Walking the Night Land: The Trip Begins

Though the new posts have been sparse lately, I have not been idle. This is the beginning of a series on William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and some of the works it inspired.

All the posts are written, so this isn’t one of those series I started and stopped.

Essay: The Night Land, William Hope Hodgson, 1912.514fE9sRptL

This is a novel perhaps more widely known and admired than read. As Samuel Johnson said about Paradise Lost, “No man ever wished it longer.” There are some other problems modern readers have with it too.

Still, it stands at the beginning of science fiction tradition that includes Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique stories, Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series, and Gene Wolfe’s New Sun series.

Despite its problems, it is a stunning work of weird and far future science fiction. Where Wells, in his The Time Machine, set just a part of his novella in the far future, all but the first chapter of this approximately 200,000 word novel is set there.

Millions of years from now, under a dark sun and on an Earth cracked by its contracting crust (both notions from the then current theories of physicist William Thomsen aka Lord Rutherford), the last survivors of humanity huddle in a seven-mile high pyramid, the Last Redoubt.

Around them, the land is full of various monsters, strange places, degenerate humans, and entities from other dimensions. Some are strange, slow moving, almost mountains. Most of these as well as the places are given enigmatic names that serve as their sole description. Continue reading

The Dreamthief’s Daughter

The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (2001): The Dreamthief’s Daughter: A Tale of the Albino, Michael Moorcock, 2001.Dreamthiefs Daughter

The struggle between Chaos and Order in Moorcock’s vast multiverse is too vague to give much weight to his allegorical musings. (He imprinted on John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress at a young age) .

The two sides can stand in for any number of opposites: male and female, anarchy and totalitarianism, reason and mysticism, violence and pacifism, fascism and democracy. [This is a false dichotomy and lazy reductionism — there’s a whole lot of ways of politically organizing a society. Also, at this point in time, I’m not sure if that was my laziness or Moorcock’s.] But the vagueness seriously undercuts any political points Moorcock is trying to make about just societies other than oblique references to Ronald Reagan and, perhaps, Margaret Thatcher. (He’s not a fan of either).

However, as a dramatic device, a serious version of the old Commedia dell’Arte, it is very effective. Moorcock, despite the frequent, almost deus ex machina invocations of various magical spells and objects, has a narrative drive that pulls you along as familiar archetypes play their traditional roles but usually with some new variation brought on by the desire, and sometimes conscious will, to alter the role they play in the various incarnations of the multiverse. Chaos and Law take on new meanings, new methods of balancing them are evoked. Continue reading


The Michael Moorcock series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): Blood:  A Southern Fantasy, Michael Moorcock, 1994.Blood

This was probably the strangest, most obscure novel I’ve read of Moorcock’s though, in skimming over his The Warhound and the World’s Pain [incidentally, one of my favorite Moorcock novels, but I made no notes on it], I realized they both share Moorcock’s typical preoccupation with the contest between Chaos and Law. That struggle is not to be confused with contending Good and Evil. Neither Law or Chaos can be allowed to win. Life can only exist through their struggle and all its many symbolic connotations (justice and tyranny, life and evolution versus entropy).

Usually, in the novels set in Moorcock’s multiverse (virtually all of them as far as I can tell), there is a struggle about maintaining the balance between Law and Chaos or, as in his Stormbringer, a loss of that struggle.

This novel’s plot is more ambitious in that the Rose and Captain Billy-Bob Begg (the von Bek and Begg families seem to be nearly ubiquitous in Moorcock novels and show up here as does a Renark – a protagonist in Moorcock’s The Sundered Worlds) seek to fashion – and seem to be at least temporarily successful – a new order in the multiverse, an order less inimical to human life and needs. Continue reading

The Eternal Champion

Well, I’ve been putting off this series for a while because I’ve read a lot of Michael Moorcock, and there’s a lot of Moorcock I haven’t read because there’s a lot of Moorcock.

Moorcock is a very uneven writer.

He’s given to constantly revising his work.

And most of his work fits in a series called the Eternal Champion and deals with the eternal conflict between Law and Chaos in the multiverse. Or you could cynically see this as a marketing ploy. Buy one Michael Moorcock book and you have to buy them all. Not an opinion, I share. You can read most of the series independent of each other.

I think I first came across him in Lin Carter’s Flashing Swords #4 anthology with a story that was incorporated into Moorcock’s The Sailor on the Seas of Fate which is part of the long Elric saga.

I eagerly devoured all the Elric books, when there were only six, in the DAW editions with the Michael Whelan covers. (I even have a limited edition print of Whelan’s Stormbringer.)

Moorcoock’s work has found its way into music and comic books too.

White Wolf Publishing put out omnibuses of most of the Eternal Champion books in the 1990s.

Raw Feed (1995): The Eternal Champion, Michael Moorcock, 1994.Eternal Champion

Introduction” — An interesting introduction to the first volume of the saga of the multiverse hero, the Eternal Champion aka many other names including Elric of Melnibone. Moorcock explains that his Eternal Champion in his many manifestations allows him to create and explore many ethical situations and show the eternal tension and battle (the Eternal Champion very often wars to establish a balance between the two) between Chaos and Law — not, he says emphatically, to be confused with Good and Evil. I find it revealing, given his outspoken political views, that one of Moorcock’s favorite books is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Moorcock also reveals a dislike for hard sf (which explains his public statement about Larry Niven boring him) and a love of romantic sf, in particular C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Charles Harness, Phillip K. Dick, Alfred Bester, and Jack Williamson. Moorcock’s sf and fantasy was an attempt to re-evoke a type of wonder in sf. Continue reading

The Pilgrim’s Progress

A retro review from July 6, 2012.

The original story is from 1678. The edition I reviewed was from 1942 and has illustrations by William Blake done between 1824-1827.

Review: The Pilgrim’s Progress From This World To That which is to come Delivered Under the Similitude of a Dream, John Bunyan, 1942.Pilgrim's Progress

The main reason to read this book is just because it was so phenomenally popular in England and America and not for a particularly novel theology.

It’s short and surprisingly entertaining, especially for some of the allegorical names. The book definitely does not contain a modern, feel-good Christianity. At one time, when protagonist Christian and fellow pilgrim Hopeful are talking to Ignorance about whether his thoughts are godly, Ignorance insists they are. His heart is good because his thoughts are good. Christian lays into him and tells him that his thoughts are only godly if they match God’s thoughts and God thinks all of man’s ways are sinful. Bunyan bolsters his points with italicized quotes from the scriptures. There is a nice section where Christian outlays the psychology of the backslider. At many points, Bunyan the preacher makes his observations and arguments in a point by point format.

I find the narrative structure interesting. Unlike William Langland’s Piers the Ploughman, this is not a single dream vision but pieced together from several sequential dreams of the narrator. I believe some have made the argument that this book served as a template for later quest fantasy narratives or fictional spiritual journeys. Certainly, its plot is sometimes surprising. Ignorance is whisked away to the City of Destruction in the novel’s last paragraph. The conversion of Hopeful, why he left Vanity Fair and his spiritual journey on the way to meeting fellow pilgrim Christian, is related towards the end of the novel rather than the expected beginning. The story starts off with Christian, fearing the imminent destruction of the world and his damnation, setting off for the City of God with a burden on his back. Bunyan starts and ends his book with a verse apology and song snatches at the end of sections summarize the moral or wisdom we are to take away. Continue reading