Literature / The Night Land
The Sun has died.
“This to be Love, that your spirit to live in a natural holiness with the Beloved, and your bodies to be a sweet and natural delight that shall be never lost of a lovely mystery… And shame to be unborn, and all things to go wholesome and proper, out of an utter greatness of understanding; and the Man to be an Hero and a Child before the Woman; and the Woman to be an Holy Light of the Spirit and an Utter Companion and in the same time a glad Possession unto the Man… And this doth be Human Love…”
The remaining millions of the human race have moved downward into deep ravines, where vulcanism still provides enough heat to keep the air in a breathable form. Humanity's survivors live on in a few pyramidal Redoubts, lit, heated, and defended by the mysterious Earth Current
. They await the inevitable day when the Current fails and the monsters gathering outside swarm their defences.William Hope Hodgson
's The Night Land
was first published in 1912. On the most basic level, it's a heroic fantasy in which the Knight in Shining Armor braves terrible monsters and overcomes formidable challenges
to rescue the Distressed Damsel
. In practice, its main appeal is not the somewhat tedious hero's quest, but the vividly-described and extraordinarily imaginative creatures and horrors of the Land itself, prompting H.P. Lovecraft
to describe it as "one of the most potent pieces of macabre imagination ever written" even in the face of its ludicrous pseudo-17th-century writing style
. A rewrite of sorts, titled The Night Land: A Story Retold
follows the exact same plot but does away with the Purple Prose
in favor of a rather faithful recreation of the writing style many 1950s scifi authors had, making the book a far more enjoyable experience without altering the plot.
The complete work is available here
at Project Gutenberg, or here
. It also got some other works set in the same universe, like Awake in the Night Land
This book provides examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation: The Dream of X, which Hodgeson himself wrote in order to secure its copyright in America, compresses the original 200 000-word novel into a mere 20 000 words.
- After the End: Several ends: the cataclysmic explosion that blew a 100-mile-deep valley into the Earth; the experiments that let the soul-eating Eldritch Abominations get to Earth; the death of the Sun.
- Always Night: The sun died a long time ago.
- Antiquated Linguistics: Comically butchered 17th-century English.
- Applied Phlebotinum: The Air Clog; food pills; a powder that creates drinkable water when exposed to air.
- Arcology: The story has an early version of this in The Great Redoubt (more than 7 miles high, holds millions of people) and The Lesser Redoubt (more than a mile high). They're both sealed off from the outside world by necessity and are completely self-sufficient.
- Author Appeal: Hodgson had much to say on bodybuilding, domination, submission, and gender roles, and it shows.
- Berserk Button: The narrator, when his love-interest Naani is attacked and put into a coma to the point where she is thought to be dead; he runs for 3 days without sleeping to bring her to safety, slashing giants and mutants out of his way. He even cuts a clawed giant in two with a single, one-handed swipe.
- Citadel City: The Last Redoubt, essentially a gargantuan pyramidal skyscraper which houses the last hundreds of millions of humans left. Since the Earth Current the humans need to repel the monsters only covers a certain patch of land, the humans built vertically.
- Cosmic Horror Story: Before H.P. Lovecraft invented it. Mankind cannot hope to defeat the horrors. They can do nothing but wait out the Aeons for their last defenses to fail, all alone in a darkened wasteland haunted by things beyond comprehension, and that can never be reasoned with.
- Cyanide Pill: Anyone who ventures outside the Redoubt has a poison capsule implanted in one arm for emergencies.
- Dark World: Plunged in eternal darkness, and haunted by things beyond mankind's imagination.
- Death by Childbirth: Naani's first incarnation, Mirdath.
- Determinator: The protagonist.
- Deus ex Machina: Partially subverted, as the mysterious and unexplained Shining Powers of Goodness don't always succeed in saving the day.
- Disney Death: Naani
- Disney Villain Death: The Giant Slug
- Distressed Damsel: Naani.
- The Dreaded: The Night Hounds, as they are faster and far more persistent than most other night creatures.
- Eldritch Abomination: Tons of them; the Night Land is crawling with them. They have a distinctly "ghostly" feel about them, in contrast to Cosmic Horror type abominations Lovecraft would later create.
- The Watchers: Nigh Invulnerable mountain sized beings who have unfathomable psychic powers. Their movements are so slow that they are barely perceptible, but they can control the lesser (much faster) horrors of the Night Land. They do not seem to require sleep, food, water, or really any of the standard needs of biotic life. Other than their shared traits of size, age, and speed, each one is totally unique.
- The Thing That Nods: A large entity whose face is always just out of sight. No one has dared to get closer for a better look.
