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 heroes, with their newly reinforced raft, travel down river pleasantly enough & little troubles them. They have the time to wonder about a creature they see along the way, a nonthreatening one that is just going about it’s business. The narrator segues off into thoughts about evolution, though never uses the word specifically. Instead he maps out the idea of the Spirit or Force of life, thinking that even if Man were ever a different thing in the past the Spirit has always been “Man”. It’s interesting that here he doesn’t mention souls at all, where earlier they were more commonly referred to. He also briefly touches on the Afterward, but doesn’t pretend to know what might be after death. Like I had mentioned in earlier chapter, there is no religion in the Night Land, but a great deal of their philosophies seem derived from one. Curious stuff.
There is an excellent moment when, finally reaching land, they lean the raft against a tree & wonder if anyone will ever see that raft again in all Eternity. It’s moments like these that really make the book succeed, even in spite of it’s glaring flaws. We are never far from being reminded how utterly empty the world is.
So here we begin their journey up towards that Great Gorge & all those days of total darkness that come with it.
“And so we to have presently upward into the high mouth of the Gorge, and did go onward then into the gloom, a little space, until that we were come to the place where the Gorge did bend sharp unto the left, into darkness.”
If you’ve followed me this far into the novel, you may remember the low gas-jets of flame that surround this area, they pass by these & come to that Great Gas Flame that howls out of the earth & towers up into the dark.
“And so in the end, we to be come very nigh to the dance of the monstrous flame; and did be half stunned by the noise, which did be now an utter and furious roaring, as you shall remember; and the Maid and I did stand as but two lonesome strangers in the mouth-part of that deep and desolate Gorge, and did stare voiceless unto the great flaw…”
I quote these bits just to show that, as awkward as the prose in this book is, there are many occasions that it creates a mood that leaner, more transparent prose would completely fail at. One of Hodgson’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to conjure alien emptiness, melancholic ruination & weird atmospheres with apparent ease.
Then comes eight days of darkness for our heroes as they navigate that Gorge, often on their hands & knees so as to avoid tripping or falling into any pits or the like. I mentioned this when the narrator first passed through this area but think about it: eight days of crawling over a landscape of rocks in total darkness is rough stuff. On occasion the narrator will throw a stone out ahead of them to sound out the ground & the echo of it only serves to reinforce just how desolate this place is. On occasion he’ll spin the Diskos to let it’s light try & rally their efforts, but it’s still a week of utter darkness.
Unharmed they do finally emerge on to The Road Where the Silent Ones Walk & this puts our two heroes well & truly back in The Night Land proper. Out over the grotesque landscape, the Last Redoubt can be seen. They are close. “Yet, truly, I also never to have forgetting that this familiar Land of Strangeness did be the last test and the greatest dreadfulness of our journey; and anxiousness did hang upon me”
The narrator is right to worry. Chief among the dangers is The House of Silence, that place that drank in a whole army earlier in the book. They keep very low in the bushes & skulk around that “grim and dreadful” House. But just when they believe they are out of harms way a Force strikes out from The House of Silence & Naani collapses. The Force doesn’t seem to effect our narrator but Naani has is totally enervated, she’s like a zombie or a sleepwalker & is fading fast. The narrator picks her up in his arms & runs.
The peril for Naani seems dire. The narrator charges across the land, he thinks he’s slayed monsters along the way, but can’t be sure, so intense is his worry about Naani. Then there comes that familiar thrilling through the Aether & he knows that those in the Last Redoubt can see him with their spy glasses, can see his plight. To further the danger, that all the people in the Redoubt can see him stirs their latent psychic energy & all the creatures of the Night Land waken to the narrator’s presence. He barrels through creatures that rise up in front of him heedlessly. But then he hears the sounds of the Hounds & knows he will be doomed; they are too many & too fierce. As his hopes flag, he is sent a psychic message from his friend the Master Monstruwacan, that observer of the Night Land, telling him they are readying three of the old weapons & warriors are being rallied to aid him. Still he charges across the landscape.
As he goes & as the chapter ends, the narrator comes very close to & catches the attention of the Watcher of the North-East. You’ll recall the Watchers are these titanic beasts that sit on the land & just leer with doom at the Last Redoubt, waiting for the fall of humanity. They are one of the singular creations of the novel. The Watcher’s ear quivers “so that I saw the Monster made somewhat known unto all the Land.” This frankly weird gesture the Watcher makes raises the stakes in some bizarre way that we have yet to know.