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Creator / Arthur Machen

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"He will, I believe, be heard from some time as one of the great decadents; for he has crystallized in clay and will one day mirror in marble those nightmares and phantasies which Arthur Machen evokes in prose, and Clark Ashton Smith makes visible in verse and in painting."

Arthur Machen (real name Arthur Llewellyn Jones; 3 March 1863 – 15 December 1947) was a Welsh author and actor best known for his fantasy and horror tales set in the decadent Edwardian era. He was a major influence on H. P. Lovecraft, who considered him a modern master who could create "cosmic horror raised to its most artistic pitch." In addition to The Great God Pan, Lovecraft also praised "The Novel of the Black Seal" and "The Novel of the White Powder" (The Three Imposters) as "approach[ing] the absolute culmination of loathsome fright" and used them as the basis for his own works Cool Air and The Colour Out of Space. Along with his American contemporary Robert W. Chambers, Machen is noted today as one of the forerunners of the Cosmic Horror genre Lovecraft pioneered.

Machen was born to a poor vicar in rural Wales. As an adult, his poverty was greatly ameliorated by an inheritance left him by several Scottish relatives, which also enabled him to devote more time to writing. He took up acting shortly after the death of his first wife in 1899 and associated with Aleister Crowley and his circle, mostly out of curiosity. Machen is also responsible for "The Angels of Mons", a fictional tale he wrote for a newspaper during World War I that many subsequently treated as a true story - despite his insistence that it was no such thing.

After a brief period of popularity in the 1920s, Machen's fortunes faded. On his eightieth birthday in 1943, however, a literary appeal was launched to formally recognize him as a distinguished man of letters. Signers of the appeal included T. S. Eliot, George Bernard Shaw, Walter de la Mare, Algernon Blackwood, and John Masefield. Its success allowed Machen to live out his final years in relative comfort.

Selected works include:

The Great God Pan, Machen's most famous work, has its own page. Tropes appearing in Machen's other stories include:

