This was hard one, folks. Chapter XII was the roughest going since I started this book, & here, nigh two thirds through the novel, I can really see why so many don’t finish it. At the beginning of the edition of The Night Land that I’m reading from C.S. Lewis is quoted:
“W. H. Hodgson’s The Night Land would have made it in eminence from the unforgettable somber splendor of the images it presents, if it were not disfigured by a sentimental and irrelevant erotic interest and by a foolish and flat archaism of style.”
C.S. Lewis & I do not see eye to eye on a great many things. I can completely see what he meant by the “foolish and flat archaism of style” as can anyone who ventures the first page of the novel. That I can handle, though it can render whole paragraphs almost meaningless with the piles of semicoloned qualifiers Hodgson piles on. What I did not plan on agreeing with Lewis about was the “sentimental and irrelevant erotic interest”. Having read Hodgson’s novel The House on the Borderland twice & really enjoying it, & knowing the general idea of The Night Land before I began, I had imagined something along the lines of Clark Ashton Smith’s lasciviousness. Nay! It was not to be so.
“And, truly, this doth sound quaint; but to be true.”
The above quote is the narrator referring to the realization that Naani, his now rescued love, has been kissing him while he sleeps, but it doubles heavily as the mission statement of this chapter. Covering chapter XI I teased that the relationship between the narrator & Naani was akin to a Chivalric-BDSM hybrid & this chapter really seals that image up. It’s not that the relationship is terribly complex, but that it’s delivered in such a baroque fashion & being couched in the language of the novel as it is makes it all so grotesquely livid.
“And truly I needed that I be so loved, and all of you say like with me; and I put up mine arms to her, as I did yet lie; and she not to deny me, but came into mine arms, and did snuggle there so sweet and happy and gladly, and with so true a delight, that it did be plain how she did love in all her body and spirit anigh to me, as I to her. Yet, truly, as you do mind, the armour did be upon me; so that I feared to take her very strong in mine arms, lest I hurt the dear Maid; and surely the armour did be a stern matter for her to nestle unto; but yet, mayhaps, did the sternness something please her womanheart, and yet, again, mayhaps to lack.”
Almost all the passages read like this. They each, the narrator & Naani, behave in accordance to this archaic formalism: the narrator is big & strong, his “arms did be so great and hard with muscles”, yet feels unworthy of Naani’s affections: Naani is sweet & tender & honest & wholesome &c, who apparently revels in the narrator’s puissance, but loves to be “naughty” by challenging it with little acts of willfulness, which of course the narrator has to correct or chide her about, remarking:
“And in verity a young man doth want that he whip his maid and kiss her, and all in the one moment. And, indeed, he to have delight in both.”
Because, sure. At this point this stuff just flows by like water.
With all this going on it would be easy to forget that these two are journeying across the benighted landscape of a ruined world. This chapter occupies about forty pages in my edition, & the bulk of the beginning & ending of the chapter are taken up with these extensive scenes of over precious fawning & highly dubious gender politics. Sandwiched slimly between is an encounter with a giant grotesque slug with probing eyes atop prehensile stalks. Our heroes push a giant boulder down a cliff that spears the beast & allows them to continue with their quest. & their fawning.
Really one of the only other scenes worth drawing attention to is one where they bathe, the narrator being the gentleman & turning his back & everything. But our poor, sweet Naani is attacked by a snake & the narrator has to dive in to slay the thing, followed by a bit of:
“And, in verity, I did mind now, how that she did look very beautiful in her bath, as I had gone to succour her from the snake; and I to be nicely wholesome in this remembering, because of my love, but yet to be knowing that I was sweetly stirred to new things: and did not know before that a maid lookt in the same moment so holy and so human.”
This then, the first mention of actual sex in the novel. The morality that has been on display so far has been severe, so we aren’t to assume that those raised in The Last Redoubt have much in the way of erotic imagination, but it seemed odd given the remoteness of the two, the perilous nature of their quest &c, that it might not have come up at all before.
The chapter winds down with a brief mention of the past lives from way back in chapter 1. The narrator mentions:
“And odd whiles, as I did carry Mine Own, she to talk a little with me of her memory-dreams of the olden days”
Most notable I think is that this is the first real mention that Naani remembers being Mirdath. Every occasion before had always a caveat that could easily be noted to cause doubt. I had actually begun to think that we’d get to the end of the novel without Hodgson ever explicitly stating that Naani recalls being Mirdath. That she does raises a ton of questions about how their memories might mingle & how that would effect their behavior. Does Naani know Mirdath dies of childbirth? Is Mirdath, like our narrator, aware of her future life? No answers are given.
We leave our two lovebirds having just arrived at “the warm light and wonder of the Country of the Seas.”