Blackwood, Algernon 1869–1951
Blackwood, Algernon 1869–1951
(Algernon Henry Blackwood)
Born 1869, in Kent, England; died December 10, 1951, in London, England; son of Sir Stevenson Arthur Blackwood and the Duchess of Manchester. Education: Educated by the Moravian Brotherhood, Black Forest, Germany; attended Wellington College and Edinburgh University.
Worked as a hotel manager and as a farmer in Canada; staff member, Canadian Methodist Magazine, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and Evening Sun and New York Times, both New York, NY; private secretary to James Speyer, New York, NY; returned to England in 1899 and worked briefly in the dried milk business; appeared on radio and television in England, 1947-51.
Television Society Silver Medal, 1948; decorated Commander of the British Empire, 1949.
The Empty House and Other Ghosts, Nash (London, England), 1906, Vaughan (New York, NY), 1915, reprinted as The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories, 1st World Library—Literary Society (Fairfield, IA), 2007.
The Listener and Other Stories, Nash (London, England), 1907, Vaughan (New York, NY), 1914.
John Silence, Physician Extraordinary, Nash (London, England), 1908, Luce (Boston, MA), 1909, 2nd edition, Vaughan and Gomme (New York, NY), 1914.
The Lost Valley and Other Stories (see below), Nash (London, England), 1910, Vaughan (New York, NY), 1914.
Pan's Garden, Macmillan (London, England), 1912.
Incredible Adventures, Macmillan (London, England), 1914, reprinted, Hippocampus Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Ten Minute Stories, Dutton (New York, NY), 1914.
Day and Night Stories, Dutton (New York, NY), 1917, published as Tales of the Mysterious and Macabre, Spring (London, England), 1968.
(With Wilfred Wilson) The Wolves of God, and Other Fey Stories (see below), Dutton (New York, NY), 1921.
(Contributor) Dorothy Scarborough, compiler, Famous Modern Ghost Stories, G.P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 1921.
Tongues of Fire and Other Sketches, Jenkins (London, England), 1924, Dutton (New York, NY), 1925.
The Dance of Death and Other Tales, Jenkins, 1927, Dial (New York, NY), 1928.
Ancient Sorceries and Other Tales, Collins (London, England), 1927, published as Ancient Sorceries and Other Stories, Penguin (London, England), 1968, published as Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories, Penguin (New York, NY), 2002.
Full Circle, Mathews and Marrot (London, England), 1929.
Strange Stories, Heinemann (London, England), 1929.
The Willows and Other Queer Tales, Collins (London, England), 1932.
Shocks, Grayson (London, England), 1935, Dutton (New York, NY), 1936.
The Tales of Algernon Blackwood, Secker and Warburg (London, England), 1938, Dutton (New York, NY), 1939.
Selected Tales: Stories of the Supernatural and the Uncanny, Penguin (New York, NY), 1942.
The Doll and One Other, Arkham House (Sauk City, WI), 1946.
Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural, Nevill (London, England), 1949.
In the Realm of Terror: Eight Haunting Tales, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1957.
Selected Tales, Baker (London, England), 1964, published as Tales of Terror and the Unknown, Dutton (New York, NY), 1965, published as The Insanity of Jones and Other Stories, Penguin (New York, NY), 1966.
Tales of the Mysterious and Macabre, Spring Books (London, England), 1967.
John Silence: Five Stories, J. Baker (London, England), 1969.
Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood, Dover (New York, NY), 1973.
The Best Supernatural Tales of Algernon Blackwood, Causeway (New York, NY), 1973.
Tales of Terror and Darkness, Spring (New York, NY), 1977.
(Contributor) Roger Elwood, editor, Spine-Chillers: Unforgettable Tales of Terror, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1978.
Tales of the Supernatural, edited by Mike Ashley, Bookmasters (Woodbridge, Suffolk, England), 1983.
A Mysterious House, Tragara Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1987.
The Magic Mirror: Lost Supernatural and Mystery Stories, edited by Mike Ashley, Thorsons (Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England), 1989.
The Complete John Silence Stories, edited and introduced by S.T. Joshi, Dover (New York, NY), 1997.
