As I read through these collections of Machen's weird tales the themes that he was pre-occuppied with become more readily apparent. Perhaps it's because, as he went on, he got increasingly frustrated by society's refusal to heed his word, and made his points in more heavy handed and explicit ways.
In this collection, increasingly under attack is the rational materialism that Machen feels too completely dominates his contemporary society. Our spiritualist side is dwindling and, as a consequence, our understanding of the world around us is becomming more superficial and our lives becomming more hollow and unfulfilling.
In "The Red Hand" we see the wonderful, lateral thinking Dyson investigate another mystery on the fog cloaked streets of London. In "The White People", the true nature of evil and sin is explored as we follow a young girl's unwitting descent into demonic union. Not all of the stories here are concerned with horror or the supernatural. "A Fragment of Life" portrays a man's awakening to the hollowness of modern life and rediscovery of his true heritage. Also included here are the story vignettes collectively referred to as "Ornaments of Jade" but are all quite different. The explore similar themes and illustrate Machen's prose at it's finest.
Later on, WWI comes to dominate most of Machen's fictional writing. Stories of miracles occurring on the battlefield that save the beleaguered English army from certain defeat at the hands of the Germans (some of which were taken as factual accounts by some readers). In "The Coming of the Terror", a strange series of horrific and unexplained deaths sweep the countryside that many suspect are the results of some form of secret German weapon. This story once again becomes a tool to attack society's rational materialism. The animal kingdom itself rises up and turns against us due to our loss of spiritualism.
As good a writer as he is, he's not up there with the likes of his best contemporaries such as Algernon Blackwood and Lord Dunsany. In my opinion both of these were superior wordsmiths, wrote to a more consistantly high standard and were more varied in their use of themes. Unlike these two, who I would happilly pick up and read anything I could find by them, I feel one needs to be more selective with Machen.
I'm very pleased to have read this volume (and the one preceeding it) but I doubt if I'll seek out anything else by him.