Monday, October 30, 2006

Arthur Machen and the Paleolithic

Arthur Machen was a great writer who influenced many early 20th Century horror and fantastic fiction authors, such as, for instance, H. P. Lovecraft. His stories are still very entertaining reads today and, because most are set in Victorian England, they coincide temporally with the development of anthropology and archaeology as disciplines. This, and the fact that Machen often drew his protagonists from the small bourgeoisie leads to some really neat vignettes, such as this one, from The Red Hand, when two gentlemen taking an evening stroll come upon a murder site and alert the police.

"The three lanterns were flashing here and there, searching for more evidence, and in the gleam of one of them Dyson caught sight of an object in the road, to which he called the attention of the policeman nearest to him.

'Look, Phillipps,' he said, when the man had secured it and
held it up. 'Look, that should be something in your way!'

It was a dark flinty stone, gleaming like obsidian, and shaped to a broad edge something after the manner of an adze. One end was rough, and easily grasped in the hand, and the whole thing was hardly five inches long. The edge was thick with blood.

'What is it Phillipps?' said Dyson; and Phillipps looked hard at it.

'It's a primitive flint knife,' he said. 'It was made about ten thousand years ago. One exactly like this was found near Abury in Wiltshire, and all the authorities gave it that age.' "

A Paleolithic stone tool used as a murder weapon in 19th Century London! How cool is that as a hook?! And the rest of the story gets even better, with some hand prints on a wall, and more! Phenomenal reading!


Machen, A. 1906. The Red Hand. In The House of Souls. E. Grant Richards, London

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm really delighted you brought up Arthur Machen. I first came across his work in a collection called "Great Tales of Horror and the Supernatural", which I first read when I was about thirteen years old(much longer ago than I care to remember, but that's another story). I later read more Machen, and was equally delighted by him. His material, mostly short stories, covers a lot of ground. I can't remember "The Red Hand", but his interests seem to have been quite varied. And he was a very good writer who deserves to be much better known than he is.
Anne Gilbert