The reading of classic works, of any genre, might be the most painfully rewarding chore possible when your hobby or passion is the written word. It can feel integral to consume the originals of a trope, as if an internal checklist is judging you along the way, scorning your ignorance.
How dare you not have read The Willows!
Unfortunately, humanity evolves, as does our tastes. Generational styles appear throughout literature, and looking back with a contemporary eye, these seem clunky, painful, just plain off, to the modern eye. That is not to say that beneath the reactionary characters, the passive sentences, the mind-numbing redundancy, and excessive descriptions of action that there aren’t awing gems of incredible vision. So many of the early greats have withstood the test of the modern reader and passed, but most did not do so on readability, they did so on the backs of quality stories.
So many fantastic works are available for free within the public domain and yet they remained marred and dusty, cast aside because much of the enchantment is lost in the rubble of dated writing.
Two weeks ago, I sat at my desk pondering different stories that are in the public domain that might be fun to print in Issue #4 of Unnerving –a Halloween issue. (Note: I’ve decided not to use any public domain in the magazine. Not now anyway.) I bounced between a few stories, reading and mentally gagging at the blown tire prose and an idea struck me. I did a bit of a cursory read to public domain laws and came to a conclusion. I can be a bridge. Some of these old stories deserve more eyes on them and with a little effort, about seventeen hours for the first title, I can perform some editing CPR and breathe recognizable life into a story’s lungs.
I went to very near the top of the ladder of great classic horrors, a story that Stephen King suggested is, “One of the best horror stories ever written. Maybe the best in the English language.” The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen (circa 1894) will be the first of four Classics Revisited titles I’ve planned for 2017.
I understand in some of you this will incite a great urge to shout something like “Who do you think you are?” or maybe a simple, “Go fuck yourself, does integrity mean nothing to you?”
I understand, I do, but hear me out. It is not my goal to change or sway these stories, but merely to act as an interpreter and editor. The stories will play out as they always have, the dialogue will remain dated, the sexism, racism and bigotry will all endure (no free author passes in death for these), and never will I add unnecessarily.
Classics Revisited is and will be a work of love and hopefully something readers will enjoy, something of value, especially to those who’ve struggled and failed to plod through the messiness of dated literature.
So as of today, The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen will be available.
For an idea, below are before and after excerpts of Classics Revisited:
The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
There was dead silence in the room for five minutes or more; the two men sat so still that they could hear the ticking of the tall old-fashioned clock that stood outside in the hall, and in the mind of one of them the slow monotony of sound woke up a far, far memory. He was looking intently at the small pen-and-ink sketch of the woman's head; it had evidently been drawn with great care, and by a true artist, for the woman's soul looked out of the eyes, and the lips were parted with a strange smile. Clarke gazed still at the face; it brought to his memory one summer evening, long ago; he saw again the long lovely valley, the river winding between the hills, the meadows and the cornfields, the dull red sun, and the cold white mist rising from the water. He heard a voice speaking to him across the waves of many years, and saying "Clarke, Mary will see the god Pan!" and then he was standing in the grim room beside the doctor, listening to the heavy ticking of the clock, waiting and watching, watching the figure lying on the green chair beneath the lamplight. Mary rose up, and he looked into her eyes, and his heart grew cold within him.
There was dead silence in the room for five minutes or more. The two men sat so still that the movements of the tall old-fashioned clock outside in the hall pounded like a hammer. The slow droning monotony of ticks woke up a far, far memory.
In hand was a small pen-and-ink sketch of the woman's head. Drawn with great care and by a true artist, evidenced by the woman's soul as it peered from those eyes. Parted lips offered an unnerving smile. Clarke scrutinized the face. It brought to his memory that summer evening, long ago. He saw again the long valley, the river winding between the hills, the meadows and the cornfields, the dull red sun, and the cold white mist rising from the water. He heard a voice speaking to him across the waves of many years, saying Clarke, Mary will see the god Pan! and then he was standing in the grim room beside the doctor, listening to the heavy ticking of the clock, waiting and observing, watching the figure sprawled on the green chair beneath the lamplight.
Mary. She rose up and he looked into her eyes. His heart grew frost from within.
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