From Machen to VanderMeer: The Weird Landscape as the Avatar of Evil

What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?” There is something profoundly ‘unnatural’ about Sin, about Evil.”

from “The White People,” by Arthur Machen

Machen and the Intrusion of the Weird

Ah! The weird as literature, the weird as genre, and the weird as…weird. Once upon a time such distinctions were not that important and literature was so inclusive as to encompass a pre-genre expanse by which fantasy and the weird could not be overtly distinguished from the mainstream. That was then, this is now. Then relates to the work of Machen, now relates to the work of VanderMeer, for whom the recent review of his novel Borne in the New Yorker suggests a more inclusive acceptance of the weird in literature, an acceptance that harkens back to a situation current over a century ago. In between, we have a simplification of literature in which genre becomes increasingly a defining and selling point, but where the concept of weird literature repeats and reinvents itself, returning after this century to a point of origin where it is invigorated and pointedly relevant to the world in which we live.

The quote from Machen with which I initiate this essay is one of the most evocative and, at the same time, defining that I have ever encountered. I first discovered Machen through his 1948 collection, Tales of Horror and the Supernatural, a gift from my father when I was in high school. “These stories are pretty weird,” my father said. “I think you’ll like them.” I still don’t know where he got that old hardcover, but he was right about my reaction. The sensation that this quote and its accompanying story engender in me is part and parcel of the joy I encounter in reading such weird fiction. I still own and treasure that collection by Machen, along with other books of his that I have collected over the years.

The quote comes from Machen’s amazing short story, “The White People,” which is initiated by a philosophical but nevertheless enthralling discussion on the nature of Sin and Evil. It is here that Machen performs an amazing sidestep around the quagmire of morality with its nebulous and ill-fitting definitions. Machen moves the concept of Evil away from human nature and into the landscape. Religions often focus on criminal actions such as theft, murder, and adultery, but these are not truly evil because, although negative, they arise from purely human failings. Rather, “There is something profoundly ‘unnatural’ about Sin, about Evil.” This statement, along with its examples, encompasses much of what I find stimulating in weird literature. Here, I explore the concept of landscape as it relates to the Weird, and as Machen describes, to Evil.

I appreciate Machen’s philosophy of the weird and its relationship to evil because it need not be dependent on religion and morality. According to Machen, Evil can be considered a poisoning, an infection that is revealed by changes in the landscape, a recognition that the landscape is ‘unnatural’ based on our experience: a weird landscape. The concept of landscape as I use it here incorporates the animal, the vegetable, and the mineral, all that we perceive as our expected reality, the quotidian encounters based on a lifetime of rising each morning to greet the sun and another day’s labor.

Even though not dependent on religion according to Machen’s definition, in his two best-known stories — “The Great God Pan” and “The White People” — the incursion of evil arises from the incompatibility of earlier pagan religions with modern-day Christianity. This, in itself, need not be interpreted as indicating that such earlier religions are innately evil but rather that they are incompatible with the modern world. This incompatibility has the same effect as an infection, with potentially lethal results. The evil arises from this incompatibility and is revealed in part through effects on our landscape.

The Great God Pan,” first published in 1890, is probably Machen’s most influential story. A key aspect of it is the sense of the awful, or awe-full, that to look upon the face of a god is to inspire madness. In this novella, two landscapes are set in opposition to each other within the first chapter: “You see me standing here beside you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things are — yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the solid ground beneath our feet — I say that all these are but dreams and shadows: the shadows that hide the real world from our eyes.” There are two worlds, the one that we experience and believe to be real, but there is also another, almost Platonic in its nature.

But to perceive this other world, this weird world, is to pay a price, as the experimental subject Mary discovers. She becomes “a hopeless idiot. However, it could not be helped; after all, she has seen the Great God Pan.” What follows combines elements of the detective novel and the Decadence Movement in literature, in which the hybrid child born of that unhallowed night invites disaster on all whom she encounters. Elements of the infected landscape include a house that has “the most unpleasant physiognomy he had ever observed,” a wine that is “about a thousand years” old, and a human body that transforms and begins “to melt and dissolve” before the eyes.

In “The White People,” completed in 1899 although it did not see publication until 1904, there is no clear demarcation of an antagonist, which sets it apart from much fiction. It is not a single god but rather paganism itself and its associated ceremonies that invite evil and result in catastrophe for the protagonist, a girl. She is found dead near the statue of an ancient idol, but not before she has explored and encountered various aspects of the weird although, in her innocence, she does not recognize these as such.

Among her earliest memories are white faces, white people that differ from the norm in this memorable aspect. But the true advent of the weird occurs after she discovers a strange land by following a brook, pushing her way through bushes, low hanging trees, and thorny thickets, and clambering along a dark tunnel, to make her way to a hill that seems, “another world that nobody had ever seen or heard before.” In her journey, she finds rocks like “horrible animals, putting out their tongues, and others were like words that I could not say.” The stones spring about and dance and she learns and joins in their dance, her initial horror turning to fascination and complicity.

Her death is commemorated with the simple but telling words, “She had poisoned herself — in time.” The early pagan gods have escaped their time, being invited to enter into ours, this being the incompatible evil that infected the girl, now sixteen and post-puberty, and which ultimately resulted in her destruction. Interestingly, this sense of warped time is something that repeats itself in many a subsequent weird landscape.

The White People” encompasses a number of ideas that can inform the weird landscape: (1) a sense of its opposition in relation to the ‘normal’ landscape, such that there is often a clear transition that occurs when moving from one to the other; (2) a sense of unnaturalness where the surreal becomes real; (3) a temporal disjunction such that the stream of time is no longer constrained; (4) a relationship to concepts of evil, sometimes although not always with religious connotations, such that the landscape can infect or poison our world; and (5) that the infection of our world can involve a deleterious effect on humans, this being perhaps its most horrific and evil aspect.

Here I explore this concept of the weird landscape in light of these ideas and how they have been translated over time into other works of fiction. By nature of this expedition I must pick and choose and, in doing so, I highlight seminal works that are also part of my personal pantheon (pun intended), most of the older works discovered when I was in my teens and ripe for discovery of the strange continents within these stories. Such an enterprise is not exhaustive, and I do not mean to imply that all weird fiction must embody similar concepts. Nor do I mean to imply that any specific work is necessarily influenced by those works that came earlier — although many of these writers freely acknowledge their indebtedness to antecedents — just that these forms of the weird landscape reoccur with such frequency that they can be considered emblematic. Each author has brought their own unique perspective to their weird landscape, and I emphasize those distinguishing aspects of their works. I finish with a look at how the use of the weird landscape has transitioned and been reinvented over time from those earlier works to now.

