** spoiler alert **
Evil, frights and horrors tend to stay away from light. We often never get an unobstructed or straight on view of evil. Black-and-white answers and resolutions are often either simplistic or dangerous. In The Great God Pan, Arthur Machen gives us nothing black-and-white to hold on to. Sure, we know there's evil afoot. But what exactly is the nature of this evil? What does it look like? We're never told exactly what awaits us beyond the veil between our natural world and the supernatural realm. What I can say of Machen's supernatural is that it sucks mightily, and if you're one of the lucky ones, the mere sight of it will kill you.
And really, who's the vilest of them all in this story? Is it Mary? Her devil-spawn Helen? I have a candidate - Raymond. In conducting neurological experiments to lift the veil and "see the god Pan," does Raymond approach people asking if they'd mind having their head shaved, followed by the making of an incision in their brain allowing them to see the unknown? No. Raymond chooses to inflict his dangerous experiment on an unsuspecting formerly homeless child. Bask in the turdish-ness that is his logic: "As you know, I rescued Mary from the gutter, and from almost certain starvation, when she was a child; I think her life is mine, to use as I see fit." Really jackass? I protest your line of thinking, and would kick you in the soft bits if I had the chance.
Our "evil genius" Raymond goes ahead with the experiment and ends up killing Mary, but not before she's impregnated from beyond with Rosemary's baby. Helen then proceeds to wreak Walpurgis Night-like havoc on London's upper classes, leading a number of nobles to commit suicide rather than live with the knowledge of what they've seen behind the veil. The bloated and blackened faces of Helen's "victims", along with incomplete written accounts of witnesses and the drawings of a dead artist, let us know that the veil obscures things that will make us sick or dead.
Machen seems to tell us that civilizations good and bad have their benefits. Our manners, customs, and rituals help us live in ways that we hope will keep the devils at bay, or at least somewhat hidden from direct knowledge. But despite our best efforts, the supernatural erupts into our world when we least expect it. Raymond's arrogant disregard for Mary's personhood represents an eruption of the more mundane variety. More spectacular blackness is there as well, of course, but we need not look too far to find it.
The Great God Pan is my first exposure to Machen. Apparently, he's influenced the greats from Lovecraft to King. I enjoyed his uncomfortable morality play very much. But please, make sure to close the veil behind you, okay?