"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Mountain Adventure: The curious epilogue to The Green Round by Arthur Machen

The Green Round by Arthur Machen 1933

The Green Round is an unconventional novel. But that is not to dismiss it. I finished it for the first time a week ago, then immediately scrolled back and started from the beginning. I've never done that with a book or a writer before.

At first The Green Round seems to be a supernatural thriller: Mr. Hillyer goes to the Welsh coast for his health. He takes a liking to a spot traditionally referred to as the Green Round. There, to the horror of fellow hotel guests, he picks up a vile companion, which others can see and Hillyer cannot.

So I settled back for what I thought would be a series of Job-like horrors visited upon Mr. Hillyer, who goes fleeing back to London. But this is where Machen begins turning the tables on the reader, not unpleasantly thwarting our preconceived notions about what makes a horror novel. For instance, there is a psychohistorical digression of great interest about a book by a Reverend Hampole called A London Walk: Meditations in the Streets of the Metropolis.

In the end, Mr. Hillyer's torments could be written-off as delusions accompanied by a series of banal and accidental experiences inflicted on his fellow boarding house renters and their landlady, Mrs. Jolly. And a man whose greenhouse now has a hole in it's roof.

Mr. Hillyer, who has lived alone in a room for thirty years in near-complete isolation from humanity, goes into the sponge trade in Aleppo. A far healthier choice than studying "the relation between the legends of the Seven Sleepers class and those that tell of mortals who have dwelt for a while with the Queen of the Fairies; to query the identity of the Fairy Queen with Tannhauser’s Venus, to determine the exact shade of guilt imputed to personages like Thomas of Ercildoune and the British King in the Mapp story."

Even when Hillyer's adventures are over, Machen gives us an essay as his epilogue, detailing what he calls the "lacunae of theory." He defines it as being "our entire ignorance both of the nature and of the laws of the power that for a time at least had its centre in [the Green Round]. We cannot pretend to determine, for instance, why one man was subject to the influence, while another was immune."

Machen gives several other examples of this type of experience: the human encounter with seemingly supernatural events of ultimately banal character, which pitch their experiencers into a carnival of confusion, horror, and disorientation while taking place.

Here is the example Machen ends on, and it is fine tale in and of itself:

....the following experience, which appeared in Light — issue of May 23rd, 1931 — which is quoted here, in extenso, by the kind permission of my friend, Mr. David Gow, Advisory Editor of Light. It is entitled “A Mountain Adventure”. “J.C.P.”, the author, is stated to be a woman in a responsible and dignified position. Her story, like the story of the ladies of Versailles, gives me the impression of absolute and scrupulous veracity.

“About the twentieth of July, 1929, while climbing the mountain, Nephin, in the weft of Ireland above Lough Conn, we had the following curious experience.
“The six, who climbed the mountain on one of the clearest of July days, consisted of three women and three men; one of the party — a girl — had an injured knee, and so did not go further than the place at which we stopped for lunch.

“The ascent was started about eleven o’clock. After climbing for an hour, through very heavy heather, we stopped beside a burn for lunch. After lunch we continued up the mountain, the girl with the injured knee going back to the cottage at which we had left the car, to wait for our return. We reached the top of the mountain about a quarter to three, and sat for a while looking at the surrounding country.

“We started down at about three, or a little after, in groups and singly, my husband by himself, F.H., James and myself together, and the other man quite a bit ahead of us. Suddenly F.H. turned away, and vanished over the shoulder of the mountain. Little was said, for she often took her own way down the various mountains we climbed during the summer. James and I continued our way for a while, then turned to each other and said: ‘Something has happened to F.H.!’ We felt so sure of this that we called to the other two men, who returned. We agreed that they should go back to the mountain to where she was last seen, and search for her, while I should continue down and meet them at the cottage.

“Now this I did not know till afterwards, but F.H. does not know, cannot possibly imagine, what happened to her. She can only say that it was as though she had lapsed into complete unconsciousness, and all the while thought she was walking beside us. She was in reality walking straight away from us. She does not know what it was that ‘took’ her suddenly; she said it was as though there were no Time for a moment, and some strange force were pulling her away. Then she realised that we were not there, and heard the crying of voices. She went in the direction of the sound, thinking she would find someone; on crossing a ravine the voices were still audible, and she heard someone blowing a horn, but no one was in sight. Then she thought she saw a small person beyond and below her, possibly a child; she went down towards it, but on crossing another ravine, found no one, though the voices still continued. After this she realised she was lost, and headed for the white roadway below her, and walked about eight miles to a police-barracks, where we later found her.

“Now, when I left the men I went down the mountain. When I was half-way down I decided to look for F.H. on my lower level. I walked along, falling twice up to my waist into caves that were hidden beneath the heather. Presently I sat down and had no sooner done that than I heard crying behind me — a funny kind of crying, like a child that was lost — very distinctly. Looking around I saw, a long distance above me, someone I took to be James, waving. I waved back, got up, crossed a couple of hillocks, and looked for James again. No one was there. I sat down again, and was admiring the view when, directly behind me, someone laughed. Looking around I saw no one for a moment; then above me in almost the same place, I thought I saw James again.

“Getting up once more, I went straight up the mountain in his direction. In crossing a small burn I lost sight of him, and when I came out of the stream-bed I found no one. After this I went down the mountain to the cottage, expecting to find the girl with the injured knee there, but the cottage people told me she had not been there all the afternoon. Presently she came in, very angry, saying that early in the afternoon I had come down the mountain and waved to her, but had not waited for her to come up. (She had not gone up very far as she stumbled into a bog, and found the walking too hard.) Obviously I had not done any such thing.

“By 7.30 p in the men came back, exhausted, and without F.H. James had a curious story.. Twice he had seen, out of the tail of his eye, a club coming down on him. So strong had been the impression that he had jumped considerable distances down the mountain on each occasion. We were very worried by this time about F.H.’s disappearance. I asked the man of the cottage what there was to fall into on the mountain.

“‘Quarries?’ I suggested.

“‘Nothing,’ he said.

“‘Children on the mountain?’ I asked.

“‘No, they’re in school,’ he said.

“‘What about the Little People?’

“He became very severe, and turned to go out, saying:  
“‘We do not talk about that.’

“We now took the car to search along the roads at the foot of the mountain, and so came upon F.H. at the police station.” 



10 October 2017

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