The Weirdness of the Plane and the Pit in Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland

First published in 1908, the initial setting of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland suggests that we are revisiting the Gothic, with its protagonist taking charge of an ancient towered and castellated house that hangs precariously over a chasm. This supposition is further enhanced by the description of how, after midnight on the morning of January 21st, while the narrator is reading in his study, the unnatural is announced by candle flames burning low and then shining with a “ghastly green effulgence.” The man’s dog cowers and whimpers at his feet. What follows is not a traditional Gothic fright, but the truly weird.

The light that the narrator sees does not emanate from within his study, but rather from beyond the walls of his study, which are now transparent. They reveal an alien landscape that is progressively stranger the more clearly the protagonist perceives it. We have crossed the border from our normative world and into the landscape that announces the weird. This is truly an alien landscape, for the Plane, as the narrator refers to it, is illuminated by a black-centered sun limned with radiant red, such that the entire landscape appears ruddy. Also of note is a gargantuan house that is the exact replica of the protagonist’s house but of mammoth proportions: “a stupendous structure built apparently of green jade.” The inclusion of this house makes the warped image of this landscape all the more clearly a strange reflection of our world, of surreal and impossible proportions. There is a connection between the worlds but not by any natural law we understand.

Like Machen, Hodgson evokes gods as the impetus for the weird landscape. The narrator, in his passage across the Plane, sees “hundreds of them. They seemed to grow out of the shadows. Several I recognized almost immediately as mythological deities; others were strange to me, utterly strange, beyond the power of a human mind to conceive.” This last statement is significant for Hodgson not only evokes the pagan gods of lore, but gods of whom we have no knowledge. In particular, he describes a Beast-god, a gargantuan swinish creature, one that seems to combine the elements of animal and man. Here we have the entry of a god-like creature not born of any known religion, but one that poses ill to humankind.

There then follow incursions into our world, from beyond the house but drawing ever closer in an attempt to invade its comparative normalcy. These creatures are revealed as Swine-things, diminutive reflections of the Beast-god. Although suggestive of pigs, to the narrator’s horror they exhibit an unexpected intelligence. Their horrific grunts are a form of speech, a demonic suggestion that domesticated animals have taken on the aspect of humans, or that humans have devolved into something animal-like. The Swine-things are, “something beyond human; yet in no good sense; but rather as something foul and hostile to the great and good in humanity.” Machen in his story, “The Great God Pan,” described the progeny of a woman and a god, the female offspring being preternaturally beautiful but still emulating humankind. In Hodgson’s novella, we witness the perverted evil in which the physical aspects of humans are weirded and debased.

Hodgson also allows time to invade his weird landscape. The horrific cosmic landscapes into which the narrator is thrown undergo a rapid abrasion due to accelerated time. There is much in common here with H. G. Wells’s descriptions of far-future travel in The Time Machine. But with Hodgson there is no mechanical invention and the narrator is thrown forward against his will into a decaying future, one in which the sun spirals more and more rapidly across the sky, all the time dying to a dismal red. The parallels to The Time Machine do not end there for, by analogy, the Swine-things that emerge from their dark caverns, from the Pit, harken back to Wells’s debased and subterranean Morlocks (and are also reminiscent of the man-beast hybrids found in Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau). The Borderland of Hodgson is not constrained by space or time and that is part and parcel of its weirdness.

Lovecraft and the Weird from Beyond

Lovecraft moves the concept of Evil into a demonstrably science-fictional territory. In the stories that make up the Cthulhu mythos, he posits the existence of monstrosities from the stars, beings of such great power that they might easily be mistaken for gods. Indeed, these monsters are eager to accept the mantle of god-hood for, as Lovecraft writes, “They came from the stars, and had brought Their images with Them,” these false idols then becoming the focus of worship among susceptible humans. Although Lovecraft is generally considered an agnostic or atheist, the morality in his stories is consistent with that of Christianity, and embodies a concrete sense of good and evil. The entrance of the weird, for all intents and purpose, is synonymous with evil, and Lovecraft uses the word ‘evil’ repeatedly in his stories.

Although the idea of a weird landscape clearly predates the writings of Lovecraft, his use of this motif is almost fixed in our imagination due in part to his recurrent use of the descriptor, ‘non-Euclidian geometries.’ This phrase has become something of a Lovecraftian cliché and is referenced in “The Call of Cthulhu,” “At the Mountains of Madness,” “Dreams in the Witch House,” and “The Trap.” Thankfully, Lovecraft clarifies the meaning of this mental tongue-twister in his actual descriptions of the weird landscapes that presage the incursion of his alien monsters. For example, when sailors explore Cthulhu’s citadel R’lyeh protruding above the waves, they find that “all rules of matter and perspective seemed upset,” and later in their hurried flight to escape the resurrected monster, a sailor is “swallowed up by an angle of masonry which shouldn’t have been there; an angle which was acute, but behaved as if it were obtuse.”

Lovecraft’s greatest evocation of the weird landscape occurs in “The Colour Out of Space” (1927), which many, including I, consider his finest short story. Here Lovecraft eschews graphic descriptions of monsters and instead focuses on the environmental manifestation of their influence, the result being one of the most palpable evocations of a landscape in transition from our world and into the weird. Indeed, the story is almost entirely a description of the landscape in transition, a recipe for how a normal landscape can become a weird ‘blasted heath.’

As in many stories with a weird landscape there is a physical separation of the weird from the normal landscape, the weird being known as the ‘blasted heath’ and centered around the farmhouse where the landscape became corrupted, following the impact of a meteorite. The meteorite is the proximate cause of the trouble, foreshadowed in part due to its aberrant characteristics, shrinking although “stones do not shrink.” It is only later that we come to clearly understand that an alien force arrived with the meteorite, this ‘creature’ being more alien than any monstrosity from the Cthulhu mythos, being perhaps a gas, or more explicitly simply a ‘colour’ that feeds on the life force of flora and fauna.

