Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 4

Journey across . . . Is my continuing series of reading through William Hope Hodgson’s 1912 infamous novel of the weird The Night Land, summarizing & commenting on the text as I go.

Chapter 4 of William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land is a bit of a chimera. At the top our narrator is woken from near sleep to the a voice thrilling through the aether. Naani, the lady our narrator feels sure is the twin-soul of his lost love Mirdath, speaks a certain phrase that only our narrator has previously known. All this is done through the now very familiar psychic mode of communication – using her ‘brain-elements’ – & using the Instruments that focus those elements. She continues by relating a dream in which she saw the figure of the narrator in the far past, tormented by grief over the death of Mirdath, pouring his soul into poetry for relief.

It’s a curious scene in that it’s purpose seems to be to raise again the question of Naani’s relationship to Mirdath. As of yet she’s shown no explicit knowledge of having been Mirdath. Our steadfast narrator tells us that he hears Naani’s voice coupled with Mirdath’s, but in such a way that a mischievous reader can easily separate the two. Also Naani herself isn’t sure. She asks the narrator, since he has opened the Gates of Memory & recalled his twin existence, does he think she truly is Mirdath? Hodgson promptly sidesteps the question: “And I, utter weak and shaken strangely because of this splendour of fulfillment, could make no instant answer.”

The other interesting tidbit dropped casually in is that there seems to be a five hour time difference between the Last Redoubt & the Lesser, where Naani lives. Which is pretty important in terms of locating the Lesser Redoubt, or should be, but Hodgson seems to forget this fact later on. Also divined though, is that the Lesser Redoubt is located northerly. This fact does come into play pretty quickly.

Our narrator, at his post in The Tower of Observation, working with the Master Monstruwacan (the title given to those gaurdian-watchers of the Pyramid) is again assaulted by a thrilling in the aether. The mysterious Earth-Current that powers the Lesser Redoubt has suddenly failed. Hodgson still plays cagey with what the Earth-Current might actually be. We know it’s the sole power source used in The Night Land by both Redoubts & as such all the defenses the Lesser Redoubt has against the monstrosities that stalk the world are down. It’s also here that we learn the Earth-Current is tied somehow to the magnetic fields of the planet; compasses are useless due to the flow of the Earth-Current coming from the “Crack” beneath the Last Redoubt. It’s only through the sensation the narrator has when using his ‘brain-elements’ that he can divine the Lesser’s northerly position.

A panic develops throughout the Last Redoubt, everyone is afraid for their newly found friends in the Lesser Redoubt. So much so that a band of five-hundred(!) young men sneak out of the Last Redoubt hell-bent of saving those poor souls in the Lesser. I can’t imagine five hundred people ‘sneaking’ anywhere, but we’re told they overpowered the watchmen, bound & gagged them, then made out into The Night Land.

We get a couple interesting insights into life in the Last Redoubt as this happens. Firstly, no one is supposed to leave the Redoubt without first passing The Examination, also all who do have a suicide pill sewn into their forearm. I’m back-peddling a bit here as Hodgson gave us some of these details in Chapter 3: “no male should have freedom to adventure into the Night Land, before the age of twenty-two; and no female ever.” (Sexism persists it seems, even at the end of Time.) This Law about not leaving the Pyramid is pretty fierce: “And so stern was the framing of the Law, that there were yet metal pegs upon the inner side of the Great Gate, where had been stretched the skin of one who disobeyed; and was flayed and his hide set there to be a warning in the Early Days.” Ladies & Gentlemen, they will skin you for leaving unlawfully. Though, perhaps because these five hundred youths are well intentioned, it’s said that, if rescued from the dangers of The Night Land, they will only be flogged instead. Hodgson gives us an almost Puritanical paragraph explaining that the flogging is purely moral instruction to the individual & that it might scare the shit out of the other people is maybe just a fortunate side effect. Which makes me wonder about the poor guy who lost his skin.

Furthering the severity, Hodgson says of the suicide pill: “And the wherefore of this, was that the spirit of the youth might be saved, if he were entrapped; for then, upon the honor of his soul, must he bite forth the capsule, and immediately his spirit would have safety in death.” More on this “honor of his soul” stuff a bit later on, but there is revealed in these passages a deeply weird morality to life in the Last Redoubt.

