Walking the Night Land: “The Dark Island”

The series on William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and its literary descendants continues.

Essay: Carnacki: Heaven and Hell, William Meikle, 2011.

Cover by Wayne Miller

John C. Wright”s “The Last of All Suns” and Avalon Brantley’s The House of Silence merged elements of Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland and The Night Land, William Meikle’s “The Dark Island” did it and threw in Hodgson’s Carnacki too. (Carnacki gets a brief mention in “The Last of All Suns” too.)

I was a ways into “The Dark Island” before I realized that this is the back story referenced in Meikle’s Pentacle, but, at the time I read that story, I had read little Hodgson and none of his novels. Since that story is also part of Carnacki’s Sigils and Totems series, this story stands as a nexus with several works.

In this story, Carnacki’s help is sought by one James Doig whose friend, Sir John, seems under threat of a curse. Said curse was placed on the male heirs of his line after an ancestor, Richard de Bourcy, tangled with a necromancer on an island in the loch by Sir John’s castle. Michael Scott decreed that no male member of the family would live past his 50th birthday, and, by that measure, Sir John has two weeks to live.

The whole business of the curse seems a bit of nonsense to Sir John. But Doig comes across it cataloging his friend’s extensive library of occult and historical works. Sir John, to prove the whole curse thing is nonsense, takes Doig to the island. There something comes out of the burial mound on the island, frightens Sir John who flees, falling and hitting his head.

Having left the castle, Doig now hears from the housekeeper that Sir John is a bad way and that strange noises have been heard. Convinced that something supernatural may be going on, Doig summons Carnacki to Scotland so Sir John’s next birthday isn’t his last.

Meikle is quite explicit in his homage to Hodgson. Two of the three chapter headings of this novella are the titles of those Hodgson novels.

Carnacki finds Sir John’s house under siege. Amongst other things, there are strange noises, and Carnacki sees a porcine face in the window. Yes, as Arkwright, frequent interrupter of Carnacki’s stories, interjects “not that blasted Hog again, Carnacki?” Arkwright is referencing “The Hog”, the Carnacki tale that, like The House on the Borderland, uses the menacing pig-man motif.

That night, inside the magical protections Carnacki has chalked around the three men, the detective dreams. Something like his astral forms flies above a bleak plain with a black pyramid of glass. Inside the pyramid, he sees a green glow and swine-creatures in it. And they seem aware of him. Uttering some protective chants, Carnacki’s consciousness travels the cosmos a blackness “empty and devoid of anything at all” and dead worlds with the ruins of civilizations on them. In this one passage, Meikle links the setting of The Night Land to the astral and temporal journeys of The House on the Borderland.

But Carnacki eventually fails. Both Sir John and Doig are taken by the hog-men and disappear in a green glow. Carnacki goes to the focus of the problem: the dark island in the loch.

There, in a Faraday cage, he undergoes another journey. Carnacki bodily travels forward in time. The sun is red and dying. The sky is dark and cloudless. A purple growth covers the earth and some shadowy forms farm it. The volcano at Edinburgh has started up again. The New Town is destroyed, and lava runs down the Royal Mile. He now knows where he’s at, and he knows the black pyramid he’s seen is on the island.

He descends into the pyramid. Inside is a green glow and pig men, and Doig and Sir Arthur are metamorphizing into pigs. With the help of a chant and iron poker – suggested by a knowing local who suggests the island is a thin area between our world and that of faerie – he rescues the men.

Meikle quite successfully blends all these different Hodgson efforts together. There are, of course, differences. Meikle isn’t doing a direct sequel. His bleak landscape is not the same as Hodgson’s Night Land and the inhabitants of this pyramid are not human. However, the image of the hog-men is so powerful and memorable that John C. Wright, Avalon Brantley, and Meikle understandably use it when there are no hogs in Hodgson’s Night Land.

The collection as a whole is quite enjoyable and seems to be Meikle’s first foray into continuing Carnacki’s adventures.

While we’re here, let’s look around and check out the rest of the book.

Frankly, I like Meikle’s Carnacki better than Hodgson’s Carnacki. He doesn’t try our patience as much with frequent repetitions of setting up photographic equipment or his electrical pentacle. There’s more humor, especially with those interruptions of Arkwright’s. Also, since they were all written to be included in one book and presented chronologically, Meikle links the stories in this book together with allusions to former adventures. “The Dark Island” is the final tale in the collection.

So far, the only part of Hodgson’s Carnacki series I like more is that, unlike Meikle’s version of the character, there are completely rational explanations for some of the mysteries.

The Blooded Ikwla” put me in mind of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” in that both feature soldiers dangerously reunited after several years. Carnacki comes to the aid of McLeod, a former officer in the First King’s Dragoon Guards which fought in the Zulu wars. Now he has been wounded by the spectral spear of the title. But what spirit wields the spear?

I’ve already reviewed “The Larkhill Barrow”.

The Sisters of Mercy” enjoyable plays around with the Carnacki formula with trouble finding him as he walks London’s Embankment. It comes in the form of a terrified patient who has fled the nearby Royal Hospital. Investigating, Carnacki learns that a lot of patients have been dying there after seeing the sinister and spectral Sisters of Mercy. Meikle also provides a twist in the end of this tale.

The Hellfire Mirror” is from, of course, the notorious Hellfire Club, and when it shows up on his doorstep and black tendrils come out of it, Carnacki has to see what those upper crust dabblers in the occult unleashed. To the extant I checked, Meikle got all of his historical details right about the club.

The Tomb of Pygea” references Roman London when some workmen on a project in the city’s Mall uncover a sorceress’ tomb. Carnacki plays around with his kit a bit in this one when he uses his Gardner cage, a modification of a Faraday cage. However, it definitely doesn’t work as expected.

Meikle coyly works in a famous living person in “The Beast of Glamis”. He’s called by a man to investigate a ghost that shows up in Fotheringay Castle and seems to threaten his daughter Lisabet. Meikle works in another reference to his fictional tome that shows up in several stories, Ye Twelve Concordances of ye Red Serpent.

As you would expect with a story titled “The Lusitania”, we are going to have something to do with that famous ship’s sinking. The significance of this story isn’t in its easily guessed mystery: the dead of its sinking are haunting the ship. It’s how this is happening before war ever breaks out. For Carnacki and his friends, this story calls into question several notions: free will, that time’s arrow points only one way, and that their tranquil Edwardian world will endure. It is an unease which “The Dark Island” also plays into.

The Haunted Oak” has something new for Carnacki in its wrinkle on natural selection and what “souls” can do in the Macrocosm of Meikle’s conception.

“The Shoreditch Worm”, like “The Larkhill Barrow”, uses a conception from Meikle’s version of Carnacki: that sounds can have important resonances in the Outer Realm. It has a sinister Ringing Master too. And a giant worm in a warehouse.

Next up is our final trip into the Night Land.

I’ll give a report on how Iain Sinclair’s Radon Daughters uses Hodgson’s conceptions, so you don’t have to read the book – which you really, really don’t want to do.




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

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