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Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Archive Profiles: Arthur Machen

The Welsh horror author, the man behind The Great God Pan Arthur Machen (a book Stephen King called perhaps the best horror story ever written in the English language) is  not as well known as his fellow Celtic scribes - Dylan Thomas, Richard Williams, but he remains one of the most influential authors to ever take up a pen.


Machen was born Arthur Llewelyn Jones, in Caerleon, Monmouthshire, a vicar's son who became infatuated from a young age with the area's brooding landscape and rich Celtic, Roman and medieval history, particularly the Holy Grail and the legends of King Arthur. The house of his birth, opposite the Olde Bull Inn in The Square at Caerleon, is adjacent to the Priory Hotel and is today marked with a commemorative blue plaque. The beautiful landscape of Monmouthshire (which he usually referred to by the name of the medieval Welsh kingdom, Gwent), with its associations of Celtic, Roman, and medieval history, made a powerful impression on him, and his love of it is at the heart of many of his works.

Machen's Birthplace
 Machen's best known work The Great God Pan, was published in 1894 by John Lane as part of the noted Keynotes Series. At the time Machen's story was widely denounced for its sexual and horrific content but these days it's taken its rightful place alongside classic literature. H P Lovecraft said of the book, ' ‘It works its cumulative suspense… with which every paragraph abounds’.

And Stephen King was quoted as saying - ‘Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan…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 behaviour – obsessive/compulsive disorder – together with the idea of a monster-filled macroverse’.

Other popular short stories and novels followed, including The Three Imposters (1895), Hieroglyphics (1902), 'The White People' (1904), The Hill of Dreams (1907), and the prose-poem collection Ornaments in Jade, written in 1897 but not published until 1924.In 1899, Machen's beloved wife passed away leaving him grief-stricken. He was persuaded to join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn - a secret society devoted to the study and practice of the paranormal - by a friend seeking to ease his suffering. He remained interested in the paranormal throughout his life.

Perhaps one of the author's most enduring works is 'The Bowmen', which is based on the legend of the Angels of Mons coming to the aid of British soldiers on the frontline. This story was hugely popular at the time and gave the author something of a comeback. He followed its success with The Terror (1917) and The Secret Glory (1922), a final masterpiece bringing recognition in America.

Despite his success financial security always eluded Machen and only an appeal launched by  TS Eliot, George Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm and Algernon Blackwood ensured that he could spend his final years in relative comfort. He died in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, in 1947.He left behind him an impressive body of work that continues to influence writers today.


THE BOWMEN
BY ARTHUR MACHEN

It was during the Retreat of the Eighty Thousand, and the authority of the Censorship is sufficient excuse for not being more explicit. But it was on the most awful day of that awful time, on the day when ruin and disaster came so near that their shadow fell over London far away; and, without any certain news, the hearts of men failed within them and grew faint; as if the agony of the army in the battlefield had entered into their souls.
     On this dreadful day, then, when three hundred thousand men in arms with all their artillery swelled like a flood against the little English company, there was one point above all other points in our battle line that was for a time in awful danger, not merely of defeat, but of utter annihilation. With the permission of the Censorship and of the military expert, this corner may, perhaps, be described as a salient, and if this angle were crushed and broken, then the English force as a whole would be shattered, the Allied left would be turned, and Sedan would inevitably follow.
     All the morning the German guns had thundered and shrieked against this corner, and against the thousand or so of men who held it. The men joked at the shells, and found funny names for them, and had bets about them, and greeted them with scraps of music-hall songs. But the shells came on and burst, and tore good Englishmen limb from limb, and tore brother from brother, and as the heat of the day increased so did the fury of that terrific cannonade. There was no help, it seemed. The English artillery was good, but there was not nearly enough of it; it was being steadily battered into scrap iron. CONTINUE READING

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