Machen & The Inklings: Lecture Abstracts Now Available


It keeps getting better…

The upcoming Inklings Festival, held by Eighth Day Institute, will feature two keynote speakers.

Richard Rohlin is a software developer, Germanic philologist, and Orthodox Christian living in Texas with his wife and children. His published works on Germanic poetry, the Inklings, and the Sacramental Imagination include The Digital Hervararkviða and a chapter in the recent anthology Amid Weeping There is Joy: Orthodox Perspectives on Tolkien’s Fantastic Realm. He is the co-host of the Amon Sul Podcast from Ancient Faith Radio, which examines the works of J.R.R. Tolkien from an Orthodox Christian perspective. He is also a regular contributor to The Symbolic World YouTube channel and blog, where he discusses and writes about medieval universal history and hagiography. Richard’s latest project, Finding the Golden Key: Essays Towards a Recovery of the Sacramental Imagination, is being published in collaboration with Eighth Day Press and is still accepting abstracts through December 31, 2021:

Abstracts for the four main lectures are now available below:

Richard Rohlin

To the Chapel of the Grail:
Arthur Machen and Celtic Sacramental Imagination

Arthur Machen and other scholars of his time intuited that the Grail Legend contained within it a memory of a lost Celtic liturgy, one of both older apostolic origin and of a more authentically British character than the Tridentine Mass. In Machen’s work, and in particular in his short story “Levavi Oculos,” he uses the Grail Legend as a means of navigating difficult questions of the relationship between place and sacrament, and the authenticity of imported spiritual traditions. Tracing the origins of the Grail Legend from its diverse Celtic, Iberian, and Levantine origins, I will suggest that the Machen successfully resolves the question of “what has Wales to do with Jerusalem” in the persons and relics of the saints.

A Single Sacred Wafer:
Chrétien’s Mystagogical Grail

Their focus on the “Celtic” nature of the Grail Legend caused Machen, Waite, and others to largely reject the portrayal of the Grail legend found in continental sources beginning with Chrétien de Troyes. In this lecture, I will suggest that Machen et. al. were correct in their intuition about a liturgical origin for the Grail Legend, but that Chrétien was also aware of it, and in fact incorporated the shape of an ancient Christian liturgy into the structure of his Perceval ou le Conte du Graal.

Christopher Tompkins

Dreamt in Fire:
The Dreadful Ecstasy of Arthur Machen

The classic works of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien offer modern readers a fantastic redoubt for traditional values, first principals and sacramental reality in an age of ever-increasing madness. Alongside these titans, the intrepid reader can discover lesser-known, but resonant voices speaking in unison. A lonely pathfinder, Arthur Machen articulated an iconically-rich theory concerning the sacramental imperative of literature to function as a source of ecstasy for man. Far from being simply an abstract set of notions, Machen realized his ideas on hieroglyphics throughout a long career of writing fiction which shifted between noetic horror and the transfiguring glory of holy fear. Haunting, poetic, and sometimes confounding, each tale is a confrontation with the unseen, a lifting of the veil which serves to reorient man’s understanding of the cosmos from the merely material to the profoundly spiritual. By an examination of his life and work, “Dreamt in Fire” will endeavor to introduce new readers to a singular perichoretic vision as found in the dreadful ecstasy of Arthur Machen.

Of Sacraments and Ghosts:
A Few Comments on Christianity and the Horror Genre

Is there any utility in the horror genre for the Christian? Setting aside the gory and nihilistic examples of the current day, this talk will highlight the unexamined aspects of an often misunderstood and misused mode of storytelling. Excellent horror begins where the believer begins: we are transcendent. It must present an ontological crisis for the characters, and to a lesser extent, the reader. The lecture will then examine the use of traditional folkloric entities in role of counterfeits, or Antichrists, before exploring the work of Christian horror writers of note. This latter topic includes the formidable ghost story tradition as practiced by M. R. James. Furthermore, the themes of “priest as hero,” and the use of the Sacraments as a force against darkness, excellently articulated by Ralph Adams Cram and the brothers A. C. & R. H. Benson, will also be studied. Horror is closer than we thinkit can be glimpsed or felt in the unsafe worlds of fairy tales, Middle Earth and even Narnia. Beyond merely serving as a warning to the curious, these aspects and tropes of the genre may assist us in navigating a world greater than the sum of our physical senses.

