The Green Round
It seems odd that, despite sending these little missives out into the world for over five years now, I’ve never touched on one of my favourite writers – Arthur Machen (1863 – 1947).
Well, it’s going to seem even odder that now I get to it, I choose what is considered to be his worst novel, The Green Round.
And I don’t mean simply considered his worst by a handful of critics — or even a majority. Hell, even his biographer and the author of this edition’s introduction, Mark Valentine, struggles to sell you on it. When you get right down to it, Machen himself described it as a ‘bad little book’, adding that he only did it because he was in dire financial straits and that ‘Necessity is its only excuse’.
So I guess it would take an ego the size of mine own to beg to differ – yea, even with its creator — because I happen to love this little novel.
It first appeared in 1933 and of course Machen’s most famous work was long behind him. I’m talking about the really great stuff like The Novel of the Black Seal, The Great God Pan or — the one that is generally regarded as his masterpiece — The Hill of Dreams.
- P. Lovecraft himself acknowledged the Welsh writer as one of the true masters of the weird tale; and so it’s amusing to see the world’s foremost Lovecraftian scholar, S.T. Joshi, condemn this particular work as ‘a drearily verbose and unfocussed rehashing of old themes.’
Yet it’s his very verbosity that has always drawn me to Machen.
The very thought of him evokes images of sitting down with a large glass of port in front of a fire burning in a huge grate, in a friendly Olde Worlde Inn, having just partaken of a hearty meal of roast beef. He has always told his story and never apologised for going off on a side-issue. Granted, it’s more noticeable with The Green Round but since it’s Machen I could listen to him all day anyway.
The luckless Lawrence Hillyer is a quiet and unassuming London scholar, working on the secret truths behind fairy-tales, which in itself is a singularly Machen-like thing to do – and of course our Arthur doesn’t miss the opportunity to stuff in a few comments on that very subject.
However, during a visit to the Welsh coastal resort of Porth, Hillyer finds his life turned upside down. He appears to be accompanied everywhere by an ugly and malicious little dwarf, who cannot be seen by him but can be seen by certain people.
There’s no reason given for just why it has become his lot to have attracted the demonic presence, but soon there are ‘accidents’ taking place all around him. And cue Machen to go off on some speculations on poltergeist activity.
I suppose it’s this habit of having the actual story come to a full stop for periods at a time that frustrates people, along with the almost total lack of resolution.
I can understand why people feel this way; and yet for me it is one of the charms of this short (130 pages) little gem. God knows what buttons it pushes in my psyche, and not in other peoples’, but I find some of the passages as eerily disturbing as anything that Machen ever put down on paper.
It’s also pretty damned funny; and I get a real laugh every time I picture Smith of Wimbledon appearing and reappearing up and down sand dunes, to the bewilderment of day trippers, as he searches for an elusive fairground.
In addition, there is some of Machen’s most finely observed reporting on the gossipy talk of neighbours.
Yes, all in all I’ve no complaints with Arthur Machen’s most despised work. I’m also lucky enough to own it in the beautiful Tartarus Press edition, of which only 400 numbered copies were sold.
When this shockingly neglected fantaisiste comes back into fickle fashion and the prices of the gorgeous Tartarus books go through the roof, my Machen collection is one that will still never be sold.