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Literature / The White People

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Adaptation by Ibrahim R. Ineke

A horror short story by Arthur Machen.

A couple of youths discuss with a spiritual hermit called Ambrose about the nature of evil, upon which he presents to them a mysterious Green Book.

This turns out to be the diary of a young girl, in which she describes her strange impressions of the countryside in which she lives as well as conversations with her nurse, who initiates her into a secret world of folklore and black magic. Throughout, the girl makes cryptic allusions to such topics as "nymphs", "Dôls", "voolas," "white, green, and scarlet ceremonies", "Aklo letters", the "Xu" and "Chian" languages, and a game called "Troy Town"note . The girl's tale gradually develops a mounting atmosphere of suspense, with suggestions of witchcraft, only to break off abruptly just at the point where a supreme revelation seems imminent.

In a return to the frame story, Ambrose reveals that the girl's body was later found dead near a seemingly pagan statue in the woods. He adds that she had "poisoned herself—in time", making the analogy of a child finding the key to a locked medicine cabinet.

H. P. Lovecraft was a big fan of The White People, and would adopt many of the techniques and terminology used here to help develop his own Cthulhu Mythos stories.

"The White People" provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Innocence: The girl reacts cheerfully and enthusiastically to the dark arts and disturbing circumstances.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Ambrose poses a downright alien view on good and evil, suggesting that true evil is the desecration of natural law. By his standards, a girl's messing with The Fair Folk is more evil than a murderer.
  • Eldritch Location: The land of the white people, "Deep Dendo". Its a dim yet completely white place with a swirling sky and monuments depicting horrible things.
  • Evil Mentor: The nurse, who taught a child to perform bizarre and dangerous magic.
  • The Fair Folk: It's right in the title. 'Fair' used to mean 'pale' or 'white'.
  • Harmful to Minors: Teaching the dark arts to a child is one thing. But one of the magical tricks the nurse teaches the girl is to create a clay figurine that she implicitly has sex with. The girl's trip to the land of the white people also includes stones depicting graphic and disturbing acts.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: No, this is not a story about rednecks.
  • Light Is Not Good: The titular white people are pale and live in a shiny land of silver, but they are evil.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Ambrose considers the girl's fae to be a metaphor for the world's unknown processes.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: The girl whose journal makes up most of story 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.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The white people have almond-shaped red eyes.