Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Stephen King's "N." and Arthur Machen's "N." and The Great God Pan

Stephen King's Just After Sunset a collection of stories just published features a previously unpublished story "N." the only new story in the collection, which King says was inspired by The Great God Pan.

King paid tribute to Machen saying of "N." on his website: "it’s a riff on Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan,” which is one of the best horror stories ever written. Maybe the best in the English language. Mine isn’t anywhere near that good, but I loved the chance to put neurotic behavior—obsessive/compulsive disorder—together with the idea of a monster-filled macroverse. That was a good combination. As for Machen vs. Lovecraft: sure, Lovecraft was ultimately better, because he did more with those concepts, but “The Great God Pan” is more reader-friendly. And Machen was there first. He wrote “Pan” in 1895, when HPL was five years

King made a minor mistake on the date - published in 1894, Pan was written in 1890-1. One can only agree with such fulsome praise, though his comments on the relative merits of the Lovecraft vs Machen touches on an ongoing debate. It seems difficult to argue that Machen's prose style was not better than Lovecraft's. In terms of their horror works though Lovecraft produced far more tales of horror than Machen and developed a more complex structure around them thus creating many more followers, any direct comparison is unfair as Machen lost interest in the genre. Machen was also far more multi faceted in that he was a successful translator, journalist and essayist in his day. At the last Friends AGM featured a major debate on the subject which Machen won I think though as a lot of drinking was involved it is difficult to be sure.

Although reviews of the book have mentioned Machen rather a lot giving him good publicity none have noted that even the title is a tribute to Machen's story "N." of the same name.
The curiously titled "N.", which Machen wrote as an old man towards the end of his fiction writing life in December 1935. It is a strange tale even for Machen concerning the unearthing of some kind of an alternate reality in Stoke Newington in North London. I guessed that King’s N. was a reference to Machen when I first heard about it. I noted too there are a few similarities between the plot line of the stories both forms of "N." both dealing with places where reality is different to the norm. King is a long-standing Machen admirer.

I enjoyed King's N. and thought it was a fascinating character study, using modern psychological concerns in a similar way to how Machen played off contemporary medical ideas about the brain, sex, and degeneracy in the 1890s. Marvel Comics released a graphic version of it online some time ago which I can recommend. You can watch the online version here as well as an interview with King in which discusses the origin of the story:

M. John Harrison [another man who wrote a Pan inspired story called “The Great God Pan” which I can recommend] has reviewed the book : “Existential emptiness lurks, and behind that, inevitably, something unspeakable, as in "N", a curious collision between HP Lovecraft, Arthur Machen and Alfred Bester's "The Pi Man". Here, one individual's obsessive-compulsive counting of a circle of stones — are there seven, or eight? — is the only thing that keeps humanity safe from the things it doesn't know.” 2008/nov/ 15/just-after- sunset-stephen- king

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

The Dream of Olwen Phillips of Croeswen by Arthur Machen

Dedicated to the memory of Janet Pollock nee Machen (1916-2008).

[This extract from Machen’s graal romance The Great Return was published in 1915, the year before Janet was born.]

It was on that Sunday night that Olwen Phillips of Croeswen dreamed her wonderful dream. She was a girl of sixteen, the daughter of small farming people, and for many months she had been doomed to certain death. Consumption, which flourishes in that damp, warm climate, had laid hold of her; not only her lungs but her whole system was a mass of tuberculosis. As is common enough, she had enjoyed many fallacious brief recoveries in the early stages of the disease, but all hope had long been over, and now for the last few weeks she had seemed to rush vehemently to death. The doctor had come on the Saturday morning, bringing with him a colleague. They had both agreed that the girl's case was in its last stages. "She cannot possibly last more than a day or two," said the local doctor to her mother. He came again on the Sunday morning and found his patient perceptibly worse, and soon afterwards she sank into a heavy sleep, and her mother thought that she would never wake from it.
The girl slept in an inner room communicating with the room occupied by her father and mother. The door between was kept open, so that Mrs. Phillips could hear her daughter if she called to her in the night. And Olwen called to her mother that night, just as the dawn was breaking. It was no faint summons from a dying bed that came to the mother's ears, but a loud cry that rang through the house, a cry of great gladness. Mrs. Phillips started up from sleep in wild amazement, wondering what could have happened. And then she saw Olwen, who had not been able to rise from her bed for many weeks past, standing in the doorway in the faint light of the growing day. The girl called to her mother: "Mam! mam! It is all over. I am quite well again."
Mrs. Phillips roused her husband, and they sat up in bed staring, not knowing on earth, as they said afterwards, what had been done with the world. Here was their poor girl wasted to a shadow, lying on her death-bed, and the life sighing from her with every breath, and her voice, when she last uttered it, so weak that one had to put one's ear to her mouth. And here in a few hours she stood up before them; and even in that faint light they could see that she was changed almost beyond knowing. And, indeed, Mrs. Phillips said that for a moment or two she fancied that the Germans must have come and killed them in their sleep, and so they were all dead together. But Olwen called out again, so the mother lit a candle and got up and went tottering across the room, and there was Olwen all gay and plump again, smiling with shining eyes. Her mother led her into her own room, and set down the candle there, and felt her daughter's flesh, and burst into prayers and tears of wonder and delight, and thanksgivings, and held the girl again to be sure that she was not deceived. And then Olwen told her dream, though she thought it was not a dream.

