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The Three Impostors (The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen #1)

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  1,068 ratings  ·  56 reviews
In a novel that is at once richly terrifying and delightfully funny, a bustling suburb appears normal and cheerful — but nothing is really as it seems. For in this world of impostors, conspiracies combine with dark forces, and one astonishing event follows another, veiling a once-ordinary community in a cloud of mystery.
Mass Market Paperback, 194 pages
Published June 1972 by Ballantine (first published 1895)
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Bill  Kerwin

"The Three Imposters" is a strange little book, a narrative about a secret society's efforts to retrieve a Roman coin ("The Gold Tiberius"), but this "novel" appears to be little more than a convenient device for telling a series of marvelous, horrific tales. Two of these tales--"The Novel of the Black Seal" and "The Novel of the White Powder"--are first-class works of imaginative fiction, and the entire book itself is entrancing, reminiscent of Stevenson's "New Arabian Nights": its descriptions
Ok, I've gone back and forth and thought about this review. I have not read the second volume (will soon), but this is how it seems to me. This book contains two important works: "The Great God Pan" and The Three Impostors. "The Great God Pan" is something of misstep that mashes together two different short stories. The first, and smallest, is the best: a scientist opens up the doors of perception and the horrible truths of the Outside comes pouring in. The second, the bulk, deals with sexual ho ...more
Every October, just before Halloween, I scan my shelves for some good fantasy/horror -- usually something from Dover Publications, who seem to have a lock on the field. This year, I read Three Impostors by the Welsh writer Arthur Machen. Although I finished the book just minutes ago, my mind is still reeling with what must be one of the most subtle and insidiously terrifying works of the genre I have ever read.

Picture to yourself a mysterious prologue, in which we are introduced to two men and a
El galés Arthur Machen (1860-1947) fue todo un referente del género de terror. Su literatura está fuertemente enraizada por lo religioso y lo pagano, y sus escenarios están muy próximos a la Naturaleza. Y es que el folclore está muy presente en sus relatos, cuya imaginación sugiere leyendas y mitos, hadas y gnomos por igual. Algunos de sus cuentos, como ‘El pueblo blanco’, ‘El sello negro’ o ‘El polvo blanco’, están considerados como clásicos indiscutibles. En palabras de H.P. Lovecraft: ”Entre ...more
Nancy Oakes
To classify this book as a "horror" novel is not doing the author justice; it is truly a work of genius. Machen is probably best known for his story "The Great God Pan," which has been featured in several horror anthologies, but I must say that while that one is terrific, his "Three Impostors" was sheer genius. Machen's horror is cerebral; you're not going to find hack-'em/slash-'em type "horror" in here -- the most horrific parts are left to the reader's vision. When a writer can produce a piec ...more
The Three Impostors reminds me of a nineteenth century Pulp Fiction with its collection of little narratives with their intriguing titles - The Gold Tiberius, The Novel of the White Powder and so on. It is a tale of coincidence, perhaps supernaturally arranged, that embroils itself around two young friends Dyson, the cynical writer, and Phillips, the fanciful scientist, after they find a coin of legendary value. For fans of the Victorian Gothic, Machen is essential and The Three Impostors is a g ...more
Jonas Wilmann
I had previously read The often anthologized 'The novel of the white powder' and 'The novel of the black seal' and was looking forward to experiencing this collection of short stories in its entirety.

The book consist of several short horror stories (woven into a frame story) told to Phillips and Byron, the one a determined rationalist and the other somewhat a dreamer. Thematically the stories revolve around the decay of moral and the arts, somehow connected to a secret society possibly worshipp
Mark R.

"The Three Imposters and Other Stories" contains the title novel, plus the novella, "The Great God Pan," and two short stories, "The Inmost Light" and "The Shining Pyramid." I would rate the novella and short stories as four out of five, with the novel being a three.

