Algernon Blackwood

Blackwood by Ianus

Algernon Blackwood

Illustration by Ianus

Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) was a prolific writer and is probably one of the forgotten masters of the horror genre.  He was a favorite of H.P. Lovecraft as the three quotes below (from www.hplovecraft.com) illustrate:

“Aside from Poe, I think Algernon Blackwood touches me most closely—& this in spite of the oceans of unrelieved puerility which he so frequently pours forth. I am dogmatic enough to call The Willows the finest weird story I have ever read, & I find in the Incredible Adventures & John Silence material a serious & sympathetic understanding of the human illusion-weaving process which makes Blackwood rate far higher as a creative artist than many another craftsman of mountainously superior word-mastery & general technical ability…” (to Vincent Starrett, 6 December 1927)

“He actually analyses and reproduces faithfully the details of the persistent human illusion of—and out-reaching toward—a misty world of vari-coloured wonders, transcended natural laws, limitless possibilities, delighted discoveries, and ceaseless adventurous expentancy…. Of all Blackwood’s voluminous output, only a golden minimum represents him at his best—but that is such a marvellous best that we can well forgive him all his slush and prattle. It is my firm opinion that his longish short story The Willows is the greatest weird tale ever written. (with Machen’s The White People as a good second.) Little is said—everything is suggested!” (to Fritz Leiber, 9 November 1936)

“It is safe to say that Blackwood is the greatest living weirdist despite unevenness and a poor prose style.” (to Willis Conover, 10 January 1937)

Blackwood pursued a variety of jobs and careers during his lifetime, but based on the current Wikipedia article about him, his two main passions seem to have been writing and mysticism.  According to this article, Blackwood once wrote to Peter Penzoldt:

“My fundamental interest, I suppose, is signs and proofs of other powers that lie hidden in us all; the extension, in other words, of human faculty. So many of my stories, therefore, deal with extension of consciousness; speculative and imaginative treatment of possibilities outside our normal range of consciousness. … Also, all that happens in our universe is natural; under Law; but an extension of our so limited normal consciousness can reveal new, extra-ordinary powers etc., and the word “supernatural” seems the best word for treating these in fiction. I believe it possible for our consciousness to change and grow, and that with this change we may become aware of a new universe. A “change” in consciousness, in its type, I mean, is something more than a mere extension of what we already possess and know.”

His two best known stories are The Willows and The Wendigo.  I have not read The Wendigo yet, but I started The Willows two days ago and am into Chapter II currently.  So far, it is very well written with a beautiful description of a canoe trip down the Danube.  Towards the end of Chapter I, Blackwood begins to slowly bring out some eerie aspects of an island on which the narrator and his Swedish traveling companion have pitched camp for the night.  With the beginning of Chapter II, the supernatural element begins to build ominously in a way that somehow reminds me of Mussorgsky’s symphony “Night on Bald Mountain”.  If you are familiar with Mussorgsky’s opus, you know how I suspect the story will develop.    I look forward to finishing The Willows as soon as possible and beginning The Wendigo shortly thereafter.

Thoughts?  Comments?

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