The Great God Pan (book)
The Great God Pan, published in 1894, is a novel by Arthur Machen. From the publisher:
- “An incoherent nightmare of sex…” That was The Westminster Gazette’s description of Arthur Machen’s first book, The Great God Pan, upon its publication in 1894.
- An unwittingly complimentary description for one of the greatest works of weird horror and decadence, in which Machen unfurls with his singular eye for the bizarre and macabre the tale of a young girl cursed by her unnatural parentage to become a creature of shape-shifting polysexual demi-human evil.
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The Great God Pan begins with Dr. Raymond’s pronouncement that the stars and solid ground are but dreams and shadows that hide the real world from our eyes. This theme is reflected in the sylvan and pastoral imagery of the setting. The innocence of the child characters juxtaposed with the clinical exactness of the language to create a mood in which the forest is beautiful and carefree on the surface, but cold and terrifying underneath (“the awful secret of the wood, of how what we saw die, lay upon the smooth, sweet turf amidst the summer flowers”).
Mr. Clarke shares in both of these worlds, at once sensitive and down to earth, and yet drawn to witness and read about disturbing events that he seems unwilling to fully acknowledge as real. Many of the stories are related with names abbreviated or left out in order to protect the individuals from scandal. This provides both suspense and the feeling that there is an unspeakable evil lurking beneath the surface of both, the individual psyche that is terrifying, and a societal reality that is socially scandalous.
The Great God Pan is set in England and London. Machen cites specific settings, such as towns and streets in London, that, along with the citing of scientific literature and specific dates, lends to the impression of the story being grounded in empirical observation.
[Need map of England and London with setting locations identified].
The Great God Pan uses precise dates throughout the text. These dates are important for in documenting the final revalation of the text. The specificity of these dates, along with the citing of scientific literature and the precise locations of events, lends to the impression of the story being grounded in empirical observation.
[Need a timeline of dates at which events took place].
- Dr. Raymond: Doctor who specializes in the study of the brain. He unsuccessfully performs surgery on Mary. Cold and clinical and willing to sacrifice lives for his science.
- Clarke: A businessman who is shrewd both with money and people, “an advocate of the common place” is “cautious but curious” and a sceptic simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by the occult. He is contemptuous of published literature, but loves manuscripts, is proud of his literary abilities, and is writing his, “Memoirs to prove the Existence of the Devil.”
- Mary: Seventeen year old girl who Dr. Raymond rescued from the gutter and almost certain starvation as a child. She is trusting, obedient, and intimate with Dr. Raymond. Her surgery turns her into an idiot after the terror of seeing the Great God Pan.
- Brown Faber: His literature in neuroscience is mentioned as authoritative.
- Oswald Crollius: Dr. Raymond suspects this former mentor, whom he remembers fondly, “never found the way.” He had a saying: “In every grain of wheat there lies hidden the soul of a star.”
- Pan: An omni-form creature who lives in the streets of London as easily as the woods. Described as a “strange man,” “the man in the woods,” “a faun or satyr,” “God of the Deeps,” and “The god of the Great Deep and the Abyss,” and as having “a presentment of intense evil.”
- Dr. Phillips: Friend who relates two extraordinary stories about Helen V., Rachel M., and Treavor W. to Clarke.
- Hellen V. (Vaughan) : An orphan, purportedly born to an English father and Italian mother. As Helen, her adopted father sends her to live with a wealthy farmer for social education. He stipulates that she must have her own room and that she be free to do as she wished during her free time. The farmer is paid well for keeping her. She enjoys spending time in the woods.
- Rachel M. : Daughter of a prosperous farmer who shares a friendship, “of a peculiarly intimate character,” with Helen V. After returning from the woods in a lethargic state a couple of times, she comes back and questioningly laments to her mother, “why did you let me go into the woods with Hellen?” She later vanished in broad daylight last seen walking into a meadow.
- Treavor W.: The son of a laborer who sees Helen V. in the wood with a “strange man.” He is so frightened, after seeing the stone head of a faun or satyr in the home of a client, he becomes an idiot.
- Mr. R.: Prosperous farmer who takes Helen V. into his home.
- Joseph W.: A laborer and the father of Treavor W.
- Herbert: A once wealthy beggar and college friend of Villiers. Herbert was driven to poverty after having married Helen Vaughan, who destroyed him in “body and soul,” saying he witnessed unspeakable events. He is later found dead of starvation in a rented room.
