Back to history for a while! You know you love it. Though hopefully you don’t love it the way Pan loves everything, because you don’t want to end up catching for that team. This is a double-feature! Two stories for the price of one! The price being, well, nothing. So, hurray! Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, awesome!
Arthur Machen was a little nuts. He was a 19th – 20th century horror writer. He was disgusted by a lot of the world, including society’s shift away from spirituality. Not religion per se, but he thought people were getting too materialistic. This produced some of the best horror fiction I’ve read, though it’s weird as balls.
“The Great God Pan” is made of fucked up, let me tell you. A scientist wants to see if he can get one of the primary forces of nature to show up in a room on command, basically. He gets his future son-in-law to help out with the experiment, and uses his daughter as bait, because hell, you have to use women as bait, right? And where else is a widower gonna get a willing woman to lie down in a room and think of England?
That’s actually part of what’s weird as shit here. This story sexualizes nature. I don’t mean it paints nature as a hot lady with fig leaves (possibly angry about hair conditioner). Nature is still kind of nature: we never see it, we’re dealing with a personification of its forces. And it fucks a lady. In the vagina. Until a baby comes out.
Yes, that’s the story, and the important part. A child is born from this union of lady and, uh, everything else. And the baby is entirely evil and douchely. If you want to be serious for a second, it’s a story about crossing lines through miscegenation and the problems that causes. Racist? Yeah, probably. But hell, it’s a horror story, and Pan isn’t exactly [insert race here], so it’s still a pretty good story.
So I guess that’s the suggestion: yeah, you should definitely read it. There’s plot and counter-plot of the narrator trying to figure out what the woman in his town is doing – it turns out, of course, it’s the daughter of Pan. She’s evil partly because she can’t be good. I think because good is something human, and she’s just not all human all the time. Machen’s a pretty crazy dude, and he’s one of those horror writers from the turn of the 19th – 20th centuries who wrote a lot of evolutionary horror. Which is pretty good, overall. Also, de rigueur at this point. Evolutionary horror is a staple anymore.
So let’s get this straight: a scientist makes his daughter sleep with the nature god Pan, which drives her crazy. She gives birth to Pan’s daughter, who is crazy and also evil, because she’s not really human. And she proceeds to be all evil and stuff in a small town, luring people (mostly men, naturally) to their doom. Sounds good to me. It’s a fun iteration of gods impregnating mortal women, anyway. And you’ll notice the story even uses the Greek context.
But wait! Algernon Blackwood!
Blackwood is totally going to show up in our history more than once, but enjoy this taster of a slightly less known story of his.
“The Man Whom the Trees Loved” has an awkward title. Very awkward. And it’s not Evil Dead up in here, there’s no tree rapin’ goin’ on. Or trees raping men, I guess. Neither of those things are happening. There’s not a whole lot of sex in the story, honestly. Which, uh, might be part of the problem.
OK, so there’s this guy, Mr. Bittacy, and he loves trees. Park ranger style. He was a forester in India and is now retired. His wife, Mrs. Bittacy (surprise!), doesn’t really like them, basically because they were forcing him to go into the wilderness in India instead of stay safe at home. Fair enough. Firemen’s (or women’s) SOs probably don’t like house fires much either.
After a friend visits and talks all mystical and new age and shit about trees, Mr. B. starts to notice that they affect him mentally. They draw him into the forest near where he lives. He starts to take care of them, except this time they’re letting him know when lightning has knocked one over or a creeper is strangling another. Y’know, like trees do.
Mrs. B. is suitably horrified that her husband is being taken away from her. She tries to fight back, but it doesn’t work. He wanders around more, doesn’t drink his tea, mutters in his sleep, and basically is getting taken over like a good little person with a space slug on his head. And that’s kinda it. Story over.
This story is way, way better than it sounds. And honestly, it sounds pretty decent. Mrs. B. tries to fight the trees like they’re evil – the narrator always reminds people that her father was a minister and she’s very traditionally Christian, which means she works in the line of good versus evil, not safe versus threatening. And the trees aren’t evil, since they’re not human. They do love Mr. B., they enfold him in themselves. But it’s not good for him, his human side. His human personality is nearly obliterated by this process. Normally anything that mind-controlled you and destroyed your personality we would think of as evil (y’know, like space slugs). But the trees aren’t, because they didn’t grow up (he he, puns) in the same moral context. They can’t take part in our good or our bad, it’s just not possible. And that’s a reminder that the world doesn’t take part in morality – what better symbol for nature than a tree? – it simply doesn’t care. Which makes for an awesome horror story.