The dates for the events are October 22-24, 2021. The complete schedule and registration will soon be available at the Eighth Day Institute website.

20th Century Reality War

Inklings Festival: October 22-24, 2021


md30598993938Published in the Evening News, The Bowman, a tale of heavenly assistance to beleaguered British troops, was a brief bit of inspired fancy which lit the public imagination. To Machen’s chagrin, he received letters from members of the public, including clergymen, concerning the fantastic event. Receiving only denial and incredulity after he reported that the tale was nothing but a fantasy born from his head, the situation quickly metastasized into the Angel of Mons controversy.


On Leaving Two Spaces After A Sentence by Joshua Alan Sturgill

The Pilgrimage: Part 32 by Phillip Neal Tippin

Neath a canvas starry by Benjamin Rozonoyer

Corrected Dates for Inkling Festival


The dates have been rescheduled for the upcoming Inklings Festival, held by the Eighth Day Institute in Wichita, Kansas. The event will be held October 22-24, 2021. Apologies for the confusion. For anyone who enjoys storytelling, camaraderie and cwrw dda (good beer), this is the weekend to make a pilgrimage to the center… to the heart of America.

As I announced a couple of months ago, I’ve been invited to give a lecture on Arthur Machen at this year’s event. The talk will serve as an introduction to the enigmatic writer with an emphasis upon his theory of ecstasy in literature and his quiet influence on later authors. In particular, I’m excited to present a wealth of rare material which includes limited editions of his books, ephemera and items from Machen’s personal collection. Most importantly, this will be an opportunity to encounter unpublished letters between Machen and Dorothy L. Sayers, as well as a discussion between Machen and publisher Victor Gollancz concerning the work of Charles Williams.


Defer by Joshua Alan Sturgill

The Pilgrimage: Part 31 by Phillip Neal Tippin

Untitled (The scaling foot) by Benjamin Rozonoyer

The Catalog Expands…

NEW POETRY: The Pilgrimage: Part 28 by Phillip Neal Tippin.

With joy, I’d like to announce the upcoming titles from Darkly Bright Press for the remainder of 2021. It is an ambitious slate for so small a concern, but the press has benefitted from gracious supporters and great authors, who seem to be infinitely patient with its one-man operation.

First, as has been mentioned over the last few weeks, we will be entering into dramatic territory with Jonathan Golding’s Telegonos. According to Sean Dillon, Professor and Chair for Department of Theatre Arts at University of La Verne:


For those who appreciate the grandeur of the language and form of Greek tragedy, Telegonos is a feast. With the terrible inevitability and cruel irony that comes from the heart of ancient texts, the story of Telegonos is told with luxurious language, compelling characterizations, and twists of fate that build the suspense and tease the reader onward. A very satisfying read that effectively recreates the feel of classical texts in a new and refreshing drama. Jonathan Golding has reached into ancient myth to gather his materials, and has created an impressive and original work.”

The book will present a Foreword written by poet and academic Gaelan Gilbert and includes illustrations by Megan Gilbert.

thumbnail_imageNext, I’m honored to announce the upcoming publication of Joshua Alan Sturgill’s second collection of poetry, Now A Major Motion Picture. Without a doubt, Sturgill has entered into the next phase as a poet for this new material speaks with a voice both mature and profound… confident and gentle.

To celebrate, we plan on issuing the third edition of his first book As Far As I Can Tell (2018). More information will become available as we move closer to publication.

machen-webAdditionally, to coincide with the October Inklings lecture, a new annotated edition of a long out-of-print work by the Apostle of Wonder, Arthur Machen will be published from Darkly Bright. The exact title will be announced soon.

