THE NIGHT LAND OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON

by Jeffery Scott Sims

[For this essay I use the superb volume The Night Land and Other Perilous Romances published by Night Shade Books. Part of a five volume set, The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson, these contain, so far as I know, all of that seminal author's stories. The set is a must buy for devotees.]

In the annals of weird literature, The Night Land of William Hope Hodgson, first published in 1912, looms frightfully large. I can't think of a stranger or more terrifying novel than this; if I've missed one that surpasses it, I'm keen to know what it is. It can also be described as peculiar, quirky, and eccentric, and I declare with confidence that these characterizations will sound repetitious only to those who haven't read it. The Night Land makes for fascinating and--it must be admitted--at times frustrating perusal. Yes, I grant up front that it possesses faults aplenty, but I insist that lovers of the weird deny themselves spitefully if they don't know this book.

I present this essay that those so unfortunate as to have missed it may be pleasantly lured to their doom. I shall conceal no weaknesses, yet offer an earnest attempt to justify the lurid pleasures of Hodgson's big tome. In the following sections I discuss the story, its amazing features, and its unusual literary aspects.

The Statement of Howard Phillips Lovecraft

In Supernatural Horror in Literature H.P. Lovecraft devotes more attention to this volume than most. Here, in full, is what the Master has to say:

The Night Land (1912) is a long-extended (538 pp.) tale of the earth's infinitely remote future-billions of billions of years ahead, after the death of the sun. It is told in a rather clumsy fashion, as the dreams of a man in the seventeenth century, whose mind merges with its own future incarnation; and is seriously marred by painful verboseness, repetitiousness, artificial and nauseously sticky romantic sentimentality, and an attempt at archaic language even more grotesque and absurd than that in Glen Carrig.

Allowing for all its faults, it is yet one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever written. The picture of a night-black, dead planet, with the remains of the human race concentrated in a stupendously vast metal pyramid and besieged by monstrous, hybrid, and altogether unknown forces of the darkness, is something that no reader can ever forget: Shapes and entities of an altogether non-human and inconceivable sort--the prowlers of the black, man-forsaken, and unexplored world outside the pyramid--are suggested and partly described with ineffable potency; while the night-land landscape with its chasms and slopes and dying volcanism takes on an almost sentient terror beneath the author's touch.

Midway in the book the central figure ventures outside the pyramid on a quest through death-haunted realms untrod by man for millions of years--and in his slow, minutely described, day-by-day progress over unthinkable leagues of immemorial blackness there is a sense of cosmic alienage, breathless mystery, and terrified expectancy unrivaled in the whole range of literature. The last quarter of the book drags woefully, but fails to spoil the tremendous power of the whole.

Now, there is much to make one think, eh? It's an excellent capsule summary, touching on most of the high points, perhaps some not so high. From reading my essay one will learn that I don't entirely agree with all of the above, but I understand it all, and appreciate the cogent insight. Lovecraft readily identifies the sources of the novel's power, of which I will also make the most. He notes certain difficulties, which require further explication. It will be entertaining, for this writer anyway, to match his impressions against those of Lovecraft himself.

The Story in Sum

How curiously The Night Land begins! One could never guess, from reading the first chapter, what lies in store. An unnamed man of a past century (Lovecraft deduces 17th, and that feels right), a man of a fantastic cast of mind, meets a beautiful young woman, of similar mentality, bearing the uncommon name of Mirdath. Indeed, they share thoughts to a degree which indicates a psychic linkage. They fall rapidly in love. Then the tale takes a puzzling detour, as Mirdath's troublesome behavior drives them apart. It takes a while, but they reconcile, marry, a child is born... and Mirdath dies in childbirth.

End of story? No, for here it just commences, in the most startling fashion of anything I've ever read. The second chapter inaugurates the main story, in which the persona of the desolate hero is drawn through dreams into his incarnation of the far future. In that distant epoch, the survivors of the human race dwell comfortably and happily within a vast metal pyramid, an artificial mountain eight miles high, with an underground extension delving a hundred miles down. Within this gigantic complex with its numerous levels--each upper one a city, the lower regions enormous farms--mankind thrives through the eons, from long habit accepting this world as normal.

