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.