Monday, 30 July 2007

The Sculpture

The Sculptor Jiri Netik and his wife siting on the Machen sculpture.

After a long agonising process including much debate over what sculptor to be selected Machen has another memorial in Caerleon besides the plaque on his house.

Sculpture detail

It seems the owner of the house had recently made alterations in his premises, and on digging the foundations for some offices, the men had found a curious head, evidently of the Roman period, which had been placed in the manner described. The head is pronounced by the most experienced archaeologists of the district to be that of a faun or satyr. [Dr. Phillips tells me that he has seen the head in question, and assures me that he has never received such a vivid presentment of intense evil.]

Arthur Machen, The Great God Pan

First he set himself to the severe practice of the text; he spent many hours and days of toil in struggling to fashion the serried columns of black letter, writing and rewriting till he could shape the massive character with firm true hand. He cut his quills with the patience of a monk in the scriptorium, shaving and altering the nib, lightening and increasing the pressure and flexibility of the points, till the pen satisfied him, and gave a stroke both broad and even. Then he made experiments in inks, searching for some medium that would rival the glossy black letter of the old manuscripts; and not till he could produce a fair page of text did he turn to the more entrancing labour of the capitals and borders and ornaments. He mused long over the Lombardic letters, as glorious in their way as a cathedral, and trained his hand to execute the bold and flowing lines; and then there was the art of the border, blossoming in fretted splendour all about the page.

The Hill of Dreams
All this despite the best efforts of wind, rain and storm to attack it. It was completed before the rain got really bad. Where it will be placed is currently under discussion it is safe in storage. Let me know if you have any ideas on location but it is quite delicate so it will probabally go indoors.

We still need money to pay for it though so please buy a copy of the booklet! If you have ever enjoyed Machen's work buy a copy the booklet has been widely admired by such luminaries as Mark Samuels said "Lots of brilliant stuff in there; you did an excellent job on it!", Ray Russell and Mark Valentine.

So he pottered on; reading everything, imitating what struck his fancy, attempting the effect of the classic metres in English verse, trying his hand at a masque, a Restoration comedy, forming impossible plans for books which rarely got beyond half a dozen lines on a sheet of paper; beset with splendid fancies which refused to abide before the pen. The Hill of Dreams

The Legio Secunda Augusta march to celebrate rites to Faunus at the new Machen sculpture.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Machen Spiked

There is an interesting discussion of Machen on Spike magazine.

It says some complimentary things, but the conclusion is less favorable. To be honest I see the difference between Machen, James and Lovecraft to be generally a matter of taste really. They were all successful in a narrow form of literature. James's success owes much to the fact he takes fewest risks perhaps.

"In the end Machen is a clear link between James and Lovecraft, but in my view falls well short of either, lacking the simple clinical craft of the former and the sheer disturbing vision of the latter."
Link here: Arthur Machen

Sunday, 22 July 2007

What is the Blog of the Black Seal?

An interesting Blog post here which mentions Machen link through here: Blog of the Black Seal

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Machen evening a great success

The Arthur Machen seminar was a great success with around sixty people attending which for a Thursday evening in Caerleon is a great turn out. And this despite a large rainstorm. There were anumber of familar faces like Jon Preece and another distinguished Machenite in attendance was Aidan Reynolds, the joint author of the 1963 biography.

Lionel Fanthorp was an excellent and genial chair and had some great anecdotes about Machen and his connection to his own Fortean researches. After some brief technical problems, I managed to get my audio visual Machen extravaganza working on the screen and we had a series of images as I attempted to run through Machen's life in twenty minutes not an easy

Catherine Fisher, Time Lebbon and Simon Clark all gave great insights into Machen and his influnces on their own writing and the way they perceived the landscape and world. They are all very experienced authors in a differing ways and it was fascinating to hear how Machen had
inspired them. We had a series of interesting questions to answer from the floor the last one being a very tough one what type of things would Machen be writing today if he was alive? The night could have gone on far longer. I was approached afterwards by many people saying they would seek out more of Machen's work.

We retired later to the Hanbury Arms where we drank much ale. The sculpture itself bodes well the sculptor has got a giant piece of Welsh oak to work from.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Machen predicts Tobacco ban and more

Machen loved both tobacco and drink and the banning of the combination of both in their natural home of the Tavern would have led to much fury. He is no doubt fuming in his grave.

Yet this feeling leads onto greater mystery. Machen's works have had many curious effects, accidentaly creating the Angels of Mons for instance. But by what strange power did he predict the coming of the ban of smoking in pubs. He seems to have known some dark conspiracy was at work. In an essay in 1921 which defended beer included Dog and Duck he writes:

I think that good drink merely represents the first line of the cause which the bad people are attacking. It is my opinion that these bad people are only in the first stage or movement of a much more general attack. Tobacco will be the next line, the next engagement will centre round the meditative pipe, the gay cigarette, the magnificent Corona. Already that battle is preparing in America; soon, in powerful circles, a pipe will be inconsistent with piety.

Yet Machen goes on to make even more startling predictions:

Nor will matters stop there. The Vegetarians have long been aware that what is the matter with the world is Meat. They have their feelings, like the anti-Burgundy and anti-Bass people and the anti-Tobacco people. They are quite convinced, with Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist, that Meat is the root of all evil.

