Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Of the Night Land, and the End of Man

Recently, I stumbled into a website (with the above title) devoted to William Hope Hodgson’s bizarre and beautiful novel, The Night Land, with an array of art, fan fiction, timelines, maps, and essays. The site is very worth checking out, especially the art. For example, this painting of the ab-humans at their meal:

What a chill ran through me at this brooding image, at the looking about of these ghouls at some small sound, at their impending leap to their feet to chase fresh prey. For those new to The Night Land, the novel is set in a future so distant that the sun has burnt out and an eternal dark covers the earth. Humanity through its tampering with the natural universe has long since opened Doorways through which various predatory or malicious Forces have dropped into our existence. The remnants of the species live in the Last Redoubt, a pyramid refuge beset by the misshapen creatures that have populated our dying earth, some of those creatures having burst in through the Doorways which humans learned to open but not to close, and some of them (like those above) our own descendants. Here is one of the Forces, spinning angrily in the forever dark:

William Hope Hodgson at his artistic best presents us with mythic and terrifying nightscapes (never I will forget the screams in the dark and the patter of running feet as unseen and giant creatures chased the fleeing humans across a dry seabed). At his misogynist worst, his narrator makes James Bond and Buck Rogers appear staunch feminists by comparison:

And I shook her a little, for this naughty spirit which did not be gone from her. For I perceived that my manhood had but stirred the woman in her to that strange quick humbleness that had seemed to be only a quenching of her wayward unwisdom...and I to know that Mine Own did be a wondrous maiden, full of all life and spirit, and to be held wisely and to be loosed wisely, all as did be for the best to bring out the uttermost of her goodness which did be in all her being, and to be very lovely, and to make me feel as that I did be a giant that held a white flower very tender; but I to feel also that I did be her Master.

Even that would serve simply as an unabashed celebration of the d/s lifestyle, if, that is, there were any bondage in the book, and if it were not that the hero’s love interest has the intellectual and emotional awareness of a very young child.

But even given the flaws of the novel, the Night Land that Hodgson creates is difficult to forget. It is a hellscape that haunts the imagination long after the initial read.

In this, I realize I am only parroting the reviews of many writers and editors, from Lovecraft to this day. What I want to say separately from this is: the art! the art! It can’t be missed: much of it is as atmospheric and desperate as the novel itself. Also, the timeline and the assemblage of essays and scraps of reviews (on the pages called Night Thoughts and Night Voices) is a prodigious archival feat: the creator of the website is to be commended. Among the highlights are several discussions of The Night Land in relation to The Time Machine, reviews of Hodgson by other writers of science fiction, and extracts from biographical writings on Hodgson. There are also, as you might expect, debates over Hodgson’s treatment of femininity and the erotic. The website is updated with new materials and links a few times a month. If you have read The Night Land, definitely take a look. If you haven’t, view the gallery, and it may be inspiration to track down the book.

No comments: