Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 9

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 narrator has arrived at a Country of Fire & Water. We are offered a description of a landscape of seas & volcanoes, many smaller ‘fire-hills’ burn across this land; great clouds rise up, underlit with the volcanic light. It’s a stark contrast to the utter darkness & loneliness of the last chapter. Here there is a sense of life, ‘a muttering thunder, low and constant, shaking the air … there was in that Country a constant Voice of the Energy of Life’.

Hodgson writes most of the chapter with much the same pattern as the past few: a detailed account of eating & sleeping couched in general observations about the landscape & the like. Here, oddly, there are trees. Forests even. We aren’t given any description of the trees themselves, (& recall, there is no sunlight at all) leaving me to draw parallels between this ‘Voice of the Energy of Life’ & the Earth-Current oft mentioned in earlier chapters. How else might these trees grow? In addition, a variety of small animals inhabit this chapter too: serpents, scorpions & the like – but most surprisingly, humpbacked men. This is pretty a major development in the book. Where are these people from? Hodgson gives us very little, they are described as savages for most intents, primitive hunters who wield only sharp rocks, & they are hostile to our narrator.

There is a stand out scene when the narrator has spotted this tall rock, some hundred feet tall or so, with what looks like another rock laying across the top of it. Curious, the narrator climbs part way up before finding a good ledge he can sleep on. He wakes to see two of the humpbacked men climbing easily up the rock towards him. A genuine tense fight scene ensues, with the narrator wielding his Diskos in defense of his life. Having dispatched his foes, our narrator continues his climb & discovers that the ‘rock’ laid across the top of the one he’s climbing is actually one of the old flying-ships from the ancient past. The hull of the craft is punctured by the rock & the whole ship covered by ‘the earth and dust of a monstrous age of years’. Right here is the seed of things like Planet of the Apes, Kamandi, Thundarr the Barbarian & any number of far-future, wasteland fantasies. This was a thrilling revelation, but Hodgson passes this opportunity by. Digging through all that earth to get to the ship is too much work for our narrator & he climbs back down leaving the ship to hang there unexplored.

Choices like that make the Night Land what it is a novel though. Throughout the book there are gaps, whether in plot ideas or world building or just trains of thought, that go unaddressed or only partially explored; while other notions are over-visited, redundantly mentioned even. When it was written (1912), few books had tackled whole worlds like this. The formula we all know now had not been entirely concocted yet. Even cornerstone texts like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars was still five years off. All of these rough hewn moments lend the book an air of awkward respectability – the books flaws are apparent, but it’s audacity can’t be ignored.

But I do wonder what was in that ship.

The remaining great swaths of the chapter are largely travelogue. Hodgson gives us a bevy of details to carry us through the hardships of this weird land: the humpbacked men return briefly, there is an extended sequence crawling through a beslimed Gorge of reeking air w/ gigantic slugs clinging to the walls, rivers are crossed, &c.

Along this journey, as he lays down to sleep, the narrator wonders:

‘And, in verity, as I did lie there so dreamful, it did come to me afresh how wondrous strange was mine adventure; and how that I did lie warm and alive in a Country of red light and smoking seas. And, truly, as I did remember and consider, there was a great and lost world above me, upward through the dark . . . maybe an hundred and fifty miles up in the grim night.

And this thing did strike me very solemn, as I did lie; and I do trust that you conceive how that there was, in truth, afar above in the eternal and unknown night, the stupendous desolation of the dead world, and the eternal snow and starless dark.’

Hodgson can conjure. At any point in The Night Land, we the brave reader, may be ambushed by a passage that reminds us how utterly empty the world is, how vast the dark. The recursive prose Hodgson uses means that when moments like that land, they startle & steal our breath.

At length our narrator reaches a sea bed & recognizing that his lost love, Naani, had described the surrounding lands of the Lesser Redoubt – his ultimate goal- as such, he renews his vigor. Casting all about he feels at a loss until from a tall vantage he finally, finally, catches sight of ‘a great pyramid afar off in the night.’ The Lesser Redoubt is found.

More anon.

 

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 8

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.

 

“Now I went downward very quiet and slow into that Darkness; and did make but a cautious way; for now you shall know me truly wrapped about with such a night as did seem to press upon my very soul…”

 

Things are grim for our narrator. He has come through a portion of the Night Land, surviving the monsters & dangers there, all places that he could have guessed at from when he looked out over the landscape from the top of The Last Redoubt, & we as readers are past everything Hodgson has previously described in The Night Land. There is the definite sense of ‘what will come next?’ It is to strong credit that Hodgson’s imagination gives us this chapter of darkness; a holding pattern of dread.