- Villiers of Wadham: Eminently well to do gentleman, gourmet, observer of people and the goings on of London, he is a college friend of Herbert, who shares his insights into Helen with Clarke.
- Mrs. Herbert: Described as “not human” by her haunted husband Herbert.
- Herbert’s Father at Dorsetshire: Well to do gentleman that left an inheritance to Herbert.
- Austin: Shares, with Villiers, the story of a gentleman who died of fright in the home of Herbert and Helen at #20 Paul Street.
- Dead Gentleman: Found dead at #20 Paul Street with nothing more than bruises on his shoulders (as if pushed) and a terror-stricken look upon his face.
- Gentleman: Calls police after running across a dead man at #20 Paul Street.
- Policeman: Finds no signs of foul play in the death at #20 Paul Street.
- Doctor: Officially unable to report a cause of death at #20 Paul Street and will only confide that he is sure that the man died of fright.
- Servant girl: Neighbor at #20 Paul Street had neither seen the dead gentleman before, nor heard anything when the man died.
- Mrs. Beaumont: From South America, Mrs. Beaumont served Lord Argentine a 1,000 year old bottle of Claret. She the most beautiful house of the season. She is described as the most beautiful and most repulsive woman ever laid eyes upon
- Lord Argentine (Charles Aubernon ): Born Charles Aubernon, the son of a youngest son of an aristocrat, was of simple means until several members of his family died in of war and disease. He became Lord Argentine at age 30 and was determined to enjoy life as much as he always had. Known for his genial manner and sumptuous hospitality, he was fond of food and drink and an expert in wines. He was an acquaintance of Mrs. Beaumont before inexplicably strangling himself at the foot of his bed one night.
- Arthur Meyrick: A painter who, feeling overworked, went on vacation at the suggestion of his good friend Austin. He asked his Argentinian doctor to send Austin a sketch book before he died of unknown causes in Argentina. The sketchbook is filled with pen and ink drawings of fauns, satyrs, Aegipans in diverse natural settings. The last page contained a drawing of Helen.
- Dr. Harding: An English doctor who treated Aurther Meyrick before he died. At the request of Arthur Meyrick, the doctor sent Austin a sketchbook filled with scandalous drawings in pen and ink, including one of Helen.
- Valet: Reported that Lord Argentine was in his usual good mood, and even excited, the night before he committed suicide.
- Lord Swanleigh: Hung himself from a peg in his closet one night.
- Mr. Collier-Stuart: Strangled himself at the foot of his bed one night.
- Mr. Herries: Strangled himself at the foot of his bed one night.
- Mr. Crashaw: Seen, by Villiers, leaving Mrs. Beaumont’s home one night. Mr. Crashaw was found dead the following morning, having hung himself from a tree in his garden. Mr. Villiers reported that he ran all the way home after looking into Mr. Crashaw’s eyes and seeing lust, rage, horror, and despair.
- Man who Escapes with his Life: The individual from whom Villiers acquires a manuscript with horrifying contents. Villiers does not expect the man to live for long.
- Dr. Maheson: Wrote a letter describing the birth of Helen which was found after his death.
After explaining the years he has spent preparing the experiment, Dr. Raymond performs a brief procedure on Clarke. He then operates on Mary’s brain. She awakens in terror, having seen the Great God Pan. She is so frightened that she becomes a lifelong idiot.
Mr. Clark’s Memoirs
Mr. Clarke begins reading a manuscript (“Memoirs to prove the Existence of the Devil”) he has prepared that relates two stories told by Dr. Phillips.
The first is the story of a 7 year old Treavor W. who, while playing in the woods, is terror striken after seeing Hellen V. with a “strange man” (Pan). He later sees a stone image of a faun or satyr that reminds him of the “man in the woods,” and terrifies him so much that he becomes a lifelong idiot.
The second story tells of a very close friendship between Hellen V. and Rachel M. After returning from the woods a couple of times in a “languid and dreamy” state, she returns in great distress and asks her mother why she has let her go into the forest with Helen. She later vanishes without a trace, last seen walking into a meadow. The chapter ends with Clarke snapping the book shut just before revealing what “monstrous” event happened to Rachel M. in the woods.
The City of Resurrection
Herbert and Villiers meet on the street. Herbert relates, to the curious Villiers, the story of his marriage to Helen and that she brought him to begging in rags. He will not give details lest he ruin Villier’s life by the mere telling of what he has seen. Austin relates the story of the death of an unnamed gentleman at #20 Paul Street three years previous. The gentleman was found dead of fright with both police and doctors shaken and without explaination.
