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Literature / The Night Land

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"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...."

Millions of years into the future, the Sun has died, plunging the Earth into darkness. The remaining millions of the human race have moved downward into deep ravines, where volcanism still provides enough heat to keep the air in a breathable form. They live within a colossal pyramidal Redoubt, lit, heated, and defended by the mysterious Earth Current, and besieged by the incomprehensible creatures of darkness who have overtaken the rest of the Earth. They await the inevitable day when the Current fails and the monsters gathering outside swarm their defences.

Then, one day, they learn that a second Redoubt exists, one smaller, weaker, and on the verge of destruction...

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 Damsel in Distress. 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:

  • The Ace: The protagonist's future self (named Andros in Retold) is bodybuilder strong, extremely smart, brave, a gifted Monstruwaccan, a master Diskos fencer, and has a kind heart. Justified in that anything less than The Ace would have been chewed up and spat out by the Night Land. Even with all his skill and strength, he has to fight with everything he has to survive.
  • 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, which may also have been a side effect of those experiments.
  • Always Night:
    • The sun died a long time ago. Note that this story was written before it was understood that the Sun's power source is nuclear fusion, which should keep it burning for a few billion more years (not to mention it will expand at the end of its life, either engulfing the Earth outright, or if it doesn't get that far, burning it to a cinder). Also, the Eldritch Abominations don't like light and may very well have had the power to mess with this process.
    • In Wright's Awake in the Night Land, it is specifically stated that they have essentially eaten all the other stars and they're only allowing Earth to remain habitable and the Last Redoubt to stand so they can watch the remains of humanity squirm a while longer.
  • 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.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece:
    • In the climactic scene, the main characters are nearly to safety but the hideous creatures of the Night Land are almost upon them. Millions of people are about to watch them die a few hundred yards from the shelter of the Air-Clog. Cue the Master Monstruwacan authorizing the activation of the Last Redoubt's main energy weapon emplacements, which have not been used for tens of thousands, maybe millions of years. They still work; though the power drain nearly shuts the entire pyramid down and the backblast almost kills the main characters, the pursuing hordes are obliterated. This almost counts as a Superweapon Surprise, but the main character knows perfectly well that the energy guns exist, he just doesn't think that the people in charge will use them, as the risk to the entire citadel is too great.
    • Averted when the airships stored in the Last Redoubt, which are perfectly preserved and almost certainly still operational, cannot be used to go to the aid of the Lesser Redoubt, because the air is no longer thick enough to carry them safely. Also, as the hero learns during his journey to the Lesser Redoubt, there are plenty of flying Night creatures and it's very unlikely any airship could get past them.
  • 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: This novel is an example of the trope before H. P. Lovecraft codified 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.
  • Crapsack World: The Sun has gone out. The Earth has become a breeding ground for all sorts of vicious monsters. The last remnants of humanity have holed themselves up in a giant structure, and it's all but stated that their defenses will fail eventually and the creatures outside will rush in to finish them off.
  • Cyanide Pill: Anyone who ventures outside the Redoubt has a poison capsule implanted in one arm for emergencies, because being out there threatens not only your life but your soul as well. Killing yourself before a Power does ensures that your soul, at least, passes on.
  • Dark World: Plunged in eternal darkness, and haunted by things beyond mankind's imagination.
  • Death by Childbirth: The book opens with Naani's first incarnation, Mirdath, dying this way.
  • Death World: Everything living that exists outside of the redoubt ranges from merely life-threateningly violent, to downright malevolent and evil to the core. Even though humanity numbers in the millions and could probably raise an army large enough to destroy the flesh and blood monsters inhabiting the Night Land, they would lose most of their numbers doing it - and would also fall prey to indestructible evil forces of will that would sap their resolve to fight and draw their souls towards certain oblivion.
  • Deflector Shield: The Air-Clog, a circle of force generated by running the Earth-Current through a conductor which encircles the Last Redoubt. Given that The Night Land was published in 1912, this may be the first fully-realized technological force field in all of literature.
  • Determinator: Despite all the horrors he experiences, the protagonist never wavers from his journey.
  • Deus ex Machina: Partially subverted, as the mysterious and unexplained Shining Powers of Goodness don't always succeed in saving the day.
  • Disney Villain Death: The Giant Slug
  • The Dreaded:
    • The Night Hounds, as they are faster and far more persistent than most other night creatures.
    • Of all the non-material evil forces, the Doors of Silence and the House of Silence are the most terrifying things in the Night Land, considered far worse than all the flesh and blood monsters because they have the power to trap and devour the human soul in eternal torment.
  • 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, 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.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: All the monsters and forces of evil in the Night Land want to destroy all of humanity and feast on their flesh and souls. When the monsters have no humans to murder and mutilate, they do so to each other on a constant basis.
  • 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. The Last Redoubt used to have fearsome energy weapons, but they were Awesome, but Impractical (their use diminishes the power available for the Last Redoubt's exterior defensive field, the Air-Clog) and were ultimately abandoned. Well, mothballed.)
    • While the creatures of the Night Land can and do prey on each other, they will all come a-running at the prospect of human flesh and human soul for dinner. Any use of a weapon which makes a lot of noise is tantamount to suicide. Also, you will run out of bullets before they run out of monsters.
