I first encountered William Hope Hodgson one Saturday in the summer of 1972. I was browsing through the science fiction and fantasy paperbacks in the back of the High Hill Bookshop in Hampstead in northwest London when I came across the newly published two-volume edition of THE NIGHT LAND edited by Lin Carter for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. I was immediately smitten by the dark and monstrous covers, designed by Robert LoGrippo, and lured by the quotations from Clark Ashton Smith cited under the novel’s title:
“In all the literature of fantasy, there are few works so sheerly, purely creative as THE NIGHT LAND.”
“The ultimate saga of a fantasy world beleaguered by eternal night and by the unvisageable spawn of darkness.”
Clearly, I had to have these books. I bought them there and then.
Once home, I retired to my room, ensconced myself in an armchair and started to read volume one. I instantly found myself transported to a world of nightmare. Outside, the summer sun shone brightly, but in my head, all was darkness. Despite Hodgson’s unwieldy prose and clumsy archaisms, a deep foreboding crept from the chill and lightless pages of THE NIGHT LAND and when, early in the story, the narrator heard a door open in the air above him, I found that I was holding my breath.
It was only later that day that I went back and read Lin Carter’s introduction to the book. Already enchanted by what I had read of the novel, I was deeply disappointed to discover that this was, in fact, an abridged edition. The completist in me would allow me to go no further. I put the book aside and did not attempt to read THE NIGHT LAND again until some years later when I came across the 1979 unabridged Sphere paperback edition in the basement of Dillons University Bookshop in London’s Torrington Place. This I purchased and devoured in guilty delight. I should have been researching Renaissance literary theory and the influence of Greek romance, but instead I found every opportunity to join Hodgson’s far-future hero as he made his lonely way across the haunted plains and dry and sunless seabeds of Earth’s final and enduring night.
Hodgson’s works stay with you for a lifetime and when I read that the Night Land website was calling for fresh fictions set in his world, I immediately decided to have a go at drafting my own episode in the saga.
My short story “Parting” stands on a shaky tripod of purposes, prompts and pretexts.
Firstly, I wanted to write a “Just So Story” explanation for the existence of the fearsome Night Hounds in the Night Land.
Secondly, I wanted to explain the presence of the wrecked and ancient air vessel which the narrator encounters, spiked through on a rock in the Country of Fire and Water.
Yet, presently was I come nigh under the bottom of the ship; and here I did perceive that she had been sore battered in that far-off age when she did come upon the Rock; for, surely, as I did perceive, the peak of the Rock was through the bottom of the ship, so that the metal was burst this way and that, and very plain to be seen in some parts; but in other places the earth and growing matters did make a hiding.
The narrator can only speculate on how the vessel came to be there:
And surely, it did seem to me as I went downward of the great Rock, how that the flying-ship had been there for an hundred thousand years; and that mayhaps the sea did live all about the Rock in that Age; and truly this was no improper thing to think, for it was like that the sea had been monstrous high and great in those days; so that the Rock was but a little island in the midst of the sea; and now was the sea gone small from a great sea to lesser seas, and this through an eternity of years. And always, as it doth seem to me, had the ship lain upon the Rock, and lookt quiet and silent over the change and wonder and the lonesomeness of all that Country of Fire and water, for ever.
But how the air-ship did come upon the rock, how shall I know; save, maybe, it doth seem as that she might have flown low over the sea in that olden age, and come hard upon the Rock, because, maybe, there was one to the helm that did steer unwittingly. And again, it shall well be otherwise, and I do but set down mine odd thoughts; and such as they be, they have no especial use, save that they do show to you the different workings of my mind at that time, as I did go downward.
Others may have a different explanation for the fate of the doomed flying-ship, but “Parting” gives mine.
And thirdly, I wanted in this story to establish the distant background for a novella I was writing, set much later in the chronology of the Night Land and entitled “Footfalls echo in the memory”.
Finally, I ought to acknowledge that the City by the Lake of Bronze referred to in “Parting” is the invention of Keran Parizek and appears as a location in her fine Night Land story “Red Twilight”.