Arthur Machen is, along with Blackwood and Bierce and Clark Ashton Smith, an early proponent of weird/ supernatural horror fantasy. Whereas Lovecraft seemed to revere Dunsany, Machen’s influence is not as apparent. He seems to inhabit the outskirts of literature, as no one’s favorite.
From the get-go The Hill of Dreams radiates an aura of ‘masterpiece.’ In my opinion, there are only a few books so polished, so evocative, and so articulate in the English language. It is so precise in its description, that its surreal landscapes and Lovecraftian visions are truly bone-chilling. The narrator, while cliched in some ways by today’s standards, is incredibly rigorous in his intellectual pursuits. More so than Machen’s other works, this one is the quintessential suggestively occult work of genius.
Like Clark Ashton Smith, Machen had some roots and understanding of poetry. The poetic sensibility is clear and resonating throughout this work. In some ways, the publishing details and coming-of-age revelations serve to ground the magic and dream aspects well, while giving the reader a break from the heady mixture of logic-defying structures of imagery.
I can’t think of any novels where the scenery is whipped up into a literary froth as well as in this one. There is a depth of emotion alongside a continually surprising atmosphere of longing and subtle perversions. It is the story of an artist, who changes his perception to better suit his ideals. This idealism is endearing, and we are given over to his delight and maddening setbacks because he is enchanted by a majestic muse.
Prose so rich you have to sip it. And, incredibly, the best Librivox recording I have ever found.