  • 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. He doesn't need to eat anything else on his journey, but they don't remotely fill the stomach.
  • Foregone Conclusion:
    • Averted in regards to the story itself. 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 the idea of the Judeo-Christian God would be incompatible with a post-sun death universe where reincarnation, Eldritch Abominations and Psychic Powers are a fact of life, 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.
    • Particularly the ab-humans, who will inherit the Earth, only to be consumed by greater evils in turn.
  • Haunted House: Taken to Eldritch Location 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: Despite the bleakness of the setting, the main character is a morally upright hero whose bravery and resourcefulness allow him to triumph.
  • Holding Back the Phlebotinum: Using a super weapon is a good way to provoke the monsters outside.
  • Jumped at the Call:
    • When news of the plight of the Lesser Redoubt becomes known, a large group of young men break the rules and sally forth to try to go to their aid. This is the absolute worst possible idea because large groups of humans cannot travel in stealth through the Night Land. And there are two ways to travel through the Night Land: in stealth, or metaphorically ringing a large dinner bell.
    • Averted when the "Hundred Thousand," the more-or-less standing army/rapid reaction force of the Last Redoubt, realize that only the Power of Good hovering over the protagonist and Naani is protecting them from the massive throng of hideous creatures which are trying to prevent their safe escape into the protected area around the pyramid. If any of them step foot over the periphery of the Air-Clog, they will immediately be Destroyed. Despite this, many of them have to be physically restrained by their comrades from trying to help the apparently doomed couple.
  • 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.
  • Long Last Look: After he finds Naani, she and the protagonist begin the long journey back to the Last Redoubt. Before beginning to ascend the gorge which separates the land of the Lesser Redoubt (where Naani grew up and which is now utterly destroyed, along with everyone she has ever known) from the area between it and the Last Redoubt she takes a Long Last Look back. This is about as "last" as looks ever get: as the narrator observes, no other human being will ever see the place again, for the rest of eternity.
  • 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.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Aschoff. Sure he meant well, but...
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: The protagonist is this to the night land itself. Many times, he comments on how the horrors of his world would drive the reader insane, but he is used to them because they are what he has always known.
  • 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. Part of this is because many of the creatures are psychic and know when someone is thinking about them, which can give them a way to influence that person's mind. Descriptions of the creatures are therefore purposefully limited to "roughly where it is" and/or "some prominent but not unique feature of it."
  • 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.
  • Ragnarök 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,
  • 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. While it's true that this looks like Schizo Tech to the modern reader, almost every single one of these is explained in-story. In particular, the main power source for everything is the Earth-Current, which is most efficiently used in melee weapons (and also, see above on Fantasy Gun Control.)
  • Something Only They Would Say: While any human can speak the Master-Word and prove they're human, only the narrator/hero of The Night Land knows that Naani is the reincarnation of Mirdath, and only he knows that name or the story of their love in that previous life so many millions of years ago. He describes what he remembers of it to her to prove that he is the reincarnation of her lost love. (And that she's not crazy for remembering it.)
  • 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.
  • True-Breeding Hybrid: In an intentionally horrifying example of this trope, numerous of the Night Land's monstrous inhabitants arose through the intermingling of humans with the entities that entered it many millennia in the book's past, as the Sun slowly went out and the Earth began to die. The Giants are the example most focused on in the book, described as a species of hideous, towering, warty humanoids "fathered of bestial humans and mothered of monsters".
  • Trust Password:
    • The Master-Word. Only humans can say it, either aloud or in their minds. Nothing which cannot speak the Master-Word can pass the Air-Clog, though it is not necessary to say or think it to do so. Any entity which tries to communicate with a human, psychically or otherwise, claiming to be one itself can easily be identified as a Night creature if it will not say or think it. It is not clear whether the Master-Word was something coded into humans genetically at some point, or if its properties are one of the few things the Good Powers have managed to keep the Eldritch Abominations from screwing with. It appears to be related to the "brain-elements", but they have the same ambiguity.
    • In one of the stories in Awake in the Night Land, it is strongly implied that if someone who is inside the Air-Clog invites someone outside it to pass through, they can do so, regardless of whether either of them can speak the Master-Word.
  • Unobtainium: The miraculous super-hard, super-strong grey metal.
  • Utopia: About the only positive thing mankind has going for them in this bleak setting. The Redoubt seems to be utterly free of war, unrest, famine, or disaster and has been that way for millions of years. The history books are instead long chronicles of the minor changes the Monstruwacans see in the Night Land (Whose abominations play one hell of a long game) Mankind’s impossibly dire situation was apparently what it took to finally and permanently unite them as one.
  • 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.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The entire novel is written in comically butchered 17th-century English. People were quick to call this out even shortly after it was written.
H. P. Lovecraft: The pseudo-archaic English is an acute agony — a cursed hybrid jargon belonging to no age at all! That's Hodgson's weakness — you'll note a sort of burlesque Elizabethan speech supposed to be of the 18th century in "Glen Carrig". Why the hell can't people pick the right archaic speech if they're going to be archaic?
  • 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.