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.)
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.
After reading William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, I looked up some reviews and criticisms of the work. I was surprised to learn that a devoted group of writers still pay homage to the novel over a hundred years later and have extended Hodgson’s story.
The most extensive and highly regarded such work is this collection.
In his introduction, “On the Lure of the Night Land”, Wright describes himself, post-college, as a somewhat jaded lover of fantastic fiction who was pointed to this novel by a friend. Wright had been working on a piece called “Nigh-Forgotten Sun” which his friend thought was a takeoff on Hodgson’s novel. Wright, however, had not read the novel yet.
In those days, Hodgson’s novel was only available in two volumes from Ballantine Books. He was immediately captivated by the first volume. It was years, though, before he got to read the second volume. Still, Wright’s sense of wonder was rekindled with the heroic tale of Naani’s rescue, the eerie menaces and features of the Night Land that were full of awe and impenetrable mysteries. He loved Hodgson’s archaic “formal and gravid” language which captured the “dark, heavy, grim and gothic majesty” of the Night Land. Continue reading “Walking the Night Land: Awake in the Night Land”→
This week’s piece of weird fiction was first published The Disciples of Cthulhu from 1976, a time long before “Cthulhu” and “Lovecraft” got slapped on so many book covers.
Review: “The Feaster From Afar”, Joseph Payne Brennan, 1976.
Our protagonist is Sydney Mellor Madison, a writer of historical novels. He works in two year cycles: six months of research, a year of writing, and then six months of copy editing and promotion.
He’s become successful and decides he’d like to write his next book in someplace isolated away from the duties that distract him when he tries to work in his apartment.
He’s offered a lease on an unused hunting lodge in “northern New England”. So, he goes to check it out before signing.
He gets to the village of Granbury and meets the local storekeeper the lodge is twelve miles up a very bad road. It’s a road through a “bleak, uninhabited, and altogether inhospitable” land.
The first night there, Madison doesn’t sleep well. But he gets up, eats breakfasts, and sits down to write. The hunting lodge decorations and furniture may not be to his taste. But he’s a pro. He doesn’t wait until he’s in the mood to write. Do that, and you’ll end up a book reviewer.
But, after three hours, he stops, decides to check the mail, finds there is no mailbox, so drives back to Granbury. There he talks to Saines, the storekeeper, who tells him he has to pick up his mail at the store. Saines asks Madison if he’s a hunter. When the reply is in the negative, Saines is a bit taken aback as to why he would stay at the lodge then. A local character, sitting in the corner, ominously says, “Mebbe yew don’t hunt, mister, but just be sure yew ain’t the hunted.”
Annoyed at this “cracker-barrel” philosophy, Maidson leaves and decides he’s only going to pick up his mail once a week. Royalty checks can wait.
Back at the lodge, he has a few drinks to wash away his annoyance.
The next morning he’s still not in the best of moods – more bad dreams — so grabs one of the many shotguns in the lodge and takes a walk. The area around the lodge is remarkably silent and free of any sign of animals. It’s “barren and bleak” and feels wrong.
It’s more bad dreams that night. The place is getting on his nerves, so he goes back to Granbury and talks to Saines.
“Did anything – ever happen – up there? I mean, anything real bad?” he asks Saines.
Well, there was that hunter found dead up there awhile back. He had a bunch of holes in his head and no brain.
Madison is incredulous about this. Why wasn’t it in the papers?
Not everythin’ gits in the papers, Mr. Madison. And sometimes investigations that turns — complercated – gits hushed up!
Madison should just leave the lodge. Something bad is up there.
“Anyway, the Whateleys drew suthin’ down out of the sky there – and it ain’t niver left…”, says Saines.
Besides, Madison being a writin’ fellow he’s surprised he’s never heard of the “Cthulhu Mythos”
That does not impress Madison. He’s heard of some “pulp-magazine scribbler” – “Lovelock or Lovecrop – or something like that.”
Back to the lodge, Madison is still on edge and distracts himself by looking through the lodge’s library.
