Saturday, 2 March 2013

Happy Birthday Arthur Machen!

Today, Arthur Machen is 150 years old. Anyone who knows their Lovecraft understands the impact that Machen had upon HPL’s work: this is the source of the Aklo references in the “Dunwich Horror” and of Nodens (although some think that this entity is an element best forgotten about in the Mythos canon). But the influence is deeper still: Machen had a fascination for atavistic transformations and odious miscegenation with arcane beings forgotten on the fringes of history. Lovecraft took these issues from “The Great God Pan”, “The Inmost Light”, The Hill of Dreams and “The White People” and drew forth “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” – arguably his best material.

Machen was born in Wales in 1863. He came from a family of clerics and held a lifelong interest in ritual and ceremony, eventually joining the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn where he met A.E. Waite with whom he became firm friends. He flirted with Catholicism but eventually fell back into a High Anglican Church-style faith.

Money was always a pressing concern for Machen who married twice and had a family late in life. He worked as a journalist (which he hated) and as a manuscript reader for a London publisher, and he once walked away from literary pursuits entirely to become an actor in a travelling troupe. His works were met with general indifference until the 1920s when American reprints of his stories won him enormous attention in that country.

For awhile, until the late ‘30s, he lived comfortably off the proceeds from US sales. Before this, his links to Oscar Wilde’s Aesthetic Movement of writing (Wilde’s answer to the persnicketty French Decadent style), stood against him after Wilde’s infamous trial and flight to Paris. In later life he moved to the English countryside where he was able to live out his days in relative ease due to a pension from the Civil List and the launching of a literary appeal in 1943 by other celebrated writers (including, among others, Algernon Blackwood, T.S. Eliot and Max Beerbohm Tree) to raise funds for his retirement. He died on the fifteenth of December in 1947.

Machen’s influence is huge, not only on the works of HPL but in many other areas of literature and art. He is the creator of the World War One urban myth of the Angel of Mons, stemming from his short story, “The Bowmen”, and he was a pioneer of the discipline of psychogeography, as can be seen from his novel, The Hill of Dreams. Stephen King has championed his work as has Peter Straub, whose book Ghost Story shows clearly the inherited DNA from “The Great God Pan”. Writers in many different fields from Dan Brown to Peter Ackroyd to Sir John Betjeman to Jorge Luis Borges have a stated debt to Machen and his fantastic fiction.


All of Machen’s writings are worth looking at, although some have said that he is not so readable when he is being sarcastic or critical. Most of the time his tales are massive fruit-cakes, full of references and meaty description: even in the slightest of his stories, you feel as though you’re looking through a narrow window into a world of enormous, fully-rounded proportions and walking away with the merest slice. Those marked with an asterisk below are ‘must reads’ for Mythos fans.

Novels and Novellas:

“The Great God Pan” (novella, 1894)*

The Three Impostors (1895; a tale woven around a series of short stories, including “The Novel of the Black Seal” and “The Novel of the White Powder”.)*

The House of the Hidden Light (with A.E. Waite: 3 copies published in 1904; reprinted in a 350-copy limited run in 2003)

The Hill of Dreams (1907)*

The Great Return (1915)

The Terror (1917)

The Secret Glory (1922)

The Green Round (1933)

Short Stories:

“The Inmost Light” (1894)*

“The Shining Pyramid” (1895)

“The Red Hand” (1895)

“The White People” (1904)*

“The Bowmen” (1914)

“Ornaments in Jade” (a collection of vignettes, 1924)

“The Children of the Pool” (1936)

Essays, Non-fiction and miscellaneous Collected Writings:

Hieroglyphics: A Note upon Ecstasy in Literature (1902)

Far Off Things (part 1 of his autobiography, 1922)

Things Near and Far (part 2 of his autobiography, 1923)

The London Adventure (part 3 of his autobiography, 1924)

The Canning Wonder (1925)

Dreads and Drolls (1926)

The Secret of the Sangraal and Other Writings (1995)

1 comment:

  1. I can recommend, as well, the short piece "N" which I won't summarise. It's a masterful piece, and involves one of Machen's favourite themes regarding the relationships between the dimensions.