Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy 143rd birthday, Algernon Blackwood

(Preface: I'm certain that Algernon Blackwood would like for you to read this post -- and, more importantly, his stories -- alone, at night, with the lights out and preferably when there's a thunderstorm bearing down outside.)

Today is Algernon Blackwood's 143rd birthday. He's been dead for 60 years, but he's still giving readers the creeps. If you enjoy ghost and horror stories and don't know of Blackwood, let him be the one author you discover in 2012.

You won't be disappointed.

Blackwood, who was born and died in Kent County, England, spent time as a hotel manager, newspaper reporter, milk farmer, bartender and violin teacher, among other occupations. He was a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He loved the outdoors and he was interested in the paranormal, as he was a member of The Ghost Club and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a group devoted to magic and the occult.

And he wrote ghost stories. Truly great ghost stories.

"The Willows," "The Wendigo," and "Ancient Sorceries" are among his most well-known tales. He also wrote, among his dozens of short stories, a series of tales about physician/ghost-hunter John Silence.

Here is the opening passage of one of my favorite Blackwood tales, 1906's "The Empty House":

"Certain houses, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil. In the case of the latter, no particular feature need betray them; they may boast an open countenance and an ingenuous smile; and yet a little of their company leaves the unalterable conviction that there is something radically amiss with their being: that they are evil. Willy nilly, they seem to communicate an atmosphere of secret and wicked thoughts which makes those in their immediate neighbourhood shrink from them as from a thing diseased.

"And, perhaps, with houses the same principle is operative, and it is the aroma of evil deeds committed under a particular roof, long after the actual doers have passed away, that makes the gooseflesh come and the hair rise. Something of the original passion of the evil-doer, and of the horror felt by his victim, enters the heart of the innocent watcher, and he becomes suddenly conscious of tingling nerves, creeping skin, and a chilling of the blood. He is terror-stricken without apparent cause."
It actually reminds me slightly of the classic opening of "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, which was not published until a half-century later.

My other personal favorites by Blackwood include "The Other Wing" and "The Listener," a creepy epistolary tale.

Above: The three volumes of Blackwood tales I own.

Many of Blackwood's stories are in the public domain and can be downloaded at Project Gutenberg.

Or seek them out at your public library. Or your local used-book store. But definitely seek them out. You won't be sorry. Or perhaps, heh, you will be.


  1. Chris.

    May I remind you that the name "Algernon" is in your heritage. John Algernon Otto was your great great grnadfather, father of John Alexander Otto and grandfather of yours truly.

    He lived to be 92 years old. I can't remember the exact year he passed away but it was in the late 60's. He was a stone mason. He built the
    stone face church I attended as a kid; Calvary Methodist Church, Easton, PA.

    He was not the least bit scary as Algernon Blackwood.


  2. Dang. Your Dad beat me to it! I was going to suggest that you were somehow drawn to this author through some psychic connection to the name!