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.