I read this book as part of the EEVILLE book challenge, the idea being we were challenged to read something that we would never normally pick up. I was partnered with the lovely Frozenwaffle, who challenged me to read this strange, rough little gem of a book.
In essence, The Great God Pan
is a tale of the unintended consequences of an experiment that delved into the hidden mysteries of the human brain. At least, that's what I took out of it. You could also desribe it as a series of linked mysteries, from a spate of suicides amongst London gentlemen, to the death of a farm girl named Rachel.
I had never heard of Arthur Machen, or of The Great God Pan
, which Stephen King hails as 'Maybe the best The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror, The Time Machine and Dracula.
It wasn't as though The Great God Pan
was all butterflies and roses, anyway. There were some truly disturbing moments, which I wish there had been more of. Scenes that particularly stood out for me included the end of the opening chapter with its description of the experiment and what came after, and the brief description of the London gentlemen's bodies after they had committed suicide. The end of the first chapter was the only part of the book that truly unsettled me (though, of course, Clarke looked away and missed the gory bits), and I wish it had continued in that fashion and had not descended into vagueness.
One thing I truly enjoyed about reading The Great God Pan
, however, was Arthur Machen's use of language. The prose seemed to come alive under his touch, especially when he was describing setting. Each countryside scene, in particular, was lovingly crafted, and you could almost feel the hot summer breeze on your skin, or the chill mist as it rose from the valleys. As well as that, although I didn't particularly enjoy them, the literary devices, were skillfully implemented.
I also enjoyed the premise of the novel, the idea that to lift a veil to another world, a true world (which I got the impression was partially inspired by fae mythology, as well as mythology about Pan himself), we as humans just need a part of our brain to be stimulated. A common premise of fae-related books today, perhaps, that we have evolved to become closed, off, but it is an interesting premise nonetheless.
There is not a particularly strong sense of character in the novel, but the main characters are distinct enough and characterisation isn't really an important factor in the story. It is mainly focused on possiblities and mysteries; as such, in depth characterisation might have proved a distraction from the narrative. It kind of goes hand in hand with the retrospective narrative, as it is hard to have a dynamic protagonist when all he is doing is relating past events, or acting a lens through which we discover stories related by others.
In all, I am of two minds about this book. I enjoyed it, but I found it lacking in some way. Perhaps because I was expecting to be frightened and Machen delivered. If I was reading this a hundred years ago, I'm sure I would have found it much more disturbing and horrific; it's actually a shame that we, as a society, have become so used to violent, action-filled stories that a teasing, psychological story like this one loses a lot of its effect. That said, I can admire the skill of the author and I understand what he intended. I just wanted... more
from it. It was worth the read, however, and I'll be reading more classic horror novels in the future. :)