The characters in the story are of little value except in their roles, both passive and active, as reporters of the transitioning landscape. At first the farmer and his family are excited due to the bountiful effect of the meteorite on their crops, the fruit growing to “phenomenal size.” But disappointment soon ensues when it is discovered that “for all that gorgeous array of specious lusciousness not one single jot was fit to eat.” But it is more than just a poisonous unpalatability to the crops, for all the vegetation begins to possess “hectic and prismatic variants of some diseased, underlying primary tone without a place among the known tints of earth. The Dutchman’s breeches became a thing of sinister menace, and the bloodroots grew insolent in their chromatic perversion.” The final deathly transition for the vegetation is its becoming brittle and gray and crumbling into dust.

The effects on the vegetation are horrendous and weird enough, but there are also effects on the animals in the vicinity of the meteorite. This is initially suspected due to the strange arrangement of their winter prints in the snow, and is then confirmed by alterations in the actual body proportions of a trapped woodchuck. In the end we witness the ultimate horror of humans being susceptible to the same weirding process as the animals, as the vegetation, a process characterized by madness and that recapitulates the same steps observed with the rest of the landscape: “By July she had ceased to speak and crawled on all fours, and before the month was over Nahum got the mad notion that she was slightly luminous in the dark.” And, knowing what has come before, the result for the human must be the same: “collapse, greying, and disintegration.” Here we witness humans that have become weirded in the same manner as the surrounding flora and fauna, the palpability and inexorable logic of this being more horrific than the suggestive relationships between human and ‘other’ found in Machen or Hodgson.

C. L. Moore and the Weird Sexuality of “The Black God’s Kiss”

Catherine Lucille Moore’s story “The Black God’s Kiss” appeared in the October 1934 issue of Weird Tales, a bit less than two years after Robert E. Howard’s genre-defining first Conan story. Moore was a fan favorite and through her character Jirel of Joiry, introduced in the story, provided her own spin on sword and sorcery, and this with a woman in the lead role. Moore set her Jirel stories in medieval France — unlike the mythological Hyborian-Age of Howard’s Conan stories — and this allows for the incursion of the fantastic into a real-world setting, the appearance of the weird landscape telegraphing evil. “Black God’s Kiss” is, in fact, largely devoted to the entrance into and the transit across just such a weird landscape.

Jirel’s journey is inspired by a sexual trespass, following her having been taken captive by Gauillaume the conqueror. He has her iron helmet removed and is startled to discover a woman with short red hair beneath it. Recognizing her sex, he forces a kiss on her even though that turns out to be “like kissing a sword blade.” In a later time and place, the story might contain a more substantive sexual transgression, but eighty years ago this is more than enough to suggest the excessive liberty taken. The imprisoned Jirel cannot forget or forgive, for “upon her mouth she felt the remembered weight of his, about her the strength of his arms.” She will journey “beyond all the bounds of the hells we know” to seek an unholy weapon with which to wreak her vengeance.

Almost immediately we are confronted by strange geometries. Jirel removes stones from within the lower depths of the dungeon, revealing a tunnel that twists and curves downward as if marking the passage of a gargantuan snake. “There was something queer about the angles of those curves. She was no scholar in geometry or aught else, but she felt intuitively that the bend and slant of the way she went were somehow outside any other angles or bends she had ever known…the peculiar and exact lines of the tunnel had been carefully angled to lead through poly-dimensional space as well as through the underground — perhaps through time too.”

This description might suggest Moore is paying homage to Lovecraft’s “non-Euclidian geometries,” but that is not the case. Moore did not read the “The Call of Cthulhu” until 1935, the year after “Black God’s Kiss” was published, when Lovecraft initiated a correspondence with her and sent her two packages of his tales. She comments in her May 27 letter to HPL that “you really had me reeling and dizzy with the geometry of Cthulhu’s city.” The description recalls to her the awful dreams she experienced as a perpetually sick child. Tellingly, she describes this early experience as “nothing was at all describable in terms of physical things, because I wasn’t aware through the senses at all. There was a greyness over everything that was greyness of the mind, not of the light, and nothing had size, yet there was an awful bigness outside the bounds of mere dimensions. And there was an instability of the ground underfoot — only it wasn’t ground and there was no ‘underfoot’ — it was rather an instability of anything basic in which to build one’s consciousness.”

It is not too much of a stretch to extrapolate from these descriptions to the weird landscape Moore evokes in “The Black God’s Kiss,” that the landscape is inspired in part due to the dreams she experienced as a sickly child. The story is largely made up of a journey across an aberrant landscape, this strangeness of the journey accounting for part of the story’s attraction. Dreams are repeatedly referenced in terms of the landscape and her supernatural ability to traverse it. The world itself is uneven, full of quaking morasses, strange stars and falling stars, a tower composed of spurting water or tangible light, and a black lake that heaves “with a motion unlike that of any water she had ever seen before.” There is also strange life, these including blind white horses, pale monstrosities with clicking teeth, and a mirrored version of Jirel herself.

Two elements of this journey deserve specific mention. First, in order to view the new landscape, Jirel must set aside the crucifix she wears, throw aside this symbol of Christianity so she may gain access to a non-Christian world. Second, the subject of her quest, not revealed until she has reached it, is a carrier for a type of poison. This final encounter echoes the earlier strange geometries, for she enters a temple in which waits a semi-human statue with one central eye and its mouth pursed for a kiss. “Every line and curve in the dim world seemed to sweep round toward the squatting thing before her with its closed eye and expectant mouth.” The kiss of the alien statue is like a poison, one she then carries with her, the kiss itself having a transformative aspect, for “she ran with the weight from her curiously alien body, heavy with its weight of inexplicable doom.” She carries the poison of the weird environment within her, a vessel awaiting its deliverance to the object of her hatred, to the conqueror Gauillaume, the man who violated her.

Margaret St. Clair and the Weird “Child of Void”

Margaret St. Clair is receiving a recent and well-deserved ascendency in the critical assessment of her work. She began publishing her work in the 1940s, with over a hundred short stories to her credit, but it wasn’t until 1985 that a Best of collection was published, by which time she was over seventy years old. And now, another thirty years later, her work is being included in major anthologies of weird fiction and SF. This is as it should be. Simply on a technical level, St. Clair is one of the best writers to have published in the pulps. Moreover, and unusual for SF at the time, her stories exhibit a seemingly casual awareness of and willingness to explore themes of sexuality, her ability to do so in the pulp magazines no doubt assisted by the humor with which she often handled her subjects.

