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 been beaten to a bloody pulp. As Chapter 14 opens, Naani has dragged him onto the raft & set out across the river. The Humpt Men, their aggressors, all who I imagine looking like Jack Kirby monsters for some reason, howl at the bank of the river but venturing no further. The whole opening to this chapter feels almost …apologetic, maybe? Here we have the roles immediately reversed; the stalwart narrator has been sundered within an inch of his life & is being rescued by a naked maiden. It’s a little blunt of an image, but it’s almost a palate cleanser after all the high-nonsense of the past few chapters.
The two land on the island in the middle of the river & the rest of the chapter is confined there. A week goes by with the narrator fading in & out of consciousness, Naani all the while tending to his wounds. How quickly her role as savior is relegated to nurse. The narrator heals slowly & both of their spirits return. This really frees up Hodgson to have the two of them just talk for awhile in a much more organic setting than the endless segue ways of previous chapters. We learn, for instance that Naani had brothers back at the Lesser Redoubt.
There comes an odd moment when the narrator begins to actually narrated to Naani the goings-on of the first chapter. Hodgson has always been cagey about how much Naani actually remembers, if anything, about her past life & it appears really that she has only impressions rather than actual memories. In particular Naani is saddened to learn about the child they had. This is the first mention of the child since all the way back in Chapter 1 when Mirdath dies giving birth. The narrator consoles her by assuring that the child lived after her passing. What a strange thing to know of your own death & to be around to mourn what comes after. It’s a nice touch.
The narrator tells of The Last Redoubt too, & all it’s wonders. Which really casts The Lesser Redoubt in cold light. With the Earth-Current having been so weak & intermittent as it was the whole culture there that Naani grew up in was an anemic & wasting one. Hodgson describes it as “shaken with hauntings, because that it lackt the power of the Earth-Current to protect”. We also get hint of a few of the sciences of Last Redoubt, that they can make water from chemistry (referring to the crystals that the narrator & Naani use that deliquesce when exposed to air) & also that there are underground pipelines that run all over the Night Land. That last one seems a bit like a game changer, but Hodgson just keeps on going without reflection on it.
Tucked into all this is an ebullient screed on Love. Things get shaky here. The whole passage reads o’er akin to strictly conceived religious doctrine that might be cited to strike down marriage equality acts; “and the Man to be an Hero and a Child before the Woman; and the Woman to be an Holy Light of the Spirit and an utter Companion and in the same time a glad Possession unto the Man.” & so on. It’s more than a little troublesome, as a great deal of this guy’s behavior has been shown to be.
Naani doesn’t know the history of the Night Land. That it is essentially a crack in the planet some two-hundred miles down, that so far above is an utter wasteland of snow & dark. But what she does have is hazy memories of an in between time. A point that we readers heard about from the narrator some while back, when the civilizations of the Night Land were moving across the valleys following the then fading sun. It’s interesting to note that the narrator has no memory of this time period. He of course takes this in a very predictable fashion as is immediately worried that she may have love another person in this other life. The horror! But, nay, of course Naani loved no other as her soul is united with the narrator’s through all of time. Which leads directly into a screed on monogamy only slightly less worrisome than the one on Love.
“But what doth be the peculiar sorrow of they that have gone over-lightly, when that they shall meet the Beloved; for then shall there be a constant and inward regret, as a thorn in the heart, that they not to have observed always that holy care of all which doth pertain unto love; and they nigh to moan in the spirit, if they had but known, if they had but known.”
All that really remains of the chapter involves our heroes deciding that in order to avoid the dreadful Humpt Men, they are going to take the river some distance. The fortify the raft & away they go.