Customer Reviews: The White People and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics)
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Customer Reviews

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on October 18, 2011
I attended last night's Penguin Classics signing by S. T. Joshi, and although they had gobs and gobs of the newly-published Deluxe Edition of THE CALL OF CTHULHU AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES, they had but ONE copy of the Machen. I had already ordered it here at Amazon, and thus I was happy to see some other fellow who really wanted it and bought that copy.

S. T. said that Penguin were initially hesitant to publish the book, but they finally told him that if he could get Guillermo del Toro to write a Foreword, they'd publish it. It looks like they commissioned a new cover illustration of Pan, and that's odd since "The Great God Pan" does not appear in the book. The Contents are:

"The Ecstasy of St. Arthur," Foreword by Guillermo del Toro
Introduction by S. T. Joshi
Suggestions for Further Reading
A Note on the Texts
The Inmost Light
Novel of the Black Seal
Novel of the White Powder
The Red Hand
The White People
A Fragment of Life
The Bowman
The Soldier's Rest
The Great Return
Out of the Earth
The Terror
Explanatory Notes

Some people don't like Notes and Annotations. I love them and find that they enhance my enjoyment of an author. S. T. is so well read in the weird fiction field that he has a vast knowledge of things therein, and so his Notes are always illuminating. He begins each note with the writing/publication history of the tale, and the Notes then pertain to foreign words, historical aspects and the like.

This is a good solid selection of Machen's amazing weird fiction. The strangeness that these tales evoke, the threat of lingering aspects of the past, the trespassing into arcane realms, is in a class all its own. Machen had a magnificent and unique imagination, and he wrote in a plain yet literary style that flows easily. I highly recommend this book to all who enjoy excellent weird fiction.

"Of living creators of cosmic fear raised to its most artistic pitch, few if any can hope to equal the versatile Arthur Machen, author of some dozen tales long and short, in which the elements of hidden horror and brooding fright attain an almost incomparable substance and realistic acuteness."
--H. P. Lovecraft
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on October 3, 2011
Contrary to the fact that the beautiful cover illustration appears to be a depiction of Pan, and in spite of the fact that both Guillermo Del Toro and S.T. Joshi discuss the story in their respective foreword and introduction, Arthur Machen's most acclaimed story, "The Great God Pan," is not included in this otherwise seminal collection.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you - just giving a heads up to those who might be thinking of purchasing this collection on the assumption that the story is included. Amazon never provided their helpful LOOK INSIDE! option during the many months prior to WHITE PEOPLE's release, and there is still no "Table of Contents" option, which is unusual in my experience. Yes, you can easily scroll down and find the book's table of contents if you really want to, but I imagine there are many prospective buyers who will reasonably presume that the story is included based on both the misleading cover art and the fact that it is the author's most famous work.

Anyways, the truth is that because "Pan" is the most frequently reprinted of all Machen's work, it's a fairly safe assumption that most readers interested in THE WHITE PEOPLE AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES are already familiar with it. So I understand at least one reason why the editor might have chosen not to include it, although I suspect the real reason has more to do with Joshi's comment in the introduction that "The White People" is an "infinitely better" story than "Pan." "Infinitely better"? Seriously? Sorry, but you must be (clears throat) joshing. While I happen to agree that "White People" is the more impressive and unsettling story - it is in fact my favorite of the author's works - I also recognize "Pan" as being an utterly fantastic and essential Machen tale.

So. Anyone who enjoys this collection and wishes to track down a copy of "Pan" is encouraged to take a look at the classic Horror anthology, GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL, edited by Wagner and Wise. This super-sized volume serves up a feast of early Horror tales (including "Pan," of course) featuring essential authors like Poe, Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Ambrose Bierce, Rudyard Kipling, M.R. James, Oliver Onions, and many others.

But getting back to the book I'm supposedly reviewing, WHITE PEOPLE is among the most thoughtfully selected and copiously annotated Arthur Machen book you're likely to find. For those who aren't yet experienced, Machen was a highly original and sometimes challenging writer with an exceptional knack for depicting uncanny forces that are beyond the capacity of any sane person to fully grasp. And yet as bizarre and grotesque as some of his concepts are, they have the distinct quality of feeling upsettingly believable. Quite a feat for any writer, especially one of such "weird" stories.

His great recurring motif was the disturbing "Little People" mythology, in which an ancient offshoot of humanity continues to exist in malignant secrecy. Interestingly enough, I read an article just a few years back in which a collection of largely intact fossil samples of just such a clan were discovered in a cave (I forget where, unfortunately). And these Hobbit-sized men and women were apparently of extremely high intellect, especially considering how long ago they existed. See what I mean by his ideas being believable?

So in closing, I recommend this great and revelatory book without reservation to any reader of "weird stories" and more sophisticated Horror Fiction. Machen was a true master of darkly imaginative fiction, and his finest stories - most of which are compiled here - are sure to rock any reader with enough intelligence, imagination, and courage to go for the ride.

