Following the Old Ways: A Review of The White People

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:

 – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier

 – talk about it online sometime in January

 – have fun

If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 


Title
: The White People

Author: Arthur Machen

Publisher: Horlick’s Magazine

Publication Date: 1904

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Historical

Length: 56 pages

Source: It’s free to read here

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

A discussion between two men on the nature of evil leads one of them to reveal a mysterious Green Book he possesses. It is a young girl’s diary, in which she describes in ingenuous, evocative prose her strange impressions of the countryside in which she lives as well as conversations with her nurse, who initiates her into a secret world of folklore and black magic.

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Be careful what you wish for.

One of the things I liked the most about this short story was the scientific and methodical manner in which the two main characters went about trying to determine what the Green Book truly was and what happened to the young girl whose diary entries lead them to discover the existence of this book. They were truly interested in getting to the truth. While some portions of the storyline definitely veered further into horror and fantasy than they did pure science fiction, the fact that the protagonists believed everything should have a logical explanation kept me reading until I’d reached the final sentence. That urge to discover the truth is one of the reasons why I love science fiction so much!

This was set at a time when scientific explanations for all sorts of natural phenomena were rapidly beginning to replace the fairy and folk tales that had once explained any number of things that wouldn’t have made sense to the average person. There are some things that lay beyond the purview of science, however, and other ones like psychology or what could be interpreted as certain mental or physical illnesses by modern day readers that weren’t well understood at all in this era.

The epilogue was my favourite part of this tale due to how much effort Ambrose and Cotgrave put into deciphering the unnamed young girl’s diary. She was so purposefully vague about certain details that they could be interpreted in a wide variety of ways as I mentioned earlier. This was also a nice addendum to the conversation Cotgrave and Ambrose had earlier about what the definition of sin should actually be and why many people’s understanding of this topic might not be as well-rounded or accurate as they assume. I can’t go into any more detail about that, but I do encourage anyone who is intrigued to read this for themselves.

If you love the fuzzy area between facts and flights of fancy, The White People might be right up your alley.

4 Responses to Following the Old Ways: A Review of The White People

  1. Vintage science fiction is really a neat sub-genre, essentially! This one sounds fascinating.

    You know, in many ways I wish I had my university degree to do over. I got a BA in English and didn’t specialize in anything, but vintage sci-fi could be a marvelous field of study.

    • It’s a fantastic sub-genre for sure!

      I wish I could redo my university degree, too. Vintage sci-fi would be such an interesting thing to specialize in.

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