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Old 03-16-2012   #1
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"Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature

I started discussing this branch of literature yesterday on goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...nesque-fiction) and librarything ("Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature | The Weird Tradition | LibraryThing) to pretty positive response and thought it might be worth sharing here:

I'm working on a "weird fiction"-based senior capstone project and my discussion is leaning increasingly towards the niche occupied by Blackwood, Machen, and occasionally Sarban. I find it interesting that these two (sometimes three) authors are conflated as often as they are, and would like explore their connections -- potentially in terms of the use of space and Rudolf Otto's concept of the "numinous."

I'd be interested to hear any theories on this sub-genre/niche, or any fiction/non-fiction recommendations.

Works I've read that I'd like to include:
Fiction-
The Willows & The Wendigo (Blackwood)
The White People (Machen)
The Events at Poroth Farm (T.E.D. Klein)
Primeval Wood (Richard Gavin)
Yns-Y-Plag (Quentin S Crisp)
Non-fiction-
Haunted Presence (S.L. Varnado)
Closed Space (Manuel Aguirre)
The Weird Tale & The Modern Weird Tale (Joshi)

Reading: Ringstones (Sarban)

Things I intend to read soon:
Cwm Garon (L.T.C. Rolt)
Five Degrees of Latitude (Michael Reynier)
Midnight Sun (Ramsey Campbell)

I'm also looking for an alternative to "Blackwoodian," which just isn't working for me
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Old 03-16-2012   #2
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Re: "Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature

Yes, Machen and Blackwood are often grouped together & did indeed share the ability to convey the numinous in their writing. They were both members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and they certainly met on a few occasions, but were not closely acquainted.

One key difference between them is the source of their inspiration. Machen's was in classical paganism (Greek/Roman), the alchemists and hermeticists, and later in Celtic Christianity and the Grail cycle.

Blackwood was more drawn to Egyptian and Eastern influences. For example, he clearly had belief in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, whereas Machen didn't, and was scathing of the popular interest in Eastern religions.

There is reasonable evidence that Sarban read Machen (his daughter thought so, and there were Machen books in his library), though he more specifically quoted de la Mare and H G Wells as influences. However, Sarban said he had not read Blackwood before writing any of his published stories. Even so, others have made the link: John Betjeman compared his "A Christmas Ghost Story" to "The Willows".
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Old 03-16-2012   #3
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Re: "Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature

Thanks, Sand. That's incredibly helpful!
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Old 03-16-2012   #4
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Re: "Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature

It's interesting you grouped Sarban with Machen and Blackwood.. Sarban is someone I'm ashamed to say I just haven't yet got round to reading . I don't know why, but I didn't think he would have been closely related to Machen.. he has definately shot up my to read list if that's the case.

I'm interested to see what you come up with. I've read several collections by Blackwood, and find I am very drawn to his nature mystic side - several stories in this vein I have found very moving.

For the more fearful side of the numinous I would say Robert Aickman has many memorable moments and could be added to your list.
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Old 03-16-2012   #5
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Re: "Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature

I don't know how widely you want to cast your net, but another key writer of the numinous in the period would be David Lindsay. His visionary fantasy A Voyage to Arcturus tends to overshadow the three supernatural fiction romances that followed - The Haunted Woman, Sphinx and Devil's Tor. These are each troubled attempts to express an encounter with the numinous.
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Old 03-17-2012   #6
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Re: "Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature

Draugen: Ringstones by Sarban - Free eBook
I managed to read the first 30 pages at work, and from that I'd say it fits squarely in Blackwood/Machen (especially machen) territory. Really enjoying it.

Quote Originally Posted by Sand View Post
I don't know how widely you want to cast your net, but another key writer of the numinous in the period would be David Lindsay. His visionary fantasy A Voyage to Arcturus tends to overshadow the three supernatural fiction romances that followed - The Haunted Woman, Sphinx and Devil's Tor. These are each troubled attempts to express an encounter with the numinous.
I thought Arcturus was great, and anything within that supernatural/numinous line of thought is pretty inherently interesting to me. Duly noted.

The recommendation also has me wondering (peripherally) to what extent works are compared to Machen/Blackwood/Sarban just based on nature/supernatural/pagan content. In the goodreads thread, for instance, someone brought up Mark Samuel's "The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales." There's an obvious Machen influence in several stories and I wouldn't doubt a Blackwood influence, but it's a bit harder to detect in urban environments. I would be interested to read a work that embodies the Blackwoodian/Machenesque/Sarbanian without using any of the standard tropes- and I wonder if I would even recognize it.



Here's an explanation of my net that's hopefully interesting:
It went through a few wide iterations (literature of microcosm, literature of numinous spaces, etc) before it caught on the idea of representative/prototypical "weird fiction," which I take to mean "weird fiction" that closely corresponds to what Lovecraft proposes in "Supernatural Horror in Literature." This quote from Ligotti's "The Dark Beauty of Unheard-Of Horrors," is probably what sent me in that direction:

"'The Music of Erich Zann'" was Lovecraft's early, almost premature expression of his ideal as a writer: the use of maximum suggestion and minimal explanation to evoke a sense of supernatural terrors and wonders. It is also among those of his stories that bear the greatest resemblance to the masterpieces Lovecraft most admired and held as touchstones for excellence in the realm of the weird: Blackwood's "The Willows," Machen's "The White People," and Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher""

This set of works connected my interest in numinous spaces to my interest in weird fiction about as well as I could hope for, and the original plan was to look at these stories within that context to speak to wider qualities of weird fiction. I moved from that to a Machen/Blackwood emphasis because they wrote Lovecraft's favorite two weird tales, for the conflation thing I mentioned, and because their works seem especially conducive to a discussion of space and the numinous. It also gives me an excuse to read some works/authors I've been meaning to under the guise of school.
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Old 03-18-2012   #7
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Re: "Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature

I agree A Voyage to Arcturus is an astonishing book, one I keep meaning to re-read. I rememeber I looked it up after reading one of Colin Wilson's books on existentialism. Although he thought Lindsay was a second rate writer at best, he called Arcturus the "greatest imaginative work of the 20th century - possibly in all literature". I own a slim volume called The Strange genius of David Lindsay in which Wilson examines his work, worth picking up.

Not sure if it's of interest, as it's non-fiction, but the numinous holds an important place in Carl Jung's idea's. I read most of the collected works in my younger days, and think it was here that I first even encountered the word. If I remember correctly, Jung viewed the human unconcious as containing primal figures or 'archetypes', and encounters with these could be felt as deeply numinous experiences, archaic, full of awe.

It's an interesting idea, as surely some of the best (numinous) moments in horror/fantasy/aesthetics are effective because they resonate or give us a partial glimpse of something half forgotten but profound.
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Old 03-18-2012   #8
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Re: "Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature

I think Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood might be along the lines of what you're looking for.
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Old 03-19-2012   #9
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Re: "Blackwoodian" and "Machenesque" literature

Some recent examples of what you're searching for could be Barbara Roden's very fine story "Northwest Passage" and Simon Strantzas' very fine "Pinholes in Black Muslin".
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