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.
“Now I went downward very quiet and slow into that Darkness; and did make but a cautious way; for now you shall know me truly wrapped about with such a night as did seem to press upon my very soul…”
Things are grim for our narrator. He has come through a portion of the Night Land, surviving the monsters & dangers there, all places that he could have guessed at from when he looked out over the landscape from the top of The Last Redoubt, & we as readers are past everything Hodgson has previously described in The Night Land. There is the definite sense of ‘what will come next?’ It is to strong credit that Hodgson’s imagination gives us this chapter of darkness; a holding pattern of dread.
Chapter 8 is a detailed account of the narrator’s descent of the Mighty Slope. It is immaculately dark on the Slope & he has to slowly creep along to find his way. Quickly our narrator realizes that he can use the fire from his Diskos weapon to help light his way. This seems pretty savvy of the guy, but the light is apparently quite feeble because it’s not long before he takes a severe fall. Only shaken & bruised thanks to his armor, he rethinks his method of going & starts out again on hand & knee, crawling.
In this way he progresses for six days. Six days of crawling on his hands & knees down a gigantic slope of rock with utter darkness on all sides. Hodgson has never mentioned the stars; we are, I think, meant to assume they have burnt out like the sun. The moon then is spinning up there in darkness too. I mention these things because to impress how utterly dark it is for our narrator – the ambient elements that we associate with night just aren’t there. This is some lonely, lonely stuff.
Six days down though & the air changes a bit, becoming somewhat warmer. Here Hodgson has the chance to alleviate some of the tension by telling us a bit about the air in the Night Land. The air is very thin at the top of the Great Redoubt & heavier then at it’s base & heavier still where the narrator has reached down the Mighty Slope. We’re told that when the narrator was first going to leave the Redoubt there was some talk of using one of the old flying machines that they keep in their museums, but the air is so thin that the machines wont fly. There is a further digression about the decline of flight in those earlier generations who founded the Last Redoubt, the air thinning as those millions of years passed, with the interesting note that not even the monsters that inhabit the Night Land have fliers among them.
But ever onwards our narrator continues until he does suspect he finally hears something, & a brief bit of light accompanying it. A little further on he is sure; there is a glimmering of light & “a faraway sound in the dark, as that something did set up a strange and monstrous piping in the night.” He crawls further on for some hours, catching bits of the light between the rocks before he comes to an entrance to a gorge leading even further down. Down there he finally sees that the light is from a great jet of burning gas.
“And it was a wild and stark and empty place, as you must perceive. And the far side did be great miles off, as I did say; and everywhere there was abundance of rock and lonesomeness. And before me there went the great and dim length of the gorge, and there were lights here and lights there, in the great distance, and oft – as it did seem – the quiet dancing of the lights in diverse places; but yet were these gone on the instant. And ever there was a strong and vacant silence upon that place.”
This whole scene in the gorge with the blue flames is sewn with the strangeness the Hodgson excels at. It’s an obvious respite from the sprawling darkness in the first part of the chapter, but Hodgson writes it with all the loneliness of those earlier paragraphs; only where before it was us readers who noticed that loneliness, here it’s the narrator who comments on the solitude:
“And oft did I turn me about to behold the dancing of the Great Light; for it was solemn to my spirit, even amid so much of Greatness and Eternity, to think upon that Flame, and to conceive that it had an utter age danced there at the foot of the Mighty Slope, unseen, through lonesome Eternities.”
Our narrator passes through fields of these soft blue flames, places where noxious gasses seep up & then leaves those fields behind to move further on to where the gorge begins to take severe turns, cutting off the paths behind. Beyond the turns in the gorge is a growing warmth & red illumination, revealing finally “a mighty Country of Seas, and the burning of great volcanoes.” He knows he’s not close yet to his goal. The Lesser Redoubt is supposed to be all in darkness & must then lay across this volcanic landscape.
“And so shall you perceive me there among the rocks that did all stand upward strange and bold and silent in the red and monstrous glare of the light.”