Posts Tagged decadent

Arthur Machen: “An Ecstasy of Fear”

16 April 2012

Arthur Machen -

Arthur Machen, by John Coulthart (1988)

In 1923 H.P. Lovecraft described Arthur Machen as “a Titan—perhaps the greatest living author,” and vowed to read everything he wrote. “There is in Machen,” he later wrote, “an ecstasy of fear that all other living men are too obtuse or timid to capture, and that even Poe failed to envisage in all its starkest abnormality.” In developing his Cthulhu Mythos Lovecraft drew heavily upon Machen’s stories, which abound with sinister, malefic entities that exist on the borders of human perception and are capable of inflicting unutterable, mind-fucking horrors upon those who are foolish enough to venture after them. 

Whereas Lovecraft invoked the mindscapes of science fiction in order to lend his horror its cosmic scale, Machen conjured his eldrich abominations out of the pagan lore of his native Welsh countryside. A one-time member of the Golden Dawn, his stories are occult to the bone. They evoke not the existential horror of the human race adrift in a hostile, indifferent universe, but our ancient, lingering fears of the Other, as remembered—with a certain, ominous undertone—in the language folk tales and superstition. Take this passage from The Three Impostors (1895): 


In the Hall of the Opium King

1 April 2012
Comments Off on In the Hall of the Opium King

Opium KingFrom A. Brierre de Boismont, On Hallucinations (1855):—

This writer relates the case of an English ambassador, who was sent on a political mission to one of the Indian kings. On his arrival at the palace of the sovereign, he was conducted through a long suite of magnificent apartments, lined by officers of state clad in the richest apparel; he was then led into a small chamber, where the furniture and decorations were of a still more costly description than what he had already seen. 

There he was left by himself. In a short time two persons of high rank entered, preceding a litter borne by slaves, and covered with rich silks and cashmere shawls of great value. On the couch was stretched a human form, which he should have mistaken for a corpse but for the motion of the head, which corresponded to that of the bearers; two of the officers in attendance had in their hands a golden waiter, on each of which was a cup, and a small bottle containing a bluish-looking liquid.