- Doorways In The Night: A type of sentient portal that appear to be related to The House Of Silence. They hide themselves and suck in any unsuspecting explorer who gets too close. What waits on the other end is apparently A Fate Worse Than Death.
- Eldritch Location: Many, but special mention goes to the House Of Silence (detailed below), the never expanded upon Dark Palace, and the Silent City which changes when no one is looking and appears to be both fully populated and completely devoid of life simultaneously.
- Empathic Weapon: The Diskos reacts to its user's emotions, and is especially effective when combined with righteous fury.
- Fanfic: Numerous works are collected at http://nightland.website, including many of high quality. Unfortunately a number of them are only partially online, requiring you to buy a printed collection to read the end.
- Fan Sequel: Some critics believe that the book is meant to be this to H. G. Wells' The Time Machine.
- Fantasy Gun Control: Despite being set thousands of years in the future, humans don't use firearms, only the Diskos—a circular, spinning sawblade on a stick. The basic explanation is that knowledge of the workings of still-extant ranged weapons was lost ages ago; besides, the humans' philosophy is that if a monster is too far to be struck with a melee weapon, then it's better to avoid it rather than provoke it into attacking. The narrator also suggests that, perhaps, the laws of chemistry don't work the same way in the future. Overall, using ranged weapons is considered a waste of the limited "Earth-Current" energy on which most future human technology runs.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Literally so, hence the poison capsules. The many variations are referred to collectively as capital-D Destruction.
- One notable example is when the House Of Silence puppets some souls it had ensnared earlier in a bid to bait the loved ones of the deceased out into the Night Land. The narrator, with his psychic sensitivity, said that the agony, despair and sorrow those ensnared were feeling were so deep it quite literally was too much for his brain to even remotely fathom and sent him into a panic attack.
- Food Pills: The narrator takes these along to eat when he travels through the Night Land.
- Foregone Conclusion: Averted. Even though the hero is narrating his own story, said story is about a dream he had of something that will happen to him in the future; therefore, until the ending, the reader has no way of knowing whether the hero will survive or not.
- Played straight with regards to mankind's fate. The Earth Current will eventually run out, but the Night will last forever. All mankind can do is enjoy the millions of years left before they are overrun.
- Forgotten Framing Device: The book starts with a 17th century gentleman mourning the death of his beloved in childbirth. He has a vision of a distant future where their souls will be reunited, and sees that world through the eyes of his future incarnation. The end of the novel doesn't mention anything about this.
- The Future: And a very crapsack one.
- Giant Spider: Enormous, burrowing, yellow, and venomous.
- God: No joke. You would think that a post-sun death universe where reincarnation, Eldritch Abominations and Psychic Powers are a fact of life would be pretty alien to the notion of Yahweh, but the narrator tells us that men of our age should be "thankful unto God" that we live in the Days of Light and not the Night Land. The Forces Of Good that defend the Redoubt from their enemies are vaguely defined and could be interpreted as God or angels providing protection.
- Several of the Night Land expanded universe stories also deal with God, where he's referred to as "the One who makes sure all Lovers are reunited."
- Half-Human Hybrid: The Giants are an extremely unpleasant type, between unspecified monsters and 'bestial humans'.
- Many of the lesser horrors are the result of mankind breeding with the original night horrors.
- Haunted House: Taken to eldritch levels with the House Of Silence. An impossibly large ornate home on a hill, which seems to be abandoned but whose interior is lit by pale lights, and whose door is always unlocked. It is always sending intoxicating psychic messages out to anyone outside the Redoubt, and if you aren't properly trained you will run right through its doors and into its horrid embrace, never to be seen again. It is considered the absolute worst of all the horrors of the Night Land, since it always inflicts Destruction on those it successfully ensnares.
- Heroic Fantasy
- Heroic Willpower: The hero is quite the Determinator.
- Holding Back the Phlebotinum: Using a super weapon is a good way to provoke the monsters outside.
- Jumped at the Call
- Kill All Humans: Or worse.
- Knight in Shining Armor: Well, grey armour, anyway.
- Last Bastion: The Last Redoubt, the gigantic fortress-city housing the remnants of humanity, constantly besieged by the horrors in the dark and doomed to fall once the Earth Current dies out. The Lesser Redoubt served this purpose also, before its own Earth Current faded.
- Lost Technology: The redoubt has existed for so long, entire eras of technology have been completely forgotten. This is probably for the best, as it was at the height of their advancement that mankind, in a moment of weakness, performed "The Unforgivable Experiments" that led to the hellish state of the world. Some technology is best left forgotten.
