“The Great God Pan”

Essay: “The Great God Pan”, Arthur Machen, 1890.

Cover by Matthew Jaffe.

At this point in our Machen series, we move from obscure works to one of his most famous works, indeed this story is probably Machen’s best known with the possible exception of some of the excerpted stories in his later novel The Three Impostors; or, The Transmutation or “The Bowmen” (and that one, as I’ve went on at length, only in its transmuted form.)

The figure at the story’s center, Helen Vaughn, the product of a woman mating with something from outside our world and beyond the veil of the senses. This tale may have inspired H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”. It is regarded as a classic of weird fiction among scholars of the field.

However, while the story was popular when it was published, it was not well thought of by critics.

Machen, when the story was reprinted in 1916, quoted several bad reviews of it. It was a laughable “psychological bogey”. “Our flesh obstinately refused to creep”, said one review. The tale was tepid occultism. It was “elaborately absurd”. Not only ridiculous, said another review, but intentionally disagreeable. The story was “gruesome and dull”. And, perhaps more to the point, a reviewer for Westminster said:

an incoherent nightmare of sex and the supposed horrible mysteries behind it, such as might conceivably possess a man who was given to a morbid brooding over these matters, but which would soon lead to insanity if unrestrained . . . innocuous from its absurdity.

In that same introduction, Machen himself called the story “a silly business at the best”.

Continue reading