The Lost Valley/The Wolves of God, Stark House (Eureka, CA), 2005.
Jimbo: A Fantasy, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1909.
The Human Chord, Macmillan (London, England)), 1910.
The Centaur, Macmillan (London, England), 1911, reprinted, 1st World Library—Literary Society (Fairfield, IA), 2006.
Julius Le Vallon (see below), Dutton (New York, NY), 1916.
The Wave: An Egyptian Aftermath, Dutton (New York, NY), 1916.
The Garden of Survival, Dutton (New York, NY), 1918.
The Promise of Air, Dutton (New York, NY), 1918.
The Bright Messenger (see below), Cassell (London, England), 1921, Dutton (New York, NY), 1922.
Dudley and Gilderoy: A Nonsense, Dutton (New York, NY), 1929
Julius Le Vallon/The Bright Messenger, Stark House (Eureka, CA), 2005.
The Damned, 1st World Library—Literary Society (Fairfield, IA), 2006.
(With Violet Pearn) The Starlight Express (adapted from Blackwood's novel A Prisoner in Fairyland; see below), produced in London, England, 1915.
(With Violet Pearn) Karma: A Re-incarnation Play, Dutton (New York, NY), 1918.
(With Violet Pearn) Through the Crack, produced in London, England, 1920.
(With Bertram Forsyth) The Crossing, produced in London, England, 1920.
(With Elaine Ainley) The Halfway House, produced in London, England, 1921.
(With Kinsey Peile) Max Hensig, produced in London, England, 1929.
The Education of Uncle Paul, Macmillan (London, England), 1909, Holt (New York, NY), 1910.
A Prisoner in Fairyland, Macmillan (London, England), 1913.
The Extra Day, Macmillan (London, England), 1915, reprinted, 1st World Library—Literary Society (Fairfield, IA), 2006.
Sambo and Snatch, Appleton (New York, NY), 1927.
Mr. Cupboard, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1928.
By Underground, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1930.
The Italian Conjuror, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1932.
Maria—of England—in the Rain, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1933.
The Fruit Stoners, Grayson, 1934, Dutton (New York, NY), 1935.
Sergeant Poppett and Policeman James, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1934.
How the Circus Came to Tea, Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1936.
Episodes before Thirty (autobiography), Cassell (London, England), 1923, Dutton (New York, NY), 1924, published as Adventures before Thirty, Cape (London, England), 1934.
Algernon Blackwood holds a prominent place in the field of fantasy literature for his large body of work, which includes numerous short stories and novels. Although the topics he was concerned with—haunted houses, reincarnation, and the paranormal—are typical of the supernatural genre, he also investigated the mystical abilities of human beings. Critics have asserted that the personal and thoughtful treatment Blackwood accords his topics has raised his works to the level of serious literature. "All in all, no writer of fiction has written better individual stories or spoken better about the ineffable," wrote E.F. Bleiler in his introduction to Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood.
Blackwood was raised in a strict religious atmosphere and educated for a time by the Moravian Brotherhood in Germany. He attended Wellington College and Edinburgh University before embarking upon a series of unsuccessful business ventures in Canada. Blackwood subsequently met with greater success as a staff writer for Canadian Methodist Magazine in Toronto, and the New York Times and New York Evening Sun; yet, it was upon his return to England that he achieved a reputation as an accomplished writer.
The American fiction writer and poet H.P. Lovecraft, a contemporary of Blackwood's, is among the reviewers who applauded the author's efforts. "Of the quality of Mr. Blackwood's genius there can be no dispute; for no one has even approached the skill, seriousness, and minute fidelity with which he records the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things and experiences, or the preternatural insight with which he builds up detail by detail the complete sensations and perceptions leading from reality into supernormal life or vision," declared Lovecraft in his essay, "Supernatural Horror in Literature," reprinted in "Dagon" and Other Macabre Tales.
