Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson

The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson is a deeply flawed, unusual, eerie, and fascinating work of pre-Tolkien fantasy/horror/science fiction. Like George MacDonald's superior Lilith, it is a weird and rule-breaking tale of adventure in strange worlds. It deeply influenced Lovecraft, who called it "one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever written." And though the story isn't executed very well, its raw material is one of those brilliant ideas that only strikes once in a lifetime.

It is millions of years after the sun has gone out. The last of humanity lives alone in a monstrous pyramid in the Night Land, besieged by eldritch abominations, unholy monsters, and forces of evil. Our protagonist (not named in the book, but known as "X" to fans and critics) is telepathic; he hears a voice out of the night. It is another human fortress far away in the night, about to fall to the beasts. The speaker is a woman: his lost love from another life. When finally the defences of her fortress fail, X is driven to adventure alone out into the deadly Night Land to rescue the woman he loves and do battle with the horrid beasts. No-one else has ever dared to do such a thing and very few have ever survived even a brief trip into the Night, where sleepless malice lurks forever...

As you can imagine, it's an unusual and gripping read, full of suspense and grotesquerie, epic battles and high melodrama, and even some surprisingly interesting science-fiction ideas. Not that it doesn't have its problems. There's no dialogue, and it's written in an atrociously bad attempt at seventeenth-century prose--and the romance, which grows upon the second half of the book like a giant soul-sucking tumourous beastie, is almost beyond description. It's like being trapped in a haunted house with the world's sickliest cute couple. I don't mind a good melodramatic romance, but this one takes up a little too much time.

Nevertheless, it's a unique read and well worth the effort. The first half is quite good, and what the second half taxes you in gooey romance, it gives back with really, truly epic battles. Unforgettable.

Gutenberg etext

1 comment:

morningmusicmaniac said...

Tumourous beastie , love it


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