Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 17

Here then, at the end, there’s little left to tell of. The deep thunder of Underground Organs boom at the opening of the chapter, the resonance, we’re told “did sound as that they mad a strange and utter distant music beyond death”. It is a Song of Honour the millions sing & on this musical cue our narrator awakes, his reopened wounds now rehealed some. Naani is there completely revived. When he can walk, the two of them stroll lazily through the Quiet Gardens of the Pyramid. It’s very much the similar scene that they, in their past lives reaching all the way back into chapter one, enjoyed. Naturally enough, they are married.

We do also learn what had happened to Naani. The “Horrid Force of the House” had stunned & frozen her Spirit, her life suspended. It was as she passed through that misty sheet of the Earth-Current that she was revived.

A last scene shows us Naani escorting the Narrator to the Hall of Honour & she show him a statue that has been erected there: “A Statue of a man in broken armour, that did carry a maid forever.” Our narrator, humbled at being honored notes, as he leaves us, that honor “be but as the ash of Life, if that you not to have Love.”

End.

 

Reading The Night Land like this, writing about it as I go, has created far different memories of it for me than if I had just read the novel on my own. If you’ve been reading along here with me then you know I struggled with some of it: the narrators blatant & brutal chauvinism I found really difficult. I was also a little amazed that the language of the book, one of the biggest hurtles to anyone tackling this text, became second nature as fast as it did. Once into it, I found that as awkward as it read, the images the language evoked were very vivid, cinematic even. The atmosphere though, is supreme. If I’ve failed in conveying the desolate mood & the sheer weirdness at work here it is a fault of mine & not one of the novel. The Night Land, for all it’s flaws, is incredibly conjured.

It’s taken me some nigh three months to read The Night Land. The day-to-day of life, & the writing of it as I went, all took far more time than I had imagined. The memory of the book, stretched out across that span of time, lingers stronger for it though.  There are images that have been vividly branded on my mind now.  Looking back over the book, all that happened in it & how all it happened, I can easily see why The Night Land carries with it the reputation that it does – bizarrely constructed, grotesquely articulated, & feverishly imagined.

It doesn’t seem out of place to offer a bit of biographical information on William Hope Hodgson himself.  Born in 1877 & dieing in World War I, six years after finishing The Night Land, he was an initially slight man who develped a whole School of Physical Culture to compansate for his small build.  It’s easy to read into the narrator of The Night Land much of Hodgson’s own philosophies of strength & physical prowess.  The Night Land, alongside the excellent House on the Borderland, remain his best known novels.  His full Wikipedia entry is here.   

As and addendum for those curious, a reservoir of essays, critiques, & art on The Night Land exists here (Stephan Fabian’s illustrations are particularly good) & an impressively bannered, but as of yet inactive, site lives here.

 

Cheers.

 

 

 

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 16

“And I gat the giant above the middle part, and the Diskos did glut itself, and went through the giant as that he did be naught . . .for the upper part of the giant-man went horrid to the earth, and the legs and the trunk stood plain in the light of the fire-hole, and the blood went upward as a fountain in the night.”

We open chapter 16 with slaughter. Our narrator, carrying his direly wounded love in his arms, is literally cutting his way across the landscape. The whole land is awake to him being there & monsters are throwing themselves at him endlessly. A mental message from the Master Monstruwacan has promised aid, but our narrator hasn’t seen any of it yet & things are looking dire. The Night Hounds are baying & he knows that they would be far too much for him to handle.

So two miles out or so from that glowing Circle of Earth-Current that protects the Pyramid, the hounds are on him, hundreds of these things, & the narrator reminds us that they are as large as horses.

“And lo! Even as I lookt that last time unto the Pyramid, there brake out a monstrous bursting flame, that did rush downward from the Sealed lower part of the Mighty Pyramid.” This is a bit like the Death Star cannon, or the wave-motion cannon from Starblazers: those inside the Pyramid blast the Night Hounds with a focused release of the Earth-Current itself. It sunders them all & the land they were running on, boulders are thrown skyward, it “did rend and split the air”. Just as sudden as the blast hit, it stops. The interesting thing that follows is that the whole Pyramid is diminished for a while after using that weapon. We’re told the lifts & air pumps & such all freeze up for a time, even the protective Circle wavers some.