So word spreads fast in the Last Redoubt & thousands of people flock to the viewing decks of the Pyramid to watch with spy-glasses what becomes of the brave, flog-courting youths. No one wants to send a signal out to the youths to try & get them to come back for fear of alerting the Evil Forces that stalk the land. But it’s not over long before those five hundred attract the attention of Giants & a battle ensues.

Hodgson gives us a description of what seems to be the only weapon used in the Night Land, a thing called the Diskos. The Diskos looks a bit a strange battle ax, but has a whirling blade at the business end, like a saw. & this is the only weapon around due to, again, this morality of the Redoubt. They don’t use any ranged weapons, even though they have some in museums, because those are thought to be purely aggressive while the Diskos is personal defense.

The youths fight valiantly but the Giants slaughter some two hundred of their ranks & leave another fifty or so severely wounded. The wounded fifty are going to make their way back to the Pyramid, while the other two hundred and fifty will continue on with their quest. In the Last Redoubt, some Ten-thousand men have rallied to go out & save the youths just as one of the Monstruwacans has knowledge that one of the Great Evils is Out.

From out of the Valley of the Hounds come the titular beasts “at a strange gallop, and great as horses” while from the direction of the Plain of Blue Fire emerges “a mighty Hump, seeming of Black Mist”. The Ten-thousand men reach those wounded fifty & have, we believe, begun to shepherd them back to the Redoubt when the Hump bears down on them like “Hill of Blackness in the Land”. But wait! These Ten-thousand, knowing that the fifty wounded youths are Unprepared, & knowing the “Utter Danger upon them”, kill them all. Yes, you read that right. Before any combat can commence, before they have any idea of how severe the fighting may get, these Ten-thousand straight up slaughter their own guys “that their spirits might not be lost”. Wow, ok, & then we get this:

“Then there happened a wonder; for in that moment when all had else gone quickly, that they might save their souls, out of the earth there rose a little Light, like to the crescent of the young moon of this early day. And the crescent rose up into an arch of bright and cold fire, glowing but a little; and it spanned above the Ten-thousand and the dead; and the Hump stood still, and went backwards and was presently lost.”

Now, throughout the book so far we’ve had instances of someone’s spirit or soul mentioned, all with not much more weight than you’d get following a sneeze (bless you) or a naval disaster (X number of souls lost). Gradually though, there has been a mounting of importance given to the use of spirit or soul in the text. It wasn’t until this chapter that it really driven home that ‘a soul’ in the Night Land is a recognized commodity. To die by the hands of the monsters of the Night Land is to have ones soul lost. But to add to the curiousness of all this is there is no mention of religion at all. Zero. The morality of the Last Redoubt notwithstanding, souls are not a spiritual matter. This early into the novel it’s too early to say what the remaining chapters will bring in this regard, but it’s worth the mention.

Back to the battle, we’re given no time to wonder about the convenient deus ex machina before the Hounds descend & another grisly battle is engaged. The Ten-thousand battle fiercely hewing the Hounds into pieces, losing at the end, some seventeen hundred.

So what follows is the return of the living to the Redoubt & a massive funeral scene in the Garden of Silence, the lowest level of the Pyramid some hundreds of miles across & seven thousand & seventy years in the making. We are offered no explanation for the arching Light that defended the Ten-thousand & only a mild reminder that there are still two hundred & fifty youths out in the Night Land moving along The Road Where The Silent Ones Walk. End Scene.

More anon.

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 3

Journey across . . . Is my continuing series of reading through William Hope Hodgson’s 1912 infamous novel of the weird The Night Land, summarizing & commenting on the text as I go.

Having lost his lady-love, then awakening to an existence in the far benighted future of the Earth, our narrator now discovers he is possessed of the ability of Night-Hearing. A number of curious elements are added to the novel in Chapter 3, The Night-Hearing not the least of them. Night-Hearing is really a highly psychic sensitivity & a mode of communication, able to be projected out across the terrific landscape. We’re also introduced to the idea of The Master-Word, a kind of mental watchword of security that only humans, & mostly only those who are sensitive to Night-Hearing, can manage. Older now by a few years & famous throughout the Last Redoubt for his dream-memories of the sun-lit past, our narrator has become a valued member in the Tower of Observation. Here, at the very apex of the Pyramid, he & the chosen others listen to the invisible vibrations of the aether.

Hodgson sets this Tower of Observation up as a kind of lighthouse-of-the-mind. There are “recording instruments” & “breathing bells” & it’s all very cagey, but we are to understand that all there have some affinity for this psychic hearing, but none so adept as our narrator.

