For us odd and misfortunate fellows who search through the hazy fields of unjust obscurity, there is nothing more thrilling than finding a glittering gem, and after being stunned by its brilliance, simultaneously singing its providential discovery while grumbling against the injustice of its heretofore hiddenness. And what a gem Arthur Machen is! Not that he was ever entirely lost, but he has never been fully discovered. It seems when one rereads a Machen story, even for the umpteenth time, the question returns: Why is this refreshingly unique author not more well known?
Again, it must be said that Arthur Machen has never been entirely forgotten. Since his original splash in the 1890’s, his work has influenced novelists including Charles Williams, J. R. R. Tolkien and Stephen King as well as poets such as John Betjeman. His admirers include such diverse figures as Oscar Wilde and T. S. Eliot. Even today, he commands respect from certain horror aficionados. This is for good reason, for he wrote chilling tales which strike not only at the heart of the reader, but at the ontological foundation of the human person. However, then and now, Arthur Machen’s circle has been small.
And this is a shame, for Machen’s corpus of work resembles rings on a disturbed pond, each story a ripple on the surface of a mirror, briefly upsetting the illusion about us before slipping away. The placidity returns, but somehow we remember the ripple and what it briefly suggested to us.
Machen is a rare writer who can hold two truths in the same moment. While composing stories in the familiar frightening vein, he could also weave pieces saturated with holy dread, that delicate and difficult art of describing man becoming undone in the face of absolute Love—that is, God revealing Himself. This paradoxical bright darkness sets Machen apart from so many better known and even technically superior writers of his generation.
Such a curious course had been charted by Machen consciously and openly. In his volume on literary criticism, Hieroglyphics (1902), he states quite clearly his aim in both reading and writing:
“Yes, for me the answer comes with the one word, Ecstasy. If ecstasy be present, then I say there is fine literature… there will be that withdrawal from the common life and the common consciousness…”
Arthur Machen presents us with a dreadful ecstasy, one that we at Darkly Bright Press intend to explore through a series of printed editions of his lesser known work, critical articles and original research. For books currently available, please refer to our catalog.
Next: The Holy Things with Commentary