All this while the narrator has been wondering where all the warriors that were going to aid him have been. Now as he gets so close to the Circle he can see “monstrous Black Mounds all along without of the Circle, and did rock and sway with a force of strange life that did set an horror into my soul as I ran.” Some of what follows I found a little confusing. So the hundred thousand warriors can’t leave the Circle for fear of the Black Mounds, which are manifestations of the Evil Forces in the land. Ok. As the narrator closes in on the Circle he is attacked by these tusked monsters but has no issue with the Black Mounds. Maybe I’m just not picturing it right. He of course slaughters all the tusked monsters & reaches through past the Circle into safety. As assured of his reaching the Pyramid is, the whole scene is fraught with gory combat & great fun to read.

Once inside the Circle he immediately calls for a doctor. All those warriors there reach out to him to offer some kind of aid, but each of them pulls back, shies away with awe: the narrator has become something strange to them. The Master Doctor arrives. But no, it’s too late for Naani. She’s dead. I did not see this coming & the melancholy of it is tangible in the text:

“And I stoopt, in a little, and I lifted Mine Own Maid into mine arms for that last journeying.”

The narrator is devastated. He can only think that at least he saved her from a lonely death on her own out there in the ruins of the Lesser Redoubt. What follow reads like a pageantry of sorrow: the crowd splits before him & he carries her into the Pyramid. We’re told of the great silence upward & downward through the strange miles of the Redoubt. All are in mourning. It’s a very effective passage & Hodgson’s style here does convey the weight of the sadness well. It’s on one of the lifts, the Earth-Current now flowing again, that it’s realized the narrator is bleeding everywhere. He collapses, his head a-swim.

Three days later he wakes, sore, still wounded, but better. The way Hodgson phrases a lot of this part is strange & really makes it sound like this will also be the end for the narrator: “…that I not to live after that Mine Own did die.” He won’t wear the robe they offer him, but instead dresses in his broken armor. They are going to the Burial for Naani & descend the hundreds of miles down to the Country of Silence where everyone has gathered. Millions of people are spread out over the land there. Naani has been laid out in white. Songs wash over the millions & fade. I really expected to have the narrator lie down next to her & be consigned to the end.  The text all but assures us that this is the last time the narrator will be doing any of these things. But instead Naani is rolled away on the Road, a kind of conveyance, towards a misty wall of the Earth-Current. I’m not sure what is supposed to happen with this Earth-Current wall, but as she enters it the narrator thinks he sees her move. But no, it was just a trick of the glow – but yes, she did move! He’s off, running down that motorized road. Chaos erupts in the crowd, people need to be held back. When the narrator reaches Naani she is indeed awake, with a look of wonder in her eyes. The narrator crashes into her arms, his wounds reopened from his running & he’s bleeding everywhere again. Naani sits up & has his head on her breast as he passes out.

We’ve only got one chapter left now.  More anon.

 

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 15

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.

 

More anon.

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 14

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.

 

More anon.

 

 

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 13

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, now free from the oppressive gloom of slime slick caverns & giant slugs have emerged into the effulgent glow of burbling volcanoes, lava beds & the open airs of mysterious forests. They are, however, not free from the suspect behavior & odd motives that have so plagued these past chapters. Naani remains something of a cypher & our narrator, the chivalric chauvinist.

As the chapter opens all is sweet enough. The two travel & love & play at each other with a courtly sort of structure, but not a courtly sort of content. Our narrator will fawn over Naani’s hair & toes, making her stand tall on a rock, for example, so that he may admire her. She blushes over the attention, which only makes the narrator love her more & so we go with our stomachs reaching sickness rather swiftly. It really seems like most of the brutish garbage our narrator submits Naani to may have passed by until – horror! He discovers that she’s has become bruised by his armor because he’s been carrying her for miles, & she’s said nothing about it. Naani attempts to tempt him form his anger, but he’s not having it, wants to slap her even.

The core of what’s going on between these two really seems to be that the narrator believes his manliness spurs her to behave dainty & mannered, but otherwise, left to her own womanly ways, her nature is one of pure “naughtiness”. (& as a brief aside, I have never read the word “naughty” so often as I have in the pages of the Night Land.)  You can easily see the issues here.

Naani is hard to get a read on. It’s a bit like reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, in that the main female presence in the novel is so heavily filtered through the narrator’s view that it’s very difficult to get a feel for how she feels or thinks independently. With Naani, reading between the lines as it were, we can eek out the nature of a willful, fearless young girl. This nature clashes harshly with what must assume are the world views of the narrator. He sets none of those views out per se, but his interactions with Naani make it pretty clear that she’s does not fit in the precious box he has conceived for her.

