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.