Have you ever been disappointed? I mean, you’ve gone into something and thought, wow, this’ll be great? Maybe it was some awesome sex you were going into, and then you found out your partner was actually a papier-mache model? That would be disappointment. For most people, anyway. I’m not even sure how it would work otherwise. I mean, I know there are people out there who’d like it, I’ve seen the internet, but how would it work? Would you have to craft the genitals yourself, or are we imagining a scenario where the prankster did that already? What kind of prankster would do that? Oh, right, The Night Land.
This book is weird, guys. I’m not kidding here. William Hope Hodgson’s most famous for House on the Borderlands, and I’m very fond of Boats of the “Glen Carrig,” but I’m going with The Night Land. God help us all.
So an unnamed 17th century narrator falls in love with his distant cousin, Mirdath. He talks about all his weird dreams, which she has too! Magical. Then he sees her with another dude, gets really angry, picks the dude up and moves him and walks off. So Mirdath proceeds to flaunt the other dude in front of unnamed narrator. Except it’s actually a lady.
Down, guys, down. They’re not getting it on Virginia Woolf style, they’re just dicking with the narrator. They were originally trying to get some third (second?) dude off Mirdath’s case, cause he wanted to marry her too, and narrator-kun just happened to wander in at the wrong moment. But he was so rude they kept messing with him. For months. He gets really depressed, so does Mirdath, I’m not sure where this is going. Then they get married, have a kid, Mirdath dies.
And then the actual novel starts.
Oh, I’m sorry, did you think that was the novel. No, sorry. I can understand your confusion. Who wouldn’t think that was the novel. But no. This is a post-apocalypse novel.
In the 17th century, you might be saying. Really? Nope.
OK, while this is super fucking weird, it makes more sense than it seems like. There was a weird tradition of post-apocalypse stories in the 19th century actually being the recounted dream of a psychic or something. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (oh, we’ll be getting to that one) is actually the manuscript of the last Sybil, discovered in a cave somewhere. So Hodgson, in the early 20th century, is using that trope. Except usually it’s a few pages for the intro and then bam! book. But this time, no, no, it goes on for a while.
So the narrator says he had a dream of the future, and describes it. This is actually the most interesting part of the book. You know it’s bad when the plot can come along and ruin some nice, comforting exposition.
The future is “The Night Land,” an always-night wasteland with horrible monsters wandering around. The monsters are pretty inventive. One is enormous, with one eye visible in the darkness, who never blinks. It seems to just be watching “The Last Redoubt” (which is what humanity apparently decided to call the enormous, and I mean enormous, pyramid they holed up in for eternity). One house nearby, a little house, has the most terrifying thing in the world, which no one has ever successfully seen and come back with descriptions. The pyramid is surrounded by an electrical field that keeps stuff away. The only weak part in the setup is that Hodgson doesn’t let these things be horrible monsters, they have to be moral judgments. So there are “good powers” floating around – of course they’re only ever described as nebulous blobs of white vapor and mist – which will protect the good and willing if they ever have to venture into the Night Land.
The narrator, still unnamed, accidently gets into psychic contact with a woman from another human settlement far away. No one believed there were other humans. A pack of stupid teenagers all run off to save the “lesser pyramid” when they hear it’s under assault. Nearly all of them die in horrible ways, which the narrator can see because he works at the top of the pyramid in the observation deck. Of course it’s the best and most awesome job in the pyramid, because the narrator is just fucking amazing at everything, all the time.
The narrator figures out that the woman is the reborn version of Mirdath, just as he must be the reborn version of narrator-kun, because he thinks he’s now in the real world, or something. Or both versions are actually true, and he saw a vision of the future in this dream that’s the actual novel, or something. I don’t know. Mirdath2 calls out for help because the power that runs the pyramid is dying, and when the narrator stops getting messages from her he ventures out alone to save her, because duh, that’s what you do, I guess.
I want to pause here to mention the bullshit “Master Word.” It’s a passcode every human knows, but no one speaks aloud generally, used to prove psychic signals are from a real, good human and not an evil, degenerate abhuman (Hodgson’s word, abhuman). The book makes it pretty obvious that it’s something like the Name of God or a Bible verse or something, because it drives away evil, hurts the demons, and blah blah blah. Except Hodgson won’t come out and admit the book is an attempt at a religious allegory, because he had problems with organized religion. So you know the problem you have with religious allegorical books that aren’t very good (as contrasted to, say, Lewis)? Not the preachiness, but the feeling like there’s not enough book there, it’s too thin, too slack? This book does that as well, but without ever admitting it’s trying to talk about Jeebus.
Yeah yeah, the book. He saves Mirdath2, who almost dies because of a psychic blast from the mysterious house. The stuff inside is never revealed except through BS psychic blast powers, so it’s pretty disappointing. He nearly dies carrying her back, she nearly dies because her life is being leeched away, they almost cremate here but the narrator notices her moving from like a football field away, runs up and grabs her, then collapse. He’s in a coma for a while, wakes up, they get married, everything’s cool, then he wakes up again back in the 17th century. It’s implied this book, The Night Land, is the account of the 17th century guy that Mirdath2 read, which inspired her to call the narrator by his old, 17th century name, which is how he becomes convinced she is Mirdath2. Except she actually is Mirdath2, and reading the book was a coincidence. Uh, good?
This book is bad. I like Hodgson, but it’s bad. Mostly because it’s disappointing. There’s not a single line of actual dialogue in the whole book. It’s badly written, it uses Hodgson’s terrible attempt at archaic language, the plot actually comes and ruins the interesting ideas and monsters – after he leaves the pyramid there’s a nice pattern of shitty scenery – badly described fight – rest – repeat. It goes on like that for a long time. Don’t read it. Don’t even go try to read it because it’ll be hilarious. Just don’t do it. I’ve heard James Stoddard re-wrote the damn thing to make it not suck, and I may go read that one. But don’t read the original, guys. Just don’t.