Almost all of Arthur Machen’s works—fiction and nonfiction alike—are touched by his sense of the marvelous, his belief that another, more meaningful world lies behind the facade of routine, everyday sense experience. Sometimes this other world is one of horror—as in the nightmarish events described in “The White People”—and sometimes it is a world of wonder and joy. As a character in his story “The Red Hand” puts it, “There are sacraments of evil as well as of good about us, and we live and move to my belief in an unknown world, a place where there are caves and shadows and dwellers in twilights.”
In many cases Machen’s protagonists use drugs or other medical means to pierce the veil of so-called reality. A theory that Machen dramatized in many of his works—that the folklore of elves and fairies has its origin in the survival of a primitive dwarf race driven underground by the invading Celts—represents an extension of this belief. His interests and subject matter place Machen outside the realistic tradition of British fiction but mark him as an important and highly influential figure in the development of modern fantasy.
Machen’s writings defy easy classification. His best fictional writings inhabit a middle ground between the short story and the novel; his works in the former category are often developed with the indirection and leisurely pace readers associate with the latter. One important volume, The Three...
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