The Discovery in Paul Street
Villiers relates the story of Austin has told him to Clarke and that after visiting #20 he felt such horror that he stumbled home and was sick in bed for a week. He then pulls out a picture of a woman who reminds Clarke of Mary and points out that the name on the back of the picture is Helen’s. Clarke is overwhelmed and feels faint with the realization of the connection. He invites Austin to come back in one week so that he has time to think things over.
The Letter of Advice
Villiers confides in Austin as they stroll through Piccadilly and northward. Villiers shares a letter from Clarke that advises to forget about the whole business with Helen. They are curious about Mrs. Beaumont as they pass her home. They arrive at Austin’s home, which is decorated in an eclectic style. He casually produces a sketchbook sent to him by a friend who died in Argentina. The sketchbook contains scandalous pen and ink drawings of fauns, satyrs, and aegipans in varied natural settings. Villiers advises locking away or burning the sketchbook.
Villiers and Austin met one another and began discussing the recent suicides in London. Four wealthy or noble men of hung or strangled themselves without apparent motive. After learning that Mr. Crashaw has hung himself, Villiers decides he must tell Austin that he saw Mr. Crashaw leaving the home of Mrs. Beaumont the night before with a look of lust, rage, horror, and despair on his face. Austin shares his recently having met Mrs. Beaumont and that she was hansom but with a strange expression that he did not like. They agree to keep this information between themselves while Villiers attempts to learn more about who Mrs. Beaumont is.
The Encounter in Soho
Three weeks after their last encounter, Villiers summons Austin and relates what he has learned. After much detective work on the seedier side of town, Villiers has learned that Mrs. Beaumont visits a house regularly. He waits outside only to run across Helen Vaughan. He follows her all day until he discovers that Helen is Mrs. Beaumont. He also shares a manuscript he has obtained that is “an account of the entertainment Mrs. Beaumont provides for her choicer guests.” After glancing at some of the pages, Austin drops the manuscript in horror and disgust and refuses to read further. Villiers then relates having picked up a hangman’s noose at certain shop and his plan, along with Clarke, to present Mrs. Beaumont with the choice of hanging herself or having her story exposed to the authorities. Austin is aghast and leaves. He returns briefly to tell Villiers that he found that Meyrick died of nervous shock after having met Mrs. Vaughan in Buenos Aires and that Mrs. Vaughan does indeed have a disreputable past.
About half way through the chapter Villiers describes, to Austin, the nature of Pan.
The final chapter is composed of three fragments of letters. The first is from a Dr. Robert Matheson who delivered Helen, the child of Mary, just before Mary died.
The second is from Clarke and tells of his visit to the town where Helen grew up and a trip into the woods that is beautiful, but with flashes of the repulsive. He also tells of finding a monument devoted to “the god of the Great Deep or Abyss” and the marriage he saw take place beneath the shade and relating that no local had been able to fathom the nature of that marriage.
The final letter is from Dr. Raymond. He acknowledges the callous and capricious nature of his experiment on Mary, but thinks it well that Helen decided to take her own life, however horrible the process was.
- Look about you, Clarke. You see the mountain, and hill following after hill, as wave on wave, you see the woods and orchard, the fields of ripe corn, and the meadows reaching to the reed-beds by the river. You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things—yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet--I say that all these are but dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes. 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.
Books by Arthur Machen
- The Three Imposters
- The White People
- The Great God Pan
- The Shining Pyramid
- The Terror
- The Inmost Light
- The Great Return
- The Secret Glory
- The Red Hand
- The Novel of the Black Seal
- The Hill of Dreams
- The Happy Children
- The Bowmen
- The Angels of Mons
- Out of the Earth
- Novel of the White Powder
- Dreads and Drolls
- Dr Duthoit's Vision
- A New Christmas Carol
- 7B Coney Court
- A Fragment of Life
- The Great God Pan (http://www.blackmask.com/cgi-bin/links/jump.cgi?ID=b469), Blackmask Online Edition
- The Three Imposters and Other Stories: The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen, Volume 1 (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1568821328/qid=1120783417/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-8362360-5382435?v=glance&s=books), edited by S. T. Joshi
- Machen, Arthur. (1991). The Great God Pan. Creation Books.