The novel holds the same structure as the short stories, more or less, with one character (a man named Dyson in all but one of the stories contained in this book) investigating and being told a strange story by another characte
Chumbert Squurls
Three strange people are introduced an artist, a slob, and a woman. Each is haunted by a dark past and desperately searching for a deceptively harmless young man in spectacles. This is the common thread in a series of short stories told to two scholars by strangers in turn-of-the-century London. The two pretentious scholars are ensnared in what at first seems to be a series of unlikely coincidences that turns out to be an intricate conspiracy of deception where lies are traded like currency and ...more
This was my first experience with Machen, and I find that I really like him. The book comes off in an intelligent fashion and you can tell how Machen was an influence to Lovecraft as they share that same creepy feeling and penchant for things that slither. The three imposters relate fantastic stories while searching for a single man that their master wants. The other name for this book is the Transmutations, which will make sense after hearing the stories. I really enjoyed the language and plott ...more
Machen is, as should be, a little strange. Cerebral horror sure, but not particularly horrific. Quaint. Suspenseful build up to a reveal you probably see coming because you've been exposed to so much horror since this was written. So not scary, and nothing really is unless you believe it's possible. A little creepy perhaps. I like this sort of thing though, popularized now, or rather, exemplified in Lovecraft: ancient rites, old gods, horrible books --it's really more of a book lovers horror. Ce ...more
Having heard Arthur Machen influenced H.P. Lovecraft, I wanted to give him a try, and a short story book seemed to be the best way to do it.

However, this work made me feel like I have the attention span of a pea. I don’t know if it’s the 19th century English or the neverending prose or even the fact that the stories are linked but not in an obvious way, but it struck me as extremely dull most of the time. I found myself constantly going back to reread the last line or even paragraph, feeling utt
João Batista
I thought these stories would be pure horror... but as Machen influenced Lovecraft, we can see where the use of adjectives comes from.
This book has its good horror moments, but it is basically a demonstration of the authors of 19th-century London! The revolving characters of Dyson and Phillips is singular; the sense of a constant hidden horror is very frequent in the stories; the approach of archeological objects grants the stories with a twist of old, ominous.
These are the main stories:
Paul Mirek
More a collection of short stories than a novel, Machen's horror-fantasy reads like The Crying of Lot 49 by way of Robert W. Chambers. The narrative thread involves a mysterious young man in spectacles who drifts into and out of various victim's lives, leaving a trail of supernatural terror in his wake--yet the secondhand nature of the tales leaves doubt as to whether any conspiracy exists at all. The best stories are the ones with no discernible moral, where otherworldy actors seemingly interfe ...more
Matteo Pellegrini

La grande villa dell'antica famiglia dei Tannahill si leva solitaria e misteriosa presso la città di Almirante, in California. Bizzarre ed oscure vicende vi hanno luogo da quando il capostipite della famiglia, uno spagnolo, certo capitan Tanequila, aveva fatto naufragio con la sua nave Almirante su quella parte della deserta e selvaggia costa californiana, nel lontano 1643. Molte strane cose cominciano ad accadere al giovane Allison Stephens, amministratore della casa senza tempo. Innanzi tutto,

Taken as a whole, I can see why Lovecraft considered Machen to be an inspiration and influence. Machen touched on notions of the world being a far stranger and more terrible place than we imagine, and that the veneer of safety and civilization might be stripped away by happenstance or by foolish act of man. The short works in this collection are pretty much in this vein.

"The Three Impostors", on the other hand, poses a riddle. While the component novels (as they are termed) follow the convention
Lance Greenfield
I did enjoy this story, the way that it was told, and the way that all of the threads were brought together in an horrific climax.

The style of writing reminded me of that of Arthur Conan Doyle, which should not surprise me, as he and Arthur Machen were contemporaries. The language is very descriptive and somewhat flowery. Occasionally, that gets a bit boring, but mostly it is, for me, beautiful prose.

There appear to be three main characters, but they converge on a fourth. There is much mystery a
It is difficult to be fair in rating this. I enjoyed these stories, and I'm really glad that I've read them and it is likely that I will at some point continue to read Machen. But all in all, they were a bit of a chore. The problem is that this is genre fiction and with it you expect it to be sexy and punchy. Because Machen was the influence on the genre to come he isn't necessarily defined by expectation.

The best way to describe these stories is that they are all foreplay and at the end you do
I bought The Three Imposters and Other Stories because Jorge Luis Borges put it in his 75-title list: "Prologues to A Personal Library." (Selected Non-Fictions, Penguin, 2000). So far, I have finished only the title novella. It was published in 1895 in UK, so the diction has its moments of old world British punctilio, but these are certainly no worse than anything found in other prominent Victorian writers. For the most part the narrative is beautifully compressed and the action brisk. I general ...more
Questo Machen mi era sconosciuto, quindi un grazie a LordDunsany per il suo consiglio di gennaio!
I tre impostori è un geniale romanzo gotico costruito sull'intrecciarsi di molteplici racconti, ognuno un piccolo gioiello di tensione e orrore.
Dyson e Phllips, giovani intellettuali le cui principali occupazioni sono oziose passeggiate per le vie di Londra intervallate da amabili dissertazioni filosofiche più o meno sul nulla, incappano in curiosi personaggi sbucati misteriosamente da non si sa dove
Ryan McCarthy
Like much of his fine work, The Three Impostors is permeated by Arthur Machen's strident anti-materialism and his firm belief in a spiritual world interpenetrating the visible world. As one character writes, ""The whole universe, my friend, is a tremendous sacrament; a mystic, ineffable force and energy, veiled by an outward form of matter; and man, and the sun and the other stars, and the flower of the grass, and the crystal in the test-tube, are each and every one as spiritual, as material, an ...more
I have long eagerly awaited reading something by Arthur Machen. Supposedly one of the grandfather's of Weird fiction, an important influence on H.P. Lovecraft, I was hoping for another author of the same caliber (and perhaps somewhat similar to) Algernon Blackwood. He turned out not to be quite quite as good and somewhat different in approach.

