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.