- Made of Iron
- The Great Redoubt and the Underground Fields are covered with a nearly-indestructible grey metal which could withstand dozens of millions of years untarnished.
- Some of the monsters could fight entire battalions of men before being destroyed by energy weaponry.
- Mordor: What the Earth has become after the death of the Sun—a lightless waste home to monsters, nightmares and worse.
- Muscles Are Meaningless: Our hero reveals at one point he had been a strong trained athlete during his life in the Pyramid (only because the girl was impressed by his muscular bulk) but he never thought physical strength was something to brag about or rely on, since all monsters evolved or devolved from humans are far too strong to be beaten in close combat and had to be fought by cunning, agility and Diskos fencing.
- Neologisms: Such as "Monstruwacan".
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Aschoff. Sure he meant well, but...
- Non-Action Big Bad: The Evil Forces, particularly the House of Silence.
- Nothing Is Scarier: The fact that the Hero doesn't know exactly what happens to the red shirts after they enter the House of Silence freaks him out all the more. It gets to the point that the noises of the other abominations become a comforting distraction.
- Despite the verbosity, many of the Evils of the Night Land get only a vague description, sometimes only a noise, leaving much to the imagination.
- The Obstructive Love Interest: She alternates between absurd obstructiveness and considerable competence.
- Our Vampires Are Different: Yellow skin, 4 arms, may not actually be undead (it's really hard to say, considering the story's setting). None of these traits scream typical vampire, now do they?
- Our Wormholes Are Different / Negative Space Wedgie: The "Doorways in the Night", holes in the universe which open up and let in soul-eating things.
- The Power of Love: It's what differentiates mankind from the monsters.
- Powers That Be: The "Forces Of Good" are a vague but benevolent force that tries their best to defend what little remains of mankind. It's not strong enough to actually defeat the horrors of the Night Land, and it cannot save them from the inevitable victory of the night creatures, but its actions have bought mankind millions more years.
- Prehistoria: The Country of Seas and Volcanoes is based off of popular ideas of the time about the prehistoric world (the idea being that similar conditions produce similar creatures).
- Psychic Powers: A form of telepathy using "brain-elements". The text is unclear as to whether these elements are natural parts of the brain or some kind of implant.
- Purple Prose: The entire text is written to emulate 17th century literature, and overshoots the mark by several measures, though it largely avoids Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness.
- Ragnarok-Proofing: There are aircraft which would still work, except that the air has gotten too thin to support them - they've remained in functional condition for hundreds of thousands or millions of years.
- Red Shirt: Numerous characters who leave the Redoubt. Many suffer the Fate Worse Than Death.
- Reincarnation Romance: The main plot.
- The Remake: The Night Land: A Story Retold. It's the same story, but with a more reader-friendly writing-style, extra scenes, and more detailed characterization. It was written by James Stoddard, a contributor to the previously-mentioned fan site, http://nightland.website.
- Schizo Tech: Despite super-strong metals, electric Deflector Shields, Energy Weapons, and the like, men still fight monsters in armor and carrying a melee weapon rather than a gun. Aircraft used to exist, but the air has become too thin for them.
- Stalker Without a Crush: The Giant Slug.
- Time Skip: A huge one. We start in Victorian times and skip ahead to millions of years after the Sun has died.
- Unobtainium: The miraculous super-hard, super-strong grey metal.
- Vibroweapon: The Diskos works on this principle, but rotating rather than a back-and-forth vibration. It can also provide light.
- Wacky Wayside Tribe: The sheer hostility of the setting means that most of the enemies the hero faces seem to be these.
- Wave Motion Gun: The blast of Earth-Current at the end of the novel used to take out the Night Hounds is one of these, with an emphasis on the 'slow recharge' - it uses up almost all of the energy of the Redoubt (a habitat holding millions) to the point where elevators, pumps, etc. shut down. These attacks are used VERY rarely, both because of the power drain and because there are just too many monsters, and some are way too powerful.
- Weapon of Mass Destruction: The Redoubt has powerful weapons that can destroy many monsters at once. Unfortunately there are too many monsters, some of them are too big, and these weapons drain the all-important Earth Current.
- Worthy Opponent: The Silent Ones are the only Night Land inhabitants that the hero doesn't feel hatred toward; instead, he views them as something to be respected, while at the same time feared and avoided. He even theorizes that they aren't evil, just enigmatic and dangerous.
- Zerg Rush: The main reason the Night Hounds are The Dreaded. There are simply too many to kill, and gaining the attention of one always gains the attention of others.