 

Chapter 8 is a detailed account of the narrator’s descent of the Mighty Slope. It is immaculately dark on the Slope & he has to slowly creep along to find his way. Quickly our narrator realizes that he can use the fire from his Diskos weapon to help light his way. This seems pretty savvy of the guy, but the light is apparently quite feeble because it’s not long before he takes a severe fall. Only shaken & bruised thanks to his armor, he rethinks his method of going & starts out again on hand & knee, crawling.

 

In this way he progresses for six days. Six days of crawling on his hands & knees down a gigantic slope of rock with utter darkness on all sides. Hodgson has never mentioned the stars; we are, I think, meant to assume they have burnt out like the sun. The moon then is spinning up there in darkness too. I mention these things because to impress how utterly dark it is for our narrator – the ambient elements that we associate with night just aren’t there. This is some lonely, lonely stuff.

 

Six days down though & the air changes a bit, becoming somewhat warmer. Here Hodgson has the chance to alleviate some of the tension by telling us a bit about the air in the Night Land. The air is very thin at the top of the Great Redoubt & heavier then at it’s base & heavier still where the narrator has reached down the Mighty Slope. We’re told that when the narrator was first going to leave the Redoubt there was some talk of using one of the old flying machines that they keep in their museums, but the air is so thin that the machines wont fly. There is a further digression about the decline of flight in those earlier generations who founded the Last Redoubt, the air thinning as those millions of years passed, with the interesting note that not even the monsters that inhabit the Night Land have fliers among them.

 

But ever onwards our narrator continues until he does suspect he finally hears something, & a brief bit of light accompanying it. A little further on he is sure; there is a glimmering of light & “a faraway sound in the dark, as that something did set up a strange and monstrous piping in the night.” He crawls further on for some hours, catching bits of the light between the rocks before he comes to an entrance to a gorge leading even further down. Down there he finally sees that the light is from a great jet of burning gas.

 

“And it was a wild and stark and empty place, as you must perceive. And the far side did be great miles off, as I did say; and everywhere there was abundance of rock and lonesomeness. And before me there went the great and dim length of the gorge, and there were lights here and lights there, in the great distance, and oft – as it did seem – the quiet dancing of the lights in diverse places; but yet were these gone on the instant. And ever there was a strong and vacant silence upon that place.”

 

This whole scene in the gorge with the blue flames is sewn with the strangeness the Hodgson excels at. It’s an obvious respite from the sprawling darkness in the first part of the chapter, but Hodgson writes it with all the loneliness of those earlier paragraphs; only where before it was us readers who noticed that loneliness, here it’s the narrator who comments on the solitude:

“And oft did I turn me about to behold the dancing of the Great Light; for it was solemn to my spirit, even amid so much of Greatness and Eternity, to think upon that Flame, and to conceive that it had an utter age danced there at the foot of the Mighty Slope, unseen, through lonesome Eternities.”

 

Our narrator passes through fields of these soft blue flames, places where noxious gasses seep up & then leaves those fields behind to move further on to where the gorge begins to take severe turns, cutting off the paths behind. Beyond the turns in the gorge is a growing warmth & red illumination, revealing finally “a mighty Country of Seas, and the burning of great volcanoes.” He knows he’s not close yet to his goal. The Lesser Redoubt is supposed to be all in darkness & must then lay across this volcanic landscape.

“And so shall you perceive me there among the rocks that did all stand upward strange and bold and silent in the red and monstrous glare of the light.”

 

More anon.

 

 

 

 

Journey across the Night Land – Chapter 7

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.

 

At long last our narrator has reached the Night Land proper. The Last Redoubt looms behind him, a marker on the horizon of what he has left behind in search of his lost love. The Redoubt plays an interesting role in this chapter – which is a huge one, some forty five pages or so. For half the chapter the Redoubt looms physically, but also psychically. Continually our narrator will refer to his distance from the Redoubt as he goes, but there is a impression in the aether that the narrator can feel that is the direct result of the inhabitants of the Redoubt being able watch him on most of his journey. Kind of a “we are with you” sort of feeling. But a bit more on that as we go.

