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The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
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The Great God Pan (1894)

by Arthur Machen

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I found this in the Dover catalog and looked it up on Project Gutenberg on a whim. It strikes me as fairly typical Victorian gothic horror but, according to the catalog blurb, it 'scandalized Victorian London'. Perhaps it is not nessecary to believe all catalog blurbs.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
An effective example of its genre - early cosmic horror, locating the horrific in inexplicable natural phenomena, and achieving its effectiveness through a lack of description of the specific horrors - but of course just as problematic as Victorian fiction will always tend to be. I'm intrigued by the fact, though, that there is a reading of this book, completely coherent with the text, where all the horrible consequences come from the original violation of a woman's agency and bodily integrity. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Jun 20, 2014 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

Written in 1894, Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan is a short novel which was highly influential to H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. King, in fact, said The Great God Pan is “…one of the best horror stories ever written. Maybe the best in the English language. Mine isn’t anywhere near that good…” The Great God Pan used to be hard to find, but is now available free on the Kindle (and at other public domain e-book outlets) and is easily read in one dark and rainy evening.

The first few pages of The Great God Pan describe Mr. Clarke’s visit to his friend Dr. Raymond. After many years of study, Dr. Raymond has theorized that the spirit world is all around us, but that humans are unable to perceive it because of the particular set-up of our sensory systems. Thus, he hypothesizes that a small lesion in the cortex of the brain — a slight adjustment of our normal functioning — will “lift the veil” so that we can perceive the supernatural. The Greeks called this “seeing the Great God Pan.” Dr. Raymond invites Mr. Clarke into his laboratory where he is ready to perform this operation on Mary, a beautiful teenage girl who he saved from the streets years before and who, in his thinking, owes him her life. The operation appears to be unsuccessful… or at least Mary turns out to be incapable of describing her perceptions, because she has become “an idiot.”

The rest of the story is Mr. Clarke’s collection of accounts of unexplained suicides and strange deaths (apparently from shock and terror) in London society and his gradual suspicion that there is some connection between these deaths and Dr. Raymond’s failed experiment. The horrible things he hears about happen in private (many appear to be sexual in nature), so he can’t report the specifics for any of them. Eerie tension and a creeping horror arise as the reader fills in the unknown with fears from his or her own imagination.

It’s disappointing that the writing style of The Great God Pan isn’t as exquisite as the terror is, but it’s pleasant enough and completely readable over 100 years later. The Great God Pan is a must-read for any fan of horror fiction — not the bloody gruesome type of horror, but the brain-bending, soul-scaring type. ( )
1 vote Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
A young woman named Mary -- a foundling picked up off the streets by one Dr. Raymond -- becomes the unwitting subject in an experiment to allow a human to see what many consider to be the "real world", a wondrous place in which nature and all manner of creatures live just beyond the veil of what humans normally see. Witnessed by Dr. Raymond and his colleague Mr. Clarke, Mary wakens from the experiment, her eyes appearing to focus on something beautiful and far away. But soon her expression changes to horror, and she collapses to the floor in a fit of madness.

Time passes and Mr. Clarke runs into a beggar who turns out to be an old chum. They walk together, and Clark learns of how his friend wound up in such dire circumstances. His friend tells him of his wife, a strange woman named Helen, who many claim to be beautiful and yet no one enjoys being in her presence. A sinister air hangs about her person and their home. She ruined him, he claims, and then disappeared. Clarke investigates further, and tales of madness and unexplained deaths surrounding a similar woman begin cropping up. Curious if she is somehow connected to the events with Mary, he questions Dr. Raymond about that night. The Doctor warns him to leave things be before something happens to him. Clarke, however, is determined to uncover the truth.

Perhaps not as horror-filled by today's standards, The Great God Pan still manages to evoke chills not by blood and gore, but by providing moods and glimpses of evil. It's as if you notice something's not quite right, something that you can't see or explain, but you can't pinpoint it. The story works on your mind, wreaking havoc with your fears and imagination until you can't escape. That unknown element is probably more terrifying than knowing that a vampire or a zombie or some familiar creature is lurking about.

"The Great God Pan" is quite an unnerving tale and has earned its place as a classic horror tale. If you've not read it, I recommend checking it out. ( )
  ocgreg34 | Mar 3, 2014 |
It could be me but the ending of this novel confused me. The end result is clear and also how the ending relates to the beginning. It is only hinted at what Helen actually was and what had happened in the woods. ( )
  Rumpeltje | Sep 22, 2013 |
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Book description
Here you will find the most significant contribution of Arthur Machen’s classic tales of dark fantasy and horror. With an introduction by S.T. Joshi who also contributes, notes and a complete Machen bibliography. This is a must have for the Machen enthusiast and Weird Tales collector.

The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen was widely criticized by the press as degenerate and horrific due to its profligate style and sexual content, although since his work has since garnered a reputation as a classic of modern horror.

In Supernatural Horror in Literature H. P. Lovecraft praised the novel, saying: "No one could begin to describe the cumulative suspense and ultimate horror with which every paragraph abounds"; he added that "the sensitive reader" reaches the end with "an appreciative shudder." Lovecraft also noted, however, that "melodrama is undeniably present, and coincidence is stretched to a length which appears absurd upon analysis."
Haiku summary
Tame by modern tastes:
supernatural horror,
Victorian-style.
(ed.pendragon)

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0809544601, Paperback)

"Of Mr. Machen's horror-tales the most famous is perhaps 'The Great God Pan' (1894) which tells of a singular and terrible experiment and its consequences."-H. P. Lovecraft

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:10 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

An experiment into the sources of the human brain through the mind of a young woman has gone horribly wrong. She has seen the great God Pan and will die giving birth to a daughter, Helen Vaughan. Helen Vaughan becomes the source of much fevered speculation when, twenty years later, she is feted as a society hostess of great charm.… (more)

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