The Listener and Other Stories by Algernon Blackwood

algernon-henry-blackwood

As we close in on the end of the Great Month of October, it would be remiss of me not to pay further homage to my favorite author of the weird tale, Algernon Blackwood. He has made possible a good deal of my fiction, such as my Gothic horror story “The Shredded Tapestry.” That piece wouldn’t exist without two of his John Silence stories, “Ancient Sorceries” and “Secret Worship.”

Earlier this month, I looked at Blackwood’s fourth collection of stories, The Lost Valley. Today, I’m rolling back a few years. Blackwood’s second original collection of (mostly) supernatural tales, The Listener and Others, was published in 1907, following the success of The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories the previous year. The Listener is best known for the novella “The Willows,” often cited as Blackwood’s masterpiece. The collection also contains a first-rate non-supernatural suspense story and a running theme about characters suffering from the oppression of the everyday and longing to escape from it into Nature (always with a capital “N”)—a theme as close to Blackwood’s heart as anything in his life. The often nameless protagonists are trapped in a modern psychical emptiness that feels surprisingly like the early twenty-first century rather than the early twentieth.

Continue reading “The Listener and Other Stories by Algernon Blackwood”

The Lost Valley and Other Stories by Algernon Blackwood

NPG x2992; Algernon Henry Blackwood by Howard Coster

My favorite author of the “weird tale,” and by extension supernatural horror in general, is Algernon Blackwood. Blackwood was enormously popular as an author of ghost stories—or so they were classified—in the early decades of the twentieth century, and his legacy has stretched on through the many authors who learned their sense of the supernatural and the transcendental through his work. He was a direct influence on my Gothic horror story “The Shredded Tapestry.” With the possibly exception of M. R. James, Blackwood is the author most suited toward quiet reading on October nights.

Most readers came across Blackwood’s work in anthologies of ghost stories or in “Best of” collections like Penguin’s Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Tales. Small presses have brought out editions of Blackwood’s original collections as they were first published. The Complete John Silence Stories contains the full text of John Silence—Physician Extraordinary (1908), and there are also small press editions of Incredible Adventures (1914) and the volume I’m looking at here, The Lost Valley and Other Stories (1910), the fourth of Blackwood’s original collections. Since most of Blackwood’s work is in public domain, you can find ebooks containing almost all his short stories—with more or less adequate formatting—including the ones I’ll discuss below.

In the early twentieth century, Algernon Blackwood entered into a feverish creative period, penning a flood of classic stories and novels from his home in Switzerland. The Lost Valley and Other Stories was first published in 1910 by Eveleigh Nash, London. The novelette “The Wendigo” would turn into this volume’s most enduring and often reprinted story. I consider it a “must-read” for anyone with an interest in supernatural horror literature. But all ten novelettes and short stories in The Lost Valley and Other Stories are worthwhile reading for horror and fantasy enthusiasts. All but one have supernatural themes, and while some are horrific (“The Wendigo,” “The Terror of the Twins,” “Old Clothes,” “The Price of Wiggins’s Orgy”) others are gentle fantasies addressing Blackwood’s deification of nature and his belief in its transformative power (“The Man Who Played upon the Leaf,” “The Eccentricity of Simon Parnacute,” “Perspective”). The singular non-fantasy story, “The Price of Wiggins’s Orgy,” is the most overtly grotesque. The title novelette straddles a line between fear and wonder, making it an appropriate place for readers to begin their journey through Blackwood’s world of the weird.

Continue reading “The Lost Valley and Other Stories by Algernon Blackwood”