She said she woke up in the deep darkness, and she knew the life was fast going from her. She could not move so much as a finger, she tried to cry out, but no sound came from her lips. She felt that in another instant the whole world would fall from her--her heart was full of agony. And as the last breath was passing her lips, she heard a very faint, sweet sound, like the tinkling of a silver bell. It came from far away, from over by Ty-newydd. She forgot her agony and listened, and even then, she says, she felt the swirl of the world as it came back to her. And the sound of the bell swelled and grew louder, and it thrilled all through her body, and the life was in it. And as the bell rang and trembled in her ears, a faint light touched the wall of her room and reddened, till the whole room was full of rosy fire. And then she saw standing before her bed three men in blood-coloured robes with shining faces. And one man held a golden bell in his hand. And the second man held up something shaped like the top of a table. It was like a great jewel, and it was of a blue colour, and there were rivers of silver and of gold running through it and flowing as quick streams flow, and there were pools in it as if violets had been poured out into water, and then it was green as the sea near the shore, and then it was the sky at night with all the stars shining, and then the sun and the moon came down and washed in it. And the third man held up high above this a cup that was like a rose on fire; "there was a great burning in it, and a dropping of blood in it, and a red cloud above it, and I saw a great secret. And I heard a voice that sang nine times, `Glory and praise to the Conqueror of Death, to the Fountain of Life immortal.' Then the red light went from the wall, and it was all darkness, and the bell rang faint again by Capel Teilo, and then I got up and called to you."

The doctor came on the Monday morning with the death certificate in his pocket-book, and Olwen ran out to meet him. I have quoted his phrase in the first chapter of this record: "A kind of resurrection of the body." He made a most careful examination of the girl; he has stated that he found that every trace of disease had disappeared. He left on the Sunday morning a patient entering into the coma that precedes death, a body condemned utterly and ready for the grave. He met at the garden gate on the Monday morning a young woman in whom life sprang up like a fountain, in whose body life laughed and rejoiced as if it had been a river flowing from an unending well.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Passing of Janet Pollock nee Machen, Arthur Machen's daughter

I was very sad when learned that Janet, Arthur's daughter, and the patron of The Friends of Arthur Machen passed away in October aged 91.

I first met her in Usk in 2002 I believe. She was unfailingly courteous and kind and a font of fascinating conversation not only about her father but her interesting life in general. It was an honour to know her and she was very helpful in the Machen scuplture project as well as with the society in general. I saw her again in March 2009 at Stratford and she was in good spirits and full of life so her death seemed all the more surprising.

You can read obituaries of Janet online at the Friend's website and another was published in The Guardian.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Summer 2008 Friends Publications

Faunus Volume Eighteen - Summer 2008 58 pages

Contains amongst other essays “Two Sided Triangles: Machen, Darwin and Suburbia” by Cyril Simsa an interesting essay on Machen’s work and its use of characteristic themes like the boundaries between town and country, the figure of Pan, sexuality and evolutionary thought. Phillip A. Ellis argues in “Of The One Secret: A Defence of Eleusinia” that Eleusinia is better quality poetry for such a young man than Machen’s modesty will allow. Meanwhile "Some Notes on Machen’s ‘Sixtystone’" by Christopher Josiffe discusses the origins of the mysterious artefact from The Three Impostors and reflects on Kenneth Grant’s use of it in his magical works. There is also a reprint of “The Unseen Host” by C.L. Warr a story inspired by The Bowmen first published in 1916 and reprinted many times later.

Machenalia Vol II Issue 7, Summer 2008 52 pages

Has the usual news and reviews with extensive coverage of the Chicago dramatic production of The Great God Pan. It also covers the FOAM AGM in Stratford-on-Avon, details on new Machen translations in Swedish, Polish, and Italian. Also mentions Clive Barker, and Mark E. Smith on Machen, more Angels of Mons sightings, and more on the Little Fables and a trip into the dark heart of Machen's Wentwood. Also the mysterious saga of the Machen photograph which is not actually of Machen is revealed.

