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Posted July 20, 2000
A few thoughts on Algernon Blackwood :
Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) was a fascinating writer. Although he wrote in other forms-- children stories and an autobiography, for example-- it is for his horror/supernatural stories that he is best remembered. His The Willows (included in this anthology) is often singled out as the best English-language supernatural story. Blackwood lived for periods in the US and Canada, but wrote mostly in his birthplace, England. His writing career spanned about 1905-1945, with peak productivity around 1910. Taking 1910 as a benchmark, Blackwood's writing falls about halfway between the pioneers of the horror/supernatural genre (Mary Shelley, John Polidori, et al) and the present. Because of his extended writing career, his earlier and later works have a noticeably different 'feel', the later works having a simpler, more modern style. He left no stylistic direct descendant, though Lovecraft is often mentioned. If there is one theme connecting Blackwood's supernatural writings it is the Platonic idea that 'ordinary' reality is but a façade, behind which lie other realities, awesome, but inaccessible. Of course many religions share this premise. But whereas their 'other reality' is vastly superior to the one we know, in Blackwood it is grimmer and darker. Blackwood serves up this idea in several flavors: 1) alien creatures from another dimension (The Willows), 2) elementals or animistic spirits (Glamour of the Snow, The Transfer, Ancient Lights), 3) devil-worshiping monks (Secret Worship), 4) people and entire towns with secret lives (Ancient Sorceries), 5) conventional ghost stories (The Empty House, The Other Wing, Keeping His Promise), 6) Jekyll/Hyde duality (Max Hensig). A few stories, such as The Wendigo, are hard to characterize, seemingly falling into several categories. To what extent must a writer actually believe his/her ideas to be effective? Specifically, does a ghost-story writer need to believe in ghosts? Not consciously perhaps, but on some level almost certainly. Apropos of this, much has been made of Blackwood's Sandermanian background. An extreme Calvanistic sect, the Sandermanians placed great emphasis on sin and perdition. In adult life Blackwood seemingly rejected these teachings, and turned to other religions. But can highly emotional concepts, acquired early in childhood, ever truly be purged? Perhaps not. Certainly, one may loosen their ties with the persona, and hence diminish their influence on daily life. The kernel (of the ideas) however largely remains intact, and constantly strives to form new meaningful connections. This ceaseless search for connectivity might explain Blackwood¿s creativity. It might also explain some inconsistencies in Blackwood¿s works: the effectiveness of his masterpiece, The Willows, lies in its premise of an intelligence vastly powerful, yet so utterly alien 'it has nothing to do with us.' Lacking an avenue of appeal, when confronted by such an intelligence we are reduced to insignificance, helplessness, and finally utter terror. Yet, toward the end of the story, this alien intelligence is seemingly 'propitiated' by a human 'sacrifice.' Why so? If human lives are nothing to it, why not 10,000 victims - or none at all? It seems that Old Testament ideas of sacrifices and burnt-offerings are intruding here. (Incidentally, the idea of totally alien intelligence also occurs in the cult classic, Killer Clowns from Outer Space.) Does this anthology really contain all the best ghost stories of Blackwood? Yes, by and large, it does! However, Blackwood was quite prolific, so it would be easy to compile a second anthology very nearly as good as this one. (Perhaps Dover can be convinced of the merits of this.) Two personal favorites that I would include in such a collection are, The Strange Adventures of a Private Secretary in New York, a kind of werewolf story in which the lycanthropy appears to be induced by chemical experiments - and The Doll, quite possibly the inspirat
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Posted December 2, 2003
just plain scary
Didn't like all of the stories, but a few of them scared the daylights out of me...I suggest reading them when you can't sleep
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