Thursday, March 5, 2020

Beyond Appendix N Mail Call - Night Land and Other Perilous Romances: The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson, Volume 4

Today has been mail call day! This isn't your usual mail call though. This is for the William Hope Hodgson Nightlands book that's been missing from the archives for a very long time. This past Christmas my wife grabbed me a first edition Hodgeson book for me. But who was William Hope Hodgson; "William Hope Hodgson (15 November 1877 – 19 April 1918) was an English author. He produced a large body of work, consisting of essays, short fiction, and novels, spanning several overlapping genres including horrorfantastic fiction, and science fiction.[2] Hodgson used his experiences at sea to lend authentic detail to his short horror stories, many of which are set on the ocean, including his series of linked tales forming the "Sargasso Sea Stories". His novels, such as The House on the Borderland (1908) and The Night Land (1912), feature more cosmic themes, but several of his novels also focus on horrors associated with the sea. Early in his writing career Hodgson dedicated effort to poetry, although few of his poems were published during his lifetime. He also attracted some notice as a photographer and achieved renown as a bodybuilder. He died in World War I at age 40." 

 William Hope Hodgson was an incredible writer of horror,cosmic horror, romance, fantastic fiction, & science fiction. He's work often blurred those themes as he tried his hand at every one of these genre's. But his work for me that reflects perfectly the lens of his literature in the field of cosmic horror is 
 The House on the Borderland (1908) and its squeal in spirit  The Night Land (1912). The House on the Borderland (1908) serves as both a predecessor & book end squeal to the The Night Land (1912). 

The Nightlands is everything I love about the Dying Earth genre, a doomed protagonist who is the reincarnation of an early Nineteenth century man whose love is taken from him. Finds himself astrally projected into a post terrestrial landscape millions of years into the future. The sun has almost burnt itself out as a red star, most of the oceans have dried up, the landscape is dotted with millions crammed cities, there are energy weapons, knightly orders of monster hunters, & even minion like Lovecraftian horrors lurking at the corners of a pitch black darkened world

This particular collection is part of the Nightshade book series & I picked this collection for very specific reasons; "Night Shade Books’s five-volume series presents all of Hodgson’s unique and timeless fiction. Each volume contains one of Hodgson's novels, along with a selection of thematically-linked short fiction, including a number of works reprinted for the first time since their original publication. The fourth book of the five-volume set, The Night Land and Other Romances, collects all of his romances and women’s fiction, as well as the entirety of his classic 1912 dying-earth novel The Night Land.

The Complete Fiction of William Hope Hodgson is published by Night Shade Books in the following volumes:
The Boats of the “Glen Carrig” and Other Nautical Adventures
The House on the Borderland and Other Mysterious Places
The Ghost Pirates and Other Revenants of the Sea
The Night Land and Other Romances
The Dream of X and Other Fantastic Visions"

The Nightlands true horrors are the Watchers towering horrors from beyond the bounds of time & space. The Earth's last residence huddle in the Redoubts ( million strong city colonies that house the last true humanity descendants. The Watchers ( really Outer Gods given towering form feed on human souls & other less identifiable substances) wait & wait for the Redoubt's force fields to fall. Then its lunch time!  

The far future Earth has its share of paladin & knightly orders which fend off the lesser monsters of the darkness & the cults belonging to Watchers. There are even other alien entities that were mixed from humanity & things much less distinct out in the darkness waiting to get their claws into any juicy humans. My lovely wife had gotten me for Christmas a first edition of The Dream of X and Other Fantastic Visions: The Collected Fiction of William Hope Hodgson, Volume 5. 

This volume contains The Dream of X a cut down chap version of The Nightlands which Amazon reviewer 
Michael Battaglia has an excellent break down of ; ""The Dream of X" but instead of being presented front and center as the other ones were, its buried a good chunk of the way down in the table of contents, leaving plenty of room for everyone else. Magnanimous perhaps, but what gives?

The truth is, "The Dream of X" is basically a streamlined version of the last collection's "The Night Land", written for the purposes for securing a copyright for the story and later turned into a separate illustrated piece all its own (the illustrations, alas, do not make the collection). Yet, for those people sighing under their breath and thinking "Not this story again" you can actually make a serious case that the cut down version is in effect a stronger work than the unabridged version. While it strips away some of the story's hallucinatory feel and woozy sense of distance, it also cuts the plot to the bone, putting the rest of the land into the realm of mystery and retaining the best parts of the story anyway, which were the beginning and the end. Even more thankfully, it not only gives us less of that archaic prose to wade through but also leaves out almost all the middle chunk of the novel where the narrator and his true love Mine Own eat tablets, walk, romantically bicker, unromantically bicker and repeat those things for what feels like three hundred straight pages. It also mercifully eliminates roughly a hundred references to her pretty feet. The original epic length does make the ending feel slightly more earned (at least for me, because I managed to chug through it) but getting to the still powerful ending faster does reward those who are more into instant gratification.

That said, "The Dream of X" only takes up about forty pages of a four hundred page collection, leaving the rest of the space to be filled with lots and lots of short stories, all of which dubiously fall under the umbrella of "Fantastic Visions"".

So what does the Nightlands have to offer the old school or OSR dungeon master?! Everything actually! They have incredible vistas & visions of thousands of future ruins, dungeons, and hundreds of possibilities for a DM to take his or her games into a very alien realm almost entirely unknown to many players today! Thankfully I have a fantastic wife who understands & shares my passion for the OSR & table top hobby! I've got a ton of reading to do & more OSR campaign planning which I will share in up coming blog entries!

Thanks honey for the fantastic gift! 

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