Child of Void” (1949) shares some plot elements and structure with Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space,” although I find no documentation that this was an influence. Like that earlier tale, we have an alien intrusion that takes place on a farm. The aliens have no tangible form themselves, but are “like electricity or radio” and they draw sustenance from energy including that found in living things. They need this because they are trapped on earth in their ‘egg’ and need energy so they can escape back to their home in a parallel dimension. A key difference from Lovecraft’s story is that everything is told from the family’s perspective, in this case by one of the two sons.

The family is going to live in Hidden Valley and, three paragraphs into the story, we learn that something is amiss there, the son saying: “It was the kind of place you see articles about in the Sunday supplement — a place where water flows uphill and half the time the laws of gravity don’t work, a place where sometimes a rubber ball will weigh three or four pounds…You never could depend on things being normal and right.” We thus have the idea of the unnatural landscape forefronted in the story, serving as a signal that the family is entering weird territory, and establishing a mystery as to what is disrupting the natural order. Once the aliens are discovered, it is made clear that their presence is harmful to the family. As the narrator’s younger brother explains, “They can’t help hurting us. It’s something they put into the air, like, by just being alive. They can stop it for a while, if they try hard. But that’s the way they really are. Like poison oak or a rattlesnake.” The things in the egg aren’t consciously evil but put out “a vibration which is hostile to human life.”

St. Claire’s choosing the perspective of someone directly affected by, and living through, the alien ‘invasion’ allows her to place a greater emphasis on characterization and how the aliens mentally control the family. This stands in contrast to Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space,” where it is suggested that the alien may have some mental hold on the farmer and his family, but the perspective of an outside observer places this in the realm of conjecture. In St. Claire’s story the mental struggle is front and center. The most noticeable characteristic that marks Hidden Valley as strange when the family arrives is how they are emotionally affected, for they all experience a horrible depression, one that lifts suddenly, these seesawing emotions pointing to some outside agency affecting their minds. The range of powers the aliens possess, in particular their modes of mental manipulation, become increasingly evident as the story progresses.

An interesting aspect of the story is how little of the weirded landscape is actually described. The initial description, from three paragraphs in, comes before the narrator and his family move to Happy Valley, and is based on the son’s memories of having visited his uncle there when younger. Once the family moves to Hidden Valley, there is a specific reference to the bounty of the farm (‘milk so rich you could hardly drink it’), even though others in the area don’t experience this bounty. We also learn that, for some unknown reason, the narrator’s ham radio won’t work. A key to this invisible aspect of the story is the depression the family initially experience because later, after this depression lifts, the son says, “The funny things about the Hidden Valley stopped bothering us.” So we know that something had been happening but we have not been made privy to it, in part because the narrator no longer notices or is concerned about such things. This is one of the balancing acts that St. Clair performs in the story. She makes use of an unreliable narrator, not entirely in control of his mind, who can’t process everything that is happening to his family, but who still communicates enough so we know what has happened. As a result, the upbeat ending contains underlying depths of horror, for we know that the narrator, now infected by an alien, is not in control of his emotions.

The Weird Colours of Ballard’s “The Illuminated Man”/The Crystal World

Thirty-odd years separate Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” from J. G. Ballard’s short story “The Illuminated Man,” published in 1964 and then developed into a full-fledged novel two years later as The Crystal World. Those years exemplify the increasing divide between genre and literary works that accreted over this time span. Yet, although Ballard’s works are now often seen as transcending genre, I find it hard to imagine Ballard’s efforts here as existing without his having read, processed, and rejuvenated Lovecraft’s story within his own more modernistic ethos.

Ballard’s story and novel, although taking place at different locations, are initiated with the same transcendent lines: “By day fantastic birds flew through the petrified forest, and jeweled crocodiles glittered like heraldic salamanders on the banks of the crystalline river. By night the illuminated man raced among the trees, his arms like golden cartwheels, his head like a spectral crown…” But it is telling in how Ballard transitions from story to novel. The story tells of a scientific expedition that intends to uncover the truth about the mysterious crystallization process occurring in Florida. In the novel, which takes place in the tropical forest of the Cameroon Republic, the focus shifts from the weird landscape and the explanation for its origins. Instead the novel explores the relationships among a Graham Greene-channeled cast of characters and how they interact with each other and with this bizarre landscape. In fact, less of an explanation is given about the crystallization process over the entire course of the novel than in the thirty-odd pages of the short story.

There is a surprising sense of similarity between the crystallization process found in Ballard’s work and the poisoning petrification found earlier in Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.” The relationship is even more pronounced when in Ballard’s story, the Russian agriculturalist Lysenko “maintains that crop yields are increased because there’s an increase in tissue weight.” Furthermore, as the crystallization takes hold in Ballard’s world, objects glow in the dark as they amplify moon and starlight, much like the luminescent flora and fauna of Lovecraft’s world. Also, there is a strange desire shared among characters in the works of Lovecraft and Ballard, a madness that derives from the poisoning, such that the infected characters are drawn to it and refuse to leave the weirded landscape, even against their own better judgment.

Ballard, like Lovecraft, evokes a science-fictional explanation for the crystallization process that has occurred. He cites such names as the Hubble Effect, the Rostov-Lysenko Syndrome, and most suggestively, the LePage Amplification Synchronoclasmique (this litany of tongue twisters all being in the story rather than the novel). Differing from Lovecraft is the lack of a proximate cause for the crystallization process. There is no alien as such, but simply events taking place light years away that are mirrored in our world. Indeed the accepted explanation from the team at the Hubble telescope in “The Illuminated Man,” is that the effects “are a reflection of distant cosmic processes of enormous scope and dimensions, first glimpsed in the Andromeda spiral.” Ballard may have been just reaching for the stars, providing an SF-gloss on astrology, but the relationship between these distant stars and Earth is surprisingly suggestive of the modern theory of quantum entanglement (“spooky action at a distance”).