We also have shocking news on MP Shiel, who Machen knew well, he was convicted for molesting a young girl and we have a brief review of an article by Kirsten Macleod 'M. P. Shiel and the Love of Pubescent Girls: The Other “Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name”' - Kirsten Macleod, University of Alberta that goes into the specifics.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Machen Movies - El Esqueleto de la Senora Morales [The Skeleton of Mrs.Morales]

Considering Machen's reputation it is surprising he has seldom been adapted for film though his work has influenced a number of filmmakers. There is one notable exception the most successful adaption is of one of Machen's less well known stories, the short dark satire "The Islington Mystery" which was adapted in Mexico as El Esqueleto de la Senora Morales [The Skeleton of Mrs.Morales (1960)]. According to Mexican critics this enjoyable black comedy film with evocative performances from its leading players is one of the ten best films in Mexican film history. The oppressed taxidermist is played by Arturo de Cordova, a very well known actor in Mexico, and Amparo Rivelles appears as his shrewish wife. Directed by Rogelio A. González and with the screenplay adapted by the noted surrealist Luis Alcoriza the film extends the satyric undercurrents of the story by further criticising the legal system and extending it to the puritanical local church. Machen might be better off without some of the bad adaptions that have plagued other writers. His ideas here have created a gem. Interesting to note that one of Machen's admirers is world famous Mexican director Guilermo del Toro, whose film Pan's Labyrinth was inspired somewhat by Machen. Machen has a very high reputation in the Spainish speaking world due partially to the admiration of Borges for Machen. Borges edited two collections of Machen in translation which have been in print in many countries across the world.

The film is quite true to the macabre essence of Machen's story and develops it very well. Machen based the idea of the story on the Crippen murder only Machen regarding Crippen as rather foolish, describing him as "elementary Crippen and his bungling imbecilities", imagined a protagonist who was rather more careful. You can read the Islington Mystery here.

The IDMB database entry for the film is here:

Someone has put El Esqueleto de la Senora Morales up on Youtube. No subtitles but you can get a good sense of it.

[I have not updated this blog in ages. I will try and keep it more up to date in future and add in some details I missed.]

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Picture of the Unknown Man - A Machen Mystery

This picture has been floating round on the internet from some years now created by the excellent artist Andrea Bonazzi which supposedly depicts Arthur Machen, as one notable writer in part of a series of montages of weird authors. The only thing is it is the man in the picture is not actually Machen. The artist says he found the original photo he used for the montage on the internet clearly labelled as Arthur Machen but now the website has disappeared.

Can you identify this man? Please contact me if you can. You can see the picture in its original context on the artist’s website

In Tenebris Sculptus - Andrea Bonazzi

Friday, 14 March 2008


As part of the publicity for Wildclaw's production of The Great God Pan I wrote an essay exploring the connection between Machen, Chicago and the Weird Tales writers like Lovecraft, and RE Howard. It pays tribute to the Chicago based writer Vincent Starrett, a key figure in the Machen revival of the twenties in America as well as to Ben Hecht, the Oscar winning screenwriter of many Hollywood classsics, like Hitchcock's Spellbound and Notorious, as well as FrontPage/His Girl Friday, Gone With the Wind, The Thing from Another World, Some Like It Hot, another Chicago based Machen admirer.


WildClaw's drama got great reviews you can read them on their site. Here is a sample. "Playwright Charley Sherman is still remembered in Chicago for his award-winning page-to-stage adaptations of contemporary creep-lit authors, and his rendition of this period thriller is laudable for its roster of elements associated with the genre: esoteric cult-worship, gloomy abandoned houses, gruesome unnatural deaths, masquerade balls attended by licentious guests, strolls through the fleshpots of fin-de-siècle London, innocent virgins strapped to surgical tables, callow youths driven to ruin by femmes extremely-fatales (reflecting the gilded age's fear and fascination with the notion of uninhibited sexuality—especially in women) and, of course, gallons of lovingly-replicated gore."

This video shows some of the dramatic effects from the production:

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Clive Barker on Arthur Machen - "Yes, this man redefines genres as far as I’m concerned."

Like many of the greats of horror and fantasy literature have before him Barker has gone on record in an interview to express his admiration for the work of Arthur Machen as part of the publicity for the Chicago production of Pan. Nice to see the interview took place the day after Machen's birthday.

CHARLIE: So what are your thoughts on Arthur Machen and The Great God Pan?