 

Right up front we are given the pattern of sleeping & eating the narrator will adhere to on his path. He’s been given food pills & a kind of crystal that melts into water when exposed to air, all of which he’s very pragmatic about. Then from there the chapter is primarily a pure adventure chapter. The threats of the Night Land become more tangible for us readers & Hodgson gets a chance to really lay out this weird landscape he’s suggested so strongly in previous chapters.

 

After his first day out the narrator spots a fire-hole, one of a great many volcanic breaches in the land that emanate heat & light. Here he establishes a camp & sleeps but is woken by the Home-Call from the Last Redoubt due to near danger. He dashes for cover in the moss-bushes & spies a Great Grey Man. A tense scene where the narrator lays low in the bushes while this grey giant shuffles about, knowing that that narrator is hiding there but unable to find him. Throughout this, through the aether, our narrator is receiving thoughts from the Redoubt:

 

“Now, when I heard this voice speak within my spirit, I had knowledge that the dear Master Monstuwacan made watch from the Tower of observation, and did send the speech with his brain-elements, having in mind that I had the Night-Hearing. And I leapt quick from that clump of the moss-bush, unto another, and crouched, and made a watch all about me; and kept the ears of my spirit open, knowing that the Master Monstuwacan did also watch all, for me.”

 

So our narrator is able to avoid the Great Grey Man, get the jump on him & behead the creature with his Diskos. Thereafter we are given a bit more information on these strange weapons that the inhabitants of The Last Redoubt rely on. Hodgson tells us that each one is individual, powered by the same Earth-Current that fuels all life & defenses in The Redoubt, which seems to make a bond with the wielder, tuning itself to that person. If a stranger were to pick up that Diskos it would be clumsy, even damaging. Immediately I thought of the crysknives from Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. The further suggestion is that the Earth-Current, powering the Last Redoubt & the Diskos, is not simply an energy source, but also perhaps a sympathetic medium of some type. It’s too early in the novel to know for sure, but it raises some interesting questions. Not the least of which is that the Lesser Redoubt, goal of our narrator & home to his lost love, is in peril because the Earth-Current has failed them.

 

The adventure continues with a variety of encounters, including mist-men, more giants, & a particularly visceral encounter with a Yellow Thing in a sand pit. Further on the narrator appoaches & circumvents the body of that looming menace The Watcher of The North-West. The Watchers are some of the most audacious creations of Hodgson’s Night Land, though we’ve heard little of them since the second chapter. The Watcher is a titanic bulk that radiates a kind of awareness:

 

“And this feeling you shall understand the better maybe, when I do tell that it was to me as that the air all about me was full of a quiet and steadfast life and keen intelligence that t I did believe to come forth from the Watcher on every side; so that I did feel as one already within the gaze of some Great and Evil Power.”

 

These things (recall, there are four total, one each at a compass point) just sit there & lurk implacably, watching & waiting. Our narrator doesn’t lose his cool, slips past quietly, but is haunted by this radius of malignant perception that the Watcher exudes.

 

More periods of sleeping & eating pass. Further on the narrator hears a sound that is both close to him, but also ringing out far away at the same time. He knows what this sound heralds, so called secret and horrid Doorways Into the Night. Like the story behind the Diskos, here were are given a tantalizing bit of back story on this world. Bear with me on this:

 

“And there was afterwords writ a proper and careful treatise, and did set out that there did be ruptures of the Aether, the which did constitute doorways, as those more fanciful ones did name them; and throughout these shatterings, which might be likened unto openings – there being no better word to their naming – there did come into the Particular Condition Of Life, those Monstrous Forces Of Evil, that did dominate the Night, and which many did hold surely to have been given this improper entrance through the foolish and unwise wisdom of those olden men of learning, that did meddle overfar with matters that did reach in the end beyond their understanding. And this thing have I told before, and it doth seem proper unto my belief; for it is always thus, and I have that same taint within me, as must all that have the zest of life.”

 

So, at some point long past, meddlesome so-&-so’s broke holes in the world & let in monsters. This was, as Hodgson says, hinted at before a bit, but never so blatantly put. Mind, this book was written in 1912; dimensional holes & monsters pouring through are easy things to come by these days, but back in the early twentieth century this would have been breaking weird new ground. The touch at the end about the weakness of all men is an interesting note. Again, it’s a little too early to see if this bears any fruit, but it stood out & was worth noting.

 

From here the adventure narrative continues with a number of encounters: creeping around the Plain of Blue Fire, a tense escape from a Night-Hound & sneaking around the base of that dreaded House of Silence that ate hundreds of the Last Redoubts youths so terribly in previous chapters.