They keep within the mighty pyramid because without lies a landscape of nightmare. That is the rest of the world as they know it, the Night Land, a realm of perpetual darkness overrun by monsters and gripped by evil and deadly forces beyond sane conception. In this far future the universe is dying. The sun and the stars have grown cold and lightless; life-giving heat and energy are tapped from the earth's still active interior; and the pyramid sits at the bottom of an incredibly deep rift valley (as we would describe it today), surrounded by all the horrors that fester in that valley. The surface high, high above is frozen, airless, forever abandoned.

What menaces these people is more than physical danger. Forces intelligent and malign, forces that can be defined as supernatural, seek human victims for bizarre and awful purposes. So long has this ghastly situation obtained that the folk of the pyramid have largely forgotten all that went before, including the entire history of the world as we know it. Their circumstances seem tragic to the reader, but to them it's the way of things, as far as most of them know, the always.

Thus the setting, now the narrative. For the first time in maybe a million years the inhabitants of a lesser pyramid, lost somewhere in that huge valley, communicate via means akin to radio with the dwellers in humanity's main fortress. Akin, for while machinery is involved, there is a strong element of mental projection at work as well. Our hero possesses this capability of far speech to an enormous degree, much greater than that of his fellows. Naturally, then, it is he who hears the voice of Mirdath calling across the untrodden wastes.

Mirdath? No, it's Naani, a young girl of that remote outpost, but the reincarnation too of the hero's lost love. Her pyramid is dying, losing the power that protects it from evil. Following messages of desperation and despair communication cuts off abruptly. An ignorant, feckless rescue attempt on the part of wayward youths from the great pyramid ends in abysmal tragedy. With the expedition wiped out to a man, the situation seems hopeless.

Yet our hero determines to save Naani. Alone, he goes forth into that deadly night, clad in armor and armed with a fascinating weapon with a super-duper spinning blade. Thus he embarks upon a terrifying odyssey across months and hundreds of miles to find his lady. Facing unimaginable perils, he eventually reaches the distant pyramid, discovers it dark, silent, devoid of human life, teeming with sinister new occupants. Hopelessly he turns away... and against all odds finds Naani alive!

The remainder of the story concerns his struggle to bear her safe to his home, a second immense journey that culminates in agonizingly suspenseful fashion as the hero battles his way against the combined forces of the Night Land arrayed to destroy them. The novel piles horror and excitement atop one another to the very end.

No synopsis can do justice to The Night Land. The wealth of detail, the sheer number of stark, harrowing scenes, exceed the limits of summary. Below I treat certain critical topics in turn.

The Geography of the Night Land

Time: the future; setting: the earth; oh, but what a future, and what an earth! So far forward in time that the universe itself is dead, the sun burnt out, with life clinging precariously to our otherwise frozen planet only at the bottom of that vast, deep valley, where linger heat, air, water, and life. It is a barren realm, with few plants or relatively normal animals. All is darkness save for the radiance cast by geological forces and the artificial light of human habitation (and some not so human). The pyramids lie, it may be, at opposite ends of the valley, separated by the deepest portion. That central region, extremely active geologically, weirdly lighted by many erupting volcanoes, at the lowest level contains the final extensive sea. It is approached from both pyramids through long, gloomy gorges, the walls of which extend upward into the eternal airless night dozens of miles above, toward the ancient and forgotten surface of the planet.

The Inhabitants of the Night Land

I. Man...

The civilized descendents of the human race dwell within the metal pyramids, shielded from the outer horrors by the seeming magic of the Earth-Current (more about that later). The reader learns most about the big pyramid, the human domicile that survives the story. Within, its citizens maintain an astonishingly advanced culture, the more so because of what it lacks. They tap the powers of the earth to light and heat and maintain their circumscribed world, which in cubic volume is a truly gigantic place, one capable of comfortably accommodating many millions of inhabitants. They have at their beck all kinds of fancy devices and gizmos; on the other hand, much that we would consider modern or problematically futuristic is absent, as if, despite certain scientific attainments, these people belong to the Classical level of civilization, living somewhat as the Greeks and Romans once did. Man appears to dwell alone in his kingdom, without the aid of any beasts of burden or animal companionship, such creatures apparently having gone extinct.

