Queer the places where a Machen reader finds Machen.
I've read Colin Wilson's kitsch-Lovecraft novella The Return of the Lloigor (1969) several times, and each time promptly forgotten the plot; Wilson's use of the Voynich manuscript was the only point that stuck.
As I opened Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos today, who should emerge from the welter of tale-within-tale solipsisms?
....In Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature, in the short section on Arthur Machen, I came across a reference to the "Chian language," connected in some way with a witchcraft cult. It also mentioned "Dôls," "voolas," and certain "Aklo letters." The latter caught my attention; there had been a reference in the Voynich manuscript to the "Aklo inscriptions." I had at first supposed Aklo to be some kind of corruption of the Kabbalastic "Agla," a word used in exorcism; now I revised my opinion. To appeal to coincidence beyond a certain point is a sign of feeble-mindedness. The hypothesis that now presented itself to my mind was this: that the Voynich manuscript was a fragment or a summary of a much longer work called the Necronomicon, perhaps of Kabbalistic origin. Complete copies of the book exist, or have existed, and word-of-mouth tradition may have been kept alive by secret societies such as Naundorff's infamous Church of Carmel, or the Brotherhood of Tlön described by Borges. Machen, who spent some
time in Paris in the 1880s, almost certainly came into contact with Naundorff's disciple, the Abbé Boullan, who is known to have practised black magic. (He appears in Huysman's Là-Bas.) This could explain the traces of the Necronomicon to be found in his work. As to Lovecraft—he may have come across it or the verbal traditions concerning it, on his own, or perhaps even through Machen.
Lang, our narrator, has managed to translate the Voynich manuscript, which turns out to be the Book of Dead Names. This gives Wilson a chance to nest one within another Lovecraft/ Charles Fort/ and Machen:
....In a bookshop in Maidstone I met Fr. Anthony Carter, a Carmelite monk and editor of a small literary magazine. He had met Machen in 1944—three years before the writer's death, and had later devoted an issue of his magazine to Machen's life and work. I accompanied Fr. Carter back to the Priory near Sevenoaks, and as he drove the baby Austin at a sedate thirty miles an hour, he talked to me at length about Machen. Finally, I asked him whether, to his knowledge, Machen had ever had contact with secret societies or black magic. "Oh, I doubt it," he said, and my heart sank. Another false trail …"I suspect he picked up various odd traditions near his birthplace, Melincourt. It used to be the Roman Isca Silurum."
"Traditions?" I tried to keep my voice casual. "What sort of traditions?"
"Oh, you know. The sort of thing he describes in The Hill of Dreams. Pagan cults and that sort of thing."
"I thought that was pure imagination."
"Oh, no. He once hinted to me that he'd seen a book that revealed all kinds of horrible things about the area of Wales."
"Where? What kind of a book?"
"I've no idea. I didn't pay too much attention. I believe he saw it in Paris—or it might have been Lyons. But I remember the name of the man who showed it to him. Staislav de Guaita."
"Guaita!" I couldn't keep my voice down, and he almost steered us off the road. He looked at me with mild reproach.
"That's right. He was involved in some absurd black-magic society. Machen pretended to take it all seriously, but I'm sure he was pulling my leg.…"
Guaita was involved in the black-magic circle of Boullan and Naundorff. It was one more brick in the edifice.
"Where is Melincourt?"
"In Monmouthshire, I believe. Somewhere near Southport. Are you thinking of going?"
My train of thought must have been obvious. I saw no point in denying it.
The priest said nothing until the car stopped in the tree-shaded yard behind the Priory. Then he glanced at me and said mildly: "I wouldn't get too involved if I were you."
* * *
Lang heads for Machen country, or perhaps I should call it Lloigor country, in Wales.
....When I grew tired of looking at the scenery, I opened the book bag and took out a Guide to Wales, and two volumes of Arthur Machen; some selected stories, and the autobiographical Far Off Things. This latter led me to expect to find a land of enchantment in Machen's part of Wales. He writes: "I shall always esteem it as the greatest piece of fortune that has fallen to me, that I was born in the heart of Gwent." His descriptions of the "mystic tumulus," the "giant rounded billow" of the Mountain of Stone, the deep woods and the winding river, made it sound like the landscape of a dream. And in fact, Melincourt is the legendary seat of King Arthur, and Tennyson sets his Idylls of the King there.
....In spite of modernisation and the October drizzle, the Usk valley remained extremely beautiful. The green of the fields was striking, even compared to Virginia. The woods were, as Machen said, mysterious and shadowy, and the scenery looked almost too picturesque to be genuine, like one of those grandiose romantic landscapes by Asher Durand. And to the north and northeast lay the mountains, hardly visible through the smokey clouds; the desolate landscape of "The White People" and "The Novel of the Black Seal"—both very fresh in my mind. Mr. Evans, my driver, had the tact not to speak, but to allow me to soak up the feeling of the landscape.
The lore really piles up from there:
....Lauerdale wrote: "I myself am inclined to believe, on the evidence of letters, that one of the most important experiences in Lovecraft's early life was a visit to Cohasset, a run-down fishing village between Quonochontaug and Weekapaug in Southern Rhode Island. Like Lovecraft's 'Innsmouth,' this village was later to vanish from the maps. I have been there, and its description corresponds in many ways to Lovecraft's description of Innsmouth—which Lovecraft placed in Massachusetts: 'more empty houses than people,' the air of decay, the stale fish smell. There was actually a character known as Captain Marsh living in Cohasset in 1915, when Lovecraft was there, who had spent some time in the South Seas. It may have been he who told the young Lovecraft the stories of evil Polynesian temples and undersea people. The chief of these legends—as mentioned also by Jung and Spence—is of gods from the stars (or demons) who were once lords of this earth, who lost their power through the practise of evil magic, but who will one day return and take over the earth again. In the version quoted by Jung, these gods are said to have created human beings from subhuman monsters.
"In my own opinion, Lovecraft derived the rest of the 'mythos' from Machen, perhaps from Poe, who occasionally hints at such things. 'MS. Found in a Bottle,' for example. I found no evidence that there were ever sinister rumours connected with the 'shunned house' in Benefit Street, or any other house in Providence. I shall be extremely interested to read what you have to say about Machen's sources. While I think it is just possible that Machen heard some story about some 'arcane' volume of the sort you mention, I can find no evidence that Lovecraft had firsthand acquaintance with such a book. I am sure that any connection between his Necronomicon and the Voynich MS. is, as you suggest, coincidence."
My hair stirred as I read the sentence about gods "who will one day return and take over the earth again," as also about the reference to Polynesian legends. For, as Churchward has written: "Easter Island, Tahiti, Samoas,… Hawaii, and the Marquesas are the pathetic fingers of that great land, standing today as sentinels of a silent grave." Polynesia is the remains of Mu....
In the end, we are left with no proof, just the summation of the Lloigor's human avatar Chickno: "This is their world anyway.… They want it back again."
* * *
Colin Wilson gives the reader his solid attempt, presenting us with multiple points of view and various forms of narration: first person, letters of scholars, etc. He enjoys the game of interweaving Forteana with pastiche. Still, it's small beer.
20 January 2019