During his watch, still haunted by his dream-memories of Mirdath, out through the aether thrills an echo of the Master-Word. Somewhere out there across the black wasteland of the Earth is someone else. Cutting through the archaic phrasing of the prose, it’s a genuinely spooky moment. Our narrator sends out his thoughts, “Mirdath, Mirdath” & is answered by a throb in the aether & echo of the Master-Word.

A mixed recounting follows, detailing what had been largely discounted rumor in The Last Redoubt; another group of humans, led by a social outcast of some type may have established a Lesser Redoubt somewhere in the Night Land. This is confirmed by the anemic mental voice on the other end of the Master-Word, a girl named Naani who identifies as the narrators lost love Mirdath. This second colony delved into the land & established a weak connection with the Earth-Current, but fell into a malaise as the Current ebbed. Here the Earth-Current is tied the crops of the Lesser Redoubt & the general vitality of the people. It remains a mysterious force.  Naani, then, is the first Sensitive soul in a hundred thousand years, & the first to call out into the Night Land using the Master-Word.

There is an odd element in all this in that Naani is not, as we may expect, detailed as Mirdath herself reawakened in the far future as our narrator is. Rather, stirred by a dim memory from when our narrator calls out “Mirdath” through the aether, she seeks out an old book in the Lesser Redoubt’s library that details the romance of our narrator in his long-past life with Mirdath the Beautiful: “And so, because she was full of this great awakening of those ages of silence, and the calling of that name, she found the book again, and read it many times, and grew to a sound of love of the beauty of that tale.” So when next the Master-Word goes out, Naani plays the part of Mirdath using a name of the man from the book. It’s too early in the novel to really say what any of this may herald, but in my mind it ties into the way the character of Mirdath was shown in Chapter 1, as a soul perhaps not as tethered to these goings-on as our narrator seems to believe.

Information is exchanged between the two Redoubts & all are excited about what the discovery of more humans may mean. But as the chapter begins to wind down the menace of the Night Land rears up again:

“And from The Country Whence Comes The Great Laughter, the Laughter sounded constant . . . as it were an uncomfortable and heart-shaking voice-thunder rolling thence over the Lands, out from the unknown East. And the Pit of the Red Smoke filled all the Deep Valley with redness, so that the smoke rose above the edge, and hid the bases of the Towers upon far side

And the Giants could be seen plentiful around the Kilns to the East; and from the Kilns great belches of fire; though the meaning of it, as of all else, we could not say; but only the cause.”

More distressing still is that messages of dismay are being received in the Tower of Observation not marked by the Master-Word, luring people out into the Night Land. When these messages are checked with the Lesser Redoubt there is no knowledge of them. We are left at the end of Chapter 3 knowing that the whole menacing landscape of the Night Land is yet hungering for the destruction of Man.

More anon.

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 2

Journey across . . . Is my continuing series of reading through William Hope Hodgson’s 1912 infamous novel of the weird, The Night Land, summarizing & commenting on the text as I go. 

Our unnamed narrator has just lost the love of his life. Chapter 1 ended with a fatal childbirth & the what was to be (we are encouraged to imagine) a romance for the ages…& yet…

Chapter 2 does indeed open with the heavy grief of our narrator. But only just. Mirdath the Beautiful is lost. We are allowed a scant paragraph of sorrow over her death before a new hope rises. In dreams a far future world has been revealed to our narrator. He has awoken to a time so very, deeply, bogglingly far ahead into time that the sun itself has burnt out & all of surviving humanity has rallied itself in a massive eight mile tall pyramid called The Last Redoubt. Great pains are taken to describe the relationship between the previous incarnation of the narrator & the new; the new being a seventeen-year old youth fully aware, in the way of any who may have been raised in that far-flung era, of all the traits & idiosyncrasies of life in that age. But still our narrator is also, at the same time, the fellow we’ve read of in the first chapter. Knowledge, we are exhaustively told, swims between the two incarnations, independent but shared in symbiotic relationship of separations. Hodgson lays this element on very thick. At any point we might think he’s going to move along ahead with the plot, he digresses, tells you he has or will digress, then rallies his prose & marches ahead into the next digression.