II. ...And Monsters

Or gods and monsters, maybe? To render an accounting of the other denizens of the Night Land requires some telling, and Hodgson leaves much deliberately obscure or ambiguous. In the neighborhood of the pyramids there are somewhat conventional plants and animals, the latter often pretty bizarre, the last stragglers in the march of harsh evolution. There are monsters of sorts, big dangerous beasts such as the night hounds and things like giant crabs and slugs, monsters of mere physical menace. There are, also, man-like things out in the wilds, brutish humanoids that acknowledge no kinship to their civilized cousins.

Then, too, there is the unique world of the valley's lowest depths, which has reverted to an environment harking back to prehistory. There roam creatures similar to dinosaurs, and even a really nasty bunch of what we might deem cave men who, like their fellows lurking about the pyramids, seem divorced from the essentials of humanity, living for the joy of killing.

These, however, are not what make the Night Land such a shockingly horrifying place. Man shares what's left of the earth with other entities, beings far more potent, dangerous, and disturbing than any animals. What are they? Hodgson makes clear this much at least, that the ultimate enemies of man are things beyond nature, beings from spheres outside our own.

Supernatural forces permeate the land, invisible as ghosts until they act or manifest themselves in bizarre shapes. These intangible forces may concentrate in certain regions or locales, such as the Plain of Blue Fire or the murkily described House of Silence, and those areas must be shunned at all costs. The latter location, which factors prominently in the narrative, appears to be the seat of ultimate evil, the core of the menace that surrounds the hero's pyramid.

The physical manifestations of evil represent amazing feats of morbid imagination. The great pyramid is ringed by four "Watchers," titanic and hideous entities that desire to close in and exterminate humanity. Something similar lurks in the vicinity of the lesser pyramid. At one point during the homeward journey Naani and her man are stalked by a spinning thing in the air, which on approach is incomprehensibly described as like a tree. Whatever it is, they prefer suicide to facing it.

For mere death is not the threat to be feared from these horrors. These nightmare beings annihilate the human soul, eradicate forever the persona of the individual which, as is definitively established in the novel, physical death can not do. Those who go forth into the Night Land take with them the means to quickly end their transitory lives, lest they fall prey to evil which snuffs the human spark. The horrendous fate of the foolish rescue expedition, lured to total destruction in the House of Silence, graphically illustrates the loathsome nature of the peril. Our hero is always prepared for a clean death, one that will paradoxically save him.

To compound the strangeness of the Night Land, not all of the entities and forces out there can be regarded as evil. There are the Silent Ones (who have nothing to do with the dread House), dangerous to approach yet benign if left alone. Their mysterious presence amidst that blighted landscape, like so much else, is never explained. Furthermore, definite powers of goodness operate within the realm of evil, waging--so it seems--a kind of guerrilla war against the vile forces. It is they, whoever or whatever they are, who hold back the Watchers, they who rescue hero and Naani, they who try to save the expeditionary youths enthralled by the House of Silence. I have wondered--a haphazard guess--if they have something to do as well with Naani's ultimate fate. At any rate, they are a decisive factor in the continued existence of the human race.

Future History

Via old documents and remembrance of past lives (bear in mind, reincarnation is an established fact here, a crucial ingredient of the novel) Hodgson provides us with a bare-bones framework of history for his future peoples. Their knowledge of the past commences long after the world we know, with the era of sunlight recalled mainly in supposedly spurious children's tales. Naani, like the hero possessed of extraordinary mental powers, dimly recollects life in the age when "the cities did move," great habitations on rails that gradually creep across the cooling earth following the sun during a period when the planet's rotation has enormously slowed. Much later, when the sun has grown red and cold, the increasingly frigid world is rent by a gigantic eruption which tears open the crust. When this geological wound cools, the great valley forms, and its still fertile depths become the goal of the hardy survivors of humanity, known as the Road Makers for the imperishable path they build down into and, eventually, across its bottom. Down there, under the twilight sun, they fabricate a new and grand civilization which long endures.

