The White People… by Arthur Machen – book review

The White People and Other Weird Stories – Arthur Machen
Penguin Classics

This is not the easiest of reads. Some will be turned off by the long expose’, a peeling of layers common to all of Machen’s stories. (*Also common to many of his contemporaries of the time, including H.P. Lovecraft). There is quite a bit of reference to the common knowledge of the times that is not-so-common knowledge now, such as; words and ideas of alchemy, Welsh folklore, Celtic mythology, and word origins both faded with time, and invented for the tale. There is even a glossary of explanations in the back of the book.

In The White People, two educated men are debating the possibilities of the true existence of evil when one unveils a young ladies diary as proof of his argument. The story is then told through the diary, about the young lady’s adventures in the remote countryside of her home. The mystery is unveiled, hinting that the countryside itself is a labyrinth of sorts and that getting through it would lead you to an ancient, occult culture of White People, who engaged in bizarre rituals and pagan witchcraft. Machen leads you to the very edge of this forbidden knowledge, then pulls back never letting you really see the horror that the character has discovered.

The book includes other stories such as, The Inmost Light, where a wealthy man intent on proving the existence of the human spirit, captures his wife’s soul in a crystal rock by means of an ancient ritual. Her soulless body is led around town by her husband and his servants, going through the motions of life with blank expression and disinterest. Several stories cater to the same notions that ancient pagan people, gods, deities, and rituals still survive to this day and can sometimes influence or destroy modern people who seek this knowledge. Additional stories collected here are, The Terror, The Bowmen, and A Fragment of Life, amongst others. The book includes a foreword by Guillermo Del Toro and an introduction by S.T. Joshi.

If you are the type of person that likes a horror mystery to unravel in layers, and are interested in the mindset and notions of an age gone by, this would be a good read for you. Machen’s stories are rich with description, symbolism and enigma.

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