Also notable in Ballard’s world is his usage of altered time as the basis for the crystallization process, which arises due to particles of ‘anti-time’ colliding with particles of time. Creatures and plants slow as they encounter ‘anti-time,’ and their frozen images proliferate, building on each other to form petrified crystals. The body becomes so thoroughly crystalline that the removal of the crystal destroys the body. These effects of ‘anti-time’ recall Hodgson’s warping of time in The House on the Borderland, although as an inversion, slowed time becoming crystalline with Ballard, whereas Hodgson’s speeded time reduces all to ash and snow. The destructive nature of the altered time also, of course, recalls Machen’s telling quote from “The White People” about the girl who ‘poisoned herself — in time.’

The Weird Science Fiction of Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”

And we passed through the cavern of rats.

And we passed through the path of boiling steam.

And we passed through the country of the blind.

And we passed through the slough of despond.

And we passed through the vale of tears.

And we came, finally, to the ice caverns. Horizonless thousands of miles in which the ice had formed in blue and silver flashes, where novas lived in the glass. The downdripping stalactites as thick and glorious as diamonds that had been made to run like jelly and then solidified in graceful eternities of smooth, sharp perfection.”

That was my high-school yearbook quote. It comes from Harlan Ellison’s Hugo-award-winning short story, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and, although this story had long been a favorite, it was only while assembling this essay that I realized it embodied key elements of the weird landscape. It is surely a coincidence that the crystalline is emphasized in this quote but, as with Lovecraft and Ballard, such a landscape brings out some of Ellison’s most haunting and beautiful language.

The religious allusions in this quote from Ellison are no accident. Like Machen, Hodgson, and Lovecraft, Ellison evokes a pagan god in relation to the creation of the weird landscape. But Ellison places this ‘god’ fully within the boundaries of a traditional SF trope, that of the malevolent computer. Here the computer that achieves sentience and turns against its human creators is named AM, for Allied Mastercomputer, although the name is also intended to echo Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am.” Ellison does not hide the relationship between the computer and god, the story’s protagonist even stating, “If there was a sweet Jesus and if there was a God, the God was AM.”

Ellison’s story is readily labeled as science fiction because it employs an out-of-control computer as its antagonist. The story’s sections are even separated by images of a computer punch tape, now an historical anachronism. But the scientific aspects of the story are in fact fairly minor, and it could be argued that Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror rely more on scientific considerations than does Ellison’s tale. The significance of AM is not necessarily that it is a computer, but rather that such an omnipotent computer allows Ellison to explore the relationship between gods and humans (“God as Daddy the Deranged”). “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” is a weird tale in the grand tradition of weird tales with their weird gods. It is also a fine example of evil as revealed through its weird landscape.

AM has taken over the entire Earth so that no part of the Earth can be considered as separate from AM. The five human protagonists live in AM, the entire story taking place within the bowels of the computer. Unlike the pagan gods evoked by Machen, the animalistic hybrid gods of Hodgson, the tentacled monstrosities of Lovecraft, Ellison’s AM is a god who has no definitive form, a god as encompassing (and therefore as invisible) as the God of Christianity. But, like the old-Testament God, AM talks directly to humanity, humanity being reduced to the single handful of humans he has chosen to keep alive, to torture.

William Blake urged us to discover God through the evidence of His wondrous creation, (“To see a World in a grain of sand, And a Heaven in a wild flower”). Ellison’s AM is the world, but that world, the landscape the protagonists encounter, although wondrous, miraculous, is also unnatural. It is a marriage of machine and nature — chittering computer banks, a frozen elephant, and a Roc-sized bird whose wings beat a hurricane wind — with the machine controlling whatever originates from the natural. My yearbook quote suggests the malleability of the physical landscape. Time is also skewed in AM, this being apparent early on in the story when the narrator almost casually indicates, “It was our hundred and ninth year in the computer,” that single line evoking the computer as landscape and that there is something unnatural about the narrator’s lifespan or his understanding of time. The narrator later says, “Some hundreds of years may have passed. I don’t know. AM has been having some fun for some time, accelerating and retarding my time sense.”

AM can also manipulate the bodily form of the humans. This is also made clear right from the beginning of the story. There’s the immortality, of course. But we also learn that one of the humans has been remade into the semblance of a chimpanzee. Later, sound and beams of light are emitted from the chimp-man’s eyes. And then, lastly, AM’s revenge on the narrator is to manipulate his form into something that is no longer recognizable as human, but tortured by its mind still being intact and containing all the humanity lacking from its form. Here, the situation is made all the more horrific by the narrator NOT lapsing into a Lovecraftian madness at recognizing the horror but having his faculties fully intact and eternally aware.

The Weird of VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy

A key writer I discovered as an adult, one who inspired me with his glancing sidewise vision, his reimagining and deconstruction of SF and fantasy tropes, was Jeff VanderMeer. I first discovered his work in the stand-alone novella, Dradin in Love. Set in VanderMeer’s second world of Ambergris, this story would later be incorporated into his mosaic novel, City of Saints and Madmen. Ambergris bears a tangential relationship to our world. It incorporates names and technologies, interrogates the politics of colonialism and subjugation, and also exhibits VanderMeer’s fascination with flora and fauna, evidenced here through ecstasies of fungi and squid. There are elements, as you progress through City of Saints and Madmen, that indicate the membrane separating Ambergris from our earth is permeable, suggestive of the poisoning relationships of landscapes described by Machen. But the Ambergris revealed through VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen and the subsequent novels Shriek: An Afterword and Finch fits comfortably enough within the historical concept of a second world to fulfill the popular concept of a fantasy.

This changed with VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. Published in 2014, this trilogy of novels—Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance—later collected into the single hardcover edition Area X, is clearly set on our earth and does not fit comfortably within traditional genre labels. The time is close enough to now as to be now, and the setting is inspired by VanderMeer’s hikes in the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in Florida. An alien environment appears within this territory, shielded by a force field and referred to as Area X, the intrusion of the weird into the normal, into our world.

Such an intrusive weird landscape invites a novel-length exploration. We have a new world, an accessible world, but one in which our natural laws are called into question, a situation that establishes readerly expectations appropriate to detective and suspense novels. The novel’s characters, and the reader, are put into the position of the detective searching out clues as to what rules now apply in this unprecedented environment. The suspense arises because our hard-won experience, the years we have spent negotiating and learning the rules that govern our world, are now worth nothing and may, in fact, invite disaster. There is a relationship here to classic novels in which strange lands, typically prehistoric, are discovered inside the hollow earth or on secluded mountains (e.g. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s At the Earth’s Core; Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World). But nowadays, the idea of such lands persisting undiscovered across millennia invites disbelief. In contrast, the sudden intrusion of a weird hostile landscape is more believable, and certainly more in keeping with the disconcerting realities experienced in our increasingly incomprehensible world.