Out of one book falls a note that Hastur, the Feaster from Afar, has put his mark on the area. The reader of the note should just leave.
Madison thinks he’s the victim of a practical joke. The note could be forged – though how would a prankster know which book he would pick up? None of the other books have such notes.
And then the story reaches it’s expected conclusion.
We then hear about that dream Madison has had every night, a dream of pursuit in the country under moonlight pursued by a flying figure with talons. It’s no dream this time, though.
And Hastur, the Feaster from Afar sucks Madison’s brains out.
So, a predictable if enjoyable story with the main points of interest being the disparagement of H. P. Lovecraft and his story “The Dunwich Horror“.
Dance and music and chants show up in a lot of Meikle’s stories, and he’s built an entertaining collection around the theme. There’s a Derek Adams story here, a bit of the Cthulhu Mythos and a bit of the Meikle mythos, some coal mining, and some folk singing.
Six of the eight stories are original. One of the reprints, “The Tenants of Ladywell Manor”, is a highlight of the book, but I reviewed that in Meikle’s Home from the Sea. The other reprint is “The Unfinished Basement” which, as a title alone, is enough to send chills down the spine of some of us homeowners. Dave Collins, house flipper, buys a house unseen with an unfinished basement and a piano. The piano is nice, nice enough that Thorpe, a re-seller of pianos, starts playing it on first sight. The basement is not so nice what with its stinking pool of water and plant roots hanging off the ceiling. Thorpe ultimately sees a connection between basement and piano and tells Collins he’s not going to being making his money back on this deal. It ends memorably.
There is a nested story in “The Unfinished Basement” that is quite similar to one in Meikle’s “The Larkhill Barrow” and another story in the collection, the Derek Adams story “Rhythm and Booze” which I’ve already reviewed. I’ll just repeat that it’s a satisfying Adams story. Continue reading “Dark Melodies”→
A Meikle tale about an ancient horror stalking a Scottish island, its inhabitants fending off cannibals with the few weapons at hand … didn’t I just review that?
Yes, I did. But while Ramskull from 2017 has a similar set up, a similar structure (contemporary chapters alternating with historical ones), and, if you squint your eyes just right and ignore a lot of detail, a similar theme and end, Island Life is not the same story. Like Ramskull, it’s not boring or predictable. Originally published in 2001 (though this edition has a copyright of 2013), this is Meikle’s first novel and not inferior to his latest work.
Meikle is fairly casual about introducing his many viewpoint characters. There’s Duncan McKenzie, a biologist doing research on declining fishing in the area. There’s Anne and Jim McTaggart, a couple of hippies who came to the island decades ago and who live with their daughter Meg. There’s Dick, a young assistant lighthouse keeper. There’s the obstreperous and abusive John Jefferies, local sheep rancher. Even his dog Sam gets some chapters. Continue reading “Island Life”→
William Meikle writes heroic horror. That’s not to say good people always win in his stories or even survive to their end. When facing monsters and demons and other “bogles” beyond our ken, his heroes and heroines have their own magic. It’s often not grimoires or special weapons or superscience or sorcery that defeat the horror. It’s the magic of duty, love, and loyalty.
Unlike Meikle’s collection Samurai and Other Stories, this story has only one type of story: entities and creatures that don’t know their place. There’s boundary breeching, lockpicking, and mangled spacetime membranes. Things are roused that shouldn’t be and invade our earth from the ether, the briny depths, and the spaces between atoms.
Surprisingly, for such a tightly focused collection, none of it was stale or boring when reading it straight through. There was only one story I had a very minor gripe about.
“The Doom That Came to Dunfeld” is the one original tale here and quite an effective horror story. Its narrator tells us what happens when the British government tries to repeat the legendary Philadelphia Experiment off the coast of Newfoundland post-WWII. They want to make a warship invisible. What they get is a dissolving warship and a killer fog.
Meikle has a real knack for the sea horror story and shows it even better with “Home From the Sea” which has a group of Irish men on a rescue mission to take men off a whaler floundering off shore. But they’re already dead, and their killer still on board. Continue reading “Home From the Sea”→