Walking the Night Land: “A Question of Meaning”

We return to the Walking the Night Land series already.

I completely forgot about this story when I was reading William Hope Hodgson a few months ago. It’s not surprising, given its appearance in the first issue Sargasso: The Journal of William Hope Hodgson, that it would tie into Hodgson’s The Night Land. (I’ll be reviewing all three issues of the journal as well as more of Hodgson’s short fiction.)

Essay: “A Question of Meaning”, Pierre V. Comtois, 2013.

Sargasso
Cover by Robert H. Knox

This story combines many things. It uses the background of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” and is partly set in Dunwich, the god Nodens, Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, and the far future setting of The Night Land. Taking place in 1999, it also benefits from Comtois’ personal and historical knowledge of New England.

Given its length, it works better than you would expect. Divided into six parts, each titled with a character’s name (though the last two parts really center on the same character), the story has a farmer finding a strange stone in his field near Dunwich. A local historian takes it to the local “crackpot” Corwin who tells him it’s from the cult of Nodens and there will be other stones in the field. Night-gaunts show up farmer Fritch’s field. A local archaeology professor is notified, and a dig is done uncovering the rest of the stones.

Then Montrose is introduced. He’s a priest in the Nodens cult (Nodens sent the night-gaunts.) He is instructed to get the stones back by Nodens.

He also has a vision of what is Hodgson’s Night Land. The last remnants of humanity huddle in the Last Redoubt, “put to rout by the spawn of the Elder Gods”. It is the future of man when the sentence ends for the Elder Gods on Earth, and Nodens’ time as their jailer is at an end. (A rather peculiar element of legalism injected into the Cthulhu Mythos, that. Is a shortened sentence possible for good behavior? Is there a parole board?) Not to worry, though, Nodens has promised his followers that they’ll be whisked away to the Dreamlands before that happens.

There is an amusing scene where archaeologist Lilly recognizes the meaning of Montrose’s pseudonym Eli-A-Pintoch (Wampanoag for “Seeker of Dreams”) and that Montrose is an old student of his. Montrose demands the stones back. Lilly bluntly tells him that the Cult of Nodens, whatever it is, can’t prove legal title to them, so he’s not giving them back. Lilly mocks the whole notion that the Old Ones. If they are as described, their nature is so alien that communication with them would not even be possible if they existed.

That foreshadows the ending when Montrose, having gotten the stones back by theft, is in the Dreamlands. Unhappily for him, the Dreamlands are the Night Land, and he’s consumed by slug-like creatures. It turns out Lilly was right. Montrose realizes, in his final moments, that to Nodens nothing could reward a follower better than to be consumed by the spawn of the Old Ones.

So Comtois cleverly fuses the Night Land onto the Cthulhu Mythos in a way that feels natural, and no one else has done that that I know of. And it’s a natural fit given that Hodgson depicted some of the entities besieging the Last Redoubt as coming from other dimensions.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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