror is consequently a matter of suggestion and allusion after the fashion of H.P. Lovecraft. Terrifying. The thing they dug up at Hobb's End tube still gives me the creeps.

The name may be familiar from other stories. It turns up as a New England town of the same name in In the Mouth of Madness and under a variety of similar guises in Lois & Clark. There also appears to be a film by this name but I have not seen it.

It is been some time since I have seen Quatermass and the Pit so perhaps a Flea-reader can enlighten me on this point. The sign says Hobb's Lane but some reviews identify the tube station as Hobb's End (in Knightsbridge, no less)...

And then... An omnibus review of Holdstock's Ryhope Wood stories describes their non-linear, Moebius-like narrative structure. The reviewer claims a reader could start anywhere in the series but I would still suggest Mythago Wood as the best way in. The Flea should add a spoiler warning is in effect once the reviewer addresses specific titles. I hope the following offers sufficient tempation for Flea-readers to seek out Holdstock's books...

Ryhope Wood is a small forest in England. It covers perhaps three square miles and sits on the Ryhope Estates, near the village of Shadoxhurst. On the border of the wood sits a house called Oak Lodge, rented by the Ryhopes to the Huxley family in the days before the Second World War. There's an airfield nearby, while Shadoxhurst is nothing more than a sleepy rural community best known for its annual festival (and the unique dances therein). A brook wends its way into the wood, and various fences and gates make a low-key effort to keep stragglers from wandering in.

This, after a fashion, is true. However, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, this is not what Ryhope Wood is, rather, it is what the wood is made of. Ryhope, it seems, is the last remnant of the primordial forest left in England. It is old, it is dark, and it has learned to defend itself. It touches other forests and other times, other ages of the world. Far larger than its dimensions should allow, it can turn invaders back upon themselves or trap them forever.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at October 9, 2003 06:03 AM


Qatermass and the Pit was released (at least to TV, and at least in the US) under the less series-oriented name Five Million Years to Earth. I have many fond memories of watching it, late at night, while my parents were playing chamber music with friends (which was the only time I was allowed to stay up).

But, yes, freaky, scary grasshopper critters still bother me.

Posted by: *** Dave at October 10, 2003 08:32 AM

And that was the 666th comment at the Flea! Creeeeeeepy.

Posted by: Nicholas Packwood at October 10, 2003 11:05 AM

'Hobb' is an Olde English word for the Devil, which is probably why it crops up regularly in various books and films that employ mythology.

Hobbs End tube station does not exist on the London Underground (add your name to a very long list of people who thought it does!)

Incidentally, the Goons (a once very famous British comedy team that featured Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers) did a skit on Quatermass and the Pit called 'The Scarlet Capsule'.

Posted by: Pete Young at October 13, 2003 04:45 AM

Pete, thanks but read my post again. This week is about imaginary Underground stations and fictional connections to actual ones. My question asks whether the works are referred to as Hobb's End or Hobb's Lane in the film...

Also, I think you will find "hobb" is an old word meaning "hobb". People can read the Devil into non-Christian mythologies (and have) but that does not mean those mythologies are only sensible in terms of Christian mythology.

Posted by: Nicholas Packwood at October 13, 2003 06:31 AM

Hmmmm...What about Crouch End? Or was Stephen King pulling our leg about that one?

Pete, welcome to the Flea!

Posted by: Fred Kiesche at October 13, 2003 07:04 AM