Under The Radar: "The Great God Pan" is Legit Terrifying
Anyone who knows me, tends to realize pretty quickly what a Stephen King fanatic I am. I grew up pretty much reading King exclusively, and his works acted as a sort of gateway drug for my interest in reading and writing in general.
All these years later, I have broadened my reading horizons exponentially, but I'm still drawn to the horror genre as a whole. A few years ago, I read a quote from Mr. King regarding his feelings on his own short story N. which stuck with me: "Not Lovecraft; it’s a riff on Arthur Machen’s 'The Great God Pan,' which is one of the best horror stories ever written. Maybe the best in the English language."
I absolutely loved King's story N., and so, I knew that I had to file that critique away for later usage. Two weeks ago when I found a copy of The Great God Pan I immediately scooped it up.
Initially, I went in expecting very little. The story had been written by Arthur Machen in 1890, and I expected the language to be too old-fashioned and difficult to follow. However, it is a novella, and so the investment of time would be very small. I was very pleasantly surprised.
In a nutshell, a doctor has discovered a procedure which opens up the mind to the spiritual world. By performing minor brain surgery, he can get patients to "see the great god Pan". At the start of the book, he performs this surgery, but leaves his patient mentally disabled. Initially, it is unclear as to whether the surgery was botched, or if, perhaps, the patient has been driven mad by what she saw.
Years later, a well-to-do woman takes up residence in a beautiful home in an upscale section of London. Around the same period of time, prominent Englishmen begin committing suicide. Villiers and Austin, two men of high status in London, take an interest in the occurrences, as they knew many of the men who had been committing suicide. Additionally, Clarke, a man who was there the night of the initial surgery many years ago, has also taken an interest, as he is reminded more and more of that awful night.
The bulk of the story centers around these men putting together the pieces, and as the great H.P. Lovecraft so eloquently put it in his review of the novella, "No one could begin to describe the cumulative suspense and ultimate horror with which every paragraph abounds."
If you are a fan of the horror genre, you would be doing yourself a great disservice not to give this story a read. It has moments which are utterly terrifying, and the language is not just easy to follow, but it truly adds a little something extra to the creepiness of this tale. Also, I had been watching BBC's Sherlock quite a lot just before I read this one, so it was easy for me to imagine Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of Villiers, Martin Freeman as Austin, Rupert Graves as Clarke, and Lara Pulver as the mysterious Mrs. Beaumont. The mental images of those four in the prominent roles of the story only enhances the reading experience.
I highly recommend The Great God Pan, and I sincerely hope it gets a screen treatment someday soon.