And, next year looks darkly bright as I have plans to publish collections by two poets, one who was featured in our February release, Clearing Paths. And, of course, more Machen will be offered.

May it all be pleasing to our good God.

Christopher Tompkins, publisher

A Masterful & Provocative Debut

Telegonos-coverIn Jonathan Golding’s Telegonos, formidable poetic artistry and a familiar yet expanded Homeric cast are on impressive display. Grounded in literary and classical tradition while evincing powerful individual talent, this five-act play deploys defining conventions of Attic and Shakespearean dramatic mythos. At the same time, it boldly reorients Aristotelian features of tragedy—hubris, catharsis, peripeteiaand challenges cheap fatalism in light of the fertile depths of time. A masterful and provocative debut.

Gaelan Gilbert (PhD), Adjunct Professor of Literature & History at Hellenic College, and Visiting Professor of Arts & Humanities at the University of Saint Katherine

When the son of Odysseus and the goddess Circe sets out to seek his father’s land, disaster strikes and the wanderers are shipwrecked on a mysterious island. As dreams and omens gather around him, Telegonos must make the most harrowing decision of his young life. Told in poetic form, Telegonos offers a vision of the world of classical myth with allegorical overtones.

Telegonos by Jonathan Golding will be published this summer by Darkly Bright Press.


…and memory is scars of light in the darkness.
The Ancient Modern: The Forest Shade by Joshua Alan Sturgill

A split in the heart of the cotton…
The Pilgrimage: Part 27 by Phillip Neal Tippin

An Upcoming Tragedy


Darkly Bright Press is pleased to announce the upcoming publication of Telegonos: A Tragedy in Five Acts, the first book by playwright Jonathan Golding with illustration by Megan E. Gilbert. Previously, DBP has published poetry and essays by the author.



The Ancient Modern: A Little Rhyme About Trash by Joshua Alan Sturgill

Jesse K. Butler: The Eleventh Hour

Silence is not complicity / It is the sound of the human scale:
The Pilgrimage, Part 25 & 26 by Phillip Neal Tippin

The World’s Most Beautiful Melody


Guest essayist Jonathan Golding takes the helm this month to share his thoughts on Arthur Machen’s classic work of literary criticism, Hieroglyphics (1902).

Last year, we published Golding’s personal views on literature as found in the essay: The Garden of Moral Delights. Most recently, he contributed to Clearing Paths: A Darkly Bright Anthology of Poetry. In the coming months, Darkly Bright Press will issue his first book Telegonos, a drama in five acts. Please visit his website.

The Most Beautiful Melody in the World:
The View of Art in Arthur Machen’s Hieroglyphics
Jonathan Golding


There is perhaps nothing so necessary and yet so difficult as to speak of the nature of art. What is art? What is its purpose? What are the criteria by which we judge? Are these judgments merely subjective and a matter of personal taste? Or may we not find some universal standard to apply?

These questions have vexed poets, philosophers, visual artists, and thinkers for millennia. And particularly in the last two hundred years, Western culture has seen peculiar and intense debates over the substance of art. These have ranged from Tolstoy’s attempt to establish a moral foundation for art to Marcel Duchamp’s aphorism that when he spits, that is art, for he is an artist.

Perhaps the most unique exploration of this subject flowed from the pen of Arthur Machen. His work Hieroglyphics offers a valuable exploration of these aesthetic questions.

Machen approaches his subject as if he were telling a gothic horror story. He tells us of his frequent visits to a literary friend living in seclusion and study. The atmosphere is dark and foreboding, so that we half expect he is leading up to a mysterious disappearance or the revelation of some spectral apparition. Yet what follows is a rich discussion of literary art.

Machen purports to merely relate his imaginary host’s views, adding a charming touch of fantasy to what might otherwise be a dry and academic tome. The work, then, hovers ambiguously between fiction and essay in a way that is sure to give delight. And if at times Machen’s fictional interlocutor expresses views which sound strange to our modern ears, we forgive him for the many passages which ring with sublime poetry and wisdom.

