Posts Tagged ‘Horror writing’

The Great God Pan, was published by Arthur Machen in 1895, London.
Arthur Machen was the son of a Welsh clergyman, and was born in 1863, near Caerleon, in Monmouth, Wales. He died in 1947.

Arthur Machen is one of those interesting people on the sidelines. And yet he had his own moments in the spotlight. In 1895 he published his ground-breaking novella The Great God Pan.
Even today the novella has its admirers – Stephen King reckons it one of the best horror stories in the language.
His roll was brought to a halt in the moral backlash brought about by the Oscar Wilde court case. Arthur Machen’s stories had already raised hackles by his themes of lust, unpleasantness, in fact for being ‘decadent.’ After that court case decadence was to be swept away by moral outrage, the re-imposition of sound Victorian values.

It was only later, about 1899, he was invited to join the Golden Dawn through his friendship with A E Waite. It has to be admitted, for all the themes of his writing: the deciphering of lost texts, diabolism etc, he was not particularly enamoured by the Order, and contributed little to nothing.

What is it about, The Great God Pan, then?
It is a story that is pieced together from fragments, inching its way to a clearer picture. What obscures the picture? It is the outraged morals and also the lack of clues, information, of the observers and narrators.
It is a story whose power and impact are created by the breaking apart of the atoms of Victorian morality.
Ok, I am using metaphors from a later time. But on purpose: Arthur Machen was fully engaged with Darwinian theory, with contemporary medicine, with the dualities of perception of his age.
Without the moral high ground of the detractors to decadence, a stance that all ‘right-thinking’ Victorians were supposed to have some measure of a share in, without that high position, the story’s depiction of a fall to the ‘depths of depravity’ that was the supposed mind-set of savages, the story makes no sense.
Wikki writes:
Historian Harold Perkin wrote:

Between 1780 and 1850 the English ceased to be one of the most aggressive, brutal, rowdy, outspoken, riotous, cruel and bloodthirsty nations in the world and became one of the most inhibited, polite, orderly, tender-minded, prudish and hypocritical.

 

The story opens with the narration of ‘just a little medical procedure’, recorded by the ‘dry man’ Mr Clarke. The outcome of this operation on the brain of a young and trusting young woman (one of the lower classes, naturally), reverberates throughout the story. We piece together the incidents, connect the dots, while the well-meaning but at times a little too slow, a little too ‘upright’, characters in the story try to make sense of a series of suicides of eminent and honourable young Victorian men.

It is this slow procedure, and also the puzzle-solving, that actively engages the reader, and creates atmosphere, the feeling of impending horror.
It could well be, also, this active engagement of the reader in such a morally deplorable tale, that upset the authorities: to become unwitting participants in immoral activities.

One theme that returns again in another story, The Novel of the White Powder, is that of the human body, through an outside agency, reverting to its protozoan origins before ones eyes.

This may lack impact to us now, we who have seen regularly such ‘special effects.’ But when one’s sole vision-viewer was one’s own imagination, apart from the early cinematograph, and the first picture newspapers  like the Daily Graphic, black and white illustrations pre-Beardsley, then the intent of the author would be more readily apparent. The author is in reality introducing such ideas and scenes into one’s mind.

That, and the Darwinian challenge to the hammered-home Christian view, of the body as sacred, a temple of chastity, to be strictly curbed, disciplined.
You can also see here perhaps, the development through borrowing the concept for corporal discipline, for abuse of the body and soul.

The Great God Pan is described as the experiencing of the world in its original state, when lusts ran free, and keeping to the classical archetypes, bachanites actually tore men to pieces.
The ethical and moral concepts of human progress from savage times to modern man, provide the scaffolding to the story.
It is extremely doubtfull such savagery as was envisioned ever existed. Even as the early hominids emerged they carried with them respect for the dead, disciplines, and rites. Sea pirates had their own codes, honourable behaviour – wooden ships were extremely disciplined communities, they had to be.
The Christian stance created such moral distances as the depth of the fall into depravity. ‘The Old Adam,’ was the phrase used to euphemistically describe unbridled lusts.

The story has many enlivening details. There is described at one point how, walking home in  the early hours of a London morning to Holborn, the streets were silent, empty, but for the occasional horse-drawn Hackney cab over cobbles. And how the  horses’ shoes struck ‘fire’, in the night.
Is a hellish image implied? It is certainly one of surprising clarity, maybe a little unsettling, but also lively because of that.
The suicides are by hanging, mostly from bedposts. It may well be that auto-eroticism is being implied here.
Behind the seeming prosperous and morally upright, ‘advanced civilisation’ of late Empire London, lurk the old terrors waiting their time.

They had their prelude, of course, in the Boer War, shortly to erupt.