Throughout all of the reading of this novel, I suspect the prose style will be a constant source of comment. It is at times bafflingly archaic. Here, while he tangles with the timelines & what is known & how, Hodgson pushes the form of this style. It is, to be sure, successful; lesser prose would create a decidedly different feel. But observe:

“And so full am I of the knowledge of that Place, that scarce can I believe that none here know; and because I have such difficulty, it may be that is speak over familiarly of those things of which I know; and heed not to explain much that is needful that I should explain to those who must read here, in this our present day. For there, as I stood and looked out, I was less the man of years of this age, that the youth of that, with the natural knowledge of that life which I had gathered by living all my seventeen years of life there; though, until that my first vision, I (of this Age) knew not of that other and Future Existence; yet woke to it so naturally as may a man wake here in his bed t the shining of the morning sun, and know it by name, and the meaning of aught else. And yet, as I stood there in the vast embrasure, I had also a knowledge, or memory, of this present life of ours, deep down within me; but touched with a halo of dreams , and yet with a conscious longing for One, known even there in a half memory as Mirdath.”

The gentle reader will have, by this point, given way beneath the voluptuary of our story. How many of you began to skim after the first few lines? You begin to see . . .

The real standout elements of this chapter have nothing to do with the plot, but are instead all the feverishly imagined details of this far-future world, The Night Land. Standing at various vantages along The Last Redoubt, our narrator narrates the very weird landscape & it’s deeply strange features. Here, like being dropped of a cliff, Hodgson manifests a sprawling scenario of strangeness that leaves us readers’ heads spinning with vertigo. The Last Redoubt, being a pyramid, has it’s four points aligned with the cardinal directions of the compass; in between these, occupying the North West, South East &c, points on the horizons are The Watchers. We are offered limited descriptions of each, but the looming impression is that of titanic creatures, squatting, waiting, agelessly gazing on. The structures of time we are offered are tremendous. The Watcher Of The South, for example, “had grown out of the blackness of the South Unknown Lands a million years gone; and the steady growing nearness of it had been noted and set out at length by the men they called Monstruwacans; so that it was possible to search in our libraries, and learn of the very coming of this Beast in the olden-time.”

These Cyclopean Watchers are only a part of the landscape. Hodgson also offers a geography of weirdness: The Vale of Red Fire, the Three Silver-fire Holes, “The Country Whence Comes The Great Laughter”, & the like sprawl out in all directions. Each is in it’s own way laced with menace. Out across the benighted lands of the Night Land stalk Silent Ones, Ab-humans, Night-Hounds & “eyes in all that dark”.

The power in how Hodgson lays all of this out is in his esoteric manner. Our imaginations lean in to wander around The Road By The Quiet City or The Place Where The Silent Ones Are Never due to the blatantly evocative names & the lurid, ominous phrases each place is couched in. When Hodgson casts volcanic luminance up from the Giant’s Kiln across The Headland From Which Strange Things Peer, there is little hope but to wonder at the nictating gaze of unknown Slayers. & on thusly until the richness of these threats clots our imaginations.

Our last hope against the Power of the Slayers, as we wind down the chapter, is given to us in an electric circle that surrounds the Pyramid rising to a half-mile, powered by what we are told is the Earth-Current. No sooner than the mysterious Earth-Current mentioned than we’re told all fear it’s immanent failing on a Day of Doom, when “all will be helpless to the Watchers and the Abundant Terror”.

The is little hope in The Night Land.

One of the oddest things is that absolutely no heed is given to the child that was born, dooming Mirdath to her death, at the end of the last chapter. None. Did the child die as well? Did it perhaps live? We are given nothing.

More anon.

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 1

William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land is infamous for it’s language; it is a juggernaut of baroque wordplay & anachronistic grammar. I dipped my toe into it some while back & ran into that Wall of Words so many who’ve cracked it’s spine seem to have &, like those many, put it down. But, it is a beguiling book; I’ve not once, since I’ve touched it, been able to shake the influence it has planted. The Night Land is one of the earliest examples of the Dying Earth subgenre of fantasy/horror writing . It’s scope & imagination is as famous as it’s tortured sentences. H.P. Lovecraft & Clark Ashton Smith (a personal favorite) have sung it’s praises, C.S. Lewis even remarked on it’s potential, though derided it for a “sentimental and irrelevant erotic interest and … a foolish and flat archaism of style”.

A number of associations & threads of thought wove their way into me picking up the book again, & it seemed a decent notion to chronicle my journey across The Night Land as I go. So, here we have the current project: I’ll go chapter by chapter & give a bit of what’s happening & my thoughts about it. No real set schedule, but just as I read, I’ll post. With that …
Chapter 1.

