Machen, Arthur 1863-1947
(Born Arthur Llewellyn Jones; also wrote under pseudonym of Leolinus Siluriensis) Welsh short story writer, novelist, essayist, autobiographer, translator, and journalist.
Machen is best known for his tales of bizarre occurrences and supernatual horror. In his short stories he explores the ways in which occult forces reveal the opposing elements of good and evil within human nature. Machen's characters were drawn from the occult and supernatural, such as demons and witches, malignant fairies, evil gods, and creatures speaking unintelligible languages.
Machen was born the only son of a clergyman in Caerleon-on-Usk, Wales. He spent a lonely childhood exploring the somber grandeur of the countryside in Gwent, and his youthful fascination with the beauty of the countryside is reflected in his critically admired descriptions of natural phenomena. Machen studied in London to become a surgeon, but failed the examination; subsequently, he began a career in journalism. In 1894 his first collection of short stories, The Great God Pan and the Inmost Light, was published to modest critical and commercial attention. Machen never achieved financial security from his work and in order to supplement his income, became a member of Frank Benson's Shakespeare Repertory Company as an actor. Several years later, he returned to writing journalism and fiction full-time, publishing stories and short novels in many English periodicals. Machen died in 1947.
Major Works of Short FictionMachen's all-embracing theme was the transformation of the world of everyday reality into a world of magic and wonder. One of his first stories, "The Great God Pan" concerns a woman undergoing experimental brain surgery that enables her to see the god Pan. She later gives birth to a daughter and then dies in a state of hopeless idiocy. Her daughter, Helen Vaughan, grows up to be an evil, mysterious woman. Villiers, whose friend had been married to Helen and had committed suicide, learns her true nature, confronts her, and gives her a rope to kill herself. In the process of dying, Helen converts from sex to sex, beast to man, man to beast, and beast to hideous protoplasm—a process that indicates the reversion of evolution. To his extreme disappointment, Machen achieved his greatest literary success with "The Bowmen," a relatively trivial piece of fiction concerned with divine aid received by English soldiers at the battle of Mons, during World War I. The story was widely believed to be true, and Machen was compelled to publish a disclaimer stressing that he had invented it.
Although Machen achieved little critical and popular success in his own day and eventually abandoned writing, he influenced other writers of the horror and fantasy genres, notably H. P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Daphne du Maurier. Though Machen remains a minor author, he has become something of a cult figure among followers of the occult and supernatural horror.