What elevates the good
anthology above the poor should not only harbour a varied,
contrasting content, but also engage enough both to inform and
genuinely entertain. Content shouldn't be too academic; neither
should it be too cosy with obviously safe, oft-chosen choices for an
assumed, broadly middle-brow, audience. For Soliloquy for Pan
- an anthology of new tales and old, punctuated by equivalent essays
and verse – editor Mark Beech has, pleasingly, ticked all these
It might therefore be
unsurprising that the usual, anticipated suspects on this subject –
such as Machen, Blackwood, de la Mare, – are largely missing. Then
you soon discover it is to Beech's credit he has dispensed with them,
most likely for that very reason. (Although all – bar de la Mare –
are, at least, referenced). For who he does include, almost to a man
– and woman – refreshes it. This clearly wasn't put
together for a general audience, whoever they may be; but neither was
it compiled for 'experts.'
Most surprising of
the old school entries are a Robert Frost poem ('Pan With Us'), Henry
Woodd Nevinson's tale 'A New Pheidippioes,' from 1901 (a wry gem -
also new to me) and a London magazine article by Robert Louis
Stevenson. ('Pan's Pipes,' (1878)).
among the new: Stephen J. Clark's darkly intense 'Lithe Tenant,' a
tale of ancestral persecution and familial obsession, is among the
best. In Lynda E. Rucker's 'The Secret Woods,' a young woman looks
back at her orphaned youth and the dream life she'd used as
protection from the pain. In 'A Song Out of Reach' by John Howard, an
omniscient Tune, bleeding out from every speaker and subsuming all
others, has a less than benevolent motive. 'The House of Pan' by John
Gale evokes a tone and setting once all-too-familiar from Wheatley or
Wakefield, but Gale recaptures them masterfully, using his own voice.
Jonathan Wood's 'The Company of the Lake' feels yet older – Regency
even – in a meditative, melancholic prose-style describing a
nature-loving male quartet of European friends, converging each
summer upon the lake of the title, and the amoral presence who
watches from afar... Colin Insole's 'The Rose-White Water' is a
subtle mix of Gothic new and old as oblivious materialism, while
blindly encroaching, is no match for the still present pagan forces
of the past.
and illustrations featuring the goat-footed god abound throughout,
mainly from the classical 16th-17th century era, eschewing modern
interpretations. The green-backed, mock-inlayed, mock-faded front
cover, featuring the god gold-embossed, makes it one of the most
richly-produced anthologies – by an inde publisher – in some
years. After George Berguno's 'The Tainted Earth,' this is Egaeus
Press's second near flawless release.
* * *
the Peak Experience
(Part 3 of
'The Blessing of Pan' – though published in 1927 - straddles the
past Victorian age with an – albeit grudging - acceptance of
modernity, set and likely conceived some thirty years prior to its
publishing. You read on, wondering upon whose side the
narrator-author will finally align his protaganist cleric; the sole
young rebel in search of truth and beauty? Or the conformist majority
fearful of change? Perhaps it is too much to anticipate the former –
especially from the pen of a then well-seasoned baron knight. But,
Dunsany wrongfoots us. The encroaching paganism of Wolding village
succeeds beyond the paranoid fears of the Reverend Anwrel; beyond,
indeed, the end of the novel, finally delineated as much a right –
– to its locals as partaking of the Church of England had succeeded
its pre-Christian enchantment.
still more traditional view yet feels
experienced. In E.F. Benson's short tale, 'The Man Who Went Too
Far,' (1912) a friend noted, 'a Pan who affords his adherent-victims
youth, a state of perpetual peak experience and near-erotic communion
with nature, where He ultimately morphs into a terrifying presence,'
wherein a 'complete
and blinding stroke
(is felt) the
the full realisation
and comprehension that I am one with life.'
This latter quote, penned – ironically - by one of three priestly
covert, delicious fear
of Pan was, by then, nothing new. He'd had a history of being
utilised as both libidonous counsellor of one's self and attack dog
against one's enemies, but always harbouring an ultimately
untameable, dangerous erotic spirit.
an unsuccessful hunt, young men would beat Pan's statue with squills.
In this way they would stimulate Pan's powers of fertility and direct
it towards the animal domain...' (p. 402, Oxford Dictionary of
Classical Myth and Religion, 2003).
the Hellenistic period onwards, Pan is the god responsible for sowing
panic (panikon) in the enemy, a sudden unforeseeable fear. Soldiers
therefore pay cult to him. In the case of the individual, too, Pan
can exercise a type of savage and violent possession (panolepsia).'
Lawrence – no mean author of the uncanny himself – defined the
attempt to reign Him in, in 1925:
old religion of the profound attempt of man to harmonize himself with
nature, and hold his own and come to flower in the great seething of
life, changed with the Greeks and Romans into a desire to resist
nature, to produce a mental cunning and a mechanical force that would
outwit Nature and chain her down completely, till at last there
should be nothing free in nature at all, all should be controlled,
domesticated, put to man's meaner uses.' (From
'Pan in America,' 1925).
very covertness had once harboured implications of something
delicious and illicit. As if to imply, 'don't get too close – you
might get burned.' Another version of MR James's later warnings to
the curious - another paternal finger-wag. Those of a natural
inclination towards more objective historial research were thinking
otherwise. Machen – as we know – regularly
half-articulated the topic throughout his prose, from his alter-ego
Lucian Taylor's birds-eye vantage points upon 'The Hill of Dreams' to
Laurence Hillyer's 'gleams of light in which he hardly dared
believe...' where Bloomsbury's 'dimness was departing...(so) it began
to glitter and to shine and to be manifested' in 'The Green Round.'
he had ever thought of the mysteries as things hidden away and apart,
remote from the general stream of life, he saw now that he was
mistaken. The mysteries were part of the very tissue and being of
were not to be avoided.'
(p.39-40). A crucial revelation, certainly in contemporary fiction,
but also, specifically, in modernism.
it and neo-paganism emerge intriguing crossovers of interest. Related
considerations of ecological concern and fertility symbolism derived
more from anthropology than Biblical doctrine, with writers such as
DH Lawrence, WB Yeats and John Cowper Powys. Each bled through the
old boundaries. To this day, Christian writers often bracket
modernism and neo-paganism together as a Judas-like accusation. But
it is clear they have always been positively, mutually reliant; two
halves of the same psychological response. One internal, cerebral;
the other, outwardly expressed in ritual.
intimating a trigger of peak experience; so, each a liberation of the
are left to conclude that the Victorian corset wasn't merely loosened
but finally, belatedly, discarded by the mid-Twenties, with the Great
God Pan called upon to do the honours. He had certainly waited long
enough. At the conclusion of 'Pan the Goat-God,' Merivale states
keeps on being reborn.' (p.228). But she had overlooked His grande
finale. It had, after all, already taken place. The first quarter of
century proved to be His ultimately successful breakthrough.
Mark Andresen (2015)