Hodgson interjects a curious datum here. Sometime during the span of the valley civilization, scientific experiments throw open the gates separating the mundane world from the supernatural. It is then that the evil forces physically intrude into our domain, becoming ever more a menace as the world darkens. Among other nastiness they mix with and breed with mankind, creating the semi- and subhuman creatures that later add to the torment of the pure folk.

Finally, with the reign of complete darkness, the monsters and horrors abounding, a great leader arises, salvaging what remains of the children of men by constructing for them a defensive fortress against their manifold perils. The first location fails to serve--it is not "proper"--could that be what became the House of Silence? Another attempt, after more wandering, culminates in the erection of the great pyramid, and so begins what Hodgson terms "the second history of the human race."

Fantasy or Science Fiction?

I find a tendency among current fans of The Night Land to treat it as a science fiction novel, to appreciate or deplore it for how it measures up to the strictures of that genre. In this sense it may be naturally compared to the author's more famous work, The House on the Borderland, which I grant leans more in that direction, though with plenty of purely fantastic asides. The Night Land, I assert, falls on the other side of the divide, should be understood as a thoroughgoing fantasy with Sci-Fi trappings. It's a fantasy, or a horror-fantasy, better linked to the literary creations of writers such as Tolkien and Eddison. Hodgson provides all the fundamentals of epic fantasy: strange secondary world, noble hero on a quest, supernatural foes. The chief reason one would think otherwise is because Hodgson sets his story in the future rather than, as is customary among fantasists, in the imaginary past.

Of course it should be noted that the genre of science fiction, as we know it today, did not assume its conventional form until the 1930s. The author may not have entertained any firm notions on the question one way or the other. I simply feel that trying to group him with Heinlein or Asimov doesn't work.

The Science of The Night Land

Hodgson does, however, set the tale in the future, and like any good author he goes to great lengths to render real his world and his characters. In his basic description of future history he appears to follow in the footsteps of H.G. Wells, whose novel The Time Machine could certainly have been a modest influence. Wells' ideas on the far distant fate of the earth are based, I suppose, on the best science of his day, and much in The Night Land seems similar.

So over the course of many millions of years the sun will grow cold, and the earth with it, until the extinction of light and life reigns supreme. Hodgson extends this grim trend to the entire universe, offers a temporary haven in the deep valley, but it's basically the same depressing package. By the time he published, though, in 1912, scientific views were changing, allowing for much longer periods of time and even different final outcomes for our planet. It's not clear that Hodgson is aware of this. He's wary of offering specific dates, writes generally of thousands or millions of years, "or longer." Lovecraft's summary refers to "billions of years," only he's writing later, and the Master famously endeavors to keep up with the progress of discovery. Hodgson never mentions billions, and while I readily read that into the book, I'm not convinced he does. There are those who cleverly speculate that The Night Land was written a decade before it saw light. That could explain something, yet I still don't believe Hodgson to be scientifically minded.

He surely has little sense of what we might nowadays call ecology. Supernatural terrors aside, his Night Land seems to be populated entirely by carnivores. They're really scary, which is great, but the system doesn't make much sense. Do they actually get by with eating each other, plus the extremely occasional wandering human? Of course it couldn't work that way. Hodgson obviously wants to tell a spooky tale, and doesn't give the ecological aspect of the story further thought.

Ah, but the wonderful civilization of the pyramid does work, is convincingly described and explained. It works because it's all powered by the Earth-Current, this mysterious—nay, magical--force upwelling from the interior of the planet. It alone makes life possible, even pleasan--, amidst such gruesome conditions. It's the energy source that heats and lights, that maintains the "Air Clog" (goofy name for the force field around the pyramid that holds all monsters and evil forces at bay), that animates the Diskos, the unique personal weapon of the age. It can even be employed, sparingly, as a sort of super death ray. Everything depends on the Earth-Current; should it ever expire, as it does with the lesser pyramid, everything ends.

