Review: Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood
The bleak, ancient, charnel terrors of a Canadian backwood in the loneliness of a brutal winter; the fever-pitch horror of an apartment tenanted by a vague memory of something ‘other’ and dripping with disease; the vicious portent of things not yet transpired, when seen through the eyes of a troubled and unwilling ‘accessory’ to tragedy; a haunted woodland; a peculiar, abandoned house—Algernon Blackwood’s spellbinding hand weaves each of these, the mundane as much as the startlingly original, into dark jewels of unwavering elegance. Never presumptuous, and yet always the portrait of sophistication, Blackwood’s brooding visions are full of the stuff of nightmare: and yet also dreamy, uncertain testimonies to the merciless and mystic facets of a Nature so close to man, and yet so incredibly distinct from him.
Favorites of mine here, in a collection more easily available and more diverse than other Blackwood offerings, include: ‘The Listener,’ which I would consider the most overwhelmingly unnerving and supremely horrifying tale I’ve ever read; ‘Accessory Before the Fact’ and ‘The Empty House,’ both popular Blackwood tales, which operate on more typical ‘supernatural’ levels than the more complex musings found elsewhere in this collection, but are nonetheless especially engrossing and quite scary; and ‘The Wendigo,' which is so blackly atmospheric that, a hundred years after being penned, it still resonates deeply on a level that is difficult to touch in the hearts of men and women who live so far removed from the Nature explored here.
Algernon Blackwood is, by a hair, my favorite author of the short story, and a singular treasure for readers of Weird fiction and the Gothic alike, who will experience a profound and moving admiration for what is truly the horror story elevated to art: there is terror here, certainly, but it is a terror that can only be explained as ‘beautiful’ in its own strange and otherworldly way. Never cliché, a master of atmosphere, and a glowing icon of the genre, Blackwood is required reading.