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.