Other critics have also taken special note of Blackwood's ability to credibly describe uncanny events. Robb Lawson, writing in the Living Age, noted: "There are no vaguely moving shadows in the realms of Blackwood's world—his transcendent imagination rising to the nth sense invests his characters with the contours of living beings." In an article for the New York Times Book Review, Louise Maunsell Field wrote: "Those old, slumbering impulses and desires and fears, which most of us have felt rather than perceived, when alone in the midst of great solitary spaces—forest or plain, desert or the shores of the sea—are matters which Mr. Blackwood understands and depicts as no one else has done." Stuart Gilbert, writing in Transition, stated that in "reading such novels as [Blackwood's] The Centaur … or such an amazing story as "The Wendigo," we have so keen a sense of authentic experience, of participated swiftness and double sight, that we seem to see the world invisible, partaking for a fugitive but splendid moment in ‘the only kind of knowledge that is everlasting.’"
Throughout the twentieth century, and even into the twenty-first, various literary scholars praised Blackwood's writing style, noting that his vivid descriptions inspire real terror while avoiding the lurid and sensationally graphic. "A master of horror," Maunsell Field stated, Blackwood "uses the properties of the charnel house but seldom, and then sparingly, suggesting rather than describing." According to Bleiler, Blackwood's work "demonstrated that the supernatural story did not have to be a revenge story nor a primitive justice drama, nor detritus of ancient wickedness, nor the crudities of the lower-level fiction of his day." Peter Penzoldt, in his book The Supernatural in Fiction, remarked: "The scenes [Blackwood] describes inspire terror and awe, but never horror and disgust. His tales have, therefore, a higher literary standing than those of most writers who deal with the same subject."
Blackwood's works often portray natural forces as conscious entities that could be alternately helpful or destructive to human beings. "No writer in the English tongue has done more than Algernon Blackwood to quicken [the] sense of wonder and open our eyes to the conscious vitality of much that we habitually regard as inert matter," stated Stuart Gilbert in Transition. Gilbert went on to describe Blackwood's novel The Centaur as "a magnificent and, as nearly as such attempts can be, successful attempt to revive a sense of the consciousness of the Earth." "Blackwood's idea is that nature is good, beautiful, right and healing," suggested Penzoldt, adding: "It may therefore seem astonishing that in his tales he often describes it with a certain amount of anguish, showing how men who fall under the spell of nature lose themselves … or … are ‘absorbed’ by the particular part of nature, or the ‘God’ they worship. In ‘The Sea Fit,’ … a man offers himself as sacrifice to the ancient but eternal Gods of the sea."
Jack Sullivan, writing in his Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood, noted that "it would be schematically easy simply to classify Blackwood as the master of the outdoor ghost story; he not only wrote more of them than anyone else, but he managed to create at least two authentic masterpieces, ‘The Willows’ and ‘The Wendigo.’" Sullivan added: "Blackwood envisions a world in which everything is alive and anything can be a ghost: trees, bushes, earth, snow, even the wind (which in ‘The Wendigo’ becomes one of his most unusual demons)."
Blackwood sometimes used a childlike perspective in his work, demonstrating that levels of reality unseen by adults were not beyond the senses of children and animals. He wrote a number of children's books, including A Prisoner in Fairyland, that involve the discovery of magical or unknown realms. Some of his adult fiction, such as the novel Jimbo: A Fantasy, also makes use of a child's viewpoint. A contributor to the Spectator asserted that "Jimbo is something more than a tour de force. The sense of being in an unreal, but not an artificial, world is sustained with remarkable cleverness."
Blackwood is also well known as the creator of the supernatural detective John Silence, who undertakes occult experiences in order to confront and vanquish malevolent spiritual entities. This character has been compared by many critics to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.
According to Bleiler, "Blackwood worked in many different subforms within the range of fiction loosely called the ghost story or supernatural story." Bleiler further noted: "All of these forms Blackwood handled superbly. To the tale of terror he brought a subtlety, a craftsmanship and a maturity of outlook that it had seldom enjoyed before." Other reviewers have commented on Blackwood's originality. "Algernon Blackwood is probably, both as a personality and as a writer, the most impressive figure among contemporary writers of supernatural short stories," declared Penzoldt. "A few of his earlier tales remind us of the current crop of ghost stories, but the main part of his work shows that in every respect he refused to tread the beaten path. It is wholly impossible to place him in any school. His work bears no resemblance to the orthodox form of the ghost story, nor did he follow the recent fashions in science fiction and the psychological ghost story," explained Bleiler. "Historically Blackwood offered much to the development and continuity of the ghost story. He widened the range of its subject matter greatly, and showed that the myriad rooms of the human mind were teeming with a strange, hidden life. He brought into the supernatural story the realms of philosophy, serious Oriental thought, modern psychology and new areas of magical lore."