Wait a minute: what is this blasted Earth-Current? I get the impression, could almost swear, that it's merely another name for electricity. If so, Hodgson certainly invests that common force with unusual properties. I begin to deduce this from the author's purported reference in another work, the short story "The Hog," where his popular psychical detective Carnacki mentions "…the all-familiar electricity--a force which, by the way, we are too prone to imagine we understand because we've named and harnessed it, to use a popular phrase. But we don't understand it at all! It is still a complete fundamental mystery." This suggests a peculiar, pre-scientific grasp of the matter, which I presume is Hodgson's own. Such could be said, after all, about the properties of any force or matter in the universe. I tentatively decide that the author knows very little about the subject.

Conclusions? The science in The Night Land functions adequately within the context of the story. Too much can be made of it though, and I don't think that Hodgson places serious emphasis on that portion of the work. He chooses to create a grandiose tale of fantastic terror, with a sufficient logical framework to do the job.

Neat Stuff

In brief, I want to discuss a grab-bag of interesting tidbits that enhances the weird pleasure of the novel.

Mirdath's child: The lady dies, but the child, though only once again mentioned, lives. A waste of space in an already encumbered introduction, or does the author insinuate another sly connection to what comes? I have often wondered if this relates to Hodgson's view (literary or real) of reincarnation. Are the future hero and Naani both descended, through millions of generations, from that child? I approve of this message, but don't take my word for it.

Spooky place names: The Night Land is full of odd locales, with strange or eerie names. Here's the merest sampling: Vale of Red Fire, Valley of the Hounds, The Headland From Which Strange Things Peer, The Country Whence Comes the Great Laughter, The Road Where the Silent Ones Walk, etc. Some have macabre stories attached, others just contribute to the heaping weirdness.

The Diskos: This weapon, the sword of the future, gets plenty of play in The Night Land. An internally powered spinning disc at the end of a long shaft, its razor-sharp edge can slice through many a monster. At times Hodgson indicates that it develops an affinity with its owner, and vice versa, a kind of symbiosis. However, he also compares this to a warrior's favored sword in earlier epochs, which might mean nothing more than personal preference. Still, it's a thrilling and exotic tool, illuminating the differences between his future civilization and what came before.

Monstruwacans: These "watchers of monsters" (if a cognate, it's the sole future term, other than a couple of personal names, revealed to the reader) are the scientists of their day. The hero is one of their acolytes. All they do is observe the Night Land through high-tech telescopes and collect the rare traveler's reports. Despite interminable ages of observation, they still have no explanation for what is going on out there, a brutal reminder of the atmosphere of unhealthy mystery that rules the final world.

The House of Silence: There is something especially horrid about this place, the ultimate haunted house. Perched alone on a hill out in the Night Land, the way Hodgson refers to it makes it sound almost like the headquarters of evil. He artfully contrives never to describe its physical properties in detail, nor to provide an accounting of how it came to be. I speculated earlier about the "historical" house that was not "proper;" if the link be valid, that's as far as the author goes. Regardless, the House of Silence stands as the scariest center of a scary place.

The Master-Word: This wholly unexplained item looms large in the story, while remaining as mysterious as anything else in it. Long ago the citizens of the pyramids devised or discovered a type of spoken code, a word that can be freely employed among men, yet which can not be uttered by any monster or evil force. This Master-Word protects the wary against insidious tricks by the evil ones, entities that would lure victims to destruction by pretending to be human communicants. Mighty clever, I do say, except that Hodgson presents no underlying logical argument for its function. I sense profound meaning here, but if so I'm missing the point. It is more neat stuff, though.

Love and Romance in The Night Land

Here we approach danger. Think back to Lovecraft's critique, which slams the book on this point. "Artificial and nauseously sticky romantic sentimentality" indeed! To what does the mighty Lovecraft refer, and is it truly as bad as he avers?

Well, yes and no. Bearing in mind Lovecraft's infamous personal limitations, it's fair to note that he deplores any intrusion of romance into a story, even the slightest trace repelling him. Make no mistake, The Night Land is a love story, in fact subtitled "A Love Tale." To a great degree, that is what it's all about. Hero finds true love, loses same; finds it again, in the weirdest possible way, refuses to let it go again, will go to any lengths to recover what he lost in his former life. If that isn't a romantic tale, then nothing is.

