Valeer Damen's Reviews > The Night Land

The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson
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really liked it

Hodgson writes in a sort of pseudo-archaic style, that is, a mode of writing that feels like it could belong between the late middle ages and early 17th century. At the very beginning this seems a bit artificial, but after a few dozens of pages, you begin to notice that it actually works. This is because Hodgson can write.

The 'main character from this time transported to the future' device is faintly reminiscent of The_Worm_Ouroboros, but seems both more reasonably integrated and less intrusive.

There are interesting bits of philosophy all throughout the main character's journey, about evolution vs. 'providence', and about various parts of human nature.

The style used requires more than a cursory attention, so the going is a little slow, but I think this may be a very rewarding book.

A lot of time is devoted to the main character's feelings for his beloved. He is very frank, which actually makes the book quite refreshing and fragile. However, by means of his constant conversation with the reader, he manages to create a very intimate and open relationship with his audience.

Overall, there is actually a very good distribution between action, feeling, description, and the odd tidbits of philosphical speculation on evolution and the nature of man and various beasts.
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Reading Progress

May 6, 2010 – Started Reading
May 6, 2010 – Shelved
October 31, 2010 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Simon (last edited Oct 26, 2010 05:58AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Simon I'm now half way through and I'm still waitng for the prose style to "work" for me. Yes, WHH can write, although you wouldn't think so from reading this. And Unlike E.R. Eddison (who can actually effect archaic prose with aplomb), WHH should have stayed well away from this approach, in my opinion.

Valeer Damen I must admit that I have put this away for while, but I really try to put my personal uneasiness with the style aside (I don't hate it, but I have the feeling I should dislike it because it is an imitation (though an imitation of something that does not exist)), and be as charitable as I can towards the author and the book. I do feel that it is good and admirable, and your comment has reminded me to continue reading. As for E.R. Eddison, I read 'The Worm Ouroborous" a long time ago, and can't recall the style feeling much different from Hodgson's.

message 3: by Simon (last edited Oct 27, 2010 02:42AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Simon Eddison was a scholar of old dialects and languages so he really knew what he was doing. In my opinion, he was far more eloquant (and accurate) in his archaic styling.

But it's not just the psudo-archaic prose that annoys me, it's the narrative style itself. Too much first person exposition with no dialogue. As the reader, you feel you are being told the story after the event rather than being put into the scenes as if you were actually there. In other words, the narrative distances the reader from the characters making it (I felt) harder to engage.

Valeer Damen Interesting comment. As a writer, I've been wondering what Hodgson is doing with the pseudo-archaic style. Would the book be any better if it were written in a contemporary style? I think there are a few too may 'did bes', but his sentence and paragraph structure and rhythm are actually quite good (varied, flowing), I think. So even though I would not personally choose to write in an archaic style, after the decision was made, I think Hodgson carried it off rather well.

And I do think he is eloquent. In the main character's insistence that you know what he is feeling, and his warnings that many of his thoughts are speculation merely, I think he presents a very reasonable presentation of his mood and philosophy, and a nice counter-balance to the alienation of the setting. His hints at a belief in evolution without intervention, and his attempt to build 'no Walls around [his] Reason' I think are both eloquent and brave.

The fact that all conversation is reported, not shown in dialogue, I think adds to the intimacy of the story. Almost as if quoted text would sound too loud through the darkness of the Night Land. I think this is a very intimate story, more about the feelings of a man for the woman he loves, told very courageously, than an adventure story about what is going on at the time.

So what is he doing? I am playing devil's advocate here, because, as I said, the pseudo-archaic is not personally to my liking, but I admire the book. What would a style like, say, Wells' have done to the story? And what is Hodgson's style? Is it meant to represent the mode of speaking of the main character in the 'present' time, or does it come from his 'future time' experiences? I've picked it up again, and turn its pages with curiosity and feeling.

Simon Perhaps, your being a writer, enables you to find things in his writing that you admire? But I find very little that to appreciate. Isn't there a huge amount of repetition in the narrative? How much time is spent detailing the mundanities of his daily trudge through the night land? The number of hours he walked, how often and how many pills he ate, how many hours he slept. And was it necessary to begin almost every paragraph with the word: "And"?

Have you read any of his other works? I really liked "House on the Borderland" and his "Carnaki, Ghost Finder" stories. These were very well written and far more effective in my opinion.

But as you say, he was most likely trying to do something different with this novel.

Valeer Damen Thank you for the engaging comment. I haven't read any of his other works, so I do not have a wider context. I do try to read books from a writer's perspective, because it often adds understanding. And I try to realise that even in the worst books I have read, there was something good. Often the easiest approach, when I do not like something, is to ask myself, what if he had done this differently? You can start by thinking of its opposite. Writing is often about making choices, and, though a lot of the time a choice isn't exactly great, the alternatives were often worse.

But I must admit that with this particular book, it is also a matter of taste: what you call repetition to me is a faithful representation of a reality, and a building up of mood and atmosphere; the style, to me, aids this to make the story 'as much itself as it can be' if that makes any sense. I realise that this is quite subjective.

I'll watch out for his other works, though my reading list is already fairly long.

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