A few weeks ago, I made reference to seeking the inspirations of H.P. Lovecraft. I started with Lord Dunsany and am busily working my way through his fine tome of short stories. In the meantime, I spent the weekend reading another author that inspired Lovecraft, Arthur Machen .
“The Three Impostors ” is a collection of short tales with a “wrapper” plot holding it together. They are all of the “horror” genre, although one story about a collector of torture devices failing to read the fine print on his recent purchase was blackly humorous.
The entire book is well worth a read, but if you are in a hurry and just want to taste the story that clearly is a “seed” of later Cthulhu stories, skip to the “Novel of the Black Seal.” This story has all the elements of a classic Mythos story. A renegade professor toils in secret to uncover dark knowledge. An innocent girl watches his strange behavior and researches with a growing dread. Strange visitors and events lead to a dark outcome for the protagonists.
The thing that struck me as I read was the similarity between Machen and Lovecraft in tone and writing style. They are unique styles, but there are echoes of Machen in Lovecraft’s work.
Machen also spills more obvious blood than Lovecraft. The violence portrayed seemed more gratuitous, more lurid than Lovecraft. I am not complaining, just a bit surprised. Victorian England seems so “proper” in my mind. I am sure that is just a product of too many BBC documentaries. I have no doubt that there was a thriving market for violent stories and images. Some things never change.
Published in 1895, the 19th century British English presented some tough going at times, but it is well worth your effort.
The entire text is available for free online at this link: