A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
They were saying how queer I was a year or two before, and how nurse had called my mother to come and listen to me talking all to myself, and I was saying words that nobody could understand. I was speaking the Xu language, but I only remember a very few of the words, as it was about the little white faces that used to look at me when I was lying in my cradle.
I first read this story standing up. I really should have been working at my university library. It was my intention to work, I swear. But as I rolled my bookcart around a corner, a half shelf of books called out to me. Brown, crumbling old books that just wanted to be pulled off the shelf. When I crouched down and read the spines it turned out I knew the author’s name. I was looking at the Caerleon edition of Arthur Machen’s works.
I’d heard of Machen but only remembered one story to look for—a well regarded, oft mentioned horror tale called “The White People.”
Instead of browsing the first paragraphs of a traditional horror story, I found myself mesmerized by 30 pages of strange narrative that were part horror, fantasy, and folklore and were filled with a kind of unexpected poetry.
“The White People” is framed as the found diary of young girl. She relates her experiences communing with nature, fairy folk, magic, and witchcraft, and recounts odd, cryptic conversations with her nurse. It beautifully builds up a great deal of suspense and then just halts, leaving us baffled and a little frightened.
I have to say, it’s one of the most memorable reading experiences of my life. If you’re a fan of early horror you should give “The White People” a try, and if Machen’s style suits you take a look at the novel The Great God Pan, also in this Penguin Classics anthology.