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on June 10, 2013
After reading Lovecraft's treatise Supernatural Horror in Literature, I decided to delve into the authors he discussed, including Algernon Blackwood, MR. James, and Arthur Machen. Machen's work was the first I chose to read, and let me say I was not disappointed. Although not every story in this collection is thrilling (A Fragment of Life was rather boring), I found myself loving the overall eerie and suggestive feel of his work. It is rich with atmosphere. Over each page coils a mist of something simultaneously primal, cosmic, and haunting. This is not horror, necessarily. Rather it conveys more subtle impressions than outright fear. It acts as a gentle brush of chill air on the skin, rather than an abrupt slap in the face. Very unique.
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on March 21, 2014
There are many good ghost story writers, but there are only a handful of "masters" of this genre. M.R. James and Lord Dunsany are two such gifted storytellers. Arthur Machen is one of the best and, arguably, a true master of the bone-chilling stories...the true classics. Machen (1863-1947) took the haunted house and cursed graveyard narratives into a new realm, a realm that is both dark, terrifying and mythic. Fans of H. P. Lovecraft will recognize the style and iconic themes that Machen originated. Arthur Machen and H. P. Lovecraft were perfect partners in the emerging genre of myth-making as a major sub-text of the ghost story structure. Lovecraft (1890-1937) owes a great debt to Machen for establishing the foundations of the Cthulhu Mythos (more Lovecraftian, really, than Machen). In the world, they and others write about us as ordinary humans who happen to coexist with a race of "The Ancient Ones," who live just beyond a veil. If a human penetrates that veil, through a study of arcane subjects, we will then encounter a more demonic class of beings. Ones you don't want to meet on a dark and foggy night in a London alley.
My favorite story in this collection is the "Novel of the Black Seal". It helps to explain why most people feel an intense foreboding when standing in the shadows out beyond the camp-fire or cozy fireplace of a book-lined den.
I highly recommend this volume for anyone interested in reading something written decades before the present vampire-laden fiction. This is the real thing, and it's not comfortable to be holding a book like this alone, in bed, when the candle light grows dim.
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on November 20, 2014
The Inmost Light
Novel of the Black Seal
Novel of the White Powder
The Red Hand
The White People,

were all very good stories, after that, Arthur Machen was stuffing his stories with padding, since he was paid by the word writing for periodicals and 'Story papers'. None of the next stories live up to the "Weird" in the title.

A Fragment of Life
The Bowman
The Soldier's Rest
The Great Return
Out of the Earth
The Terror,

are all very tedious, sprinkled with, common at the time, anti-German xenophobia and preposterous endings. "The Terror" is a prime example of how to ruin a somewhat enigmatic premise.

Still, I like Arthur Machen since he was so poor and unable to write what he wanted to a full extent so I'll give the bloke a 4 stars.

Also recommended:

The Tenant by Roland Topor

The Terrifying Tales by Edgar Allan Poe

Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Rampo, Edogawa

Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M. R. James

Vampires;: Stories of the supernatural by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy

The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft

Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories by Algernon Blackwood

Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn

Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne
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on December 5, 2015
I first heard of Arthur Machen, the great Welsh author of weird supernatural fiction, while reading Jon Langford's Skull Orchard Revisited book, and was immediately interested when I found out that HP Lovecraft was a huge admirer of Machen, calling The White People the second-greatest horror tale ever written after Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows". This book, with its very creepy cover image of a white satyr, collects 11 of his best-known fiction and non-fiction prose pieces, with a foreword by weird fiction connoisseur (and film director)Guillermo Del Toro and a long introduction by weird fiction scholar KT Joshi.

Two of the tales in this collection are very long ("A Fragment Of Life" and "The Terror") are both over 80 pages long, while "The Bowmen", "The Soldiers' Rest" and "Out Of The Earth" are all less than 10 pages long; the remaining tales are about 30 pages long.

I had a thought that Machen's writing would be quite horrific and gory, but found it to be hardly that at all. "The Inmost Light", which opens the collection, is the most similar to a HP Lovecraft story, in that it demonstrates the trap a scholar can fall into if his thirst for knowledge takes him where he should not tread; it is also a fascinating tale of near-Dickensian social horror. "Novel Of The Black Seal" is also a fascinating tale of eldritch magic, as Machen often wrote about the mysteries of the wilderness and the hidden society of godless elves and the beasts of nature. "Novel Of The White Powder" is a freakish tale of accidental horror, while "The Red Hand" is a supernatural detective tale in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe (and maybe Jorge Luis Borges).

The title story mystified me somewhat - less about any race of magic people than it is the pleasant rambling of a child discovering the magic of the forests. The concept is developed in a more concrete way in "A Fragment Of Life", which tells the tale of a young married couple as they feel the pull of hidden worlds, and also have these hidden worlds thrust into their lives through various circumstances; it also deals heavily with mundane daily matters, and rambles on pleasantly before it runs out of steam near the end. Ordinarily, an aimless tale like this would irritate me, but I somehow found it a wonderful read. "The Terror" is somewhat more concrete, talking about the investigation of mysterious deaths in rural Wales, set during wartime when media censorship is in place and all mysteries become even more mysterious. It has a massive body count, but there's little horror as each death is described posthumously.

Filling in the gaps are three short non-fiction prose pieces. "The Bowmen" is a fantasy tale of a battle in World War I, "The Soldiers' Rest" is an interesting tale of awakenings, while "Out Of The Earth" deals with the miracle of the Holy Grail.

Each tale also comes with explanatory notes, gathered at the end, to make sense of literary and biblical references, to place current events into context, or to explain local geography.

A fantastic collection lovingly presented! Check out Arthur Machen!!
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on January 5, 2014
I had never heard of Machen and I am grateful to Penguin and Mr. Toshi for bringing his work to my attention. One of the greats whose work rates with Poe and Lovecraft. Next stop: The Great God Pan.
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on March 7, 2014
This book is fantastic it gives you a great example of his writing skills and the stories will blow you away anyone who loves suspense horror and action will love the stories.
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on March 22, 2016
The White People one of the most macabre stories I have ever read. Machen was a genius.
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on June 3, 2015
Being a H.P: Lovecraft fan for many years, I highly recommend this book to all HPL fans
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