Zeroed in Review: “Awake in the Night”

Lest one think I’m being unfair to Wright, here is my review of “Awake in the Night”, the first novella in the collection.

I have read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I have read Lewis’s Narnia series. And, for one story, John C. Wright stood up to Tolkien and Lewis and looked at them, not as one looks upon the faces of giants, but as one looks on the faces of equals.

“Awake in the Night” is that good. It is Tolkien level.

Certain passages in the story have the air of being divinely inspired. How can I pick just one passage? Here is the final passage in the story, if you’ll excuse the spoiler (skip the blockquote if it bothers you):

Here, on the panel carven long ago by Hellenore in a former time, was a small depiction of one small event of what, to her, had been the future, now our present. Here was a man without a breastplate or helm, wearing only gauntlets and greaves, carrying a one-armed man on his back; a blindfold (but I knew now it was a bandage) covered his eyes.

The image showed a star shining down on them, and the gates of the Last Redoubt opening to receive them. Only one pair of footprints led in.

One feels almost like standing up and applauding. It is impossible to come up with a more perfect ending.

Or perhaps this section:

That the Night had power to quench the stars was too dread to believe; but that the stars should have the grace to push aside the smog and filth of the earth, and allow one small man one last glimpse of something high and beautiful, was too wondrous to hope.

I cannot tell you how I knew it was a star, and not the eye of some beast leaning down from a cliff impossibly high above, or some enigmatic torch of the Night World suspended and weightless in the upper air, bent on strange and dreadful business.

And yet more than my eye was touched by the silvery ray that descended from that elfin light; I saw it was diamond in heaven, indeed, but somehow also a flame and a burning ball of gas, immensely far away; and how such a thing could have a mind, and be aware of me, and turn and look at me, and come to my aid in my hour of need, I cannot tell you, for diamonds and flames and balls of gas do not have souls; but neither can I tell you how a hill, shaped like unto a grisly inhuman thing, could sit and watch the Last Redoubt of Man, without stirring and flinching for a million years. Is the one more unlikely than the other?

I felt strength burning in me, human strength, and I raised my head.

And there are more, but I don’t want to spoil all of it. You should read it.

Some writers can write poetry. Some can write of the divine. In “Awake in the Night”, John C. Wright wrote poetry touched by the divine. Honor and friendship, love and sacrifice, death and hope beyond reason, all is here, and all is beautifully told, with a command of language rarely seen. This is, ultimately, what it means to master writing: The ability to say important things but with great beauty.

For this one novella, John C. Wright did not follow the footsteps of giants. He became a giant himself.

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