“A Touch of Pan”

This week’s work of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing has another appearance by Pan.

It’s not surprising, with his mystical interests and reverence for nature, that Blackwood’s Pan story is the closest of any I’ve looked at so far in returning to Pan’s pagan origins. It uses Pan as a metaphor for the joyless, hypocritical nature of the English upper class and contrasts it with pure love and sex and nature. One suspects it expresses something of Blackwood’s views on such matters. 

Review: “A Touch of Pan”, Algernon Blackwood, 1917.

The story starts with our protagonist, Herber, remembering the difference between an idiot and a lunatic. The idiot acts on instinct not reason. The lunatic is “out of relation with his environment”. He contemplates that he has fallen in love with an idiot, one possessed of “a kind of sheer natural joy”. Herber was born into “an artificial social clique”, but he loves nature and not fancy houses. 

His family probably wouldn’t say his love was an idiot, but they probably think “she is not all there”. Heber has only seen the woman in question twice and never spoken to her, but the air of joy she radiates evokes a “sense of awe” in him. The values of civilization are not hers. Her awareness of other people is like that a dog or bird – some people are kind, some aren’t. Heber’s values match hers. Her family, given her oddity, are ashamed of her, make excuses for her, and neglect her. She dresses like she’s 16, but she’s probably 19. Her sister has married well, but her family considers the girl’s marriage prospects doubtful. Mere chorus-girls have a better chance to get married than her given her demeanor and dress.

Continue reading

“The Man Who Went Too Far”

It’s another Pan story.

Review: “The Man Who Went Too Far”, E. F. Benson, 1904.

Saki’s “The Music on the Hill” uses Pan in a more restricted way than Benson does here. Saki’s Pan is the center of an old religion and keeps his association with hunting, fertility, and music.  Benson’s story is closer to E. M. Forester’s “The Story of a Panic”. Pan is terrifying because he blurs distinctions, goes against the Ancient Greek tendency and talent for categorizing the world.

The story is set near the village of St. Faith in Hampshire, England. Its pleasant, rural nature is somewhat marred, the narrator notes, with a local legend about a monstrous goat skipping with “hellish glee” in the woods. It is a story linked to a very handsome, in fact beautiful, young artist who lived there.

The tale the narrator will tell was related to him by Darcy, a mutual friend of that artist and our narrator. Darcy, who hasn’t seen the artist Frank Halton in six years, is convalescing after a bout of typhoid fever and goes to visit Frank in June. 

Just before Darcy arrivs, Frank is doing what he often does these days, lounging in a hummock in a meadow by a stream. His house is on the outskirts of town. 

Darcy is amazed at how much younger Frank looks than the last time he saw him. Frank says he has a lot to tell Darcy, and Darcy won’t believe it.

Continue reading

“The Horror-Horn”

This week’s piece of weird fiction being discussed at LibraryThing.

Essay: “The Horror-Horn”, E. F. Benson, 1922.E F Benson Megapack

The story opens with the narrator on winter holiday at Swiss mountain resort near Mt. Alhubel. (This may or may not be a real place – I definitely see a Mt. Alphhubel in Switzerland but no Alhubel in a web search). He is there with his cousin Professor Ingram, an expert in physiology and a mountain climber.

In an English newspaper, Ingram reads a report about the yeti (though that name is not used). This story was first published in September 1922, and I’m pretty sure it was inspired by journalist Henry Newman reporting, in 1921, that British mountain climbers on an Everest expedition had seen mysterious footprints.

Ingram points out that the climbers were operating at a high altitude and their brains as well as hearts and lungs may have been affected. They could have misinterpreted marks in the snow as footprints. Continue reading

“Seaton’s Aunt”; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: “Seaton’s Aunt”, Walter de la Mare, 1922.Seaton's Aunt

This week’s Deep Ones’ story strikes some of the same notes as E. F. Benson’s “The Room in the Tower“: old English school chums reunited in a country home with strange things going on.

That’s where the similarity ends.

There’s been a lot of discussion and diagramming and classifying of weird fiction and its relation to cosmic horror, “regular” horror, the ghost story, and stories of the supernatural.

Whatever taxonomy or diagrammatic schema you use, this story belongs solidly in the category where the weird is not obvious or surrealistic, yet the tone is of menace, the story unsettling and mysterious. Continue reading

“The Room in the Tower”

Every Wednesday over at LibraryThing the members of the Deep Ones weird fiction discuss a different work of fiction.

I’ve thought about putting up reviews of the works in question, but I thought that might be a bit unfair to the other members of the group if I passed off their insights as my own.

So, I’m going to compromise and put up my reviews of the discussed works before the general discussion takes place.

Review: “The Room in the Tower”, E. F. Benson, The E. F. Benson Megapack, 2013.E F Benson Megapack

The Setup

The narrator has a recurring dream, starting at age 16 and for a period of fifteen years, of going to a house in the country, meeting the people there, one an old school acquaintance he had little to do with, and given a “room in the tower”.

Entering that room, he is overcome with terror and wakes up.

The odd thing about the dream is that it maintains a continuity. The people of the family move away, marry, and the woman of the house, Julia Stone, dies and is buried near the house with a grave marker “In evil memory of Julia Stone”.

The Conclusion (with spoilers)

The narrator meets an Clinton, old school friend in London, and goes to visit his country house – which turns out to be the house of his dream.

The people are different, and the narrator has a good time finding the gathering not at all oppressive and fearful. Until he is given the room in the tower to sleep in.

There he finds a malevolent portrait, a self-portrait, of Julia Stone.

He tells Clinton he can’t sleep in that room with that portrait. With the help of a servant, Clinton and the narrator move it. It is strangely heavy and leaves blood on their hands though they have no wounds.

When he goes to bed that night, the narrator feels a strange presence in the room. It is Julia Stone, accompanied by a smell of corruption. She tells him

“I knew you would come to the room in the tower … I have been long waiting for you. At last you have come. Tonight I shall feast; before long we will feast together.”

The narrator bolts out of the room, and Clinton hearing the noise, joins him. They see blood on the narrator’s shoulder.

Clinton at first thinks the narrator has just had a nightmare, but he goes into the dark room and finds Stone’s portrait unaccountably back on the wall and a burial shroud.

A sort of explanation follows with a reference to burying a suicide, three times, eight years ago. Her coffin was found open each time and finally she was put in unconsecrated ground outside her home – now Clinton’s house.

The story ends by telling us that her grave was opened a fourth time, and the coffin was full of blood.

Weird Factors and Unanswered Questions

Benson’s tale not only combines the weird dream, ghost, and vampire motifs but the cursed object with Stone’s portrait and an element of clairvoyance.

Unexplained is why it seems Stone has been calling out to the narrator all these years. He never met Julia Stone in life and “rather disliked” her son the brief time he knew him.

The portrait seems to be either sort of a repository for Stone’s soul or an enabling mechanism for her return. There are no wounds on anybody after moving her portrait which suggests, along with its weight, it’s sort of a blood-infused surrogate for Stone’s human body, a symbol her vampire appetites. It is, after all, a portrait painted by Stone which hints at some sort of supernatural investiture of her identity in it.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.