Arthur Machen's The Three Imposters and Other Stories (The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen, Vol. 1), as editd by S.T. Joshi

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BLOT: (23 Nov 2010 - 02:43:00 PM)

Arthur Machen's The Three Imposters and Other Stories (The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen, Vol. 1), as editd by S.T. Joshi

Ok, I've gone back and forth and thought about this review. I have not read the second volume (will soon), but this is how it seems to me. This book contains two important works: "The Great God Pan" and The Three Impostors. "The Great God Pan" is something of misstep that mashes together two different short stories. The first, and smallest, is the best: a scientist opens up the doors of perception and the horrible truths of the Outside comes pouring in (the first and final "chapters"). The second, the bulk, deals with sexual horrors and is basically how bad a particular woman is (because of, you know, sexual horrors). Toss in a small twist to bring them back to together and you have a satisfying, but potentially so much more, product.

The Three Impostors? You could write an entire book of discussion about what is meant and what could have been implied. A series of stories inside of stories are told, some with stories inside of them, many with a horror bend, and all linking back, however falsely and tentatively, with the search for a young man with spectacles and a gold coin. Of the various interlocked tales (four of which are pitched as "novels", fantastical stories told by one character to another), the two most important are "Novel of the Black Seal" and "Novel of the White Powder". "Seal" deals with hidden truths and the unknown things hidden in the history of man, and is very important to what is usually recognized as Lovecraftian horror. "Powder" is much more classic horror, a white powder that helps a overzealous student of law regain some zest and vivre. Except it goes awry. Right up there with "Colour out of Space" (Lovecraft) and "Voice in the Night" (Hodgson) as a classic of the consumed-from-within horror.

The four novels and five or six "real" tales of The Three Impostors are subtitled "The Transmutations", and most of the stories involve some element of things changing. However, the connection between the storylines and change can be tenuous in places. I think I get it, but I wouldn't be absolutely sure. And are the interlocking stories where one character might tell a story told them to someone else a statement about the nature of legend? "Black Seal", with its commentary about legends wrapped in legends and lost folklore, suggest that it is at least part of it. Outside of that, you have one story involving mistaken identity, one involving the danger of looking for the past, one involving the danger of certain hobbies, and one about the downsides to medical science (sort of).

As for the remaining, more minor tales, you have "The Inmost Light" and "The Shining Pyramid". "The Inmost Light" is interesting, but at its core is a coincidence that makes the entire oeuvre of Dickens sound plausible. If the whole thing was written in reverse sequence (except the end would still be the end), it would be better. "The Shining Pyramid" has some neat mysticism, but is done better in "The Novel of the Black Seal".

Still, the bookends—"Pan" and Impostors—are very worthy tales and I'm sad it took me this long to read them. Those two get a Good, with Imposters leaning towards Great, and the other two get something like a Meh because what good they did was largely done by Impostors better.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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