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The Great God Pan (1995)

The Great God Pan (1995)
3.82 of 5 Votes: 5
1871592119 (ISBN13: 9781871592115)
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The Great God Pan (1995)
The Great God Pan (1995)

About book: I read this book as part of the EEVILLE book challenge, the idea being we were challenged to read something that we would never normally pick up. I was partnered with the lovely Frozenwaffle, who challenged me to read this strange, rough little gem of a book.In essence, The Great God Pan is a tale of the unintended consequences of an experiment that delved into the hidden mysteries of the human brain. At least, that's what I took out of it. You could also desribe it as a series of linked mysteries, from a spate of suicides amongst London gentlemen, to the death of a farm girl named Rachel.I had never heard of Arthur Machen, or of The Great God Pan, which Stephen King hails as 'Maybe the best [horror story] in the English language.' With such high praise, I expected great things. I expected to be chilled to the bone, to be glued to the pages and unable to tear myself away from the mounting horror.The thing was, I just... wasn't scared. At all. And I can't really work out if this is a good thing or not.I understand what Machen was trying to do. Nothing is ever described in any great detail, and we're never realy given any explicit facts as to what happened. The characters of the novel allude to things and deliberately skirt around them, so we're often pushed right to the brink of the horror, and then yanked back as the character is unable to describe it. Instead of being told what they're so afraid of, what's so terrifying that they can't even speak of it, we're left to imagine. This is an effective literary technique, as the human imagination can conjure some truly horrific things, but in this case it fell a little short. I found that I wanted a little more guidance as to what I was supposed to be imagining, as to what I was supposed to be so afraid of. As it was, my brain came up with so many different possibilities as to what exactly had occured that I didn't really have time to be scared.The Great God Pan is written in a way that reflects back on events, rather than relating them as they happen. This narrative within a narrative is intended to ground a supernatural story such as this further in reality, as it comes across as a report of true events rather than fiction. This works well in some ways, giving the illusion that the events in the novel could really happen, but it has its shortcomings as well. The most notable flaw in this method of storytelling is the distance the reader feels from the narrative. As a reader, we are told about events some time after they occur, often through the words of a third party. As such, a measure of suspense is lost; we are not there in the thick of the action, fearing for the life or sanity of our protagonist. The terrifying events have already occured, and are related to us, heavily edited, in the safety of another day.However, these flaws with The Great God Pan are perhaps a symptom of the time in which the novel was written, rather than of any lack of writerly skill on Machen's part. In our time, we expect horror to be visceral, immediate and not to pull any punches. In the nineteenth century, when this was published, Machen was doing the same as his contemporaries - telling, not showing; relating the story in retrospect through the eyes of a third party; leaving the horror mostly to the imagination. I was reminded a little of the styles of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror, The Time Machine and Dracula.It wasn't as though The Great God Pan was all butterflies and roses, anyway. There were some truly disturbing moments, which I wish there had been more of. Scenes that particularly stood out for me included the end of the opening chapter with its description of the experiment and what came after, and the brief description of the London gentlemen's bodies after they had committed suicide. The end of the first chapter was the only part of the book that truly unsettled me (though, of course, Clarke looked away and missed the gory bits), and I wish it had continued in that fashion and had not descended into vagueness.One thing I truly enjoyed about reading The Great God Pan, however, was Arthur Machen's use of language. The prose seemed to come alive under his touch, especially when he was describing setting. Each countryside scene, in particular, was lovingly crafted, and you could almost feel the hot summer breeze on your skin, or the chill mist as it rose from the valleys. As well as that, although I didn't particularly enjoy them, the literary devices, were skillfully implemented.I also enjoyed the premise of the novel, the idea that to lift a veil to another world, a true world (which I got the impression was partially inspired by fae mythology, as well as mythology about Pan himself), we as humans just need a part of our brain to be stimulated. A common premise of fae-related books today, perhaps, that we have evolved to become closed, off, but it is an interesting premise