The Night Land itself, by which I mean the actual presence of the atmosphere of this dying planet that these two are crossing does make it’s presence known much better than in the last chapter. Here we have sumptuous passages detailing the fire-holes, the ghostly forests & the like. There is a strange, potent moment where both the narrator & Naani are overtaken by a reverie of the past. For a quivering few paragraphs they pass through the dream of the lives they lives so many millennia ago. This is really the first real occasion where we’ve had the two of them truly thrum with the past as the narrator has hinted that they do. It serves also, I thought, as a good reminder that poor, doomed Mirdath from the far reaches of chapter one, was just as vivacious, just as willful as Naani is here so far in the empty future.

Sadly the reverie passes too swiftly & we’re back to petty squabbles about shoes being left behind at a bathing pool & the like, for which the narrator feels obliged to whip Naani about the shoulders. That’ll teach her, surely.

Landscape details pass by. The crashed air-ship of chapters past is reached & passed, then into a turbulent area rife with the “signs of inward life and forces.” Volcanic rumbles rock the land. Strong geysers gush. Naani goes too near one & is almost ravaged by the force of the geyser before our stalwart narrator saves her in a rush & a huff. He’s furious she wouldn’t pay attention to the danger, but Naani is all a-giggle with the joy of it. She’s enlivened even, singing as they go. The narrator is indignant. He’s genuinely angry that she hasn’t crashed into his arms in thankfulness at being saved. You can really begin to see how utterly small minded the narrator is. Survival is of course important. Or really, is it? Naani is no less aware of the state of mankind, no less aware of the state of the planet; I really had the sense that she was more attune the doomed world, understanding the tenuous existence that each led, & simply took more pleasure in it all. The narrator is easily filed under “grumpy”, though not without some poetry to his soul.

Naani runs ahead as they walk, straying off among the spectral trees. Our narrator is concerned about the reappearance of the Humpt Men that had attacked him on his first pass through this area. He’s so concerned about the danger that he puts Naani on a leash. Yes. He leashes his lady so that she doesn’t get into trouble. Naani will have none of this & quickly cuts the leash with the knife that the narrator had given her for last resort protection. She runs off, newly freed. The narrator gives chase, catches, & Naani asks if he is going to flog his “chattel” – so she refers to herself. Why yes, of course he’s going to flog her. To further it all, after she’s been whipped, Naani plays all coy & cuddly with the narrator, but is hiding a saucy smile the whole while. This is too much for our dullard of a narrator. This guy is deeply sensitive to the weird environment of the Night Land, but has absolutely no idea how to read the girl he’s traveled so far to save. So here he whips her again, more harshly.

He tries to express how torn he is about having to do all this, but it really falls on deaf ears by this point.

Here though, the chapter hits a fever pitch almost out of nowhere. Our two heroes are ambushed by the Humpt Men, who have been trailing them secretly among the trees. These “lumpish and mighty” men bare down with serious ferocity. The narrator shows his worth & puts a pole straight through the first guy, & as the Humpt Man pulls the shaft of the pole out of his chest, he’s cleaved straight in two, the narrator has “ript him from the head downward, so that he did be nigh in two halves.” The savagery of this fight is brutal. The Diskos “did glow and roar” as the narrator basically butchers a score of these Humpt Men. But he takes his licks too. His armor is cracked. He’s bleeding. Swiftly the tone turns & it becomes very clear that our narrator is in real danger.

Naani dive’s into the fray, fearless, stabbing one of the Humpt Men in the arm. She is struck at, & the blow tears her garments from her, because, of course; but then she withdraws, dodging their attacks, to lead them away from the narrator.

The narrator at this point is in a really bad way. It’s really interesting how Hodgson’s prose style in this book can knuckle down & deliver a really vicious, tangible fight scene. I was really impressed by how cinematic the whole melee was. The narrator is falling on his face, trying to rise to his knees. He staggers trying to give chase, falling down all the while, the land seeming to pitch beneath him. He’s sure all is lost, all is “Emptiness and great Horror”.

But emerging from the woods, leading one Humpt Man behind her (which means she has killed at least one herself) Naani emerges. She’s out of breath, bruised & the like. Our narrator drags his ruined body towards her, scrapes himself off his knees & smites that last Humpt Man, who then blunders past falls & dies on his face.

It really is a spectacular battle. It’s vividly told, easy to follow the action & makes the violence of it all that much more visceral.

