William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land

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.

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10 Responses to William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land

  1. Pingback: Reincarnation in horror… « Skulls in the Stars

  2. C.D. Carter says:

    I just recently discovered the person and writings of William Hope Hodgson. I have found him to be a fascinating man, one obviously slightly ahead of his time. His deeds and adventures seem to reflect a man who pushed himself to achieve the most physically and mentally he could; he must have savored the living experience. His life would make a great movie (and his film star handsomeness make it even more so), surprised Johnny Depp hasn’t snagged it yet!

  3. Roy says:

    I have recently read the book and I came to realize that it can be made into a great movie by directors like Peter Jackson or Steven Spielberg. I have read more negative reviews about this book than positive. And this bothers me as I was quite stunned by his vivid imagination if the reader can overlook the language the book is written in. He was clearly very ahead of his time. No wonder great Sci-Fi authors like Greg Bear consider him his guru.

    • His book is quite amazing, but hampered by a bit of crude characterization, especially after he rescues his love from the other redoubt. Nevertheless, I agree that it is an amazing story that could make an excellent movie.

  4. Adrian says:

    If you haven’t read Hodgson’s “The House on the Borderland” yet, I would highly recommend it. It blends aspects of science fiction and fantasy together to form a a bleak, oppressive tale of horror and dread. It’s shorter than “The Night Land” and also reflects the better command of style that Hodgson had developed by that point.

    • I *love* The House on the Borderland! I read that long, long before I had any real idea who Hodgson was — I bought the book back in college simply because it contained a blurb by Lovecraft! One of these days I have to blog about it — I’m still amused/horrified by the titanic pig-man battle.

  5. Pingback: Reincarnation in horror… | Skulls in the Stars

  6. Mike Collins says:

    Three times, that’s how many times I have read the night land,and it still fascinates me. And for those who can’t get enough try Awake in the Night Land…………… https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00JM98V60/ref=docs-os-doi_0

  7. Michael G says:

    I’ve read “The Night Land” several times, beginning when I was an undergrad, and have listened to its recording as well. It is utter [sic: one of Hodgson’s frequently-used adverbs] fascinating. The word that comes to mind most often for me is “eerie”. Imagining huge monsters who have slowly — slowly! — approached the Last Redoubt over a vast expanse of time, while fire pits illuminate the landscape and the House of Silence lurks, waiting to consume the souls of those it draws within it, is true eldritch experience. The bravery of one lone man, who dared to venture from the security of the Last Redoubt into the darkness, evade its many terrors, finally rescue his beloved, and try to make it all the way back again is amazing. I agree that the book would make a remarkable movie.

    As for the hero’s “stunningly sexist” view of women: what would have been “stunning” would have been an early 20th century author describing the outlook of a 17th century gentleman as anything OTHER than “sexist”. That is the way men thought in that time frame. The peril of judging the past by the contemporary standards of some is that the future will likewise judge some of those very same standards, and find them wanting.

    In short: highly recommended.

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