Whistling Past the Graveyard

Released in the plague year of 2020 by Strange Attractor, There Is a Graveyard That Dwells In Man is a companion volume to The Moons At Your Door. Like that book, it’s an anthology of short stories selected by David Tibet, the creative mind behind the pioneering ambient industrial/apocalyptic folk project Current 93 – weird tales that have tickled his fancy and prompted his creative instincts over the years.

Two H.R. Wakefield stories bookend the collection; the first story here is A Black Solitude, which is notable for breaking from the precedent set by Wakefield’s own “He Cometh and He Passeth By” – and M.R. James’s Casting the Runes, which “He Cometh” was very much a pastiche of – by presenting a Crowley caricature who is not an antagonist but is instead presented much more sympathetically.

It’s not that Wakefield had suddenly gone full Thelemite or something – he still presents the thinly-veiled Crowley analogue as being 90% a big sleazy charlatan – but he’s much less hostile to that side of him, and he’s willing to credit the remaining 10% with some actual occult nous (but not enough to stop the culminating horror from consuming him). “He Cometh” emerged in 1928, whilst A Black Solitude was published in 1951, and evidently in the intervening years Wakefield seems to have decided that Crowley was kind of cool in his own way. (The character even has a celebrated mountaineering career, as Crowley had, which might have helped persuade Wakefield that Crowley wasn’t just a total waster.)

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Hauntings of All Phases

Though David Tibet will likely be primarily known forever as the mind behind Current 93, which as previously chronicled started out as part of an esoteric circle of influential industrial musicians before mutating into a poetic Gnostic weird folk project (after steering uncomfortably in the direction of fascistic neofolk before Tibet wised up, righted the ship, and changed up his collaborators), this is not the only string to his bow.

As well as a sideline as a visual artist, Tibet has also maintained a long career as a collector of vintage horror fiction and weird tales, and has also turned his hand to publishing, editing, and facilitating the reprinting of rare material from time to time; for instance, he played a key role in rediscovering and making available again the eccentric work of Count Stenbock, and it was his suggestion which led to Wordsworth releasing The Drug and Other Stories, the most substantial collection of the short stories of Aleister Crowley ever put between two covers.

Tibet has also, more recently, tried his hand at being an anthologist. The Moons At Your Door, published in 2015 via Strange Attractor and released in conjunction with the Current 93 album which shares its title, is a collection of fiction which has over his years of reading and collecting continued to resonate with him. Inevitably, a lot of this has seeped its way into Current 93’s musical output, because Tibet is the sort of creator who isn’t shy of acknowledging his influences, and so the selection is in some respects idiosyncratic and reflective of Tibet’s expansive range of interests and obsessions. But is it any good to read for anyone who isn’t David Tibet?

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The Missing Machen

I have previously reviewed Chaosium’s triptych of Arthur Machen collections edited by S.T. Joshi; this set has now been supplanted by a new three-volume set from Hippocampus Press, also edited by Joshi, which offers the complete run of Arthur Machen’s fictional work – including The Hill of Dreams and The Secret Glory, two major novels which were not included in the Chaosium collections.

Between the collected stories and the appendices, this collection offers pretty much everything the Chaosium volumes save for the brief essay The Literature of Occultism; frankly, that’s no great loss. On the whole, I consider it a significant upgrade over the Chaosium trilogy.

For this article, rather than recap stories previously covered, I’ll just review the material found in these collections which didn’t make it into the Chaosium collections. This may lead to some of the volumes sounding worse than they actually are – by and large, Joshi showed good taste in what he chose to cut from those – but there’s some interesting bits and pieces here, and the two novels I have named above would have been unwieldy to include in the Chaosium volumes and yet at the same time are so essential to Machen’s body of work that their lack makes the previous collections inherently incomplete.

Collected Fiction Volume 1: 1888-1895

Our first piece is A Chapter from the Book Called The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote de la Mancha Which by Some Mischance Has Not Till Now Been Printed, which is barely a story but, as you can guess from the title, doesn’t really pretend to be: it’s a riff on Don Quixote in which the barber and priest characters from there look over someone’s collection of books, and froth about all the cool occult tomes they find there. It feels more like a writing exercise than anything else, with a side order of Machen showing off his occult erudition.

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Machen Fairies Grim Again

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

To some people’s tastes, Arthur Machen did the whole H.P. Lovecraft thing better than Lovecraft himself did. Although I tend to disagree, at least to the extent that Lovecraft and Machen’s personal philosophy differed greatly and those differences were expressed in important ways in their work (Machen could never have written At the Mountains of Madness, Lovecraft could never have written The Hill of Dreams), it is true that Machen’s work was a great influence on Lovecraft; in fact, Lovecraft would heavily promote it in Supernatural Horror In Literature, his most widely-read and reprinted essay, in which Machen is the first mentioned among the “modern masters” of the genre. Borges, for his part, also greatly appreciated Machen, and in some of Machen’s more subtle intrusions of the spiritual and the extra-normal into ordinary life we see the seeds of some of Borges’ own work – and, through that, the magical realism genre in general.

At the same time, Machen’s bibliography is intimidatingly large, in keeping with a career which began in the 1880s and kept producing interesting pieces right into 1937. Whilst the major, important pieces are well-known and widely reprinted, at the same time there’s some gems to be found in his less well-known work, though a lot of it is obscured by less distinguished pieces.

Part of the reason for this is that Machen’s career had a number of startling highs and lows, with the result that his finances were often perilously stretched. (It wasn’t until in later life, when his status as a literary national treasure prompted efforts to secure him a suitable pension, that he’d be without money worries.) Although his major works had rocketed him into the spotlight in the 1890s, his extremely oblique, allusive references to socially-disapproved forms of sexuality led to him being associated in the popular and critical imagination with the Decadents (despite the fact that actually, he personally disapproved of the sexual stuff he was hinting at just as much as society did).

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