With thanks to the Deuce, I’ve been looking at some other authors’ Night Land pastiches, as well as Hodgson’s original, and I understand why Wright’s work is held in such incredibly high regard among those who know about this stuff. Hodgson’s original book is interesting and certainly incredibly imaginative but highly flawed, by which I mean the prose is awful. It is written in some weird faux archaic/medieval style that on occasion becomes barely recognizable as what most people would recognize as “English”, bearing only the loosest connection to formal grammatical rules and structure. I get why he was trying it, and even appreciate the attempt, but Hodgson simply doesn’t have the writing chops. His imagination is nearly unparalleled (There’s still Tolkien but that’s hardly fair), but the man is just not good at writing prose. I like the idea of a futuristic society speaking with a semi-medieval dialect, but I would have liked it more if the dialect was actually believably semi-medieval and not just “crap put together to sound sort of medieval-ish”.
The vast majority of the pastiches seem to take the path that the prose is a lost cause and instead just write their stories in entirely different styles. This is mostly fine but the stories seem less like extensions of the Night Land universe and more like fan fiction set in the Night Land universe, which I suppose is true. Nevertheless, when you read the stories it’s easy to tell that something about the stories is being intentionally altered – perhaps to improve it, but altered nevertheless.
Now enter John C. Wright.
Wright’s prose in “Awake in the Night Land” is perhaps the best I’ve ever read outside of “The Book Thief”. But instead of feeling like the prose of a fan fiction writer it feels as if you’re reading the prose that William Hope Hodgson WOULD have written if he was a good writer. “Awake in the Night Land” is the book Hodgson wanted to write and attempted to write. It has all of the Lovecraftian power of the eerie and fantastical Night Land setting combined with prose that sounds grand, old-fashioned, and formal without sounding absurd and grammatically obscure at best. In fact, the opposite occurred. The prose is positively Promethean in scope and power, and in fact it saves some of the worse sections of the stories just because of how much fun it is to read.
But the remarkable thing about it isn’t even how good it is. It’s that it’s as good as it is while still feeling like prose written for the Night Land. The style of speech isn’t just well-written speech, it is the speech of William Hope Hodgson refined and perfected.
So I’m starting to really get it now. I understand why Wright’s work in this collection is held in such high regard. He took a masterwork of the imagination, kept what made it great, and then improved all of the flaws. How can you not be impressed by that?