Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen #review #horror

Title: The Great God Pan
Author: Arthur Machen

My first encounter with Arthur Machen’s writing was in a (now) quaint selection of classic horror, and from my meanderings in the interwebz, his name just keeps cropping up. He’s considered one of the grandpappies of authentically modern horror, and knowing what I do about HP Lovecraft, it’s clear Machen had a huge influence on the man.

Those who’re into their esoteric vibe will also recognise Machen in connection to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn courtesy of AE Waite – the two were buddies. Also, the Great Beast himself was quite the fan of Machen, among others. (Though apparently Machen didn’t think much of Mr Crowley.)

Since I’m on a trip of digging deeper into the source material for so much of our modern genre fiction, Machen has been top of my TBR list for a while now, and I’m really glad that I’ve finally had the opportunity to read The Great God Pan.

For those of you not in the know, Project Gutenberg is a valuable resource as a digital library, and this is where you can go pick up your copy of The Great God Pan for free. If you’re feeling especially benevolent, do consider donating to this worthy organisation that strives to keep public domain works available.

The Great God Pan is a novella that has been described as fitting into the decadent horror genre of the late 1800s, and there’s quite a bit going on here. First off, Machen’s love of the natural world and its beauty shines through the prose. His descriptions are vivid – deft without being heavy handed. Also to consider is the theme of the content which in present times might be construed as being misogynistic. One must bear in mind that a story shouldn’t be judged through a contemporary lens, especially if one considers that the concept of a sexually liberated woman during the Victorian era could only have been viewed quite literally as the Devil’s handmaiden by many.

The underlying theme is clear: Man cannot comprehend the full magnificence that is nature, and to do so will drive him completely mad. In the novella, three men are left to untangle the threads of a mystery when scientific experiment goes wrong. An enigmatic young woman is taken advantage of by a doctor, and this cruel procedure gives rise to a great force that enthrals men and leads them to suicidal despair.

An alchemy of spirit made flesh takes place, for which our rational Victorian gentlemen are ill prepared. Machen touches on the concept of divinely inspired ecstasy at the heart of ancient pagan practices long forgotten – and our inability in modern times to come to terms with these primal aspects of our natures.

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