The Great God Pan was Arthur Machens first important work. Machen published the initial chapter in The Whirlwind in 1890. In 1893 he submitted the entire novel to another publisher, adding a second work, the story “The Inmost Light.” The two appeared together the following year.
The Great God Pan is composed of a number of individual narratives that at first seem jumbled but that eventually fit together like pieces of a horrifying jigsaw puzzle. Machen relies on several characters to present these narratives: the egotistical Dr. Raymond, the outwardly conventional but inwardly skeptical Mr. Clarke, the unlucky Charles Herbert, and the hearty Mr. Villiers.
As the novel opens, Raymond is planning to perform a brain operation that will allow his patient Mary to “see” the God Pan, by which he means apprehending the spiritual reality beyond everyday events. He has invited Clarke to Wales to witness the results. After the operation, the unconscious young woman seems to register wonder, then horror, after which she sinks into idiocy.
For years afterward, Clarke avoids the subject of the occult, but he gradually compiles a collection of unusual but apparently true stories he calls “Memoirs to Prove the Existence of the Devil.” One such account involves a young woman known as Helen V. Helen was supposedly adopted by a relative who sought another home for her as she approached puberty. A farmer living on the...
(The entire section is 602 words.)