This is volume one of a three volume set and contains the novella "The Great God Pan", two short stories "The Inmost Light" and "The Shining Pyramid" and t
Lovecraft's weird fiction falls distinctly within the realm of horror, but the same is not exactly true of Machen. He is truly a writer of "weird" tales or Gothic supernatural literature. Not terrifying, not cosmic in it's implications, but definitely weird.

Extremely mild sensual imagery pops up from time to time, which seems quaint now but probably titillated Machen's Victorian readers. Somewhat stronger and darker suggestions of actual rape by supernatural beings also play a part. As questiona
Arthur Machen wrote this book in 1890. His work is out of the mainstream, touching numerous genres. It has elements of fantasy, horror, and mystery. As such, it is fairly unique, and was certainly so at the time he wrote. He enjoyed some popularity during his lifetime, but is not well-known today. Reading this book, I could definitely see elements of what H.P. Lovecraft later developed into an art form, and also homage to Sherlock Holmes. The structure of the book is very clever. Machen's style ...more
Eric Orchard
This book is full of amazing moments and imagery. Some images have even been directly reused by authors like H.P. Lovecraft. The difficulty I had with this book was the language. The dialogue is stiff and unnatural to the point of being distracting. The descriptions ramble on and on. Apparently he's copying R L Stevenson's style here but it feels even more overwrought. My favorite story, which feels more like a detective story then a full on horror story is the Bright Pyramid. It's about two men ...more
Benjamin Kerstein
An almost Dickensian labyrinth of coincidence and misdirection, but - as usual with Machen - beautifully rendered and ends with an image of absolute transcendent horror.
Tim Prasil
There's an interesting dream-like quality to this book as it winds and weaves from story to story and from street to street. Ostensibly, the stories fit together as the two protagonists, Dyson and Phillips, explore a mystery involving a rare coin -- and a young man in spectacles. I'm not sure all those parts fit together in any sensible way, though, and one gathers Machen was just patching together a number of short pieces he wrote to form a book.

I read this as I work on compiling a Chronologica
While the Chaosium version (not an edition) is superior, with a scholarly essay by J. T. Joshi, there's a great deal of charm in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy. The essay by Lin Carter, "Bagdad-on-the-Thames" is singularly remarkable because it is the first essay by Carter that I've read where he plays it straight and reveals a literary and well-read side to his character. Unfortunately it also comes off as less than rigorous, because he makes some statements leading me to think that he didn't und ...more
“The Three Imposters” is a challenging read, and might require a second go through. The opening chapter introduces you to the three imposters in the story, but so generally that you are unsure of which character is talking, and their role in the story. Each of the subsequent stories/chapters is supposed to be blended together, but apparently I missed the tie in on one or two. Finally, the resolution is too brief, and open ended. The book held my interest until the end, and then I was disappointe ...more
A series of dark victorian short stories that are loosely tied together to make a novel. The tone runs from detective tale to full-on Lovecraftian dread. I'm docking it a couple of points for the linking tale which depends a lot on conincidences and unclear motivations on the part of the tale tellers. A few of the stories are wonderfully creepy - especially the ending of the last story that also serves as the end of the linking tale that runs througout the novel. Just, wow. What a way to end a b ...more
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Arthur Machen was a leading Welsh author of the 1890s. He is best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction. His long story "The Great God Pan" made him famous and controversial in his lifetime, but The Hill of Dreams is generally considered his masterpiece. He also is well known for his leading role in creating the legend of the Angels of Mons.

At the age of eleven, Mache
More about Arthur Machen...

Other Books in the Series

The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen (3 books)
  • The White People and Other Weird Stories
  • The Terror
The Great God Pan The White People and Other Weird Stories Hill of Dreams The Terror Tales of Horror & the Supernatural

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