The series on William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and associated works continues.
Essay: The Night Land: A Story Retold, James Stoddard and William Hope Hodgson, 2005.
This is sort of a rescue project that Stoddard started around 1990: a rewriting, paragraph by paragraph, of Hodgson’s novel. Stoddard wanted the genius of Hodgson’s vision uncoupled from what Lin Carter, who oversaw the reprint of the novel in 1972 for his line of fantasy classics, called “dreadfully overwritten, overlong, and verbose and repetitive to the point of shameful self-indulgence.”
Stoddard condensed the novel by about half while preserving almost all of its plot. To do that, gone is the day by day account of the unnamed narrator’s journey. (In fact, Stoddard gives him a name, Andros, and the narrator of the opening section is named Andrew Eddins.) Gone is Hodgson’s prose cadenced like the King James Bible. Gone also are the archaic words.
But there are additions. Hodgson’s novel famously had no dialogue. Stoddard provides several conversations, mostly between Naani and Andros. He interpolates some scenes from Hodgson’s work, discussions of the world Naani and Andros know from dreams. We also learn that the dreaded House of Silence may have originally been built by men but warped by Evil Forces. We hear how Andros’ parents died and something about the family of Naani in the Lesser Redoubt.
Does it work to preserve Hodgson’s vision and present it more palatably to modern audiences?
I rather missed the stately, if slow, prose of Hodgson’s original. On the other hand, the romance between Naani and Andros is livelier and more realistic here as, in their journey back to the Last Redoubt, they get to know each other not just as two telepathically communing spirits but in the flesh. I’m sure modern readers will probably be pleased that the infamous scene where Andros flogs a recalcitrant Naani to tame her wild impulses is not here.
Stoddard’s version also makes clear the similarities between the willful Midrath and her reincarnated self in Naani.
So, would I advise reading Stoddard’s rewrite first as a primer, a map for those worried about getting lost in a thicket of Hodgson’s prose.
No. In Hodgson, we’re not talking about, for modern English speakers, a foreign language, just a foreign style. Read the original first. The Stoddard version, while worthy, is no substitute though it is worth reading after you read the original.
The genesis of Stoddard’s project seems to have been to do an audio book, and there is one for this work. I can’t speak to its quality since I’m not an audio book devotee.
In our next stop in the Night Land, we’ll look at an ambitious anthology devoted to Hodgson’s novel.
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