By Arthur Machen (Arkham House; 1933/68)
The elusive final novel by Arthur Machen, one of horror fiction’s most distinct and influential talents. It’s not his best work (as even the book jacket frankly acknowledges), being closest in the Machen cannon to the highly obscure and self-indulgent SECRET GLORY (1922). Yet as with all of Machen’s horror-tinged writing, it casts a haunting spell of dark enchantment.
As much a nonfiction treatise on the power of dreams and the supernatural as it is a (cluttered) narrative, THE GREEN ROUND takes its title from a small portion of a rural sand dune with apparent supernatural properties. It’s here that, in the opening chapter, a man believes he sees a dance hall thronged with people bopping to raucous jazz tunes, only to later discover, to his great consternation, that the hall is nowhere to be found.
The main portion of the book likewise involves the green round. It’s here that one Mr. Hillyer comes to enjoy the solitude of country life after suffering a nervous breakdown. Hillyer happens to be studying the legends and folklore of the area, and finds himself in a situation much like the supernatural tales he’s poring over when people claim to see an invisible (to him) dwarf at his side, who they believe may be responsible for a string of brutal killings that have been plaguing the area.
In the manner of Machen’s previous (and superior) novel THE THREE IMPOSTERS, THE GREEN ROUND has an eccentric structure involving numerous protagonists and narrative strands. Following Mr. Hillyer’s ordeal outlined above we get a lengthy flashback detailing Hillyer’s previous experience with the supernatural, in the form of a string of accidents that always seemed to occur whenever he was around. After this we hear from Hillyer’s landlady, who’s beset with inexplicable claims of an impossibly bright light emanating from her building and much accompanying noise. Finally Hillyer’s psychiatrist gives his first-person take on the aforementioned weirdness, acknowledging that it might all be rationally explained but will nonetheless remain an eternal mystery.