Machen begins by recounting his friend’s fondness for lyric poetry. “He was always ready to defend the thesis that, all the arts being glorious, the literary art was the most glorious and wonderful of all. He reverenced music, but he was firm in maintaining that in perfect lyrical poetry, there is the subtlest and most beautiful melody in the world.” 1

The discussion turns quickly to what, for Machen, is the chief criterion for art: ecstasy. “If ecstasy be present, then I say there is fine literature; if it be absent, then in spite of all cleverness, all the talent, all the workmanship and observation and dexterity you may show me, then we have a product which is not fine literature.” 2

HieroLike a wise lover, though, Machen shies away from approaching too directly or boldly the object of his adoration. He refuses to define too closely just what he means by the term “ecstasy” but sprinkles hints throughout the work which draw us onward toward his view. Perhaps the most explicit expression of his thought comes when he says, “fine literature is simply the expression of the eternal things that are in man, that it is beauty clothed in words, that it is always ecstasy, that it always draws itself away and goes apart into lonely places far from the common course of life.” 3

So for Machen, art is the ecstatic utterance of the eternal things in the human person. But, we may ask, what are these eternal things? He gives us another hint when he later says that art is not a product of the conscious mind and “we had better take refuge in the subconscious, that convenient name for the transcendental element of human nature. For myself, I like best my old figure of the Shadowy Companion, the invisible attendant who walks all the way beside us, though his feet are in the other world; and I think it is he who whispers to us his ineffable secrets, which we clumsily endeavor to set down in mortal language.” 4

Such sentiments place Machen squarely within the Romantic tradition, which valued emotion and spontaneity of expression. We might perhaps draw a straight line from the opium-induced vision of Coleridge’s “Xanadu” to the jazzy improvisational prose of Jack Kerouac. The author of The Great God Pan would undoubtedly fall somewhere on that axis.

For Machen, then, art is that which best expresses the mysterious utterances of our subconscious or Shadowy-Companion-self. And I think this brings us to the central conundrum of all criticism. There is a sublime quality to all artistic expression that eludes our attempts to capture it in words. And in all our efforts to define art, we are like hunters in a forest whose nimble prey often doubles back and slips from us at the moment of our triumph. We are left alone to listen to the whisper of the leaves as night comes on and wonder just what fantastic beast we glimpsed.

Art is mysterious because the human person is mysterious, deep, and filled with distant vistas. As the novelist, Neil Gaiman once put it, “Is there anyone who does not dream? Who does not contain in them worlds unimagined?” 5 And when we make art, we tap into that part of ourselves that is eternal and often hidden from our workday minds.

Like all good discussions, Machen’s Hieroglyphics raises perhaps more questions than it answers and leaves the reader with rich fields for exploration. We might ask, for example, if there might not be a more vital role for the conscious mind than Machen seems to allow. If art is an expression of the eternal in the human person, is not our conscious mind also eternal?

Or, at times, Machen seems to eschew any moral intention in literature. And we might ask whether moral values might not play a part in that which is timeless in the human experience.

But certainly, we may affirm with Machen that art, the best and truest art, is an expression of what is divine and eternal in us. When an artist gives voice to these things, we feel it in our bones. We cannot always articulate what touches us when we read a passage in Shakespeare or gaze at the enigmatic smile of La Gioconda, but we know that we have heard a fragment of the most beautiful melody in the world.



  1. Machen, Hieroglyphics, Alfred A. Knopf, p. 12

  2. Machen p. 20

  3. Machen p. 65

  4. Machen p. 73

  5. Gaiman, World’s End, DC-Vertigo Press, New York, p. 28

The Most Beautiful Melody in the World: The View of Art in Arthur Machen’s Hieroglyphics: Copyright 2021 by Jonathan Golding. All rights reserved.