“They rose upwards in a continuous stream from earth to sky, vanishing utterly as soon as they reached the dark of the sky.”
-Excerpt from The Willows, by Algernon Black.
The triumph of The Terror turned into the trepidatious tale of The Willows.
Say it slowly. Doesn’t his name just make you want to shout? Whether you shout in joy or in pain is up to you, however . . .
Allow me to take a few moments, just to compare Blackwood with Lovecraft. I’m no expert on either, I’ll be the first to admit, but I’m fairly certain I’m a good judge at feelings. The feeling I get when I read or even hear the name Algernon Blackwood is fear. Not an overwhelming fear. No. Just a hint. Less is more, as they always say. It’s the subtle type of fear, that insidious fear which worms its way into your mind, turning it against you.
When I hear HP Lovecraft I feel something close to romance. But a more philosophical kind. It’s also an enigmatic name all in itself. Because it’s an unassuming name. It’s like a whispered challenge at the back of your mind. Just when you think you’ve made up your mind about the man, when you’ve thought you’ve figured him out, he presents you with a silver plate.
The horrors of his mind are on that plate.
A little plate of dread that you never expected. Not even once.
What’s more is that in each story that plate has a nice cover; you can cover what you wish to ignore.
If you can already see something then you can readily hide it with relative ease. A small mercy.
When I began reading The Willows I had no idea what to expect. What strikes me now about the story is that it starts very innocently. A man is recounting his experience of a certain expedition made with a friend. The two are paddling down a European river in their Canadian canoe.
Why? I don’t know. Why not?
I was reminded strongly of the two friends in The Hound. However, whereas the two in The Hound were complete idiots, the two in The Willows were not. These men didn’t mess around with things they didn’t understand. They stuck to their guns.
In this trepidatious tale I was taken on a journey which suddenly took a rather unexpected turn. I was presented with things I never would have expected from Blackwood. I finished the story in two or three days. It both disturbed and satisfied me.
I saw much of myself in that story. Not from the characters themselves, but from their experience. As I read on I was presented with ideas not unlike my own. I was perturbed all the way through.
It was my ability to relate to the story which frightened me the most.
Algernon Blackwood has no mercy. The Willows had no convenient cover. He fixed up the plate and then kept it on the kitchen table for everyone to see.
It looked delightful and we took a bite.
Then the bite bit back. And it wouldn’t let go. As the pain grew and grew our eyes opened wider, and we began to see all that there was to see.
But only a little.
Because a little is a lot!
Our minds then completed the rest of his dangerous design.
We spun about, downward in a dreadful spiral, and we all knew . . . How could we be so unassuming?
“We’d better get off sharp in an hour,” I said presently, feeling for an opening that must bring him indirectly to a partial confession at any rate. And his answer puzzled me uncomfortably: “Rather! If they’ll let us.”
-The Willows, by Algernon Blackwood.
P.S: His design, or his aim, was to scare us.