There then, at the end, our narrator collapses against Naani as all fades to black.

 

More anon.

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 12

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.”

 

More anon.

 

 

 

Journey across The Night Land – Chapter 11

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.

 

Having turned away from the Lesser Redoubt, our narrator & his dear Naani now begin their journey across the benighted earth back to the Last Redoubt, now truly the last bastion of humanity on the planet.

 

Right away Naani lays out a bit of the landscape for our narrator, specifically highlighting a poisonous gas-laden region & an area beyond referred to as The Shine, due to it’s cyan-hued burning light, where the dread Fixed Giants stalk. The narrator takes these to be somewhat equivalent to the Watchers that are about the Last Redoubt. So they plot a course to go around the Place of the Gas, staying clear of the Shine & set out.

 

They eventually make camp at one of the volcanic fire-holes that intermittently dot the landscape, kind of a cave, crevice area with heat erupting from the center. All the creatures of the Night Land tend to congregate at these fire-holes, so precautions are necessary. Then just when we think they are safe that astonishing sexism so prevalent in the last chapter rears it’s head with this gem:

 

“And we sat together, and eat and drank; and the Maid very sweet and quiet, as she did begin to eat her second tablet; and, truly, I had knowing that she did remember in all her body that I had whipt her. And, indeed, she did be utter mine.”

 

Wow. OK. Um… so it’s going to be like that? It is. I don’t know Hodgson’s reasoning on any of this approach. As I mentioned regarding the last chapter, 1912 aside, & this supposedly set at The End of Time, zero consideration for social progression has been taken. Outside of a Chivalric BDSM play, this all comes across in poor taste. The chapter does however march on.

 

They are woken from their eventual sleep by the cries of what sounds like other humans. “Yet might I do naught; but only wait that I learn more of the matter; for my duty was unto Mine Own, and I had no leave of rashness any more.” So our narrator plays it way safe, just seeing what’s going to go down. What goes down is giants: “men so big as houses that did run and shout in the night.” By the fire light, the narrator can see a flow of people, all in rags or naked, bruised & torn & terrified, run past. There are people outside the cave our couple have hidden in to sleep & they’re all being slaughtered. He can hear their screams stop as they are torn apart. His blood begins to boil, but he wont leave Naani on her own.

 

“And, surely, it did come to me with a fierce impatience of sorrow, that those people did be without spirit of courage; else had they turned them upon the giants, and slain them with their hands, even if that all had died to compass that slaying; for, truly, they should all die anywise by the giant-men; and they had died then with some-what to comfort their hate.”

 

This narrator is an ass.

 

Four of these giants – “big as houses”, remember – are eviscerating survivors of the Lesser Redoubt; these people are weaponless & naked – they have zero chance whatsoever. Our narrator, with his nigh-magical spinning saw-ax won’t leave the hidden cave to help them for fear that Naani may get hurt while she’s hidden in that hidden cave? And moreover, he thinks all these people should die for not turning around to face the giants & dying in the first place? Not to mention he beats the girl he traveled half the ruined world to be with because she tries to save food so there’s enough to survive on? Wow, buddy. Way to go.

 

Well, what happens next?

 

There is one last survivor. A naked maid who creeps over the ledge and tries to hide in the basin of the fire-hole. The brutish Squat Man that is following her has no trouble finding her & now – now – our brave narrator can’t take it any more & leaps to aid.

 

“And I paused not; but leaped all the great way unto the bottom of the hollow, which did be, mayhaps, twenty good feet and more; for mine anger was upon me, and I did meant that I save that one, though I did be powerless to give succour unto those others.”

 

Lets review the above quote. So our guy here leaps twenty plus feet down a chasm in full armor with a wondrous weapon, the Diskos, & he “did be powerless” to help all those others? At no point listening to all those death screams of defenseless people did he ever mention not feeling like he could take those giants, & he seemed pretty sure that they all should’ve been busy dying trying to save themselves. So now he’s going to be a hero? Let’s read along & see how this goes:

 

“And I fell strong upon my feet, and had no harm of my limbs, for all that the leap did be so high. And in that moment, before that I had time to save the maid, the Squat Man ript her; and she cried out once with a very dreadful scream, and was suddenly dead in the hands of the Brute-Man.”

 

Yup.

 

The only thing I can say about the narrator right now is that he is at least properly pissed off when he lands. He lays into the Brute with the Diskos for a pretty brutal melee, during which the Brute throws him across the length of the hollow. The narrator does finally get the drop on the Brute & beheads him.