CLIVE: Well, this is a huge subject and we haven’t time, but there are a lot of things to be said. First thing is, Arthur Machen is wholly neglected in this country and I’m afraid in England, too. He is, to my mind, easily as important as Lovecraft. He’s certainly a better writer, no question, and infinitely subtler in his effects. Infinitely more humane in his philosophies and completely untouched by the anti-Semitism and misogyny, which to my mind is so strong in Lovecraft that it makes the work odious....

CLIVE: Yes, this man redefines genres as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never had a taste for Lovecraft. Never understood why anybody would have a taste for Lovecraft. I recommend to you, for instance, a little story not more than three pages long called, I think, An Incident on High Holborn. That’s a street in London.


CLIVE: It’s three, four pages long and it is so charged with magic and, as they say, a sort of documentary reality. It’s like nothing in English fantasy. Like nothing in English fiction. Extraordinary stuff.

You can read the full interview here where he discusses The Angels of Mons saga.

Barker has mentioned his longstanding admiration for Machen before in interviews and articles.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Friends at Stratford

This year the Friends AGM was in Stratford-on-Avon was held as usual as close as possible to Machen's birthday on March 3rd. Machen visited and acted here with the Bensonian company of actors in the early 1900s. We used the haunted 17th century Mecure Shakespeare Hotel as venue for the AGM it was a favourite drinking den of Machen and was about 50m away from the site of Shakespeare's final home. Machen loved Stratford and Shakespeare so it was an excellent choice. Attended by Machen's elderly daughter Janet the patron of the society, it was an enjoyable weekend with much drink and fine talk from the assembled company featuring as well a dramatic performance which recreated Machen's final moments on the stage. This year by lucky chance the AGM fell on St David's Day too.

The venue for next years AGM is sinister Whitby. Why not join the The Friends of Arthur Machen and come along?

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Latest edition of Friends of Arthur Machen publications

"In the run up to the year the Friends of Arthur Machen went to Stratford upon Avon our latest hard backed publication Faunus 17 features extracts on Machen from Lady Constance Benson's memoirs relating to his time with the famous Bensonian company of Shakespearean actors. Another article relates Machen's own reminiscences of his time upon the stage in Stratford upon Avon. Faunus also contains writer Frank Baker's fascinating extended recollections of Machen from his autobiography. Baker, a sometime actor himself, reflects on the influence of the stage on himself and on Machen, and it provides an enchanting depiction of the power of Machen's works and personality on the shamefully neglected author of Miss Hargreaves and The Birds (1936).

The companion pamphlet Machenalia includes a full set of the recently discovered Little Fables by M published in the late twenties in the literary magazine John O’ London’s Weekly, a periodical which frequently published Machen. Are the Fables a lost work by Machen? Much furious debate on the matter is under way by Machen scholars. There is more news on the Angels of Mons saga, a new stage adaptation of Machen’s The Great God Pan in Chicago, news on a strange rite to summon Pan involving Frank Baker and Crowley which led to a terrible death, details on the terrifying Caerleon catacombs, and another article on music inspired by Machen, alongside the usual reviews of Machen related works.

Plus it contains a cryptic numerological inscription written by Machen, found in a collector’s library. Now known as The Machen Code it is already arousing much interest from cryptoanalysts - proffered solutions to the code have connected it to Aztec sacrifice, Scottish use of occult rituals to destroy the English, a clue that finally reveals the location of the San Graal, or possibly just Machen's record of the results of a drinking game."

To get these fine things subscribe to the The Friends of Arthur Machen at this link.

Thursday, 31 January 2008


Copies of Machenology: Tributes to the Master of Mysteries are still available. The Sculpture may soon be in position. More details soon.

Monday, 14 January 2008

WildClaw Theatre - The Great God Pan to terrify Chicago

Chicago has seen much bloodshed, and terror but till now never faced the power of PANIC fear.

WildClaw Theatre presents an adaptation of Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan at Chicago's Athenaeum Theater.

Adapted by Charley Sherman, the novel was published in the 1890’s to great controversy, due to its decadent mixture of sex and horror. One paper described it as “An incoherent nightmare of sex”. Another said it was “The most acutely and intentionally disagreeable book yet seen in English”.

And yet it has proved to be one of the most influential horror stories of all time, inspiring writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Peter Straub. In fact, Lovecraft once said of Machen, “Of creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few can hope to equal Arthur Machen”.

And, as such, our challenge is to capture such an intense expression of fear upon the Chicago stage in 2008.

Opening Night is February 24th, 2008 at 7:00 PM.

WildClaw Theatre - Chicago more details