Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Shining Pyramid and The Little People

Continuing with my reading of the works of Arthur Machen, I read The Shining Pyramid, another of his stories praised by both H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Howard, in fact, wrote a sort of sequel to it, but I'll get to that. In the Shining Pyramid, a gentlemen named Vaughn comes to London to consult his learned friend Dyson about some odd symbols formed with bits of flint that Vaughn has found on his property. Dyson, at first disinterested, becomes a bit more avid after seeing one of the flints and finding it to be an arrowhead of ancient design.
Vaughn also tells Dyson of the disappearance of a 'local beauty' from the isolated country village where Vaughn resides. Dyson, as Watson would say, begins to sense some horrible outline and agrees to accompany Vaughn back to his country home. No more flint symbols are seen, but Vaughn and Dyson find crude drawings of strangely deformed eyes low on the bricks of an old wall on Vaughn's property. Dyson, acting rather like Sherlock Holmes, begins to form a theory which he keeps to himself. He explores the neighboring woods and a few days later asks Vaughn to accompany him to a sort of natural amphitheater deep in the dark wood. There they are witness to the horrible rites of a mass of stunted malformed savages, the remains of some ancient Celtic tribe who were driven underground in some forgotten age. Suddenly they see the flash of white arms amidst the writhing creatures and realize what has become of the missing girl. She is sacrificed before their eyes. Now truthfully they would have had little chance of rescuing her, but the cold blooded way in which they don't even try kind of threw me. Dyson tries to mitigate this near the end of the story by saying that since the girl had been the prisoner of the creatures for a couple of weeks she was probably better off dead, but gee...
Anyway, it made me wonder if Machen was ever married or involved with women because female characters have come to horrible ends in all of his stories I've read so far and the males don't seem to care much. Could be the general Victorian attitude toward women but it did make me wonder if old Arthur might have had some issues.
But being me, the first thing I thought was, if I had been there I'd have tried to save her, and of course that made me think of writing a story with a similar plot but having the male protagonists be a bit more chivalrous. Then I remembered that I'd read in some article or other that Robert E. Howard had written a story called The Little People that was directly linked to The Shining Pyramid. Though I'd read Howard's other two Machen influenced tales, People of the Dark and the classic Worms of the Earth, I'd never gotten to The Little People. I knew I had the story in a couple of collections, including the recent Del Rey volume of REH's horror stories, so I pulled out that book and jumped right in.
The story actually begins with a young American girl reading The Shining Pyramid and then tossing the book away, exclaiming the story to be a silly fairy tale. Her brother tries to explain that Machen's story is based on evidence that there may have been a race of small savage people upon whom legends of fairies and little folk are based, but the sister, a thoroughly modern type, isn't having any. Now as fate would have it, the siblings are vacationing in England, staying at a small inn in the remote countryside near a circle of druid stones. The stone circle is reputed to be haunted and the sister decides that she will show her brother by visiting the stone circle late at night. Her brother forbids it, so of course, being a younger sister, she sneaks out anyway and runs into, you guessed it, stunted, cave dwelling savages right out of The Shining Pyramid.
Meanwhile, the girl's brother has been awakened (apparently by the ghost of a druid) and hurries off into the night just in time to see his sister surrounded by the little people. Does he shrink away as did Machen's heroes? Hell no. This is a Robert E. Howard story and he wades right in with flailing fists and starts busting heads.
And I'd be willing to bet, that just like me, Bob Howard read The Shining Pyramid and thought that if he had been out in those dark woods under a yellow moon, that he would have tried to save the girl. And I bet that's why he wrote The Little People. So thanks, Bob, for saving me the effort.


Lanny said...

That was a fun post! It was like reading a story... about story... about...

Well, you get the idea.

Unknown said...

Machen was fine with women. Married twice. Never had anything to say against them in non-fiction work.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Good to know. I should probably find a biography. Interesting guy.