Ah, unrequited love. Boy signs his name on a love letter. Girl signs her name on a restraining order. I used to think that only humans experienced one-sided attractions, but lately I’ve realised that words do, too.
Sentences that mention Megadeth often also mention Metallica, but the reverse doesn’t apply: sentences that mention Metallica almost never mention Megadeth. One is far more famous than the other, so the attraction only flows one way. Likewise, sentences that mention The Hidden Fortress also usually mention Star Wars, but sentences that involve Star Wars almost never mention The Hidden Fortress.
This same rule applies to early 20th century weird fiction author Algernon Blackwood. It’s hard to find anything about him that doesn’t immediately compare him to HP Lovecraft. Perhaps not the strangest comparison in the world: they wrote about the alien, the eldritch, the unknowable. And they were both masters at keeping unspeakable terrors offscreen while not leaving the reader feeling cheated.
But Blackwood was different to Lovecraft. He wrote more ghost stories. He could be playful and mischievous. But most of all, his stories sometimes had a sense of quiet, unpretentious realism, as though he was writing about things that really could happen. His real life fascination with sorcery and the occult shines through in his fiction. When man is pitted against monster, Blackwood takes the side of the monster.
This collection has nine of Blackwood’s tales. “The Wendigo” and “The Willows” are very famous stories about brushes with the unknown. “The Man the Trees Loved” is a curious, whimsical offering – more similar to Lord Dunsany than anything in Weird Tales. “An Episode in a Lodging House” is about a renter using an ancient spell to bring down the boundary between worlds.
But my favorite two stories are two of the lessor known ones. “The Man Who Found Out” is a brilliant wind-up and release about a secret that causes anyone who learns of it to kill themselves. And the horrific “The Insanity of Jones” is about someone who begins to suspect that his boss murdered him in a past life. Both of these stories are tight, lean, and spellbinding.
Blackwood’s writing has aged well, and he’s well worth reading for reasons other than the fact that HP Lovecraft liked him. There’s more complete volumes of Blackwood’s stories, but this has enough to give a good introduction to his work.