Tales of Horror and the Supernatural (Arthur Machen)

TLSFHRRRND1997Now, I did say way back when I started this bloody thing that I’d be looking at some of the titles on Jones & Newman’s Horror: The 100 Best Books list (and its sequel), so, I thought, maybe I should actually DO that at last. So here’s Arthur Machen, one of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Big Four” (Messrs Dunsany, Blackwood & James being the other three, of course), with what I gather is kind of the standard “best of”; first published posthumously in 1948, a year after Machen’s death, here’s Tartarus Press still reissuing it as is half a century later. (Even Joshi’s more recent Penguin Machen volume doesn’t stray too far from this selection.) This covers pretty much the whole span of Machen’s somewhat curious career, from early works from the 1890s like The Great God Pan up to some of his last stories in the mid-30s, with a selection of his wartime stuff in-between, including the infamous “The Bowmen”… this latter actually proves to be pretty negligible as a story, but of enduring interest as the source of the “Angels of Mons” legend (which horrified Machen, who hadn’t wanted to whip up this rather hysterical inadvertent hoax). Found it a bit hard to see what so appalled Machen’s contemporaries about GGP in the ’90s, though I still like it; was actually less enamoured of “The White People”, which I just found overly nebulous and perplexing. (Not unlike Lovecraft, Machen could evidently be a bit too heavy on mere suggestiveness.) Probably most impressed by the last item in this volume, the novel-length The Terror from 1917, a wartime tale in which an isolated region of Wales is beset by the inexplicable “terror” of the title; the expository ending is a bit flat, but otherwise the book’s determination to almost unrelentingly up the body count is something to behold. On the whole, worthy of being on that 100 Best list.

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