The Night Land Chapter 5

07 May 2006

I recorded a brief introduction to The Night Land and uploaded it along with the two parts of chapter 5 of the book. In it I briefly discuss the world of the Night Land and some of the philosophy that seems to underpin the work.

There’s a web site out there all about The Night Land. I mention this in my audio notes about the book. It has a bunch of neat maps, some beautiful artwork, and a number of articles on the book and on Hodgson. There is also a lot of fan fiction, some of which seems to be quite good. I think the pieces by Richard Wright are by the same Richard Wright that wrote the Golden Age trilogy, which I quite enjoyed.

I also refer readers to Project Gutenberg — the entire text is freely available. For those who would like to read it in print, I give a shout out to the five-volume Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson from Night Shade Books. The Night Land is volume 4. Volume 5 does not seem to be out yet — I am guessing that it is in progress and it is taking a while because the editor is trying to make sure this collection really is definitive and contains everything whatsoever of interest that Hodgson wrote (although now that I’ve heard there is some Hodgson poetry out there, I am curious if the editor will include any). It should contain The Dream of X, which is a condensed version of The Night Land, and I’m looking forward to reading that, to see what changed.

My copy of volume 4 was not properly glued — the back part of the binding was not glued down fully into the cover and kept peeling back. I got a long paintbrush and a bottle of Uhu paper glue and managed to paste down the binding better, pressing it under a heavy suitcase until the glue dried. I don’t necessarily recommend this for repairing a valuable volume — I don’t really know what I’m doing — but it seems to be holding up pretty well so far. Despite this repair, this particular volume just doesn’t feel as well-bound as the others, and creaks and cracks with handling. I think it might be because the spine is slightly too wide for the pages it is containing, which means that when the pages are spread open the binding is pulled away from the cover. In any case it is still a very beautfiful volume — I love the silver stamping on the covers, and it has not actually fallen apart, so I’m not too disappointed; I just obsess about things.

Chapter 5 of The Night Land recounts how our hero decides to leave the great Redoubt and go forth to hunt for Naani. It also recounts the destruction of the Youths and their capture into the House of Silence. The language inspired me to post-process my voice — I am lowering the pitch (slowing it down) to 86% of the original speed, adding a light flange effect, and then also adding some background sounds generated by the Flow program by Karlheinz Essl.

I like the results — I think it somehow captures something of the strange dark mood of The Night Land. It also serves the purpose of slowing down the reader/listener, forcing him or her to pay closer attention to the language. Hodgson’s sentences are so convoluted that slowing down really is imperative, whether reading or listening. The sound effects give something of the sense of strangeness of the landscape.

I don’t think I can record the entire book, and even if I did I am not sure anyone would want to listen to it. I have not even finished reading it, and the later chapters become very wordy. The story becomes a kind of idealized romance, and while the action is still interesting, the interactions between our hero and his true love make a modern reader grit his teeth. I’m not sure I could make it through reading example after example where the hero refers to her tiny, dainty feet, or how she was a slight and slender Maid, or her impudent naughtiness in disobeying him. It reminds me of a joke by Douglas Adams from one of the Hitchhiker books:

The first part of each song would tell how there once went forth from the City of Vassillian a party of five sage princes with four horses. The princes, who are of course brave, noble and wise, travel widely in distant lands, fight giant ogres, pursue exotic philosophies, take tea with weird gods and rescue beautiful monsters from ravening princesses before finally announcing that they have achieved enlightenment and that their wanderings are therefore accomplished.
The second, and much longer, part of each song would tell of all their bickerings about which one of them is going to have to walk back.

The Night Land is kind of like that. At one point our hero and his Maid spend something like seven pages arguing over who is going to get to use the our hero’s cloak to keep warm when sleeping. It goes on and on — she insists he wear it, he insists she wear it, and finally — gasp! — they cuddle together for warmth and both sleep under the cloak, although we assured that she retains her maidenhood and this is only right and virtuous and does not imply anything improper whatsoever is going on between them.

About this point you start to wish that something less than virtuous would take place between them it it would become a Different Kind of Story, just to relieve the tedium.

He calls her at various points his Babe, his Slave, his Own. He even whacks her (lovingly, I suppose) to try to correct her behavior on a couple of occasions. If this was a Gor book, a consensual S&M subtext would make the book more interesting, but here it just makes me wince. It makes me want to rewrite the second half from her perspective; I’m not sure that she looks up at him with quite the hero-worship that he imagines she does.

It is still quite a beautiful and fascinating book, and it isn’t quite fair to condemn Hodgson for his somewhat weird idealism regarding romance; this book is almost a hundred years old, and things are different. In a way it’s almost sweet.

This afternoon I recorded a reading of Chapter 1, which is often condemned, because it takes place in Hodgson’s past. It is interesting, though — Hodgson models his hero on his own idealized self (he was a bodybuilder). It is a brief and flowery romantic tale, but it is also more than that — the events of chapter 1 prefigure much of what goes on in the later story set in the distant future. I have a feeling that Hodgson had in mind the various interpretations of the Bible where events from the Old Testament are shown to prefigure events in the New Testament. It is easy to just ignore it because it is flowery romance, but it deserves study. I’ll get Chapter 1 edited and completed at some point and perhaps introduce it, and then consider whether I want to continue from there.

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