I did not use the word ‘exploration’ loosely when introducing the previous paragraph. In the Southern Reach trilogy, exploration teams are sent into Area X to study the environment once an entrance is discovered. This contrasts with the passive mobility of the protagonist in The House on the Borderland, who wafts from cosmic scene to scene, from vision to vision. Ballard’s story, “The Illuminated Man,” also utilizes an exploration team to facilitate the reader’s entry into the weird landscape, although when he extended his short story to the novel-length The Crystal World, our understanding of the landscape did not increase proportionately, the novel instead emphasizing the interpersonal dynamics of the characters. VanderMeer creates a more diverse weird landscape than does Ballard, which allows him to find a more engaging balance between the interactions of characters with the environment and their interpersonal dynamics.

World building, so common to SF, indeed prized by aficionados for the abilities of the authors in this respect, is focused by VanderMeer on Area X. Elements of the weirded environment include the flora and fauna, not exempting humans. There are creatures in Area X that are unlike anything on earth: human-eyed dolphins, luminescent fungi that write script, the Crawler. There are creatures that are mistakenly assumed to be of our world but are not, their mimicry so perfect that their veracity is not interrogated by the scientific teams. There are also strange geometries, the inversion of up and down, such that the exploration team cannot recognize whether they are climbing a tower or descending into a tunnel. Furthermore, maps from earlier expeditions lack the striking feature of the tower/tunnel, suggesting that Area X is unmappable, that it may be malleable, or that it reveals itself preferentially to different teams. There is also time travel, a knowing employment of quantum entanglement…

…but most significantly, in comparing Area X to previous weird landscapes, there are clear reminders throughout the text that Area X is a more unspoiled environment than that found in our own world. For example, the biologist describes Area X as a “pristine wilderness devoid of human life.” The implication is that our world, our technology-enabled despoilment of the environment, is the true Evil. The exploration team recognizes their own limitations as humans in such an environment: “Our instruments are useless, our methodology broken, our motivations selfish.” This becomes ever more apparent as the trilogy progresses, the black humor of the second book (Authority) emphasizing the Three Stooges-like capabilities and culpabilities of a government agency tasked with uncovering the secrets of Area X.

Within this structure, Area X suggests the Paradise from which Adam and Eve were cast out, never to return. It is the Eden that existed before the advent of humankind: day and night, vaults of sky and water, vegetation, sun and stars, creatures of sea and sky, of the earth, all accomplished before the evening of the fifth day, before the creation of humankind in God’s own image. Our modern world is a despoiled, contaminated version, but one that strangely mimics all that was lost in that original Paradise. Or does the poisonous Paradise of Area X mimic our expectations, our desire to return to the garden, to a harmonious interaction between humankind and the environment?

But notably, and in contrast to many of the tales described earlier, there is no overt religious relationship of Area X to our world. My suggestion of the Biblical Paradise is something I bring to the tale from my own upbringing, inculcated with the Christian mythos prevalent in Western culture. The relationship of Area X to our world could just as readily be described in terms of Rousseau’s philosophy of the natural human, an agnostic but environmentalist perspective that the more humans deviate from nature, the worse they and their world become. Rousseau wrote, “nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man.” Area X pointedly reminds us of the follies that arise from nature and humankind out of balance.

Regardless of which perspective you hold, the expeditions from our world into Area X clearly suggest a level of incompatibility between the two worlds. You cannot accept both, be congruent with both, at the same time. To become part of Area X requires a clear rejection of our world, and with it an accompanying weirding of what we have come to accept as humanity. Does one protagonist truly become a tidal wave of eyes, or is that the only way we can perceive this from our distorted and unsustainable perch?

Weirding the Weird: The Double Negative of VanderMeer’s Borne

Jeff VanderMeer followed up his Southern Reach trilogy with the novel Borne in 2017. The events of Borne take place in the near future, a dystopian future where the protagonist Rachel and her parents were refugees cast adrift like flotsam on waves roiled by wars and political turmoil. That pessimistic but realistic prognostication is already in the past by the time the events of the novel take place. The immediate locale Rachel inhabits is purely weird, the result of the global dystopia coupled to the repercussions of the Company, which through biotech has created a bestiary of strange creatures, drugs, and artifacts. There are neuro-spiders employed as weapons, gangs of morphed children with wings, claws, and fangs, and the giant flying bear, Mord, who terrorizes the city. This is the locale that Rachel now inhabits. She was thrown into this city and has had to learn new skills, acquire new knowledge, if she is to survive.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this environment is the giant flying bear, Mord, who constitutes a weird landscape in and of himself. Indeed, the concept of Mord as landscape is established at the outset of the novel. Mord is truly gigantic, able to carelessly level buildings with a shrug, essentially unknowable but also an invitation for exploration, and the novel opens with Rachel having performed a scavenging expedition on Mord. Such expeditions are worthwhile because Mord’s lair is in the hollowed-out Company building; as a result, he accumulates all sorts of strange items in his tangled fur — food, dead creatures, and biotech — each day bringing a new supply, a bounty for those brave enough to scale his flanks. The existence of Mord reminds us of Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum that a sufficiently advanced science will be indistinguishable from magic. Much of the biotech in the novel, the other creatures no matter how strange, seem possible from the vantage point of an advanced science. Mord slams us up against the impossible — how does one have a creature so vast that it should crumble under it’s own weight, and moreover that can fly without visible means — ricocheting us between the magic of a surreal fantasy and a science beyond our comprehension. This tension between possible interpretations is heightened by one of the characters, even though steeped in biotech, being called the Magician. This tension also moves us out of the comfort of science fiction, with its rationalistic worldview, into a world that is thoroughly disconcerting.

