Poems and Vignettes
My first introduction to THE NIGHT LAND was in The Year's Best Science Fiction 21st collection, presenting stories from 2003. Therein was the story "Awake In The Night," by John C Wright, which utterly captivated me as few stories — perhaps no other stories/story — has. I've read it many times, studying every word, scene, character, plot development, and completely entranced by the masterful mixing of time sequence. But long before this study, I went back and read the introduction by Gardner Dozois. In part: 'William Hope Hodgson's quirky Victorian masterpiece THE NIGHT LAND, one of the flat-out strangest novels ever written, has had a large — although often unmentioned — effect on science fiction and fantasy over the generations... Not all the writers...are up to...handling Hodgson's eerie, unearthly, somberly lyrical, and poetically charged milieu, but John C Wright...handles the material as if he was born to do so...' And of course after reading that, I had to seek out the original Night Land.
I downloaded it from the internet, and immediately was captivated. I had read none of the apologia nor criticism, and with fresh eyes and an undimmed sense of utter wonder and thrill, I read. But soon I found myself both jarred out of the narrative dream by the prose style, and helplessly swept up in the story. So I started editing as I read. Just to make it more readable, I told myself. I have to show this to other people, and if I can just simplify this convoluted sentence so they won't have to work so hard, they will surely see the magnificence of the story. Oh, and yes, let me remove this whole paragraph of apology for the poor writing by the narrator himself! Really now, no need to bring that up. Yes, and why not a few gerunds. And so forth. It was a strange experience to hurtle through the story, absurdly eager to discover new wonders and terribly anxious to find out what happens to the hero and his love, while also editing as I went to clear the dust and reveal the pure core of the story. Yet this I did, rewriting as I read, typing while I clenched my teeth in dread, or shouted in triumph, or poured forth tears, or melted in relief.
And then I went back and read "Awake In The Night" again, and Yes! saw all the tropes of THE NIGHT LAND, not merely expertly woven in, but expanded and enhanced. And then I went back and reread that introduction, and saw this: 'Now, in a new century, (THE NIGHT LAND) has inspired a Web site and an anthology devoted to new stories written as homages to Hodgson by various hands, both edited by Andy W. Robertson.'
So I went to the Website. Overbubbling with delight and enthusiasm — the newbie way — I found the Forum and started posting comments. I quickly pretended to role-play, as a voice of the Powers for Good, enticing the people of the Redoubt to travel into the West, where salvation awaited beyond the green luminous mist (one of many intriguing possibilities mentioned in the original story). The Master Monstruwaccan was not to be fooled, however, and suspected a deceit from the Evil Powers. So I wrote and posted a poem on the Forum, Beyond the green luminous mist. Soon after, Andy purchased the poem for posting on the site, for $37 US — my first professional sale. And my first professional debate over the title, which I asserted must remain small case, as Hodgson had (inexplicably) done.
Meanwhile, I was combing through the original novel again and again, refining my editing, applying consistent parameters to the text, finding better ways to restructure words, sentences, paragraphs, but not daring to change a single aspect of the basic story. I was reading the Forum, discovering the criticisms, the detractions, the supposed flaws. Yet I could not agree. Yes of course, the prose style was the main reason more people had not read the masterpiece, but the handling of gender and romance I defended as more noble, and more natural, than our own jaded ways. More unbelievable the way we post-moderns live and love, than the way the hero and his soul-mate do.
Again I combed through the novel, and again, refining, clarifying, seeking a perfect revealing of Hodgson's original intent in the most readable and accessible prose, without changing an iota of content, and preserving the original gothic style. And after all those passes, I felt I knew the Night Land so well that I could write a story set in that world, with enough references and faithfulness to the original to entertain perhaps the other visitors to the Website, or at least its editor, who I knew now was as helpless a fan as I. And I was bursting to express myself, whose imagination soared and pierced through the darkness to explore the many other marvels and mysteries but hinted at by the original author. Ever my sight was drawn back to that softly glowing green mist in the West, beyond which legend said some vague salvation lay.
Thus my first professional short story sale ensued, "Heaven Sent." There's much more to the story of how Andy and I worked over months to bring it to acceptance, through numerous personal and professional challenges on both sides, including another discussion of the title, which I now see he was right about.
Two of those chapters from my rewrite of the original, which I call The New Night Land, were later posted on the site. After hearing that another anthology was being planned, collecting stories from The Days of Darkening, I undertook to write a story from that part of the timeline, and "Eve of Evil" was born, nursed, sent out into the world, and accepted (again I wrangled with the editor over the title, and again he conceded, though I suspect I might deem him right once again in the near future).
My first story was an expression of all my enthusiasm and delight for the complex world of THE NIGHT LAND — and to "Awake in the Night." My second, while also genuinely exploring a portion of the historical timeline, was also self-therapeutic. Early childhood abandonment and abuse issues, and the desperate compulsion to please and seek the acceptance of others that can result, were woven into the plot. The Night Land does that: strips away the layers to reveal the core drama, the primal essence of human nature confronted with the great dark mystery. Love and death, the classic themes, are masterfully worked into the epic saga that has inspired my imagination and begun my writing career.
Worlds without end...Or more truly, a world truly ending, with endless possibilities within it. Now I'm polishing a sequel to my first story, developing the lives of the original characters and introducing some new ones. But the Night Land remains the same: threatening, mysterious, captivating, grim and enchanting.