Beyond the Veil: The Fiction of Arthur Machen–An Essay

Left: An early paperback edition of Machen’s fiction; right: Oxford Univ. Press 2018 edition.

from a 2011 essay by Michael Dirda see link to the full article after the post…

‘H.P. Lovecraft, the American master of supernatural fiction, once described Arthur Machen (1863 – 1947) as the author of “some dozen tales long and short, in which the elements of hidden horror and brooding fright attain an almost incomparable substance and realistic acuteness.” With his first major story, “The Great God Pan” (1894), Machen mixed together transgressive scientific experiments, pagan survivals, a heartless, only half-human femme fatale, and a fantasmagoric climax involving protoplasmic reversion. To this day, just saying that title — “The Great God Pan” — makes me shiver.

As Philip Van Doren Stern noted in his introduction to the 1948 Machen omnibus Tales of Horror and the Supernatural, the Welsh author “did not write a single ghost story.” Instead, “he wrote of things more ancient even than ghosts,…for Machen dealt with the elemental forces of evil, with spells that outlast time, and with the malign powers of folklore and fairy tale.” His work repeatedly underscores the thin line between the material world of appearances and a darker occult reality. As one of his characters poetically says:

Now I know that the walls of sense that seemed so impenetrable, that seemed to loom up above the heaven and to be founded below the depths, and to shut us in for evermore, are no such everlasting impassable barriers as we fancied, but thinnest and most airy veils that melt away before the seeker and dissolve as the early mist in the morning about the brooks.

In Machen’s central mythology a squat, malevolent race of primordial beings survives to the present day, lurking in hills and forests and caves. Machen describes their characteristics most fully in “The Novel of the Black Seal” when its narrator happens upon an old Latin treatise and makes the following translation:

The folk…dwells in remote and secret places, and celebrates foul mysteries on savage hills. Nothing have they in common with men save the face, and the customs of humanity are wholly strange to them; and they hate the sun. They hiss rather than speak; their voices are harsh, and not to be heard without fear. They boast of a certain stone, which they call Sixtystone; for they say that it displays sixty characters. And this stone has a secret unspeakable name, which is Ixaxar.

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Holy Terrors: The Weird Tales of Arthur Machen Hit the Screen!


Holy Terrors: A Collection of Weird Tales by Welsh Author Arthur Machen

Programmed by Lee Broughton in Association with Mark Goodall

Very much in the tradition of the BBC’s classic Ghost Story for Christmas plays, Holy Terrors is a stylish portmanteau period horror film that features six stories by the Victorian master of ‘weird fiction’ Arthur Machen (1863-1947).


Arthur Machen, date unknown (Public Domain).

Machen’s most notorious story ‘The Bowmen’, in which British forces defeat the German army at Mons in August 1914 with the help of spectral archers from the Battle of Agincourt and the story ‘The Happy Children’, which is set in Whitby in 1915, feature alongside four equally uncanny and confounding Machen tales. In keeping with Machen’s love of the town, Holy Terrors was shot on location in Whitby, North Yorkshire.

Co-director: Mark Goodall, will introduce the screening.

Director: Julian Butler and Mark Goodall, 2017, UK, 1h 15min, Cert 15.

Stars: Timothy Greenwood, Joyce Branagh and Jon Preece with an original musical score composed by David Chatton Barker.

Event Details

Date: 18th December 2017
Time: 8:00 pm
Cost: £6 on the door
Event Category: Film Venue
Where: Seven Artspace, 31(a) Harrogate Road, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, LS7 3PD
Telephone: 0113 26 26 777

“Arthur Machen: A Novelist of Ecstasy and Sin”—An Essay by Vincent Starrett, 1918


Arthur Machen is, perhaps, best known for his horror novella “The Great God Pan”, published as a shorter story in 1890, and, four years later, in 1894, in its full length form, which we know and celebrate today. Machen scholars and critics attribute the tale to the Decadent Movement in Literature (and Art), begun by Baudelaire eat al, in France during the last decade of the 19th Century. Machen, himself, rejected the attribution, claiming that the story has its roots in the mystical Welch countryside where he was born in 1865, and in which he lived most of his life.

Arthur Machen: A Novelist of Ecstasy and Sin

Vincent Starrett

Originally published in 1918.

Some thirty odd years ago, a young man of twenty-two, the son of a Welsh clergyman, fresh from school and with his head full of a curiously occult mediaevalism, privately acquired from yellowed palimpsests and dog-eared volumes of black letter, wrote a classic. More, he had it published. Only one review copy was sent out; that was to Le Livre, of Paris. It fell into the hands of Octave Uzanne, who instantly ordered Rabelais and Boccaccio to “shove over” on the immortal seats and make room by their side for the author. The book was The Chronicle of Clemendy; the author, Arthur Machen.

Three years ago, about, not long after the great war first shook the world, a London evening newspaper published inconspicuously a purely fictional account of a supposed incident of the British retreat from Mons. It described the miraculous intervention of the English archers of Agincourt at a time when the British were sore pressed by the German hordes. Immediately, churchmen, spiritualists, and a host of others, seized upon it as an authentic record and the miracle as an omen. In the hysteria that followed, Arthur Machen, its author, found himself a talked-of man, because he wrote to the papers denying that the narrative was factual. Later, when his little volume, The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War, appeared in print, it met with an extraordinary and rather impertinent success.

But what had Machen been doing all those long years between 1885 and 1914?

In a day of haphazard fiction and rodomontade criticism, the advent of a master workman is likely to be unheralded, if, indeed, he is fortunate enough to find a publisher to put him between covers. Mr. Machen is not a newcomer, however, as we have seen; no immediate success with a “best seller” furnishes an incentive for a complimentary notice. He is an unknown, in spite of Clemendy, in spite of “The Bowmen,” in spite of everything. For thirty years he has been writing English prose, a period ample for the making of a dozen reputations of the ordinary kind, and in that time he has produced just ten books. In thirty years Harold Bindloss and Rex Beach will have written one-hundred-and-ten books and sold the moving picture rights of them all.

Of course, it is exactly because he does not write books of the ordinary kind that Arthur Machen’s reputation as a writer was not made long ago. His apotheosis will begin after his death. The insectial fame of the “popular” novelist is immediate; it is born at dawn and dies at sunset. The enduring fame of the artist too often is born at sunset, but it is immortal.

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