 

Throughout all the chapter, Hodgson paints us an image of this landscape as bleak, rocky expanse. Moss-bushes are the only foliage ever mentioned, not a tree in sight. There is only this tangible, but luridly imagined, desolation as far as the eye can see. It could be imagined close to Lovecraft’s plateau of Leng perhaps, or Tolkein’s Mordor; for me, I couldn’t shake the image of the planet in Mario Bava’s movie Planet of The Vampires, with it’s demonic lighting & volcanic landscape.

 

So surviving threat upon threat, at the chapter’s end, our narrator has the dim signal of his lost love in his “brain-elements”; he knows he’s closer. Before him is a dire slope that leads into an broad land of pure darkness. No more fire-holes to light his way. The Last Redoubt has vanished behind him. He can only go down into darkness.

 

More anon.

 

Journey across the Night Land – Chapter 6

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 narrator has freshly stepped out into The Night Land proper. Behind him looms the awesome magnificence of The Last Redoubt. Miles high, miles across, in case in the interim of other goings-on we’d forgotten how massive the scale of the Redoubt is, here we are reminded. On balconies high above, the narrator can see the tiny figures of the millions of residents of the Redoubt waving him on. He salutes them, then true to form for the novel, promptly marches into a digression.

The recursive style of The Night Land allows Hodgson a great deal of leeway with when he introduces the elements he wants to handle. In the case of chapter 6, we are told of a tiny silver book the narrator had read right before he left the Last Redoubt. This was a tome buried far back in the Great Library, one that discussed issues so old to have been relegated to the status of fairy tale.

Here we are told of the Earth in the far past when an earthquake ripped a hole in the planet. The ocean flowed in, lava rose up, chaos ensued. Some millions of years after this cataclysm, a valley has been defined, hundreds of miles deep, a thousand miles wide. This is a big hole. ‘And in the bottom there were great seas; and beasts strange and awesome, and very plentiful.’

Hodgson is really giving us here an origin for his Night Land. The surface world begins to become to cold due to the dimming sun – at this point only a lurid red sphere in the sky. The surviving people make a long climb down into the valley where the opened Earth provides heat. There they build: ‘and these grew up to that life of constant and great climbings, and of hard workings upon The Road, which was the One Intent of that People; so that the book did speak of them always as The Road Makers.’

So they build a great road and city after city along it, fighting the Monsters that had fostered there as they went.

‘But there was presently, such a power and horror of Monsters and Evil Things in that Valley of Shadow, that the Road Makers were made to go Backwards into the Red Light which did fill the Westward Valley, and came from that low Sun.’

So the inhabitants of the Valley hole up for maybe a hundred thousand years or so before the ‘utter twilight of the world,’ when things get odd. Hogson seems to suggest a level of moral degeneracy: ‘so that strange things were done, that had been shameful to all in the Light. And there were wanderings, and consorting with strange outward beings, and presently, many Cities were attacked by monsters that did come from the West; and there was Pandemonium.’

There feels a bit of Tolkien in all this, not the moral degeneracy, but the world building, all twenty five years before The Hobbit made it’s debut. A quick look around doesn’t reveal any connection between the two, but it would be surprising to learn that Tolkien had not read The Night Land. I’m only speculating here, others may know more. In any event this is all followed by ‘an Age of Sorrows and Fightings’ leading to a stronger, Determined Generation who found & build, finally, the Last Redoubt.

There is some great weird world-building in this chapter. It all adds up to a shortcut for the narrator to guess that the Lesser Redoubt must by reason be somewhere in this vast valley. It’s a savvy way for Hodgson to narrow the field of the novel. Based on all this ‘fairy tale’ legendry coupled with the psychic sense of his ‘brain-elements’, our brave narrator determines northwards is the way to go, though a bit circuitously so as to avoid the dreaded House of Silence & the fate of all those youths from the last chapter. With that he’s off.

More anon.

Journey across the Night Land – Chapter 5

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.

Previously: After great losses to the Evil Forces abroad in the Night Land, the residents of the Last Redoubt laid to rest their dead, while our still unnamed narrator pined for his love Naani (nee Mirdath the Beautiful) herself languishing somewhere out across the benighted planet.

Chapter 5 begins with no surfeit of succor.  The surviving two hundred and fifty youths who are traveling out on the Road Where The Silent Ones Walk are nearing the dreaded House of Silence wherein some evil Power & Influence dwells. (Hodgson does so love to literally capitalize on any word of importance in his tale.)

