The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Tales of Horror and the Supernatural collects much of Welsh author Arthur Machen’s most important fiction. Besides the short novels The Great God Pan (1894) and The Terror (1917), it includes his best stories as well as two self-contained sections of his story cycle The Three Impostors: Or, The Trans-mutations (1895). Although the works it contains were written over a period of more than forty years, and although their emphases vary, their central concerns are consistent.

Machen’s fiction suggests the existence of a universe lying beyond everyday reality, a spiritual realm sometimes horrible and occasionally beautiful. In his critical work Hieroglyphics (1902), Machen wrote that literature should convey the experience of “ecstasy,” a state he associated with the perception of this realm. His first important work, The Great God Pan, gives the process a literal twist: A doctor performs brain surgery, allowing his patient to see “the Great God Pan.” The doctor’s young female patient eventually dies of horror, but not before giving birth to a beautiful daughter who is the offspring of this same terrible deity.

A number of Machen’s stories posit the survival of a prehistoric race of Little People who either embody or control access to the spiritual realm. “The Novel of the Black Seal” (a novel in name only, taken from The Three Impostors), “The Shining Pyramid”...

(The entire section is 597 words.)