The Great God Pan – Arthur Machen – Book Review

The Great God Pan – Arthur Machen
Seven Treasures Publications

A young Doctor and his assistant attempt to empower a young woman with the ability to see the hidden world of Pagan gods. The Doctor surgically removes the part of her brain that blocks the human mind from seeing this forbidden world, and the woman spirals into a delirious state, unable to provide any useful account of what she has experienced. Many years later, London is in the grips of a rash of suicides by gentlemen of all social standings. The doctor and his friend begin to unravel clues given by testimony and story from a host of characters and sources. They discover a common thread; all the men had relations with a strange but beautiful woman who had recently taken residence in London. They know this stranger is too young to be the woman of their experiment so many years ago, but can not shake the notion of some connection.

Machen has a way of skirting around the tale and slowly spiraling inward, revealing what is at the center, rather than going straight ahead into the crux of the tale. Most of his stories are this combination of mystery and horror, quite often leaving you at the very edge of an abyss, to imagine the story’s outcome, or the fate of the characters. For those not familiar with Machen’s work, this would be the best tale to begin with, as it sets the tone and style of all of his works and gives you an understanding of the way he reveals his dark visions.

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.

Thomas Ligotti – Teatro Grottesco – book review

Thomas Ligotti – Teatro Grottesco
Virgin Books, ltd.

I am late in discovering the talent of Thomas Ligotti considering his first collection had been published in 1986. However, I am glad Teatro Grottesco  is the first of his books that I read because it is the best collection to date and the most accessible to horror fans. Ligotti is mostly considered an author of strange fiction and weird tales but the end result is always horror no matter what path had been taken to get there. Upon reading the first story in this collection, Purity, I sat in my chair unmoving for several minutes. Then, I turned back to page one and re-read the whole story. Reading this story was like watching a magician perform an exceptional illusion. It was simultaneously bizarre and commonplace, eccentric and familiar, fantastic but low-key. This was not a fluke applicable to this one story. Indeed, I found myself re-reading several of the stories repeatedly as I tackled the book including, The Clown Puppet and Gas Station Carnivals.

Another quality of Ligotti’s style is that he seems to be the exception to every rule. Everything that my teachers and mentors have ever told me about becoming a published fiction writer, about my work, Ligotti embraces in his style. I was told, don’t write in first person if you want to get published; all of his stories are in first person. I am told I have too much exposition; some of his stories are loaded to the gills with exposition. I am told to be succinct, something Ligotti definitely is not. I am told to be careful of block writing; some of Ligotti’s stories have the first paragraph and subsequent paragraphs weighing in at a full page each. Just flip through the book and you will see page after page of text with few paragraph indents. I am told my writing is unduly formal; at times Ligotti seems to be writing a reference book rather than a fictional story. But it all works for him as he weaves interesting, strange, and fantastic tales that are as sincere as they are bizarre and stories that captivate the reader and drag them off to a place they have never been.

If you enjoy reading Lovecraft and Poe, you will most likely embrace Ligotti. If you prefer the streamline style of Dean Koontz, you may find Ligotti a bit overbearing. But try it out for yourself and make your own decision. Teatro Grottesco is a good place to start.