Tag Archives: Arthur Machen

The Great God Pan

21 Jun

The Great God Pan is an 1890 novella by the controversial Welsh ghost story writer Arthur Machen. On publication it was widely denounced by the press as degenerate and horrific because of its decadent style and sexual content, although it has since garnered a reputation as a classic of horror. In many ways the story reflects the author’s absorption with the wondrous, the uncanny and the unknown. “In every grain of wheat there lies hidden the soul of a star” Machen writes in an early page of The Great God Pan, which might be said to be the mystical doctrine that informs all of his principal writings. Machen’s novels and tales possess a thematic unity in that running through them all are two polarised strands – terror and wonder – and occasionally they meet and intertwine. Indeed, while the necromantic fantasies produced by Machen in the 1890s later led to him being labelled the ‘laureate of evil’, he had by then already assumed another mantle – that of the ‘apostle of wonder’, for the diabolic and the divine lie at the heart of his fiction. But Machen’s own life is perhaps his greatest creation; for it is exactly the life we might expect such a poet and visionary to have lived.

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The Angel of Mons

29 Jun

The Angel of Mons – a popular story about a group of angels who supposedly protected members of the British army in the Battle of Mons – is perhaps the most enduring supernatural legend of the First World War. The battle of Mons took place on 23 August 1914 and within weeks tales of the ‘Angel of Mons’ had entered the realms of legend. It arose from a belief during the Great War that a miracle had happened during the British Army’s first desperate clash with the advancing Germans at Mons in Belgium. In some versions a vision of St George and phantom bowmen halted the Kaiser’s troops, while others claimed angels had thrown a protective curtain around the British, saving them from disaster. By the end of the war it became unpatriotic, even treasonable, to doubt the claims were based on fact. The spread of the legend was aided by the publication on 29 September 1914 by Welsh author Arthur Machen of a short story entitled The Bowmen, which was inspired by accounts that he had read of the fighting at Mons and an idea he had had soon after the battle. Machen’s story was written from a first-hand perspective and was a kind of false document, a technique he knew well. The unintended result, however, was that Machen had a number of requests to provide evidence for his sources for the story soon after its publication, from readers who thought it was true, to which he responded that it was completely imaginary (he had no desire to create a hoax). The only link between the Mons retreat and Machen’s story, in fact, was its beginning, which observed that troops of the British Expeditionary Force were in retreat: Mons itself was not mentioned. However, to this day, the myth and the short story have become intertwined so inextricably that it is almost impossible to unravel which was the inspiration for the other.

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Supernatural Sleuths

22 Apr

The Gateway of the Monster… The Red Hand… The Ghost Hunter… To Sherlock Holmes the supernatural may have been a closed book but luckily for us other great detectives have always been ready to do battle with the forces of darkness instead. There are the casebooks of the Victorian haunted house investigators John Bell and Flaxman Low; Thomas Carnacki, William Hope Hodgson’s Edwardian battler against the abyss; horror master Arthur Machen’s Mr Dyson, a man about town and meddler in strange things; Robert Barr’s Eugene Valmont (who may have inspired Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot) and Donald Campbell’s young explorer Leslie Vane, the ‘James Bond of the jazz age’, who battled against occult enemies of the British Empire. More modern times have seen the introduction of Phil Rickman’s ‘Deliverance Consultant’ (diocesan exorcist) Merrily Watkins and James Herbert’s psychic investigator and ghost hunter David Ash to the genre. Sherlock Homes may have shunned all suggestion of supernatural agency, but thankfully his many rivals and literary descendants have not, leaving us with a delightfully large number of deliciously dark detective cases to enjoy for generations to come.

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