Forbidden Tomes: THE STORIES OF ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

 

Nature, and the wilderness, has always been discussed and mused over in literature. So few authors, however, have been able to capture its true persona: something massive and terrifying that we cannot understand. Few artists have better captured the awe and horror of the wilderness than Algernon Blackwood.

Algernon Blackwood

One of the great influencers of H.P. Lovecraft, Blackwood got his start writing articles for adventurer and outdoors magazines – hunting, rafting, cross-country travelling, and various other subjects. His legacy lies in his fiction, though, which is centered around the same concepts. Blackwood himself was an adventurous man, often writing from experience. The stories he conjured are enough to convince us that we should avoid his tracks at all costs.

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His most famous tales – “The Willows,” “Ancient Sorceries” and my personal favorite, “The Wendigo” – place their protagonists, always level-headed and intelligent people, in the midst of the wilderness. There they encounter a force beyond their reckoning that brushes them for a moment, leaving them shaken and in deathly danger. Whether it’s riverside reeds that act as a barrier between our world and that of immense gods, or a wintry specter who rides on the wind and takes human souls, the force is always beautiful in a way, but also terrifying. In some cases, it is seductive, and traps its human prisoners before destroying them.

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Blackwood is remarkable in his ability to describe a setting – the Montana forests, the banks of the Danube, or even a normal townhouse – in a vivid way, then filling it with hallucinatory events that make the reader question reality. He is possibly one of the first practitioners of psychological horror. It’s all the more effective for his attention to the real places and people of his stories. Surrealism is easy to dismiss, but when it roots itself in a recognizable world, it becomes equally as real.

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While my favorite of his stories deal with wilderness, he also wrote incredible stories of haunted houses and occult dabblings – surreal, chilling evocations of the supernatural. Blackwood himself practiced the occult, belonging to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and these beliefs are reflected in these stories. Their themes of reincarnation (“The Insanity of Jones”) or experiments with beings from beyond the veil (“An Episode in a Lodging House”) are powerful, and have clear influence on authors like H.P. Lovecraft who cemented that type of horror.

For fiction that is at once beautiful and frightening, awe-inspiring and repulsive, Blackwood cannot be trumped. He creates works of sublime fear in a way that few others have attempted. As the winter wind moans outside, his stories will remind us of our place in the world, and the vast things that move beyond.

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