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The Great God Pan (book)

From Thelemapedia

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.
Table of contents


Historical Context


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].


Plot Summary

The Experiment

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.

The Suicides

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 Fragments

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


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