Thursday 20 January 2011

Walking in Arthur Machen's visionary London

Arthur Machen seems the fashionable author to be reading if you enjoy classic tales of terror set in occult London. However, I must admit that I hadn't heard of him until quite recently.

Machen was a Welsh author and mystic living in the late 19th century to mid 20th century, who spent much of his adult life in London. His most famous story is the novella The Great God Pan,which Stephen King called "Maybe the best [horror story] in the English language". My personal favourite is probably his second most famous story, The Hill of Dreams,about an aspiring author's life-long attempts at literary alchemy, and his descent into madness as a result.

Although Machen was known by serious horror buffs and students of London's occult literature, his work had sunk into relative obscurity compared with horror writers such as H P Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. However, with the surge of interest in psychogeography over the past years, Machen seems to be getting a renaissance.

I first read about Machen in the book Psychogeography, by Merlin Coverley, and it piqued my curiosity. In it, Machen is described as one of a few authors who write about visionary London and "...present the city as a dreamscape in which nothing is as it seems and which can only be navigated by those possessing secret knowledge".

Chatting to friends, I discovered several of them, like me, had only just discovered Machen and were eagerly seeking out his more hard-to-find titles in antiquarian bookshops and dusty libraries. Then, a few days ago, I was sent an email about an Arthur Machen walk being run by Robert Kingham who was behind Align, a wonderful presentation about London's ley lines and psychoeography.

He said: "I'll be exploring the world of Arthur Machen and the London landscape that fascinated him."

The event is being organised as part of the Museum of London's Urban Myths season. It is described as a walk into the "grey soul of London", taking a mystical look at Finsbury through Machen's books, stopping off at some historic pubs along the way.

I must see about buying a ticket before they sell out.

Walks will take place on Sunday 3 April and Sunday 17 April from 5pm-8pm, and on Wednesday 6 April and 20 April from 6p-9pm. Tickets cost £9 (concs £7) and can be booked through the Musuem of London website at For more information, call 020 7001 9844 or email

Three Impostors and Other Stories: Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen v. 1 (Call of Cthulhu Fiction) (Call of Cthulhu Novel)
The Great God Pan and the Hill of Dreams

1 comment:

TheBlakkDuchess said...

Oh my... I'm always on the look out for wonderful, half forgotten authors. I love the works of HP Lovecraft so much & I can't wait to get my hands on some of Machen's books! =D