The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen, Vol. 1
". . . He was hot on his trail, growing lean with eagerness; and in the evenings, when the sun was swimming on the verge of the mountain, he would pace the terrace to and fro with his eyes on the ground, while the mist grew white in the valley, and the stillness of the evening brought far voices near, and the blue smoke rose a straight column from the diamond-shaped chimney of the grey farm-house, just as I had seen it on the first morning."
— from "The Three Impostors"
Some of the finest horror stories ever written. Arthur Machen had a profound impact upon H. P. Lovecraft and the group of stories that would later become known as the Cthulhu Mythos.
H. P. Lovecraft declared Arthur Machen (1863–1947) to be a modern master who could create "cosmic fear raised to it's most artistic pitch." This initial volume of his work contains two short stories, the novella "The Great God Pan", and an episodic novel, "The Three Impostors." In form something like a puzzle box, "Impostors" cryptic connections and revelations were sometimes abridged. It's text here is complete.
In these eerie and once-shocking stories, supernatural horror is a transmuting force powered by the core of life. To resist it requires great will from the living, for civilization is only a new way to behave, and not one instinctive to life. Decency prevents discussion about such pressures, so each person must face such things alone. The comforts and hopes of civilization are threatened and undermined by these ecstatic nightmares that haunt the living. This is nowhere more deftly suggested than through Machen's extraordinary prose, where the textures and dreams of the Old Ways are never far removed.
- The Great God Pan
- The Inmost Light
- The Shining Pyramid
- The Three Impostors (Complete)
S.T. Joshi ed.; Cover by H.E. Fassl. 260 pages. Trade Paperback.
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I bought this volume as part of a three-volume set of Chaosium's Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen, Edited & Introduced by S. T. Joshi. On the whole, I am extremely satisfied with these editions and take a distinct kind of pleasure in having them on my shelf. As an author and as a man, Arthur Machen means a great deal to me. He is, for me, one of those authors that C. S. Lewis spoke of, the authors who we read to know that we are not alone. I wish that I could say that I've been reading him since boyhood, but, sad to say, I only discovered Machen in my adult life. Like many, like even, I'd venture, the staff of Chaosium Inc., I first heard tell of Machen by way of Lovecraft. Praise from Lovecraft for a literary predecessor essentially elevates that predecessor to the status of Poe, after all. Lovecraft's judgement was the gold standard in assaying weird fiction. To my knowledge, he has never been wrong in that regard. And having come to Machen through Lovecraft's recommendation, I was quick to realize that in Machen's weird fiction I had found something that surpassed Lovecraft. Machen supplied for the deficiencies in Lovecraft's fiction that I had always been aware of but had been mostly unable to articulate. The world Machen creates is at once more believable and more fantastic. It is a world that manages the be cozy and terrifying. It is a Dickensian cavalcade with all of joviality and depravity of late Victorian Britain, a world that passed away during Machen's own lifetime but that he continued to evoke in his writings well into the twentieth century. Machen's is a literary sensibility continuously drawing from the past. Both the positive and the negative aspects of his fictional universe are rooted in a folkloric past unlike any author of imaginative literature outside of Tolkien. What makes Machen's monsters and malevolent supernaturals so terrifyingly believable is that people actually did believe in them at various points in human history. He didn't need to invent Great Old Ones come from beyond the stars. Actual gods from our own history and mythology were sufficiently terrifying for Machen, as they were sufficiently terrifying for our ancestors. His recasting or re-purposing of gods and monsters, be they the Greek god Pan or the fairy folk of Celtic Mythology, as figures of menace in the nineteenth and early twentieth century established a tradition continued in contemporary media with shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Grimm. Something that will strike some postmodern and pop culture audiences as off about Machen is the hearty dose of English Catholicism detectable in all his works. The son of a vicar and a devout Anglo-Catholic throughout his life, Machen came from a time when it seemed far more plausible to be a free-thinking fringe intellectual and a Christian. Machen was so conservative that it made him a rebel and an outsider to the establishment. At the same time, he is far from a repressed moralizer. He discusses love and sex, passion and hunger in a way that is as open, celebratory, and unapologetic. Contrast this with Lovecraft's complete avoidance of so much as mentioning sex, food, or money in any of his published stories. Machen is a scarier writer than Lovecraft because he has something that Lovecraft sought to conspicuously to avoid. Machen has belief. Lovecraft believed in nothing and that is what made his world terrifying. Machen believed in most everything and the terrors in the world he creates are accordingly multiplied. I like small presses and I like that these editions look like they've come from a small press. Plenty of bigger houses, from Oxford to Penguin have released editions of Machen's works. Chaosium fiction publications are a little bit funky and cheesy looking, but endearingly so I enjoy the fact that Chaosium Inc. the publishers of this delightfully weird looking set of weird tales, seem mostly to specialize in roleplaying games and incredibly involved new wave specialty boardgames. The fan base for these particular forms of entertainment often expand their avocational enthusiasms to encompass classic fantasy and horror. Authors such as Lewis, Tolkien, M. R. James, and H. P. Lovecraft are justifiably revered by the fanboy set as being elder gods of nerdom. It is nice to realize, though, that these elder nerds wore tweed jackets instead of tee shirts and that they'd make obscure jokes, but they'd make them in Latin.