Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Arthur Machen: Master of Holy Terrors

The good news is that a statue is being created to commemorate Welsh horror/fantasy writer Arthur Machen. The Friends of Arthur Machen have organised the project to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Machen's death. The statue will be located in his birthplace Caerleon.

It has always amazed me that Machen's work is so undervalued in Wales. After all here is a Welsh writer who has influenced such luminaries as HP Lovecraft and Stephen King. In short, a cult Welsh writer with an international reputation and, perhaps more crucially, one whose books are appreciated in America. There aren't too many of those around. If only from a heritage point of view Machen remains an untapped source.

Welsh literary critics have largely ignored him or unfairly Uncle Tom-ed him (see Stephen Knight's jaw-dropping sidestep of Machen's work in A Hundred Years of Fiction). Rather than being a literary Uncle Tom you could quite easily - if you chose to do such a thing - make a case for Machen being a highly subversive Welsh writer. In many of his stories the English/rational/scientific is undermined by the Welsh/magical/primitive. And it is the latter grouping that Machen most certainly identified with.

The problem with Machen for Welsh critics is that he doesn't fit comfortably into the realism-dominated, Welsh writing (in English) canon. He is a one-off, an outsider. Add to this a snooty attitude from academia towards genre fiction in general (horror stories aren't real writing are they?) and you begin to understand why Machen's work has slipped into the margins in Wales.

It's a shame because he has written some of the best short stories in the English language. Track down his astonishing The White People for proof of this.

A celebration of Arthur Machen: Master of Holy Terrors is being held at the University of Wales Caerleon, Newport, on July 5th, 2007, as part of the Caerleon Arts Festival. Why not check it out? More details here.