“It was the joy of the Sunset that brought us to speech. I was gone a long way from my house, walking lonely-wise, and stopping often that I view the piling upward of the Battlements of Evening, and to feel the dear and strange gathering of the Dusk come over all the world about me.”

These opening lines give you a pretty clear notion of what you’re in for linguistically for the length of the novel. There is a (purposeful) method to Hodgson’s choice of words. As awkward as it may be to first try & tangle with these sentences (& all those that follow) he creates a place of his own with them, carving out a world that is as stylized as any outre artists’ & one that impresses a deep, sensory-laden viewpoint. My own grammar is suspect at best, but I’ve never seen so; many; semicolons; but with all that it does create an effect.

Our unnamed narrator is fond of evening strolls; he positively luxuriates in the fall of “Dusk upon the World”, so much so that he is given physical shivers, laughs out at the sheer pleasure of it. The deeply romantic nature of the book is given to us in luridly endearing colors just on the first few pages. My initial impression was of Maxfield Parrish painting an episode of Dark Shadows: vibrant, formal & sentimental in a kind of lost, dreamy way.

Our narrator’s laugh this particular evening is answered in kind, & he’s surprised to see the famed Mirdath the Beautiful behind it. She from the neighboring estate & is also a cousin to our hero. They get on famously & immediately, each reconnecting with the other & with the drenched atmosphere they walk.

& then they’re ambushed. Really. Three pages in footpads try to get the better of our two romantics & the narrator has an opportune chance to show his physical prowess. For so deep a romantic our hero is no milksop. He handily deals with the interlopers knocking each to the ground soundly before laughing a little at a job well done. Mirdath doesn’t quite swoon in the manner we might assume, but rather “regards him through the dusk”.

Here I think we hit an interesting point that runs through the chapter. Mirdath, as Beautiful a lady as we’re told she is, & proper in all the ways that suits a lady of the time, has a strong streak of not independence per se, but individuality perhaps? Which sounds like splitting hairs, I realize. We’re soon given a sequence where Mirdath & her maid (intimates), with great ease & showing (to us reading) great familiarity, disguise themselves to go into town, have some drinks & dance with the fellas. This after much love between our two romantics has been professed. Our narrator wonders after his new love & follows suspecting. Mirdath treats him roughly when discovered & she roundly sides with the equivalent of the fratboys of the time hanging off the lusty lads walking home. All this stabs our narrator deep. & It seems like Mirdath really has shown her wants until the fellas get frisky & our narrator has to put them down like the footpads. Mirdath collapses into his arms &c, but we are left with a distinct sensation that she, Mirdath the Beautiful, is working on a higher plane, a more worldly plane, than the narrator. They share an almost psychic knowledge of each other’s dreams, but she really echoes as the mature creature, & our hero the pettier, overcompensating one. I really felt she was the brighter soul, settling for a slightly dimmer one.

I’m lingering a bit on these earlier details, but I thought it an interesting element. What follows is an extended sequence of Mirdath playing hard to get, the two then months later finally reconciling & marrying. The end of the chapter, quite achingly, gives us the death of Mirdath as she gives birth.

As an opening chapter goes, it’s an odd offering. & knowing the Desolation to come given by the title, I was left curiously infatuated.

More anon.

The NoCity – Map #2

The Sear. Each eye a brand: three scorch marks on all things seen.

In the NoCity superstitions are run like telephone wires, knotted between megaliths, drooping between buildings, available to all by government decree. There is a hum of mythic beliefs blazing along the roadways, riding the lines.

In the alleys where severed lines sag, urchins suck the sparks from the lines. Their burnt tongues cough prophecies. They sneeze oracular nimbuses of painful particles. They jeer each other, daring further faiths. An arc of electric epiphany bites clean through the dark air. The urchins’ eyes go wide, drinking in the retina burn, pupils like eclipsed suns.

“Hail! Hail!”, they call, falling beneath the frozen rain.

The Sear passes by into older quarters of the NoCity. In each blazing eye, the Sear can hear the ringing of downed calls.

Operators are lying by.

Thick clouds roil over an empty courtyard. Light glows from the downed lines, from The Sear’s searing eyes. A pay phone rings out in a circumference of crossed occult hopes. It has all led up to this. The Sear lifts up the receiver, taking the signal.

“I’m afraid. They’re not here. May I take a message?”