nonetheless.There is not a particularly strong sense of character in the novel, but the main characters are distinct enough and characterisation isn't really an important factor in the story. It is mainly focused on possiblities and mysteries; as such, in depth characterisation might have proved a distraction from the narrative. It kind of goes hand in hand with the retrospective narrative, as it is hard to have a dynamic protagonist when all he is doing is relating past events, or acting a lens through which we discover stories related by others.In all, I am of two minds about this book. I enjoyed it, but I found it lacking in some way. Perhaps because I was expecting to be frightened and Machen delivered. If I was reading this a hundred years ago, I'm sure I would have found it much more disturbing and horrific; it's actually a shame that we, as a society, have become so used to violent, action-filled stories that a teasing, psychological story like this one loses a lot of its effect. That said, I can admire the skill of the author and I understand what he intended. I just wanted... more from it. It was worth the read, however, and I'll be reading more classic horror novels in the future. :)

Confieso que siento debilidad por los relatos fantásticos clásicos, ya sean de terror, góticos o de suspense y misterio. Los autores decimonónicos y de principios del siglo XX, tienen una magia especial, una manera de narrar que no se encuentra en otros géneros. Es muy satisfactorio sumergirse en esas tramas en las que prima mucho más el modo en que se va desplegando la historia y su contenido que los propios personajes, que, sin dejarlos a un lado, son meros comparsas de lo que está sucediendo. No importa cómo o cuándo lea este tipo de cuentos, pero si es en el silencio de la noche, el disfrute es mucho mayor.Arthur Machen destacaba por las influencias mitológicas y folklóricas que introducía en sus narraciones, algo poco habitual en los relatos de terror de la época, donde los cuentos de fantasmas eran los más solicitados, y donde escritores de la talla de Sheridan Le Fanu sobresalía sobre los demás. Además de un prosa engañosamente clara, se notaba su domino en estas materias. Crónicas y leyendas antiguas y textos sagrados son sus temas favoritos, donde aparecen faunos, seres con pezuñas, gente pequeña o duendes, todos ellos ocultos en tupidos bosques perdidos en lejanas montañas. De modo tal que la imagen que tenemos que de que el llamado “mundo de las hadas” es dulce y maravilloso queda como una mentira que ha ido extendiéndose entre la humanidad, ya que la verdad es que estos seres son realmente terroríficos.Pero no debemos olvidar que Machen fue una de las grandes influencias del maestro de lo sobrenatural, H.P. Lovecraft, siendo por tanto uno de los artífices del llamado horror cósmico, que aparece en algunos de sus relatos.Los cuentos contenidos en esta recopilación tienen mucho de misterio y suspense, aunque el terror no falta, como es lógico. Machen plantea un enigma, que al principio puede no ser terrorífico, para posteriormente ir desvelando las investigaciones que realizan los protagonistas para esclarecer los hechos, lo que provoca la ansiedad del lector por conocer tales hechos.Estos son los cuatro extensos relatos incluidos en el libro:- El gran dios Pan (The Great God Pan). La historia comienza con un experimento que realiza el doctor Raymond con una joven a la que acogió de niña, con la que espera demostrar la existencia del mundo real que se encuentra tras lo que él llama el velo o también ver al gran dios Pan. Pero las cosas no saldrán como se esperaba. Testigo de todo ello es el señor Clarke, que cree haber dejado atrás estos hechos, si bien mantiene su propia investigación sobre ciertos acontecimientos con un cierto cariz fantástico. Machen mantiene el pulso narrativo extraordinariamente bien, donde vamos siguiendo a diversos personajes hasta un final donde todo converge. Un relato absolutamente imprescindible.- La luz interior (The Inmost Light). Tras años sin haberse visto, Salisbury se encuentra fortuitamente con Dyson, y deciden ponerse al día sobre sus vidas. Será entonces cuando Dyson le cuente una extraña historia a Salisbury. Dyson tiene por costumbre observar la ciudad de Londres y sus pequeñeces; un buen día, yendo por Harlesden tuvo una visión en una ventana que le dejó muy intranquilo.- La novela del Sello Negro (The Novel of the Black Seal). La señorita Lally se dispone a narrarle a Phillips, en el cual observa la discreción adecuada, lo que le aconteció realmente al profesor Gregg, especialista en etnología, dado por ahogado cuando estaba pasando unas semanas en las Colinas Grises, teniendo algo que ver en ello cierta piedra negra con unos caracteres misteriosos. Otra muestra del gran talento de Machen.- La novela del polvo blanco (The Novel of the White Powder). La señorita Leicester está muy preocupada por su hermano Francis, el cual se pasa el día estudiando Derecho, sin apenas descansar. Era de esperar por tanto que tarde o temprano sus nervios se desmoronasen. El médico le extenderá una receta para un medicamento que, digámoslo de esta manera, tiene ciertos efectos secundarios.