There is a clear sense of transition in Rachel’s memories for how she came to be in this world, a spatial and a temporal disjunction. She entered into the city almost as if through a magic door, leaving behind the human-made hell of war, disease, starvation, refugee camps, and betrayal to enter into the weird: “My last memories from before the city were of floods and makeshift rafts and the expanding silence of people dead or dying in the water — and a hint of land on the horizon. My last memories were of going down for a second, third time, my lungs full of mud. But when I came to, I was in the city, walking. I was walking through the city as if I had always been there.” Rachel has lost her parents and the transient homes they clung to. She has been born anew into a weirded city, an evil locale, one in which the dystopia she inhabited as a girl achieves the distinction of nostalgia. In doing so, she has also lost a chunk of time from her memory; she is now a young woman but she came to the city as a girl.

Rachel combines knowingness and innocence, characteristics in keeping but also telling about the weird environment she inhabits. She has the seasoned abilities of someone who learned hard lessons in brutal environments, both in the world she left behind and in the weirded city she now inhabits. She is an adept scavenger in the ruins of the city, of Mord, and she also knows well the dangers these hold, including the danger in trusting others, a trust she withholds even from her lover Wick. Nevertheless, her cynical caution is balanced by the desire to love, to care for others, and into this conflict of will and desire appears the strange creature Borne.

Borne weirds the weird, being stranger and less predictable than anything Rachel has encountered before in this city. It is no coincidence that Borne is discovered in a scavenging expedition into the weird landscape of Mord. The relationship between Rachel and Borne recalls other encounters between children and the alien, as found in Spielberg’s movie ET with its extraterrestrial visitor, in E. Nesbit’s novel Five Children and It with the snail-eyed Psammead, and in Barbara Euphan Todd novels featuring the animated scarecrow Worzel Gummidge, whose actions entangle his young friends in trouble. In all these cases, the protagonist encounters something outside their mundane world, and whose powers are not yet clear but are disruptive to the world they have known. But, unlike those examples, here the protagonist is older and sexually aware. Such elements were never part of traditional literature where, even if the protagonists had achieved puberty, the story elements were chaste. Furthermore, Rachel’s relationship to Borne changes dramatically throughout the novel, for Borne is itself changing both physically and mentally, her relationship with Borne transitioning from that with a houseplant, to a fish, to a dog or cat, to a child. But just as clearly, we have the sense that the existence of Borne will disrupt the world into which Rachel has been thrown, that the double-negative of weirding the weird might prove beneficial.

Of particular significance is that the weird world found in Borne does not derive from ancient gods or extraterrestrials. Both worlds found in the novel were created by humans, one with the mundane horrors that originate from humankind acting at its worst, the other due to humans having created something incompatible and poisonous to themselves. If anything this is a poisoning of the Present by the Future: “…the wrenching dislocation of trying to make two separate worlds match up, the one that was normal and the one that was grotesque, the old and the new — the struggle to make the mundane and the impossible coexist…” One might also see this as a weird echo of William Gibson’s maxim about the future being already here, but not evenly distributed.

But, as with The Southern Reach trilogy, Borne does not render a verdict on these two worlds as being a simple case of good versus evil, that the weird is innately evil and should be destroyed. The danger, the evil, is in the use of power, not simply the abuse of power, just its use, coupled to the ability and desire to use these items as weapons. As Rachel says, “All I wanted is for there to be no great power in the City at all.” Indeed, the novel suggests the possibility of a synthesis such that the two worlds can coexist without deadly effect. In this respect, one can return to the metaphor of the weird as a disease that infects or poisons our reality. Only maladapted viruses exhibit a high lethality, for such lethality is detrimental to both the host and the virus; this is why highly lethal epidemics often burn themselves out without spreading far. Co-existence, reduced lethality, can benefit both the host and the infecting agent, for our world and the weird.


Writing an essay is much like a journey — an essay about the weird landscape perhaps even more so than usual — in that you start off with some concept of the itinerary and destination but the joy comes in the experience itself, the details you discover along the way. Here I’ve explored fictions that embody Machen’s concept that Evil can be considered a poisoning, an infection that is manifested by changes in the landscape, his century-old story “The White People” defining some of the features we find reiterated in later stories. Fiction is not static, of course, and each author brings their own vision and concerns to this enterprise, these reflecting the cultures in which they live and resulting in the ever-shifting environments we experience as readers.

Reflecting on these stories, on this journey, I find that the most profound changes have to do with the nature of the Evil the authors find invested in the landscape. I titled this essay, “The Weird Landscape as an Avatar of Evil,” using the term avatar in its broadest sense, in which it simply refers to the manifestation of a concept. In its original use, however, avatar referred to how a Hindu deity such as Vishnu manifested himself on earth. This concept is close to how Machen and other early practitioners of the weird made use of the landscape, linking its evil to non-Christian deities. Machen explicitly explored the conflict between early paganism and modern Christianity. Hodgson and Moore also made use of supernatural deities, although they incorporated elements of their own devising, not restricting themselves to the gods of established religions.

Lovecraft’s influential contribution to the weird landscape is to shift the concept of Evil away from gods and into the realm of science fiction. The alien monstrosities of his Cthulhu mythos are a small step in this direction, they being pagan gods in all but name. Not unlike Pan in Machen’s “The Great God Pan,” Lovecraft’s creations are chimeric amalgams of animal parts, have superhuman powers, are capable of inseminating humans, and inspire madness in those who come to understand their reality. More significant from a modern perspective is his story “The Colour Out of Space,” in which the alien is truly alien and its mere existence is destructive to humans. Lovecraft’s colourful alien, like that in St. Claire’s later story “Child of Void,” is reminiscent of the Aesop fable in which a frog swims across a river ferrying a scorpion on its back; the scorpion stings the frog even though it means both their deaths, doing so simply “because it’s my nature.” Frogs and scorpions, humans and aliens: these are natural pairings, but the later may poison the former.

At its most basic level, science fiction implies a rationalistic viewpoint of the world, one in which even the strangest phenomena have an explanation. The uncertainties of the modern world suggest that such a viewpoint is overly optimistic, that satisfactory answers may never be forthcoming. Although Ballard’s The Crystal World may echo aspects of Lovecraft’s landscape, the causal agency behind the crystallization process is never fully clarified. Similarly, scientific explanations are suggested for how VanderMeer’s Area X popped into existence, but these are not highlighted in the same manner as might be expected in a traditional SF novel. VanderMeer’s Borne also contains elements that are discordant with current scientific understanding, this being part of what gives the landscape its unsettling weirdness.

