There are a number of classic works of weird fantasy and horror which have been lost from the mainstream but are well worth a look. One of these is William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land.
Hodgson (1877-1918) was a colorful character who turned to weird fiction late in life after, among other things, working as a sailor. He wrote numerous short stories about the sea and its horrors. The story The Voice in the Night, for instance, concerns a couple shipwrecked on an island whose only occupant is a corrupting fungus. This tale was much later adapted into the Japanese horror movie Matango, more commonly known as The Attack of the Mushroom People. I remember seeing this film numerous times on Sunday morning ‘Creature Features’.
The Night Land is one of Hodgson’s handful of novels, and is worth a mention not just because of its haunting imagery but also because its premise is relevant to an overarching theme of the weird fiction of the early 1900’s.
The story is set in a far, distant future, one so incredibly distant that the Sun has burned out, as have in fact all stars in the sky. Humanity still survives in this land of eternal night, however, because of a mystical source of energy known as the Earth-Current. The remaining humans have sequestered themselves in a massive pyramid known as The Great Redoubt, which is powered and protected by the Earth-Current — and needs to be, because the death of the stars has revealed numerous other beings who thrive in the night land and are hostile to humanity. My favorite:
My spy-glass showed it to me with clearness — a living hill of watchfulness, known to us as The Watcher of The South. It brooded there, squat and tremendous, hunched over the pale radiance of the Glowing Dome… And, so to tell more about the South Watcher. A million years gone, as I have told, came it out of the blackness of the South, and grew steadily nearer through twenty thousand years; but so slow that in no one year could a man perceive that it had moved.
Yet it had movement, and had come thus far upon its road to the Redoubt, when the Glowing Dome rose out of the ground before it — growing slowly. And this had stayed the way of the Monster…
The main narrative of the novel concerns the discovery via telepathy, by the hero of the story, of a previously unknown second Redoubt far away in the darkness. The hero falls in love with the woman he communicates with, and ventures out into the perilous dark in search of her when the Earth-Current of the second Redoubt begins to fail.
The tale is a fascinating and beautiful one, filled with many eerie images. It only begins to drag when the hero finds his love, and attempts to lead her back across the lands. Hodgson’s stunningly sexist view of women as meek, submissive animals who must be punished (physically) when they do wrong is quite icky, and his endless descriptions of the couple’s love for one another grow tiresome. All and all, however, it is a unique story which blends science fiction, fantasy, and horror together.
A theme I will often return to in my blogging is the observation that horror is very much a product of the social conditions and scientific learnings of its time. Hodgson’s view of a lightless universe in which humanity awaits its inevitable extinction clearly draws inspiration from the new (at the time) realization that the Earth and its inhabitants have a much older history than previously thought, and the realization that the Sun and its fellow stars have expiration dates upon them. These realizations came from the biological insights of Darwin and the radioactive insights of Rutherford, among many others. I’ll have more to say about the history of these discoveries, and their influence on the weird fiction of the time, in another post.