And there's nothing wrong with that. The hero's undying love inspires his quest, the heart of the book, giving the epic events of the story a purely personal meaning. Feel free to consider this a refreshing change from the endless plethora of "save the world" scenarios bound between the covers of so many subsequent fantasies.

On the other hand, declaring Lovecraft entirely wrong when playing on his turf can be a major mistake, and this case is no exception. Hodgson, for obscure reasons of his own which really seem to matter to him--whatever they are--invests his hero's romance with his wonderful lady with some aggravating, even loony, features. The characters of Mirdath and Naani are unified mainly by a willfulness and contrariness which can render them tiresome, dare I confess appalling. The introductory chapter spends way too much verbiage on Mirdath's practical joking at the expense of her lover, which threatens to part them. This is nothing compared to Naani's later behavior, which threatens to get them killed. A long twenty pages (which seem longer) are spent on her foolish antics during the homeward journey. Neither at this point nor in the introduction do these doings contribute to the narrative. I can't justify them in terms of character development, of which there isn't much anyhow, The Night Land not being that kind of novel. Throw in some embarrassing fetishism on the part of the hero, and I can well understand why portions of this book make Lovecraft squirm.

So, if Lovecraft loses a pawn on this topic, he takes a rook. I admit that the exchange is in his favor.

The Twilight of Language

In The Night Land the very universe is dying; does Hodgson choose to send the English language down the same dark road? Lovecraft thinks so, and he has plenty of critical company as he denounces the author for composing this vast work in a verbose, pseudo-archaic style presumably befitting a narrator from a past century. He calls it even worse than that Hodgson employs in The Boats of the Glen Carrig, his 18th Century tale of weird adventure. Too much can be made of this as well: I consider Glen Carrig an easy read, don't know what the problem is there, although I won't attest to literary accuracy. Much of The Night Land flows tolerably well; in the reading, I get into the "swing" of things, find myself racing along for lengthy stretches without complaint.

Many passages are memorable, stoking the mood and mystery burning within this work. Here are a couple from early on:

"And having read that which I set down, then shall one and all have looked towards Eternity with me--unto its very portals."

"...in that Future, I stood in one of the embrasures of the Last Redoubt--that great Pyramid of grey metal which held the last millions of this world from the Powers of the Slayers."

Those sure get me going, wanting to learn more. The action scenes, too, are well described, full of immediacy and passion, and the welcome bits of "history" strewn throughout the story are clearly presented.

I must confront the other side of the coin. The biggest problem generated by Hodgson's stab at historically literary "realism" is his all too often contrivance of what he apparently deems appropriate sentence structure. That leads to clumsy circumlocutions like the following:

"...the while that Mistress Alison whistled us a tune with her mouth, which she could very clever, as many another thing, I wot."

"Yet, in verity, she did be a naughty Maid; for she minded in an instant that she did forget her pose unto me; and lo, her lips did be no more to search unto mine..."

A little of that, to be sure, goes a long way; unfortunately, Hodgson goes a long way with it. Too many times perusal stops short, stumbling over such cringe-worthy hurdles as these. Beyond doubt, the narrative suffers for it. Did gentlemen authors back in "olden times" ever really write like that? It ain't Shakespeare! In this case, one must accept a hillock of bad with the Everest of good.

Woefully Dragging?

Fear not, Lovecraft's concern about the "last quarter" of the story is largely misplaced. One must grit teeth to get past Naani's inexplicable mental breakdown, and of course the return journey covers the same ground as the hero's outward trek, but that is all across a fascinating landscape. The latter portion of the novel deals with some of the most exciting and suspenseful events, including the couple's terrifying passage through the most dangerous region of the Night Land. There are physical and spiritual assaults, with fierce combats capped by a mad dash for freedom and safety. No reader should experience boredom. I think Lovecraft disapproves of the fact that the point of the novel boils down to saving Naani, which interests him not at all.

