The narrator in William Hope Hodgson's The Nightland controls the the narrative throughout the tale as he recounts it from the first-person-limited point of view. As with any text, it is left to the reader to gauge the reliability of the narrator. The setting of the frame and the first chapter of the novel are crucial in the development of the narrator's credibility. In The Nightland, the narrator comes off as highly self-conscious of this fact as he tells his story. He uses the word "truly" 33 times in the first chapter alone, out of a total 7,000 words, to the extent that it indicates an overeagerness to assert the veracity of the text. Once the reader and narrator are acquainted, the narrator seems to relax in his telling and sometimes goes an entire 10,000-word chapter without relapsing into the constant certification of his story.

The role of the The Nightland narrator bears similarity to the narrators in Browning's dramatic monologues, such as "My Last Duchess" and "Fra Lippo Lippi." As they tell their stories in the first person, the reader discovers that the narrators present themselves with the spin that benefits their reputation and ability to gain sympathy with the audience. The /Nightland/ narrator's story is never undermined, but he present his actions as highly heroic and his demeanor as admirably humble. When he is honored, to his supposed surprise, for his valor he recalls

And I did be dumb; and how of this Age shall you to know the Honour that this to mean in that; for it did be an Honour that was given only to the Great Dead; and I to be but a young man, and did be so utter far off from greatness; save that I to love with all my heart and with all my spirit, and therefore death to be but a little thing before love. And you to know how Love doth make sweet and brave the heart; and to have understanding with me in my humbleness and my wonder and my natural pride that there did any so think to honour me." (588)

The narrator assumes a (potentially) false modesty while describing his heroic actions. In the frame at the beginning of the novel, he subdues three angry, knife-wielding men with two blows from his oak staff and one blow from his fist. The narration itself is understated, but the action described in it is sensational. This apparent spin and bias in the narration does not necessarily undermine the content of the story as a piece of fiction, but it does require the reader to interpret the account with skepticism.

Questions

1. Do you find the narrator of The Nightland to be trustworthy?

2. How do the tone and style of his narration influence your perception of him as a character, apart from the question of the story's basic believability?

3. Is the narrator distanced from the author as Browning's dramatic-monologue narrators are? Does the narrator's apparent egotism explain the pervading misogyny, or do those attitudes point back to the author?

4. How much does The Nightland depend on a good-faith suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader? Does the possibility of a questionable or delusional narrator negate some of the need for suspension of disbelief when approaching the fantasy?


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Last modified 8 April 2009