When Arthur Machen revealed his first critical try at a supernatural story in 1890, it might set the tone for his horror fiction for the remainder of his life. Practically all of the themes, motifs, and philosophy that might make Machen an icon of fin-de-siècle horror could be present in “The Nice God Pan” – the story that he’s most well-known for, however one to which critics proceed to have combined reactions. “Pan” was a examine in Machen’s favourite horror narrative: the story of two worlds touching – barely overlapping, but lengthy sufficient for one thing from past to take seed on the earth of human affairs. Practically the entire speculative fiction that he wrote earlier than World Conflict One considerations this concept of non secular cross pollination. In a way he was speaking about what Ivan T. Sanderson known as vile vortices – home windows by which the Exterior can attain in and seize us. In his tales these vortices are strongest among the many rugged Welsh wilderness, however they are often summoned in Westminster parlors, Soho alleys, or West Finish residences. Apart from any real theories in regards to the supernatural, “The Nice God Pan” – and the remainder of Machen’s prewar corpus – is primarily invested in reminding us of the nearness of the Past. This doesn’t essentially imply the land of ghosts and fairies, but it surely does imply the Past of the human spirit.
Like Robert Louis Stevenson, Machen was obsessive about the idea of vestigial evil – a form of atavistic will-to-wickedness that clung to the again of males’s brains like a hungry parasite regardless of all our science, manners, and political correctness. Machen wrote at a time when the center class was surging: the times of a small, educated elite and a large, illiterate populace depending on clergymen and noblemen for his or her sense of identification was lengthy gone, and whereas Machen would hardly have wished humanity again into feudal Europe, he was involved in regards to the speedy strides made and the intoxication of independence. As the center courses frequently divorced themselves from communities, traditions, religions, folklore, and historical past – turning to the democratization of science and capitalism which permitted a person to do as he damn-well happy – Machen foresaw the perils of a world off the leash. Earlier than the world wars, earlier than the Russian Revolution, earlier than the Holocaust, earlier than the nuclear bomb, Machen had a way that science, business, know-how, and the period which they have been ushering had the potential to unlock the doorways which faith and group had stored barred for hundreds of years – the doorways imprisoning our potential to destroy ourselves and people round us.
In Greco-Roman mythology, Pan was the deity who embodied chaos. He reveled in lonely nature, terrorized skittish shepherds, indulged carelessly in bestiality, rape, and pedophilia, and defied the order of the villages. Pan was worshipped because the bringer of insanity – defiant of civilization, drunk on his liberty, prince of the wild hills, lord of the black void of house. The well-known experiment in Machen’s novella makes use of science and ethical relativism to justify the unleashing of Pan on a weak lady, and she or he – the sexually violated sufferer of a careless intelligentsia, and a flippantly amoral patriarchy – turns into the vessel which is able to deliver Hell to earth. Not in contrast to “Rosemary’s Child,” this story – usually lambasted by critics for its misogyny – is the story of how abuse, sexism, and ethical relativism flip a defenseless girl into the surrogate mom of an abomination – a baby who will usher in apocalypse if left unchecked. In “Rosemary’s Child” that youngster was the spawn of Devil. In Machen’s novella, we will by no means be certain. Outer forces with archetypal connections to Celtic and Roman paganism – gods or monsters or aliens or elementals that humanity had detected since our retreat into the caves the place fireplace stored the bogeys at bay. Machen is rarely exact about what impregnates the sufferer of his amoral scientist, however he implies that it’s a drive of chaos, virulently anti-human, hateful of innocence and life – an influence that makes use of human beings with out loving them, that unfeelingly wrings them dry of life and hope earlier than sending them away to insanity and suicide. A vampiric entity that could possibly be a metaphor for the grasping capitalism that might breed the Nice Despair, or for the heartless science that might result in eugenics and the Holocaust. However Machen doesn’t know himself, or doesn’t say. It is sufficient to know that it’s chaos incarnate. It’s the nice god Pan.
Machen by no means wrote a narrative that extra completely illustrated his private philosophy than “The Nice God Pan”: all through its pages we sense his skepticism of contemporary progress, his concern of our vestigial evil, his sense of humanity’s relative smallness. As we shut “The Nice God Pan,” different issues stand up for our dialogue. Essentially the most troubling and one is Machen’s therapy of sexuality, ladies, and Helen Vaughn specifically. Machen has incessantly been accused of misogyny – a declare bolstered by tales like “The Shining Pyramid” and “The White Individuals.” Certainly, the first concern that the majority fashionable readers notice from Helen is her rambunctious intercourse life. To 21st century readers, a fast learn of “Pan” may depart them with the impression that their sexually adventurous sister, polygamous greatest buddy, or bisexual roommate would have impressed Machen with puritanical shudders of terror. I believe that is an comprehensible, however completely nearsighted misreading of the textual content. Helen’s menace just isn’t in her sexuality – though that’s actually a part of it – and even in the way in which she treats males like so many males of the day handled ladies (as disposable intercourse objects). These are components, however to focus so carefully on the sexuality of Helen Vaughn is to overlook the entire.
