Angels and Authors
April 1, 2009 4:21 PM   Subscribe

The British Expeditionary Force first faced the German troops at the Battle of Mons on August 23rd of 1914. The British forces accounted well for themselves, despite being heavily outnumbered. This miraculous victory was due to the aid of shining angelic figures which held the Germans back during the retreat, according to numerous accounts of those who saw the event. There is just one problem with this wonderful story.

It was made up.

The legend arose from a work of fiction written shortly after the battle by the Welsh author of fantasy Arthur Machen.

Machen's work deals largely with the idea that the world we inhabit overlays a more vivid, dangerous and vital one which human beings confront at their peril. Particularly celebrated is his short story 'The White People', ranked by Lovecraft with Algernon Blackwood's 'The Willows' (previously, scroll down) as one of the best weird stories ever written.

My personal favorite, though, is The Hill of Dreams.
posted by winna (24 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Mods: am I allowed to flag this post just because I misread it as being about the Battle of Mars, then realized it was, in fact, not, and then got very dissapointed? That's someone else's fault and not mine, right?

Anyway, I have totally never heard of this before. Pretty neat stuff, although I could have guessed that a story about World War One tactical angel deployment wasn't on the level.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 4:30 PM on April 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


May you live in interesting times.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:31 PM on April 1, 2009


If I was living in the horror of a World War I trench, my sales resistance to angels would be relatively low.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:41 PM on April 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


Not sure if they had trenches in the 1st German vs. English battle of WWI.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:43 PM on April 1, 2009


Not another MeFi post about White People!
posted by Abiezer at 5:21 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Machen's novella "The Great God Pan" is not only Lovecraftian before Lovecraft but Cronenbergesque before Cronenberg.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:33 PM on April 1, 2009


They're spooky, those White People!

Yes, there were trenches at Mons. That site is pretty fantastic, actually. I wish I had found it when I was looking for links. Here's a tale I hadn't heard before, and wish I hadn't: The Hound of Mons.

A fun read is also Mr. Punch's History of the Great War. If you don't read the HTML version you'll miss out on the illustrations.
posted by winna at 5:43 PM on April 1, 2009


Apparently the "Crucified Canadian" is another story that swept across the Wester Front in WWI. Even today, there are lots of proponents and opponents of the story's "truth" to be found. The safest position seems to be that it remains a controversy.
posted by Mike D at 5:55 PM on April 1, 2009


Marquis de Vauban could build a hell of a fortification...
posted by Kikkoman at 6:41 PM on April 1, 2009


Yes, there were trenches at Mons.

Wow, they were using trench warfare in the very first battle between those famous protagonists? Colour me pink, thanks.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:55 PM on April 1, 2009


Blackadder, WWI, final scene

http://www.metacafe.com/watch/yt-z3V698JzqC0/blackadder_final_scene/

Unfortunately I don't find the scene where they are discussing the last attack with their general. Blackadder holds a peace of grass (1 ft X 2 ft) in his hands.

The general says: great! You build a model of the land that we won in the last attack. What is the scale?

Blackadder responds: No, this is not a model, this IS the land we won.

General: Well, how many men did we lose?

Blackadder: 50.000

General: well, we showed the German bastards that we are tough!
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:43 PM on April 1, 2009


Yes, there were trenches at Mons.


heh.



heh.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:49 PM on April 1, 2009 [4 favorites]


winna: Yes, there were trenches at Mons.

uncanny hengeman: Wow... Colour me pink, thanks.


Heh heh, pt. 2
posted by koeselitz at 11:06 PM on April 1, 2009


Is this some sort of mons pubis double entendre I've walked into?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:23 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


I misread it as being about the Battle of Mars

Venus, shurely?
posted by MuffinMan at 3:16 AM on April 2, 2009


This miraculous victory was due to the aid of shining angelic figures which held the Germans back during the retreat

There is just one problem with this wonderful story.

It was made up.