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“There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour and this vision, beyond these 'chases in Arras, dreams in a career,' beyond them all as beyond a veil. I do not know whether any human being has ever lifted that veil; but I do know, Clarke, that you and I shall see it lifted this very night from before another's eyes. You may think this all strange nonsense; it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan.”― Arthur Machen, The Great God Pan This gothic story is told through a series of vignettes and memoirs -- it reminds me of a story I read by T Gautier.**Project Gutenberg **
J.G. Keely
My favored definition of wisdom has always been 'a recognition of one's limits', and as such, wisdom is vital for writers. When an author knows their capabilities and their flaws, they are in prime position to write a story which takes advantage of their strengths and mitigates their weaknesses.Yet what is preferable for an artist: to stay within the bounds of their skill, or to work to always to exceed them? The first sort will be able to create precise and deliberate works of mastery, while the latter can produce wild and intense works of vision. All authors experiment and take risks while writing; should such experiments be left in, even when are not entirely successful?There are works, like Moby Dick, which are masterpieces precisely because they are full of numerous, unusual experiments, not all of which were effective. Many critics are hesitant to praise works which are grand, yet incomplete, stitching together many wild ideas and disparate techniques to create a vision which is powerful and inspirational, despite being conflicted.In fantastical genres, it is perhaps an even more central question, since they are so dependent on the strength of idiomatic vision. Perhaps the clearest illustration of the importance of that creative force that drives in driving conceptual genres is the vast influence of the pulp authors. Their style was defined by unbridled exploration and a thirst for new ideas. They went headlong into the fray without pretension, for authors who erred on the side of caution tended to be left behind. What they lacked in style, character, and plot they tried to overcome with an abundance of ideas.In horror, the line between restraint and unfettered creativity is usually defined by what the author chooses to describe, and what is left to the reader's imagination. As many a skilled writer has demonstrated, the reader is often better at scaring themselves if the setup is strong enough. The strongest example may be when the author begins to describe some terror, then breaks off with 'but it was too horrific for words to describe, too awful to comprehend, too shocking for the mere mortal mind to revisit'.Though many authors--particularly of the Victorian--use this technique, I tend to associate it with Lovecraft. It has been a running joke in my writing circle that Lovecraft's monsters are not actually that terrifying, it's just that his protagonists are so nervous and sensitive that even the least imp would totally unnerve them.Machen uses this technique throughout the story, leaving much of the action implied so that we must piece together the reality from the occasional detail. His constant drawing back from actual descriptions helps to remind the reader that, for the purposes of a story, what the Thing looks like, or what it is capable of are not fundamental to the story itself. The story is about people, about their reactions and the progression of events, and if the structure is strong, there is no need to explicate the monster.Machen's writing is competent and precise--he does not give in to the purple prose and long internal monologues which typify Lovecraft, nor does he trudge along, workmanlike, in the manner of Stoker. The gradual unfolding of the story and its mysteries is artful, and the uneasy tone consistent.Yet there are problematic aspects. The characters are not vivid or well-differentiated, which makes them difficult to connect with, and the story harder to follow. We are often casting about between different individuals and their experiences, and since they all speak in a similar voice and have similar backgrounds, it can be a task to keep them apart.And while the gradual unfolding of the action is enjoyable, the structure is somewhat imprecise, going back and forth and sometimes repeating itself. Though Stoker was rough and guileless and Lovecraft often overwrought, at least they both focused on the central motivations and desires of their characters throughout.Despite these flaws, it isn't difficult to see why horror authors from Lovecraft to King have cited this story as an influence, and have worked to recreate its haunting, slow-burning build.
The story starts out with a chilling account of a sort of "brain operation" in order to transcend barriers and enable the recipient to be able to view the great god Pan. After this, the narration jumps about--introducing us to other key characters within different scenes and times. The common thread, of course, ties back to Pan and the profound effect he has on the sensibilities of ordinary humans.This classic was considered a bit scandalous in it's time, but very tame by today's comparisons. Personally, I enjoy delving back to the classic stories, to see how some of the current novels developed over time. :)
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