Furthermore, when it comes to deciphering the ultimate source of evil, such answers are now as likely to implicate humans as malevolent aliens. Walt Kelly popularized the Earth Day slogan “We have met the enemy and he is us,” in his comic strip Pogo over forty-five years ago, a potent ecological reminder that we humans don’t need an outside agency to poison ourselves. That concern is now more relevant than ever. Ellison, in “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” explored the concept as to how our computers could assume a poisonous intelligence. VanderMeer fully embraces ecological concerns. His Southern Reach trilogy serves as a pointed reminder as to how, due to our having ravaged Earth, the appearance of an unspoiled Eden is now poisonous to us. More recently, VanderMeer considers the dangers of rampant biotech in the decimated world of Borne. If anything, a century’s worth of differing takes on the weird environment point to the varied goals for which it can be employed, its recent use in interrogating ecological and environmental themes seeming a natural but still underexplored avenue.

On any journey, there are glimpses of other locales, of alternate routes, these tempting you from your chosen path in spite of the knowledge that such indiscriminate journeying may become a maze with no exit. And so, a few final thoughts on those roads not taken, my hope being that these may inspire explorations by fellow travelers. First, although I had initiated my study of the weird landscape based on motifs suggested by Machen’s “The White People,” I was surprised at some unanticipated mechanisms by which the world could be weirded. Of particular note are strange seemingly-impossible mirrorings, best described by Einstein’s phrase “spooky action at a distance.” This refers to the concept that objects, even though far apart in space, perhaps a universe apart, can still affect each other through quantum entanglement. The crystallization of earth in Ballard’s The Crystal World is apparently due to some process occurring in the Andromeda spiral. Area X in VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy exhibits qualities that suggest a similar mechanism behind its manifestation. William Hope Hodgson recognized the disconcerting effect of having a gargantuan mirroring of his protagonist’s house across space and time in The House on the Borderland, doing so long before physicists proffered a possible mechanism by which this could occur.

Second, although the tropes of the haunted house story have become so engrained as to be clichéd, many of the best harken back to the precepts outlined by Machen for how the landscape can reveal evil. Here, the landscape is the house itself, setting it off from the healthy world outside its walls. The morbid history of the house, its unquiet ghosts, are poisonings out of time, ready to infect and destroy those who take up residence within. In stories as varied and potent as Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat,” we find strange geometries, discontinuities between the expected and the actual structure, an increasingly confused sense of place, of time, one that grows ever more disconcerting as the tale progresses…

But, third, why halt with a single house, for what is a house but one element in a town or a city? Machen’s thoughts on the weird landscape were focused on how the natural world, its flora and fauna, was rendered unnatural so as to reveal evil. But this has only a minimal relationship to human distortions of the natural, the aberrant constructs we call houses and, in their aggregate, towns and cities. What about the urban weird? Locales that come to mind are Lovecraft’s Arkham as well as Samuel R. Delany’s Bellona from Dhalgren. Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, Neil Gaiman’s London Below, and Brigadoon might also fit the bill. As might television’s Twin Peaks, Washington and Eerie, Indiana.

Fourth, and lastly — to all those who followed this journey and who now, setting aside any warnings about inherent dangers, equipped with nothing but curiosity and a knapsack glutted with books, following their own whims and predilections, to all those who now embark on their own explorations of the weird landscape — Bon voyage!

Recommended Readings

Michel Bernanos, “The Other Side of the Mountain,” in which the French love for the surreal is married to landscape.*

Algernon Blackwood, “The Willows,” in which wind, sand, and willows transition from the natural to the unnatural.*

Leonora Carrington, “White Rabbits,” in which the weird takes up residence on a New York street.*

Angela Carter, “Master,” in which a hunter meets the old gods of the New World.

Ralph Adams Cram, “The Dead Valley,” in which meteorology is just as significant as the Pit.

Thomas Disch, The Genocides, in which humankind takes refuge in a garden.

Harlan Ellison, “Jeffty is Five,” in which the Present poisons the Past.

William Hope Hodgson, “The Voice in the Night” and “The Derelict,” in which sea travel leads to encounters with fungoid weirdness.

Thomas Ligotti, “The Strange Design of Master Rignolo,” in which spooky action at a distance creates a work of naturalistic art that has mortal implications.

Kelly Link, “The Hortlak,” in which the Pit is located next to a convenience store.

Yann Martel, The Life of Pi, in which a floating island in the Pacific transforms an oceanic adventure story into something more.

Mary Rickert. “The Mothers of Voorhisville,” in which the weird fauna are our children.

Clark Ashton Smith, “Genius Loci,” in which the significance of landscape is emphasized by the title,* and “The Ninth Skeleton,” in which the Boulder Ridge of Smith’s native California is transformed.

* anthologized in The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, eds., Tor Books, 2011


I thank the 2017 Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird, that occurred in Atlanta, Georgia, for the inspiration and discussions that inspired this piece. I also thank Daniel Braum, Ramsey Campbell, Matthew Cheney, Barry Lee Dejasu, James Everington, Jeffrey Ford, John Glover, Blaine Stevens, and Chad Woody, who responded to an open invitation to recommend their favorite weird landscapes in literature; I have included those that most resonated with Machen’s concept about the intrusion of the weird landscape into our known world in these Recommended Readings. The quotes from C. L. Moore’s letters are from Letters of H.P. Lovecraft: Letters to C. L. Moore and Others, 2017, David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, eds., Hippocampus Press, New York.


Aubrey Beardsley, cover image for 1894 Machen collection The Great God Pan and the Inmost Light.

W. Otway Cannell, 1921 edition cover to The House on the Borderland.

Wenzel Jamnitzer, 1568, from Perspective of Regular Solids

Frantisek Kupka, 1903, The Black Idol

Joan Miró, 1922, The Farm

Gerardo Dottori, 1919, Forze ascensionali

Joseph Leidy, 1879, Amoeba proteus, from Fresh-Water Rhizopods of North America

Ernst Haeckel, 1904, Lichen lithograph.

Artist unknown, 1760, from Alchemical and Rosicrucian Compendium.

4 replies to “From Machen to VanderMeer: The Weird Landscape as the Avatar of Evil

  1. This would’ve benefited greatly from an investigation of Machen’s life and views as well as of existing critical material on his fiction, as you reading of “The White People” is, to say the least, unorthodox…

  2. Pingback: Exploring the Ecological Weird, Part 3 – SFFWorld