Blackwood's works have been reissued both singly and in collections, and his importance to both ghost and fantasy literature continues to bring new critical essays about his work. For example, Terry W. Thompson, writing in both the Explicator and Papers on Language and Literature, reexamined many of Blackwood's works, including the short story "The Listener." The story is about a writer living in a creepy three-story, out-of-the-way apartment house where no one else seems to want to live. At first the writer is content with his living situation, since it removes him from the society of others so he can concentrate on writing. Thompson, writing in the Explicator, noted: "By gaining solitude and silence, however, he fractures his tenuous hold on sanity and reality, almost driving himself mad once he achieves the near-total isolation that he has long sought." In fact, the apartment house does have another inhabitant, the ghost of a leper who drives the writer even faster toward madness. Thompson wrote that the author "appends a deeper resonance to this shocking little tale of a spectral leper and the bitter misanthrope he torments, thus providing echoes of those who have gazed deeply into the looking glass only to discover that what stares back at them is sometimes strange, unfamiliar, and occasionally threatening."
Positive reviews accompanied the 2005-06 reissues of several of Blackwood's works. A critic writing in Small Press Bookwatch reviewed the 2005 edition of The Lost Valley/The Wolves of God, describing the volume as "a tantalizingly mysterious collection." And a Publishers Weekly contributor called the two-novel volume Julius Le Vallon/The Bright Messenger "powerful fantasy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Blackwood, Algernon, Adventures before Thirty, Cape, 1934.
Bleiler, E.F., introduction to Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood, Dover, 1973, pp. v-x.
Briggs, Julia, Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story, Faber and Faber, 1977, pp. 52-75.
Colombo, John Robert, Blackwood's Books: A Bibliography Devoted to Algernon Blackwood, Hounslow Press, 1981.
Lovecraft, H.P., "Dagon" and Other Macabre Tales, edited by August Derleth, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 347-413.
Penzoldt, Peter, The Supernatural in Fiction, P. Nevill, 1952, pp. 228-253.
Sullivan, Jack, Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood, Ohio University Press, 1978, pp. 112-130.
Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, St. James Press, (Detroit, MI) 1991.
Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Volume 5, Gale, 1981, (Detroit, MI) pp. 68-81.
Bookman, February, 1915, Grace Isabel Colbron, pp. 618-621.
Explicator, fall, 2005, Terry W. Thompson, "Blackwood's The Listener," p. 44.
Library Journal, June 15, 2006, review of The Lost Valley/The Wolves of God, p. 119.
Living Age, January 26, 1918, Robb Lawson, pp. 228-231.
New York Times Book Review, December 18, 1921, Louise Maunsell Field, pp. 18, 20.
Papers on Language and Literature, fall, 2003, Terry W. Thompson, "‘A Sense of Something Lost’: The Unlived Jamesian Life in Algernon Blackwood's ‘The Tryst,’" p. 365; winter, 2006, Terry W. Thompson, "‘He Used to Wear a Veil’: Pursuing the Other in Algernon Blackwood's ‘The Listener,’" p. 95.
Publishers Weekly, August 23, 2004, "September Publications," notes publication of Incredible Adventures, p. 42; August 1, 2005, "September Publications," notes publication of Julius Le Vallon/The Bright Messenger, p. 49.
Small Press Bookwatch, May, 2006, review of The Lost Valley/The Wolves of God.
Spectator, April 17, 1909, review of Jimbo: A Fantasy, pp. 619-620.
Transition, July, 1935, Stuart Gilbert, review of The Centaur, pp. 89-96.
Miskatonic University Web site,http://www.yankeeclassic.com/miskatonic/ (March 13, 2007), profile of the author.
VioletBooks.com,http://www.violetbooks.com/ (March 13, 2007), discussion of the author and his works.