All in the Redoubt turn their spy-glasses out along that Great Dismal Road watching to see what becomes of the Youths, including our narrator in his capacity as Monstruwacan, a kind of lookout, looking through the Great Spy-Glass.  It appears that the youths are under a compelling enchantment as they can be seen to suddenly begin to run towards the House of Silence. Here then the Monstruwacan’s sound out the Home-Call, a signal to make aware that there is danger abroad.  Previously we’ve been told of how cautious the Monstruwacans have been to use the Call for fear of making those monsters out in the Night Land aware that humans were about.

We get again, as in the last chapter, some of this dire morality of those in the Redoubt. Nested within the Home-Call is the message that the youths should “put forth the strength of their spirits, and do battle for their souls; and if they could in no wise compass a victory over that which drew them onwards, to slay themselves quickly, ere they went into the House to the horror of utter destruction.”

I’m curious to see if somewhere over the course of the novel we get to see a death where the loss of the soul is in anyway detailed; a bit of this later on.  The casualties from the last chapter were all buried normally.  If their death was somehow more horrific from being at the hands of the monsters of the Night Land, as we are reminded here that it is, Hodgson doesn’t detail.

There is another odd moment where Hodgson describes a brief counter-force that radiates out “by reason of the prayers and soul-wishings of the countless millions” that are watching from the Last Redoubt.  This counter-force is easily broken by the Evil Force in the House though and the youths again begin to run towards the House.  It’s a minor moment; three paragraphs of almost disposable text, except that it seems largely to remind us of the psychic forces that get used throughout the book.  Hodgson only barely lays out for us at any point a coherent cosmology or set of rules in The Night Land, rather we are left to eek out from highly digressionary passages what may be at work in this world he writes, heavily amended as he goes.  There are, as here, almost latent psychic phenomena, & then other more active incidents, as we’ve seen, with the narrator’s Night Hearing.  It’s perhaps too early in the book to draw any real conclusions about it yet, but it butts up curiously against the morality that is observed.  More on this later, I imagine.

In another reference to the last chapter, the mysterious force of Light that rose up to protect many of the Ten-thousand who ventured out to save the youths, makes another return.  This time it arrives as a white mist. “And the mist of cold fire stayed their way, so that we had knowledge that there fought for the souls of them, one of those sweet Powers of Goodness, which we had belief did strive to ward our spirits at all time from those Forces of Evil and Destruction.”

This is the first mention of any Powers of Goodness in the novel.

So, again, all seems safe.  Until an athletic youth named Aschoff throws himself at the barrier of white mist & dispels it.  All the youths, all two hundred and fifty, now pour into the House of Silence.  All of them gone, just like that.

Our narrator tells us that even with his Night Hearing he can’t hear the agony of their souls, so great is the Silence.  So perhaps this then is a sign of a soul being lost?  This is the first time we’ve been told a sold might be heard, even though these cannot be.

Sorrow descends on the Last Redoubt and in that our narrator turns his thoughts back to Naani, worrying about her safety.  Since the Earth-Current failed in the last chapter, there has been no solid communication with the Lesser Redoubt. All the Instruments that amplify the “brain-elements” were powered by that Earth-Current.  The narrator has sent the Master-Word, that psychic sigil that is unable to be forged by the Evils of the Night Land, but only receives the equivalent of static in return.  In the depths of his frustration he decides that he is now going to venture out into the Night Land itself.

So, having just seen what happened to the last several hundred people who dared, seeking a place that could be anywhere on the planet, to find a lady who may or may not actually be the reincarnation of his lost love from millions and millions years ago, our narrator is going to venture out into the Night Land. Ok? Ok.

One difference is in that our narrator will follow the prescribed method to leave the Last Redoubt. What chance this may impart remains to be seen.  Primarily this concerns three days spent in the Room of Preparation where it “was made known certain horrors that were not told unto the young; and of horrid mutilations, and of abasements of the soul, that did shake the heart with fear, if but they were whispered into the hearing.”  Emphasis mine, because, wow.  Even our stalwart narrator wonders if some of this is just scare tactics to get people to reconsider.  But he perseveres & receives his Diskos that strange saw-ax, his grey armor on which is stitched a Mark of Honour.  With countless millions lined up to see him depart, the Great Gate of the Last Redoubt opens and he goes forward into the Dark.

More anon.