The Great God Pan
02/18/2009 § Leave a comment
Until today I had never read anything by Arthur Machen. I had heard his name often enough, as he is often spoken of in the same breath as H.P. Lovecraft, but I never got around to reading him. Now that I have I am super excited to read more, multiple times.
I began with the preface, which, as it often turns out, was lamesville (except for a lovely excahnge between Machen and Oscar Wilde). Maybe after a while I’ll get a more scholarly edition, not the one from the Harold Washing Library, and the preface will be more readable. I hope so at least. After the first few pages I abandoned it and skipped to the story in the collection that, at least to me, is the most famous of all his works The Great God Pan.
H.P. Lovecraft was an admirer of Machen and names him one of the four fathers of “weird” or “horror” literature in an essay he wrote about the subject. He definitely borrows ideas from Machen , particularly the cult and demon related elements. Machen however creates a more powerful mood than Lovecraft in his settings, mirroring the gothic much more than Lovecrafts spiraling narratives of madness and secret cults, and aliens and elder beings.
The Great God Pan begins with two men about to perform a procedure on a young, and conveniently willing 17 year old woman. What this procedure amounts to is something akin to lobotomizing the poor girl. What this will do, says the mad scientist to his skeptical friend, is allow the veil of this world to be lifted and the girl will see “The Great God Pan” which is basically code for things not of this world like, God and demons and other horrifying creatures.
I really loved this idea. I don’t know that I’ve ever come across brain surgery as an avenue to God and Satan, but it is a wonderfully unique one. It also reminded me of The Statement of Randolph Carter by Lovecraft. Not so much in its general ideas but in its general structure, i.e. two guys, one who is much more interested in finding the secrets of greater beings than the other, who do something crazy to accomplish this. And of course it ends with catastrophic results, at least for many involved.
The story is split up into many different parts with different characters coming and going, utilizing some straight 3rd person narrative, but also epistolary and first person. What ends up happening is horrible (I almost wrote wonderful. It is wonderful in a literary sense) and very reminiscent of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.
I highly, highly recommend this story and will update as I continue to read his other prose.