Our cover is a tantalising window into the 1894 edition of Machen's classic, which used the same artwork on its title page. The Great God Pan is as much a page-turner today as then, bearing comparison with Dracula in its confrontation between modern (as it was then) life in England and occult, supernatural power. In Chapter 1, promisingly called THE EXPERIMENT, the surgeon Raymond tells the protagonist:
‘Look about you, Clarke. You see the mountain, and hill following after hill, as wave on wave, you see the woods and orchard, the fields of ripe corn, and the meadows reaching to the reed-beds by the river. You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things — yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet — I say that all these are but dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes.'
This is the sort of boundary-pushing science you find in H. G. Wells's pages a little later in the 1890s — Dr Raymond perhaps went to the same medical school as Dr Moreau — and Clarke has his doubts.
Clarke shivered; the white mist gathering over the river was chilly. ‘It is wonderful indeed,’ he said. ‘We are standing on the brink of a strange world, Raymond, if what you say is true. I suppose the knife is absolutely necessary?’
A Welshman, and a much more varied and unclassifiable writer than either of the labels 'Decadent' or 'Horror' would suggest, Arthur Machen had a long career: sometimes in the literary limelight, sometimes in the wings. (This collection includes a selection of his non-fiction too, as well as contemporary reviews.) His reputation first fell and then rose, for largely external reasons: he had a hard time selling decadent fiction after Oscar Wilde went to prison in 1895; then again, he became a patriotic figure in 1915 for writing The Bowmen, in which angels defend British troops fighting in the trenches — which seems likely to have started the whole Angels of Mons legend. It's hard to read this sort of thing now without imagining Wildred Owen curling his lip, but Machen may have seen it as a fairly light-hearted tale rather than an exercise in either progaganda or the ghost story. At any rate, renewed popularity in the 1920s kept him afloat, and though he didn't die rich, he ended much respected as a man of letters.
Decadent and Occult Works by Arthur Machen is available now, priced at just £12.99 paperback, £24.99 hardback.