Born in Wales in 1863, Arthur Machen went on to become an acclaimed writer. His stories have proven highly influential down the decades, especially to prominent horror and weird tale writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell and Stephen King. What follows is a look into an assortment of his works I recently read.
- “The Lost Club” (1890) – Two friends encounter each other on the street shortly before getting caught up in a sudden rain storm. One of them spies another aquintince who once told him of a nearby club and asks him to to take them there to escape the downpour. He agrees to do so only if they swear never to tell anyone else about the club or of what they see there. They happily agree and find the place filled with powerful, influential people from various locations in attendance. The dark thing that happens next is the reason they were sworn to secrecy.
- “The Great God Pan” (1890) – In this novella a man witnesses his doctor friend perform brain surgery on a girl in an attempt to unlock her ability to see into another realm, which he terms as “Seeing the Great God Pan”. Unfortunately, the process drives her insane. In later years, they learn of an evil, beautiful woman named Helen Vaugh who possesses secret knowledge she tells to men that drives them to madness upon hearing it. This is a classic horror tale that steadily builds the dread.
- “Novel of the White Powder” (1895) – When the narrator’s brother becomes ill from overwork, he’s prescribed a medication in the form of a white powder. He continues to take it even after it cures him of his ailment, despite a mysterious black spot that forms on his arm. His personality also begins to change as well. This is a strong, eerie tale with an effectively gruesome ending.
- “The White People” (1904) – In this novelette, a man comes into possession of a green book which proves to be the diary of a young girl. In it, she relates her experiences with fae creatures from the countryside she lives near. Her nurse seems to know things about the hidden realm that exists all around them and imparts the dark legends and rituals to her. While this eerie tale filled with dark fairy tales is considered a classic by most, I must admit I didn’t particularly care for it the first time I read it. The section that recites the girls diary is told almost entirely without paragraph breaks, which, as it turns out, is something I really didn’t care for. Recently, I listened to an audio reading of the story and found it much more palatable.
- “The Bowmen” (1914) – British soldiers, heavily outnumbered by German forces during World War I, are joined and assisted by a horde of phantom archers from a bygone era.
- “Out of the Earth” (1915) – This odd little tale is told from the perspective of Machen himself. He begins by talking about the response he’s received about his earlier story “The Bowmen”. He goes on to tell another tale about a group of violent beings who have the bodies of youth but the faces of evil, old men.
Article by Matt Cowan