Class 101: How to Begin, and Why

I have read comments to the effect that the first, introductory chapter marks a terrible mistake on Hodgson's part, accompanied by sage advice to prospective readers to actually skip it and proceed directly to chapter two, where the real story starts. I don't dismiss this matter out of hand. About half of "Mirdath the Beautiful" could be excised without serious damage to the story. Still, I think such strictures ignore the author's literary intentions and narrative goals.

As with The House on the Borderland, Hodgson writes within the tradition of the framing narrative, which explains to the reader how the strange, far off story can "realistically" be brought to his attention. Back before tales of the fantastic became legion, this device was common literary currency. It accomplishes the task. At its best, as with the discovery of the old diary in House, the method works fine. It can be a bit clunky, too. That's the charge often leveled at The Night Land. Chapter one does drag on, and Hodgson doesn't even bother to close the frame with an epilogue of a concluding chapter. Did he forget?

Of course not; without claiming mind reading skill, I readily deduce that Hodgson has bigger fish to fry, perhaps ulterior goals. The sub-plot or plot element of reincarnation, I assert, is more to him than a quicky means of connecting narrative dots. I think (suspect, guess) it matters to him. This being the case, the introduction becomes absolutely critical, for without it the reincarnation aspect would be unnecessary, probably nonexistent. If that is left out, we just don't have the story Hodgson set out to tell.

Granting all of this speculation, the lack of an "end frame" can be appreciated on literary grounds. Hodgson advances his tale relentlessly forward, through the ages. His hero has passed from one life to another, rendering the former a "closed book." It's over, done with, finished; what counts now is the next stage of life. Therein lies the main story. When it too has been told, there's no going back, neither the possibility nor the need. Internal logic ends the novel where it does.

Here I broach a lesser point concerning the introduction: why a man of the past as narrator for a future epic? Hodgson harks backward in other works, but it does seem especially intrusive here, given the "necessity" of his adopting "ye olde" English in order to speak to us. However, I discern purpose in this too. In this "rather clumsy fashion" (Lovecraft's words) the author suggests that all of history as we know it is one--the Present--a mere day in the grand sweep of time. It's a subtle indicator of how far removed his imagined future lies from anything with which we have experience or knowledge. The 17th Century is "now." To the inhabitants of the Last Redoubt, if we're remembered at all, we're all "back then."

Pessimism and Optimism

Taken at face value, according to the secular standards of this era, The Night Land is one of the most disturbing, tragic, heart-breaking novels ever conceived. "And all that I have told should bring to those of this Age something of the yet unbegotten terror of that; and a quiet and sound thankfulness to God, that we suffer not as humanity shall yet suffer." The whole universe trickles inevitably down the drain, the earth and the human race with it. For all our striving, only the dark wall of finality, ultimate extinction, looms ahead. One day, sooner or later, there can be no escape, for even if the monsters don't triumph, it will be the end of everything. Who needs this? Why bother to read The Night Land?

Well, I gather that Hodgson disagrees with most or all of the foregoing. Amidst the doom and gloom that threatens to smother hero and heroine in their adventures, the author hints at hope. Mysterious benevolent powers appear at crucial junctures to combat the worst evils; the equally mysterious Silent Ones walk abroad, for purposes unfathomable yet not hateful; and does the crash of the universe really mark the end? With luck or by virtue, the soul endures. Will it survive the obliteration of everything material? Hodgson, or his characters, certainly hope so, appear to believe it, and in the context of the tale, maybe they have reasons for thinking so.

Concluding on a Cosmic Note

I know why Lovecraft takes to this novel as much as he did. With so much within its pages to annoy him, he sees past the irksome to an incredible, a majestic expression of the "cosmicism" that means so much to the man from Providence. Shattering the boundaries of time; conceiving a world and landscapes alien and bizarre; imagining perils unearthly and beyond the ken of sanity; all this William Hope Hodgson achieves in monumental fashion, as if--to that extent--he had sat at the feet of the Master himself. Lovecraft did not derive his kernel ideas from Hodgson, for he formed them before ever he read his predecessor, but in an alternative universe he could have done. Lovecraft joyfully finds in The Night Land the best elements of the "cosmos-centered" approach to literature to which he devoted his own career.


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