The Magician

Here’s a suitable Staffordshire novel ‘find’ for Halloween. Somerset Maugham’s The Magician. Maugham poked fun at the occult loon Aleister Crowley, who the novel lightly disguises as the central character of ‘the Magician’ “Oliver Haddo”. Much of the final part of the book concerns Haddo’s lonely mansion house in Staffordshire, and the Dreadful Things That Were Being Made there (music: dah, dah, daharr!). Regrettably Maugham, like most of his class, wrongly considered Staffordshire to be in “the north” and he also shows scant interest in evoking recognisable topographical detail. But there are some details as to the whereabouts…

“At length, after much tiresome changing [of trains], they reached Venning.”

A cart goes from “Venning, Staffordshire, some three miles from Skene”

“three miles across the barren heath that lay between Venning and Skene.”

“the woods of Skene”

Skene itself is depicted as set amid wide and barren moorland…

“the solitary road that led to Skene. On each side the heather stretched into the dark night, and there was a blackness about it that was ominous. There was no sound save that of their own steps. Dimly, under the stars, they saw the desolation with which they were surrounded.”

It thus seems likely that either Cannock Chase or the Staffordshire Moorlands was intended as the setting for the house of the ‘magician’. Given the difficult of reaching the village of Venning by train, the setting must be the Staffordshire Moorlands.

“They walked with difficulty through the tangled bracken, among closely planted trees. They stumbled, and once Dr Porhoet fell. It seemed that they went a long way. Susie’s heart beat fast with anxiety. All her weariness was forgotten.

Then Arthur stopped them, and he pointed in front of him. Through an opening in the trees, they saw the house. All the windows were dark except those just under the roof, and from them came bright lights.

‘Those are the attics which he uses as a laboratory. You see, he is working now. There is no one else in the house.’

Susie was curiously fascinated by the flaming lights. There was an awful mystery in those unknown labours which absorbed Oliver Haddo night after night till the sun rose. What horrible things were done there, hidden from the eyes of men? By himself in that vast house the madman performed ghastly experiments; and who could tell what dark secrets he trafficked in?

‘There is no danger that he will come out,’ said Arthur. ‘He remains there till the break of day.’

H.P. Lovecraft it is not, but the final descriptions of the creepy house interior seem well done.


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