'It's not Madness, ma'am,' replied Mr. Bumble ... 'it's Meat.'

These persons then, sharing the opinion and the intelligence of Mr. Bumble, will engage on an anti-meat campaign. If they win, they will divide into two parties. One set will allow us to cook our vegetables; the other side will insist that if you are to boil your green peas, you may as well dine off rumpsteak at once. And, of course, sham science will come to their aid. There are plenty of doctors already who are quite prepared to demonstrate by unanswerable arguments that if you cook anything you destroy all its value.

Before long there will be letters in The Times over signatures furnished with the most appalling array of degrees and qualifications showing that the way out of all our difficulties is to put out the kitchen fire. But it would be a great mistake to suppose that the campaign will stop here, with our palates and stomachs and general comfort and well-being. All the arts will next be the object of attack; tobacco, beer, beef and boiled beans having fallen, painting, sculpture, music, literature will be suspected, examined, denounced, prohibited.

This is no fantasy; for this has happened before. It happened in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and is generally known as Puritanism. The movement was then allied with certain theological views. It began by smashing and destroying all the beautiful things that were then to be found in churches. It blotted out of the world a mass of beauty in a manner which is really awful to contemplate. Macaulay, not by any means the acutest of critics in a general way, got to the heart of the matter in his account of the Puritan objection to bear-baiting. They disliked bear-baiting, he said, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. So with their objection to sports and games of all sorts. They began by saying—and, no doubt, believing—that games were wicked when played on Sunday. They ended by banning games and sports of all kinds on any day. They shut up the theatres: they gave pleasure, and the Puritan hates pleasure because it is a good thing.

How could Machen know that the tobacco ban would be immediately targeted at theatres with actors smoking on stage. Could it be that the ban is not aimed at good health, but stopping theatres altogether? Likewise old films depicting smoking might be soon be banned. Let us hope Machen here is a false prophet.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Machenology: Tributes to the Master of Mysteries

Machenology: Tributes to the Master of Mysteries is a 44 page A5 booklet limited to 300 copies edited by Gwilym Games. All profits from the booklet will raise funds towards the 2007 Caerleon sculpture to Machen and to commemorating Arthur Machen. [You can see images of The Sculpture here.] It contains special new tributes to Machen written by Gwyneth Jones, Simon Clark, Tim Lebbon, China MiĆ©ville, Mark Samuels, Catherine Fisher, David Hewson, and Machen’s daughter Janet, plus a collection of the thoughts of other notable figures on Machen including: Tanith Lee, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Iain Sinclair, AE Housman, Henry Miller, HP Lovecraft, R.E. Howard, AE Waite, Clark Ashton Smith, MR James, Jorge Luis Borges, Sylvia Townsend Warner, plus many more.

It also includes a controversial essay in which Rhys Hughes explains why Arthur Machen is a far better writer for the Welsh to idolise than Dylan Thomas: “We are a low people. Dylan Thomas is treated as a god here and Machen is ignored." While well known Machen scholar Roger Dobson in his essay outlines the greatest unsolved mysteries of Machen scholarship.

It features two rare essays by Machen unpublished for many years, “A Book I Should Like To Write”, in which he discusses “one of the wonderful books that ought to be written – and never will be written… of those problems which are - almost - insoluble; and yet are not beyond all conjecture” and a thrilling true account of a weird Oriental Adventure in which Machen plumbs the depth of the mystery of The Hidden Claw, an escapade Machen illustrated himself.

It also includes a rare picture of the original “stone head of grotesque appearance” from The Great God Pan which will be an influence on the Machen sculpture. [Dr. Phillips tells me that he has seen the head in question, and assures me that he has never received such a vivid presentment of intense evil.] Dare you see it?

Copies available now. Cost is £5.00, postage free within the UK. Postage abroad is £1.00 inside Europe, £1.50 US/overseas. Make cheques payable to G. Games, or use paypal via G. Games, 9 Heneage Drive, Westcross, Swansea, SA3 5BR. Copies will also be on sale at the seminar and around Caerleon.

Remember too Machen is highly collectable similar booklets from the eighties are now worth up to five times or more their original price.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Machen in Babylon

Excellent post on Machen on Anthony Brockway's Babylon Wales, a fine blog on the stranger byways of Welsh popular culture.

"Welsh literary critics have largely ignored him or unfairly Uncle Tom-ed him (see Stephen Knight's jaw-dropping sidestep of Machen's work in A Hundred Years of Fiction). Rather than being a literary Uncle Tom you could quite easily - if you chose to do such a thing - make a case for Machen being a highly subversive Welsh writer. In many of his stories the English/rational/scientific is undermined by the Welsh/irrational/primitive. And it is the latter grouping that Machen most certainly identified with.

The problem with Machen for Welsh critics is that he doesn't fit easily into dominant social realist/nationalist/post-colonial readings of Welsh writing in English. He is a one-off, an outsider. Add to this a snooty attitude from academia towards genre fiction in general (horror stories aren't real writing are they?) and you begin to understand why Machen's work has slipped into the margins in Wales."

Anthony inspired Rhys Hughes' essay on Machen and Dylan in the Machenology booklet by a comment on the sculpture.