The first Algernon Blackwood story I ever read was 'The Nemesis Of Fire', which to a [long ago] teenager has everything - a remote dwelling harbouring odd inhabitants; Egyptology; unexplained fires; a bowl of hot blood; the dread-filled chase of an unseen entity, the panic-stricken tone of which made my flesh creep, and an unpleasant crawl through a claustrophobic crumbling tunnel. What's not to like? Why has nobody filmed this? [Mark Gatiss, I'm looking at you...]. I then read 'Ancient Sorceries', which is a great story that gets darker and more menacing as it progresses. Now here's an odd thing: every time I read it, I start thinking about the TV show 'The Avengers', to be more accurate, the Emma Peel era shows. I have pondered this, and although there is no logical reason for this, I think that the seemingly indifferent people and weirdly empty streets that Mr Arthur Vezin encounters, are linked in my mind to the oddly depopulated England [including London!] of The Avengers. Or I'm losing it big-time. Years ago, I went to Wales on a camping holiday with some friends. I took some books with me, as I always do, and one was a collection of stories including 'The Willows', which I read one wet and windy night, in my tent. Very possibly the very stupidest place to read this tale, because not only was the weather foul, but we had camped near a river, and very near some Willow trees. Thankfully, they didn't get any nearer, but the story stuck in my mind, and kept me from sleeping properly for several nights. Damn you, Mr Blackwood!
''...You'll like Mr Barlow... And he'll like you...''
"The Trod" is an interesting tale. The allusion to the role of the silver crucifix is part of what makes this different from a lot of other literature in the genre. I also think the end paragraph is a very effective unveiling of everything that came before it.
I was at a loose end last Friday and took up Blackwood's novel The Centaur again, roughly where I had left off reading it a year or two ago. It is by far the oddest thing by him I have ever come across. If it were by almost any other writer, I would describe it as an exercise in psychedelic nature-mysticism with some sort of heavily veiled, heavily coded homoerotic undertow. But with Blackwood, all bets are off. And for me, all facile modern attempts at categorization fail.
I do not think it is at all the kind of thing the typical Vault reader would want to tackle. It's only horrifying to someone like Arthur Machen, or Lovecraft, for whom revelations of non-human forms of consciousness, and the possibility that the most austere Pagan metaphysicians might have understood more of the true nature of reality than the mumblings of Christian theologians or positivistic scientists--the accepted "normal" outlook of educated people circa 1910--were apparently the ultimate in horror.
Anyhow I was looking at articles about Blackwood. This seems like a good one.
I really don't think Lovecraft found The Centaur horrible. In Supernatural Horror In Literature he described it as very dreamlike. It is a pagan spiritual work. I read it completely immersed, perhaps ten years ago, and thought it was one of the very best books I had ever read. Because it was a Revelation. I have not looked into it again, but back then I considered it my Bible.
Lovecraft was also interested in Greek Mythology and the energies it described in Nature, and considered himself a pagan. He found both beauty and horror within the supernatural.
Lovecraft... considered himself a pagan. He found both beauty and horror within the supernatural.
Nonsense. Lovecraft consistently described himself as an atheist and a materialist. Here's a couple of quotes -
“All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hair-splitter to pretend that I don't regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist” - Letter to Robert E. Howard, 1932.
“I am, indeed, an absolute materialist so far as actual belief goes; with not a shred of credence in any form of supernaturalism—religion, spiritualism, transcendentalism, metempsychosis, or immortality” - Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, 1925.
Here's an interesting description of Blackwood by journalist Justine Glass (I think this was a pseudonym, but I've never tried to find out more information about her). In the 1965 book Witchcraft, the Sixth Sense, discussing distinguished members of the Golden Dawn, Glass mentioned Blackwood and how much she admired "The Man Whom the Trees Loved." She continued:
"He was himself a fascinating person; very tall, with (when I met him) a very lined face. He had enormous almost aquamarine-coloured eyes which looked not only at but through you and beyond--to the farthermost horizons, it seemed." (p. 63)
Lovecraft consistently described himself as an atheist and a materialist.
Yes, in letters to colleagues and others, when he was concerned about presenting himself as a rational, intelligent, sensible man. But from an artistic aesthetic point of view he was a dreamer and pagan, very spiritual, sensitive, definitely not materialist. When he was younger he even built an altar to the Greek Gods in his room. This partly helped shape his literary expression, perhaps most clearly notable in his early "Dunsanian" phase. A man may have many sides.