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.
Here now, with the weight of two hundred pages comfortably in our left hand & an equal measure as yet unventured in our right; here, halfway through the sprawl of the novel, our narrator at last reaches his destination; here at last is the Lesser Redoubt.
‘And surely, when I was come that I could see the grimness of the Pyramid, going upward very desolate and silent into the night, lo! an utter shaking fear did take me; for the sweet cunning of my spirit did know that there abode no human in all that great and dark bulk; but that there did await me there, monstrous and horrid things that should bring destruction upon my soul. And I went downward of the hill, very quiet in the darkness; and so in the end, away from that place.’
The place has been emptied of all humanity and filled instead with evil. The spread of an empty, ancient seabed all about him, his goal now frustrated & the yawning distance he has traveled behind him, all mount into a tangible loneliness. Hodgson, briefly, gives us a pit of despair. But it soon dawns on our narrator that he could try to send out that psionic Master-Word, daring the Evil Power to hear, & his efforts are rewarded with a meek response. Not far off, huddled around one of the volcanic fire-holes, our narrator finds Naani, the Maid of Olden Days, mirror-soul to his lost Mirdath the Beautiful.
Naani is a wreck. She’s scarred out of her mind & initially recoils from this savage, armored figure arriving through the bushes. Curiously, the narrator calms her by speaking the Master-Word aloud. Previously the Master-Word had been solely the province of psychic pronouncements, a kind of mental sigil that could not be mimicked by the Evil Forces that stalk The Night Land; here now it arrives in more terrestrial use, lessening it feels, the nature of the idea. Or so it seemed to me, at least.
We learn from Naani of the assault on the Lesser Redoubt: when the Earth-Current had failed, severing power to their entire society, people went a little mad & when an Evil Force attacked many opened the Great Door to flee. ‘And immediately there had come into the Lesser Pyramid, great and horrid monsters, and had made a great and brutish chase, and had slain many; but some had escaped forth into the night.’ Naani’s father & three maids who had all escaped with Naani had been killed & she was left all to herself in that sprawling dark of the ancient seabed. She’s been there since, hiding from the Evil things that have scoured the land looking for her; feeding off moss, strange berries & drinking sulfurous water. She’s in a bad way & our noble narrator immediately sees to restoring her.
& here is where chapter takes a turn. What follows are extensive pages of a kind of twee chivalric romantic interaction between Naani & the narrator. Once Naani has her strength back she becomes this nigh basely demure supplicant, seemingly resisting practical aid only to help the narrator feel masculine in finally bending her to his will. She doesn’t want to be any trouble; resists wearing a cloak for warmth, hides that she’s eating less to make sure the narrator has plenty & all kind of this sort of behavior. All the while the narrator fawns over how tiny her hands & feet are, how ‘sweet & naughty’ she is &c. Mind, the narrator’s idea of ‘naughty’ is that she is mock-willful & offer the chastest of kisses as an apology for that willfulness. It’s difficult to read all this & not imagine Naani as some emotionally deformed fourteen year old. Even for 1912 & even in the chivalrous context Hodgson is obviously courting, the sexual politics here are just awful.
Naani is resisting to wear the cloak for warmth: ‘And lo! She went sudden into crying; and this had been beyond my thoughts. And truly, it set me all adrift; for I perceived that she did be greatly distrest concerning this matter, when I had conceived that she did but mean this thing for tenderness’ sake. But mine heart helped me to understand, and I saw how she did be truly shamed, in her sweet womanhood, if that I helped her not in this matter; for she did feel that she was made to do hurt unto that one that was her Love.”
Here, Naani is again resisting wearing an extra garment for warmth & the narrator tells us: “And she would nowise wear the garment; but yet in the end I prevailed by gentle reasonings and because that I was her master, as I was born to be…”
& so on. All this amidst a great deal of precious adorations of each other, as if all is perfect between them. It’s all a bit much.
Throughout all this Naani & the narrator have begun their journey back to the Great Redoubt reaching, at the end of the chapter, the slope leading out of the dead seabed. There we are left.