Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542

THE HILL OF DREAMS is the depressing but haunting tale of an apparent failure. Lucian Taylor dreamed impractical dreams, failed to earn a respectable living, failed in his writings (which were plagiarized by unscrupulous publishers), and died unnecessarily, having ruined his own health. He was not liked by respectable people nor even by his landlady to whom he left money, and he had been the cause of strain to his father. Nevertheless, through the story of Lucian, Arthur Machen illustrates that many apparent failures at the time of their deaths, such as Jesus Christ or Lucian, are the eternal victors. Lucian’s neighbors in his hometown and in West London could very well be the eternal failures, for they fail to see the proverbial beam in their own eyes, and they ignore the biblical injunction to “judge not, that ye be not judged.”

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Lucian is the target of criticism and condemnation throughout the novel. Although this condemnation seems justified and crushingly final when he is found dead in his dismal rented room amid his illegible scribblings, THE HILL OF DREAMS is not, ultimately, a novel of failure. It breathes of another life beyond the grave, a life that Lucian might have won, for he was loyal to his tortured dreams until the end. Lucian seemingly succumbed to satanic visions only under the unnatural influence of opium, when he had lost his reason. The real Lucian, however, is the youth of the early parts of the novel, who hates cruelty and mediocrity, who has not yet known opium, and who one afternoon walks up an old, neglected country lane when the air is still and breathless. He walks up his “hill of dreams” where wild, bare hills meet a still, gray sky. It is on such occasions, when his sensitive spirit vanquishes harsh reality and the ugly purgatory that enshrouds him in the “real” world, that the reader sees the victorious Lucian Taylor.

This novel—in part an autobiography—received little notice when it was published. During the 1920’s, after Machen’s books had won for him a reputation, this novel also came in for a share of attention and popularity. Machen himself said, in the introduction to a later edition of the book, that he had begun it as proof to the world and to himself that he was indeed a man of letters and that, even more important, he had thrown off the style of Robert Louis Stevenson, whom he had been accused of imitating, and had found a style of his own to express his ideas. He also related that the writing of the novel was imbedded in the work itself: that many of the trials and weird experiences which have been put into the life of the fictional Lucian Taylor were, in reality, the experiences of Machen himself as he wrote the novel. THE HILL OF DREAMS is a somewhat difficult study of a highly introverted character, a man who, while searching for a way to express life, lost both himself and the power to understand humanity. Although such studies are too intense and yet too nebulous to appeal to a widely diversified body of readers, the book is likely to stand as a notable example of its type.

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