Angels? Of course, it was made up.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:25 AM on April 2, 2009


minus the comma Of course it's made up. Stupid magical thinking.
posted by IvoShandor at 5:25 AM on April 2, 2009


Ignoring fannies for a moment, Flanders by Patricia Anthony is a rather good novel on this theme.
posted by ninebelow at 5:27 AM on April 2, 2009


Angels? Of course it was made up.

David Clarke (author of one of the links in the OP) has written extensively elsewhere on the Mons legend. It's easy to say "of course it's made up", but the interesting part is not about the reality of the angels, but the origin and growth of the legend. Servicemen and nurses returned from the frontlines swore that the story - or variants of it - was true and refused to budge in the face of Machen's publication. Several suggested that Machen had been somehow 'pre-inspired' to write about the event before it occurred, or was trying to cover it up. Clarke's work shows that it may have worked the other way around, there being legends about the angels floating around in the trenches that came to Machen's ear.

Clarke elsewhere suggests that in war lots of rumor or legend is put about, to cheer your own forces on ("See, God is on our side!") and to demonize or demoralise the enemy ("The Huns are nothing more than animals.") At the end of war, the legends of the losing side are forgotten while those of the winning side are immortalised, having been 'proven correct'.

We leave you to apply this theory to the Gulf wars on your own time.
posted by outlier at 6:08 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks, outlier. I wanted to bring out that aspect of the story and the origins of myths about the Great War, but couldn't think of a good way to do that without making the post absurdly long.

As a mea culpa, here's some links to books about memory and the war!

Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory

Jay Winter's Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning, which jumps off from Pierre Nora's Les Lieux de memoire.

I haven't read this one myself, but have had it recommended: Angus Caulder's Myth of the Blitz.

The way that people create the past out of a desire to validate the present is fascinating, and it's really a hot topic in history right now.
posted by winna at 9:15 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nice post, thanks! On the "Crucified Canadian," I have to say it would take a lot more evidence than seems to exist to counteract the strong presumption that it is yet another atrocity myth.

the interesting part is not about the reality of the angels, but the origin and growth of the legend.

No! Here on MetaFilter, the only interesting thing is always that THERE IS NO GOD AND NO ANGELS AND NOTHING SUPERNATURAL AND IT IS ALL IN YOUR MIND YOU GULLIBLE FOOLS! Once you've said that, you can lean back, satisfied, and congratulate yourself on being the all-wise bringer of Truth to the multitudes.
posted by languagehat at 11:07 AM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a long-time Machen fan I was delighted to read this post - thanks, winna.

The Hill of Dreams is my favourite work of his, too.

Not long before I left the UK I attended a get-together organised by The Friends of Arthur Machen, the highlight of which, for me, was a talk given by Machen enthusiast Barry Humphries, a memorably imposing fellow, even when not wearing a dress.

And a thread on Machen is a good excuse to praise the fine efforts of the Tartarus Press in keeping so much of his work in print.
posted by misteraitch at 3:01 AM on April 3, 2009


"Unfortunately I don't find the scene where they are discussing the last attack with their general. Blackadder holds a peace of grass (1 ft X 2 ft) in his hands. "

It's in Private Plane about 20 minutes in:

General Melchett to Lieutenant George St.Barleigh: "Look this is the amount of land we've recaptured since yesterday"
Lieutenant George St.Barleigh: "Oh excellent."
General Melchett: "Umm, What is the actual scale of this map Darling?"
Captain Darling: "Umm, 1:1 Sir."
General Melchett: "Come again?"
Captain Darling: "Ah. The map is actually life sized sir. It's superbly detailed." Points. "Look, there's a little worm."
General Melchett: "Oh yes. So the actual amount of land retaken is?"
Darling measures: "Excuse me sir." Consults tape. "Seventeen square feet sir."
General Melchett: "Excellent." To George. "So you see young BlackAdder didn't die horribly in vain after all."
posted by Mitheral at 8:45 PM on April 3, 2009


The Hound of Mons
posted by Artw at 10:38 PM on April 5, 2009


« Older Guitar music is on its way out.   |   Poetry @ Tech Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments