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 …
“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.