What does Helen characterize aside from sexually liberated womanhood? She is careless with human life, amused with the corruption of innocence (together with the sexual molestation of an underage lady whom she lured to a supernatural orgy), and unsettled by the trail of carnage that she leaves in her wake. Helen just isn’t repulsive as a result of she enjoys intercourse, and even as a result of she is implied to be polygamous, bisexual, or perhaps a hybrid horror from Past. She is repulsive as a result of she embodies the alternative of human love, group, and concern: she is the epitome of callous, disconnected indifference that’s unconcerned with the plight of the poor, the abuse of the weak, the violation of the weak, or the distress or the hopeless. In comparison with dread Cthulhu, who actively seeks the oblivion of mankind, Helen appears tremendously overwhelming, however I might argue –particularly as we speak, in a digitally-neutered world the place relationships are extra splintered and poisonous than ever, with anxiousness, weight problems, loneliness, alienation, bullying, melancholy, and disenfranchisement at all-time highs – that she is a much more loathsome horror than Lovecraft’s elder issues. Oblivion we will stand. We will cling to 1 one other and weep and bid our farewells as R’lyeh rises above us, blackening the solar and breaking our minds. However there may be one factor that’s much more crippling to the human spirit than the reign of Yog Sothoth and faceless Nyarlathotep: indifference, rejection, and apathy from somebody whom we liked and hoped would love us.
Now bear with me: I can see that I’m shedding a few of you, however you suppose I’m arguing that your ex-girlfriend is on par with the Crawling Chaos. However see, there once more, we’ve gone down a Freudian slippery slope and made this story completely about intercourse – which it isn’t. Helen is a lot greater than a maneater. She despises the best feelings of the human expertise, turns away from the gang-rape of a prepubescent lady, and despises the dependency of human beings on each other. One of the disappointing components of “The Nice God Pan” for many readers is Helen’s suicide. Why ought to she be so simply blackmailed into killing herself? Some monster! She’s afraid of being found? She’s embarrassed of being uncovered as a libertine? Hardly. Helen Vaughan doesn’t give a flying fuck if she is uncovered to society. If something, she’s tired of humanity: we’re easy, gullible, clingy, sentimental, and too depending on one another. Helen Vaughan has no room in her life for concern or hope or hate or love or desperation or journey or peace or thrills. She is a lazy, apathetic villain consumed together with her urge for food for draining life and hope wherever she goes.
Like her father, Pan, she is all over the place and all the pieces. Her dying throes show that. She isn’t even “she,” or “it” – Helen is “They” and They don’t fear about dying or scandal. They don’t fear about human feelings or losses or distress. They merely transfer on and change into Different. She assents to Villier’s request that she kill herself in all probability extra out of boredom and irritation that concern or embarrassment. Attributable to Victorian requirements of sexual decorum, Machen’s imaginative and prescient – which was outrageously scandalous on the time, to his delight – has been learn too actually by some. He used the metaphor of sexual liscentiousness for instance absolutely the depravity, lack of empathy, and disrespect for human relationships that epitomizes Helen’d lifeless soul. For Machen’s viewers, it was all of the extra ghastly as a result of Helen was in feminine form, however as we speak she might simply as simply be an inside buying and selling inventory dealer, a parish pedophile, a human trafficker, or a munitions lobbyist.
Helen’s debased sexual urge for food remains to be a vital a part of her attractiveness as a villain, however Machen noticed far, far, way more in her wickedness than a wild libido. He noticed the way forward for a humanity that tolerated the abuse of the poor by the educated, that allowed the pursuit of technological innovation to be the next regulation than human decency, that privileged sure courses of individuals over others, and that valued income over lives. As we speak our world is much more formed within the picture of Helen Vaughan than Machen might have imagined. In some methods we’re significantly better, however in others we now have grown much less empathic, extra brutal, and extra monstrous. We stay in a society that exults within the humiliation of others, leech consolation from the struggling, and delights in having extra, taking extra, and being extra. We exult in Us. We exult in Me. We exult within the nice god Pan.
You possibly can learn the entire story HERE,
And you will discover our annotated and illustrated assortment of Machen’s greatest horror HERE.