WHH Short Fiction: “The Riven Night”

Review: “The Riven Night”, William Hope Hodgson, 1973.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

Another interesting weird sea tale from Hodgson.

The narrator tells how he sailed on a vessel piloted by Captain Ronaldson who is despondent over the recent loss of his wife.

One night, a dim light of “distinctly violent hue” is sighted, reminiscent of a corpse-candle. (Violet is, as I recall, the color of outer realms in Hodgson’s “The Hog”.)

As the ship draws closer, the crew sees what looks like a “tremendous valley of light”, “a great chasm of violet light like the opening of a huge valley into dreamland”.

There is, as the ship sails into this luminous rift, one of Hodgson’s significant silences which often signal the presence of the dangerous and uncanny in his work.

The air is cold. Then the narrator hears a “windy moan” and many voices crying in fear “followed by a sound as of whispering in the sky”.

The crew stares fearfully at clouds among the mountainous heights of the valley. But, as they draw closer, it’s revealed they aren’t clouds but “legions upon legions” of spirit forms.

One of the forms, a “lovely young girl” separates from the crowd.

A seaman, Langstone, recognizes, calls her Mary. But we see a knife sticking out of her heart. Langstone says “Mary! Mary! Forgive . . .”.

The implication is clear. Langtsone murdered the girl, and the form turns away from him “coldly and unforgivingly”.

The narrator sees his mother who died a year ago, her lips moving “tremulously”.

Someone cries “My Love!”. It’s the captain who jumps overboard, and the narrator sees “a shadowy form with a face like that of the Captain’s, float upwards”.

The narrator continues to watch, waiting for something he doesn’t understand.

Eventually a green glow, “a cold malicious gleam” appears as well as a “ghostly glimmer”.

Two “transparent pillars” of green appear. In their glow, the narrator sees terrible eyes “white, vast and slobbering” lips.

Then the narrator goes unconscious.

When he awakes, it’s day. The first and second mates are awake, but most of the crew is regaining consciousness.

The story ends with one of Hodgson’s suppression of the truth at sea. There is a bland log entry about the Captain and Langstone being swept overboard.

This is, of course, another Hodgson story about a borderland, and there is the implication that it is either inhabited by both human soul and inhuman entities or, perhaps, just the latter masquerading as human.

The green light reminds one of Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, but the symbology here, if any, seems different. The Green Sun of that novel was associated with pleasant things. That entity of the “vast and slobbering” lips is another of Hodgson’s menaces from other dimensions that the Hog, the Ghost Pirates, the swine-men, the “Monster of the Void” from “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani”, and the ancestors of some of the denizens of the Night Land.

The narrator is sure his mother “passed into the arms of the Great One”, but I don’t think this is a vision of a Heaven where punishment and reunification both play out.

It’s also, from Hodgson’s description, a bit difficult to imagine the lay of the land – or the lay of the sea, as the case may be. It’s not the only time that Hodgson mingles terms used to describe sea and landscapes together.



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