Arthur Machen was a leading Welsh author of the 1890s. He is best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction. His long story “The Great God Pan” made him famous and controversial in his lifetime, but The Hill of Dreams is generally considered his masterpiece. He also is well known for his leading role in creating the legend of the Angels of Mons.
The novel recounts the life of a young man, Lucian Taylor, focusing on his dreamy childhood in rural Wales, in a town based on Caerleon. The Hill of Dreams of the title is an old Roman fort where Lucian has strange sensual visions, including ones of the town in the time of Roman Britain. Later it describes Lucian’s attempts to make a living as an author in London, enduring poverty and suffering in the pursuit of art. Generally thought to be Machen’s greatest work, it was little noticed on its publication in 1907 save in a glowing review by Alfred Douglas. It was actually written between 1895 and 1897 and has elements of the style of the decadent and aesthetic movement of the period, seen through Machen’s own mystical preoccupations.
Lucian Taylor is damned, either through contact with an erotically pagan faerie world or through something degenerate in his own nature. He thinks of the damning thing inside him as a faun. He becomes a writer, and when he moves to London he becomes trapped by the increasing reality of the dark imaginings of this creature within him, which become increasingly real. The portrait of a doomed artist: a man not unlike Machen himself.