Saturday, June 19, 2010
The Influental Work of Algernon Blackwood
Thanks to my good friend, author Ben Eads, he and I are spotlighting authors of the past and present as major influences of horror writers everywhere, and are hoping to turn some people on to the great masters, should they be living in a cave.
Today's spotlight is on Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951), who was mainly known for his ghost stories but a prolific author who expounded on various topics and achieved much more than the mere "ghost story author" tag. Because of the eclectic mix of mysticism, spiritualism and psychology, S. T. Joshi stated that "his work is more consistently meritorious than any weird writer's except Lord Dunsany's." H. P. Lovecraft said his supernatural, mystical undertones put him on a par with Arthur Machen and called his story, "The Willows," the best modern short story he'd ever read.
Algernon was born in Shooter's Hill, now Kent, England, to a well-to-do religous family headed by his father, a high official in the British Post Office. Refusing to conform to their Sandemanian conversion which landed them in an ultra-Calvinistic sect, young Algernon was educated at Wellington College and worked a number of tedious jobs (as I have also done), finding himself no good at these Just Over Brokes. He moved to New York and lived in abject poverty. A weaker man might have given up, but Blackwood found himself in the good graces of a wealthy man and was soon writing for the New York Times, as well as being an occasional essayist for various periodicals.
The pivotal point in his life came when he moved back to England in his thirties and began to write tales of the supernatural. Penning at least ten short story collections (so many, in fact, he couldn't count them all), he soon told these tales on radio and television. He not only joined The Ghost Club, but was an avid enthusiast of nature, likely to be skiing or mountain-climbing when not working on his horrific stories. A loner, his cheerful demeanor moved those he dealt with when venturing out in public. Known for his qabbalistic factions, he eventually joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Blackwood is best known for not only "The Willows," but also for his short story, "The Wendigo," the best tale ever written about the enormous Indian werewolf, told through the eyes of the protagonist as his friend is carried into the sky by a giant-sized monster.
His first book in 1906, The Empty House, was followed by The Listener (1907). Not limited to the horror genre, his other tomes include The Human Chord (1910), The Lost Valley (1910), The Centaur (1911), Pan's Garden (1912), Incredible Adventures (1914), Ten Minute Stories (1914), Julius LeVallon (1916), Day and Night Stories (1917), The Wolves of God (1921), The Bright Messenger (1922) and Tongues of Fire (1924).
His range of influence on my work comes from what he calls "a series of shocks," catching the reader off-guard with what he called "grotesqueries (a word I now use in abundance)." My favorite Blackwood tale is "Ancient Sorceries," a titillating piece about a small, nerdy man looked down on by conventional society. He gets off a train at the wrong stop to embark on an adventure which becomes the thrill-ride of his life. He checks into an inn and, the owner's daughter, a seventeen year old vivacious girl, leads him into a racious romance. He comes to find out this child is a reincarnated witch who's deathly afraid of fire because she was burned to death in the inquisition.
No one can deny Algernon Blackwood's contribution to the horror genre, a true master of not only the ghost story but of every kind of macabre tale, a forerunner of today's trend, Wiccan horror, in stories like "Ancient Lights." Algernon Blackwood is a must-read for anyone serious about becoming a horror author.
This blogger owes a thanks to literature and Web sites. Information based on research from E. F. Bleiler's introduction in Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood, the Wikipedia article on Algernon Blackwood and the Web site, The Literary Gothic.