  • Adaptation Distillation: One of his final novels, The Terror was later pared down to a small fraction of its original length by a magazine editor and republished as a short story, The Coming of the Terror. Machen himself was very impressed with the result.
  • Agent Mulder: Many are featured in his writings, though Dyson is almost certainly the most notable.
  • Agent Scully: Phillipps, to Dyson's Mulder.
  • All First-Person Narrators Write Like Novelists: The Three Imposters is made of this.
  • Amateur Sleuth / Occult Detective: Dyson in "The Shining Pyramid" and The Three Imposters.
  • Apocalyptic Log: "The White People"
  • Author Avatar: Several of Machen's protagonists were born to poor vicars, struggle to write in poverty, and/or live off an inheritance left to them by deceased relatives. The imaginative and inquisitive Dyson is a prominent example, as is Lucian Taylor in The Hill of Dreams.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The Three Impostors, though it's something of a Pyrrhic Victory for them because - in spite of all their efforts and all the torture they inflicted - they never actually recovered the Gold Tiberius.
  • Black Speech: The language of the Little People is described this way.
    "He seemed to pour forth an infamous jargon, with words, or what seemed words, that might have belonged to a tongue dead since untold ages and buried deep beneath Nilotic mud, or in the inmost recesses of the Mexican forest. For a moment the thought passed through my mind, as my ears were still revolted with that infernal clamour, 'Surely this is the very speech of hell.'"
  • Body Horror: The climax of "The Novel of the White Powder." Also strongly implied to be part of the Little People's victims' fate.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor Mrs. Black ("The Inmost Light").
  • Character Filibuster: The Three Imposters is made up of this. Miss Lally even recites from memory a letter that is several pages long. Characters in other stories are also prone to Walls of Text.
  • Child by Rape: Jervase Cradock in The Three Impostors.
  • Cosmic Horror: One of the genre's forerunners.
  • Creator Breakdown: Inverted. After his wife died, Machen went through a great deal of personal turmoil and soul searching. He became deeply involved in Christian spirituality and used his newfound sense of inner peace to write two particularly upbeat novels, The Great Return and The Secret Glory.
  • Creator Cameo: Machen would appear as the nameless protagonist in some of his later stories, such as The Happy Children or Out of the Earth. He was also the Greek Chorus and Decoy Protagonist of The Terror.
  • Creepy Child: The girl in "The White People."
  • Don't Go in the Woods: Several people go missing after venturing off in isolated rural areas.
  • Fair Folk: Machen went straight back to the earliest legends and created a particularly nightmarish version he called the "Little People." A general summary of these things can be found here. They are truly Eldritch Abominations before Lovecraft.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation
  • Half-Human Hybrid:
    • In The Three Imposters, the boy Jervase Cradock is part Fair Folk; his mother was raped by one.
    • The eponymous character in The Bright Boy is implied to also be one, only his parentage is the opposite: a human father and an infernal mother; this may be the reason why he's quite intelligent while Jervase is barely functioning.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: He was really fond of using "queer" as a synonym for "strange". But by far the most triumphant example is The Great God Pan's "gay curtains".
  • Human Sacrifice: The Little People do this.
  • In Name Only: The radio adaptation of The Red Hand that was done by The Weird Circle, a show with a history of doing this for their book-to-radio adaptations. Oddly enough, while it had absolutely nothing in common with the original story, it did have some minor (and probably unintentional) similarities to one of Machen's other works: The Three Impostors.
  • Light Is Not Good: According to his novels if something is associated with the color white or is luminous be sure to run away as fast as you can.
  • Luck-Based Search Technique: A common element of Machen's early fiction is the protagonists finding clues to the mystery entirely by luck, especially in The Three Imposters.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Black. (Professor Gregg was more misguided.)
  • Monster-Shaped Mountain: The diary-writing girl from "The White People" encounters a field full of odd stones shaped like faces, weird twisted animals, and dead bodies. They whisper to her, and she imitates their poses.
  • Mystery Magnet: Dyson just comes across the weirdest things completely by chance.
  • Never Recycle a Building: At the end of "The Three Imposters" there's an abandoned mansion within walking distance of London and completely accessible to passers-by, yet is still untouched except for the natural processes of decay.
  • Nightmare Face: Quite a few instances of visages almost too horrible to describe.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: The girl whose journal makes up most of "The White People" doesn't really seem to get how bizarre the things she's talking about are, or the deeper implications of the stuff she's seen.
  • Non-Action Guy: His main characters are mostly male, and serve as observers to weird happenings. Some note probable crimes and simply wander away without telling anyone.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: "The White People." She never did say what the titular beings are.
  • Platonic Cave: Machen's favorite theme. In essence, the man believed that Victorian society and its norms was artificial, which combined with his general interest in the occult lend to most of his stories being about some poor idiots going mad from discovering that the reality they know is a shadow from the true nature of the universe, which may itself be simply a reflection from a truer spirit world (i.e. The Great God Pan, for instance). Whereas its literal is debatable in some cases, however, as the narrator of The White People flat out considers this to be simply a metaphor for the shock of people going beyond their worldview.
  • Scenery Porn: The man had a gift for making you feel like you were really in the settings of the stories.
  • Screw Yourself: Implied in "Novel of the White Powder", with a truly horrible outcome.
  • Shout-Out: The title of The Three Imposters is a Shout-Out to the Treatise of the Three Imposters, a supposedly heretical text denouncing organised religion.
  • Supernatural Fiction
  • Take Our Word for It: As with Lovecraft later on, a lot of horrifying stuff is only hinted at.
  • Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Take a shot whenever one of the protagonists on his novels becomes scared shitless when they learn that society is not what it seems and there are stranger and wilder crazies other there. Given his personal beliefs, however, this is unique in that it may be satire.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The title characters in The Three Impostors, though the title is pretty much a dead giveaway that this trope applies.
  • Wall of Text: The "Green Book" section of The White People is 20 pages along, and consists of less than 10 paragraphs.
  • Was Once a Man: Mrs. Black.
    • Also Fredrick Leicester in The Three Impostors
  • Wild Wilderness
  • Your Vampires Suck: "The Novel of the Black Seal" has Professor Gregg speak on the cute image of fairies and how inaccurate they are. In fact, Gregg goes on to say that the image was partly the result of humans trying to downplay how cruel the Fair a Folk could be; much like how they were referred to as "Fair" and "Good," so, too, were they pictured in beautiful forms, so as to let humanity sleep well at night.