Look at me being all productive and not pissing out a jagged hellrock! Working on my first review since May – holy shit! Since May?! Have I seriously spent this much of the last several months drugged up and staring at a computer screen? Take this as a life lesson – constantly being on painkillers makes time fly …until you crash and burn into the harsh, unforgiving world of sobriety. Of course when the alternative is screaming agony I guess things could be worse?
Anyway. The ins and outs of my renal suffering are not the topic of this blog. Stories are and today the story is a weird one. Not just in it’s content – which is super weird – but in it’s multiple versions. The subject today is William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and William Hope Hodgson’s Dream of X and William Hope Hodgson & James Stoddard’s The Night Land: A Story Re-told. Why these three? Because they are all the same fucking story. Sort of. Fuck it. It’s weird. Here’s the base description of all 3 stolen shamelessly from Amazon.
“The Sun has gone out: the Earth is lit only by the glow of residual vulcanism. The last few millions of the human race are gathered together in a gigantic metal pyramid, the Last Redoubt, under siege from unknown forces and Powers outside in the dark. These are held back by a Circle of energy, known as the “air clog,” powered from the Earth’s internal energy. For millennia, vast living shapes – the Watchers – have waited in the darkness near the pyramid: it is thought they are waiting for the inevitable time when the Circle’s power finally weakens and dies. Other living things have been seen in the darkness beyond, some of unknown origins, and others that may once have been human. To leave the protection of the Circle means almost certain death, or worse, but as the story commences, the narrator establishes mind contact with an inhabitant of another, forgotten, Redoubt, and sets off into the darkness to find her.”
I know what you are thinking. How is any of that weird? It’s just a dark and dying Earth plagued by monsters and Forces of Evil as the last remnants of humanity hide inside a giant metal pyramid. But bear with me. It gets stranger. See this blurb tells you about the most interesting part of the story – the setting – and leaves out the most fucked up framework a story has ever had while also giving no warning about the manner of writing found within.
Let’s talk about that framework first. A 19th century Englishman meets, falls in love with, and loses the love of his life in the most Purple Prose version of Pixar’s Up opening. Then he starts dreaming of the Night Lands where he is reincarnated as the main character who then makes mental contact with his reincarnated love and he is writing down the story in the 19th century. Seriously. This is the most convoluted, unnecessarily complicated framework I have ever seen for a series and I regularly read manga. Seriously the story would just be better if you removed the framework and reincarnation angle and just have the nameless main character fall in love with the woman he telepathically contacts. It’s still odd but odd doesn’t mean bad.
You know what is bad though? Pretentious as shit purple prose – and the entire thing is written in it! WHH for whatever reason (And we can’t even blame it on the narrator because he is from the 19th century!) decided to write this story in the fashion of 17th century literature. And it just bleeds pretentiousness. I haven’t seen this level of pretentiousness since the last time a Witcher fan tried to explain why I was wrong for hating the series.
Let me share some of this with you.
“This to be Love, that your spirit to live in a natural holiness with the Beloved, and your bodies to be a sweet and natural delight that shall be never lost of a lovely mystery… And shame to be unborn, and all things to go wholesome and proper, out of an utter greatness of understanding; 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… And this doth be Human Love….”
This paragraph causes me physical pain. This sticky, overwrought language is everywhere in the book and it carries with it that same sickeningly sweet (and somewhat misogynistic) take on love and romance. Also the main character is never named and there is no dialogue at all. Seriously it is pain and suffering from a linguistic point of view. However the story has a redeeming feature that actually makes up for all of this.
The god damned Night Land itself. The setting is fucking amazing. It actually knocked both Middle Earth and Planescape off of the top of my favorite settings list to take the top spot. It is the beautiful, deadly, and decidedly macabre landscape of the ruins of humanity and the evils that plague that world. From the House of Silence with its miles high door swung wide for those who enter and its seething malevolent intelligence to the Watchers patiently studying and surrounding the Last Redoubt waiting for their chance to bring it down to the Road Where The Silent Ones Walk and the strange apparitions that give it its name. Giants work in the red light of their volcanic kilns and strange things peer over the headlands at the Pyramid but are little more than shadowed shapes to those within it and horse sized Hounds race from the Valley of the Hounds to run down their prey. Further out – and never expanded upon – are the Seven Lights on the hills whose origins are unknown but have never stop shining in all the years of the redoubt’s existence and the Country From Which The Laughter Comes beyond the Valley of the Hounds which is only known by the booming laughter that escapes it and the Quiet City which looks to be the work of man but has shown no signs of life in all the long eras of the Night Lands.
I could go on for days about the Night Lands. Never before have I seen a setting with such character. Unique and haunting. Full of dark miracles and black wonders. Utterly horrifying and fascinating in turn. The setting alone is a worthy reason to read this book but I understand that for some – and by some I mean many – the writing is a huge turnoff. There is an alternative to wading through the old timey English put through a wood chipper that is the original novel(s).
See I mentioned 3 versions of this book above. The original, the Dream of X which is the original novel compressed into only a tenth as many pages (And, no, I have not attempted to read that exercise in frustration.), and the Night Land: A Story Retold. The last one is James Stoddard’s – a great fan of the original work – attempt to re-write the story of the Night Land in a more modern style to bring it to a wider audience And I will say that he succeeded admirably. The pretentious prose is gone and without it the romance angle is no longer chokingly sickening. It’s chivalrous and honorable in an old time kind of way but it no longer hurts to read it. The narrator is named and there is dialogue. The characters feel more real. They despair and mourn and lose their shit as well as love. Mostly removing the pretentiousness really allows the setting to shine and that is really all you have to do with the book.
I fucking love The Night Land: A Story Retold. I tend to re-read when I cannot sleep and lose myself in its world. Give it a shot. It’s cheap on Kindle. Or – if the brutalized remains of early Romantic 17th century linguistic conventions doesn’t bother you – pick up the original novel.
Just for god’s sake avoid the Dream of X.