Pese a que podamos pensar, basándonos en el título, que se trata de la típica historia de ultratumba, no deja de sorprendernos esta magnífica novela ambientada en una localidad de Gales en los años de la I Guerra Mundial en la que se relata una serie de crímenes, de diferente nivel de horror, aparentemente sin relación entre ellos.
La narración constituye un pormenorizado retrato de la reacción de la sociedad contemporánea antes fenómenos totalmente inexplicables que vienen a enfrentarse claramente a las bases de nuestra conciencia actual en la que el mundo, la realidad que nos rodea, no es sino el hábitat del ser humano. Una cómoda pecera en la que la humanidad se las ha arreglado para erigirse como nación soberana.
Rafael Llopis ya indica que ese será el gran cambio conseguido por Arthur Machen, dentro de la tradición del miedo, al iniciar una nueva tendencia en el género del terror basada en el enfrentamiento del hombre moderno ante una nueva realidad, demasiado fantástica para su conciencia. Una realidad en la que los poderes naturales escapan al control humano y cuya aparición ante el hombre originará una mezcla de fascinación y horror.
El autor realizará un relato pormenorizado de los acontecimientos con el rigor de un periodista en un estillo directo y conciso, casi científico en su discurso lógico. Facilitará pruebas que lleven al lector hacia un abanico de posibilidades que motivarán que alcance el mismo nivel de desconcierto sufrido por los propios personajes de la novela para acabar concluyendo que el nuevo horror no se basa en brujas y fantasmas sino en que la realidad puede que no sea tan matemáticamente perfecta como creemos.
Leamos un breve fragmento del inicio de esta novela en su versión original, tal como la escribió Machen en 1917:
1. The Coming of the Terror
After two years we are turning once more to the morning’s news with a sense of appetite and glad expectation. There were thrills at the beginning of the war: the thrill of horror and of a doom that seemed at once incredible and certain; this was when Namur fell and the German host swelled like a flood over the French fields, and drew very near to the walls of Paris. Then we felt the thrill of exultation when the good news came that the awful tide had been turned back, that Paris and the world were safe; for awhile at all events.
Then for days we hoped for more news as good as this or better. Has von Kluck been surrounded? Not to-day, but perhaps he will be surrounded to-morrow. But the days became weeks, the weeks drew out to months; the battle in the west seemed frozen. Now and again things were done that seemed hopeful, with promise of events still better. But Neuve Chapelle and Loos dwindled into disappointments as their tale was told fully; the lines in the west remained, for all practical purposes of victory, immobile. Nothing seemed to happen, there was nothing to read save the record of operations that were clearly trifling and insignificant. People speculated as to the reason of this inaction; the hopeful said that Joffre had a plan, that he was “nibbling,” others declared that we were short of munitions, others again that the new levies were not yet ripe for battle. So the months went by, and almost two years of war had been completed before the motionless English line began to stir and quiver as if it awoke from a long sleep, and began to roll onward, overwhelming the enemy.
The secret of the long inaction of the British armies has been well kept. On the one hand it was rigorously protected by the censorshop, which severe, and sometimes severe to the point of absurdity—”the captains and the . . . depart,” for instance—became in this particular matter ferocious. As soon as the real significance of that which was happening, or beginning to happen, was perceived by the authorities, an underlined circular was issued to the newspaper proprietors of Great Britain and Ireland. It warned each proprietor that he might impart the contents of this circular to one other person only, such person being the responsible editor of his paper, who was to keep the communication secret under the severest penalties. The circular forbade any mention of certain events that had taken place, that might take place; it forbade any kind of allusion to these events or any hint of their existence, or of the possibility of their existence, not only in the press, but in any form whatever. The subject was not to be alluded to in conversation, it was not to be hinted at, however obscurely, in letters; the very existence of the circular, its subject apart, was to be a dead secret………………………….