 

The narrator is heartbroken & wrecked about all the dead people & this maid he failed to save. As a reader I’m unsure what we are supposed to make of this guy. He really was in a position to do a lot more, and if I wasn’t then at least his viewpoint might be more sympathetic. He really becomes a more & more off putting character as we go. I feel bad for Naani.

 

So their journey continues. To steer around the Shine they pass into a deep valley instead. Hodgson’s descriptive powers really come to bear on this. From the cloudy dim of the landscape, they descend into a much darker, but clearer air. The gloom is of a different quality entirely. It’s here in this valley is one of the strangest encounters yet in the novel.

 

Navigating around a venomous blue gas that crawls across the valley floor, the two hear what sounds like naked footsteps running. They can’t see anything & the narrator debates calling out in case there are other survivors of the Lesser Redoubt. But they instead hear the sound manifest closer in a fashion the makes Naani very afraid. She knows this is one of those dread Evil Forces of the Land. Hodgson describes the sound as a spinning, which is moving closer. At the sound of it’s inevitable approach, Naani takes the knife the narrator carries & makes him hold it against her so that if the Evil Force does approach he should kill her before it has the chance. This is the same line of thinking we had way back in the earlier chapters where there was a great deal of making sure the things in the Night Land didn’t kill you for fear of your soul; that it was better to kill yourself than to fall prey to the Evil Forces.

 

“And in the moment that the Maid stood thus, as I have told, I perceived sudden that there did be a little glowing in the night, and the glowing was pale and horrid. And there was no more any sound of the Spinning; only there did be, as it were, the trunk of a great tree, that did show in the glowing; and the trunk of the tree came toward us across the darkness.”

 

Weird. Hodgson is really cagey about these Evil Forces, but I thought this was a really well done threat – very abstract & strange. But then, another element from the earlier chapters arrives as well. The tree stops advancing & the narrator spies above him & Naani a “clear burning Circle” & he knows that one of those rare Powers of Goodness stands between them & the Forces of Evil. We’ve only seen this Power of Goodness once before, back in chapter 3 or 4 when a army of warriors was saved by it. It was a Deus Ex Machina then, & it still feels like one here. The Evil Force, of course, retreats, & our narrator & Naani have this Power of Goodness’ blessing for the better part of a day as they travel out of the valley. (The trip through the dark valley only to be saved by the Power of Good does ring a little heavy handed in it’s references too)

 

Having left the valley behind & bathed in a hot spring the two are in good spirits. So good that the narrator moves ahead to Naani as they walk, so far that when he turns back he finds that she’s under attack by a four-armed yellow thing. I stop to detail this fight, so near the end of the chapter, because of it’s depth. It covers four pages & is a significant struggle, but also shows how Hodgson’s awkward prose in this book can really convey some brutal action.

 

“And I came unto the Man with quick leaping, and stopt not to pluck the Diskos from my hip; and surely I did be very strong, and mine anger and rage to make me monstrous; for I caught the two upper arms of the Man, and brought them backwards in an instant, so fierce and savage, and so wrencht upon them, that I brake them in the shoulders of the Man.”

 

That’s how you start a fight. Throughout what follows those broken arms flop about grotesquely, the creature Man continually trying use them. There is even a neat moment where the narrator realizes that the Man has only really used his second set of arms for holding enemies while the top, now broken set, strangled. But even with this advantage it’s a hell of a tussle. The narrator tries to strangle the Man to no avail. The Man crushes the narrator in his armor threatening to crack it. It’s only after roughly beating the Man with his armored fists that the narrator can get some distance to loose his Diskos from his hip & behead the thing.

 

And just in case you thought all this good atmosphere & violence was going to wash those ugly moments from earlier away, after the fight the narrator springs this one on us: “And I caught her up again; and kist her, and told her that I did be surely her Master, in verity, and she mine own Baby-Slave.”

 

He’s a charmer.

 

At long last the two find path to the Upward Gorge, & will leave the whole region behind them. At the end of the chapter here there a couple really good moments: Naani turns around to see the whole distance they have traveled, but it’s so dark she can’t even see where the Lesser Redoubt might be. The narrator points to where he thinks is the closest & she has a quiet moment to say goodbye to the place where she lived her whole life.

 

“And I was husht, and deeply sorrowful for the Maid, and did understand: for in verity, there should no other human look upon that Land of terror through all the quiet of eternity . . .”

 

 

More Anon.