Algernon Blackwood is a formative influence in the weird fiction genre, with his works “The Wendigo” and “The Willows” being staples. Editor Xavier Aldana Reyes collects not only those stories but two less well-known novellas by the author in Roarings From Further Out: Four Weird Novellas by Algernon Blackwood. The other two tales are very good selections, not only illustrating the author’s talents but also showing a breadth of subject matter.
The second story included, “Ancient Sorceries”, is an interesting choice, featuring Algernon Blackwood’s early supernatural detective Doctor Silence. This story is from 1908, and the character himself premiered in a collection of the same title, a themed book of short stories featuring the Doctor. This makes the choice to remove it from its original settings somewhat odd, but helps to insure that this collection presents Blackwood’s overall body of work well.
The Doctor Silence story could go in either direction on the supernatural. A smaller, timid, man tells of his strange experience. John Silence listens, as does the narrator, and makes the occasional comment. This is followed by a final short section in which Silence claims to have done research, and found much of what had been described was accurate as far as it went, and even some biographical details remained that the man may or may not have known about. In spite of this, Doctor Silence offers up a relatively mundane explanation for many of the events, including a red mark that has yet to disappear. Indeed, even a strange foreboding is explained away as simply another man who had a bad experience in the town, though Silence admits he has no way to prove this, as tracking the man down would be virtually impossible. The major downside for some readers might be that most of the investigative portion takes place “off screen” and is merely described as having occurred.
“The Man Who the Trees Loved” centers around the titular incident. However, the character with the main focus is in fact the wife of the man in question. This third-person perspective places her in the reader’s sympathies, and the slow realization of how strange the situation is, as well as the question of how best to handle it, occupy her time. A struggle between her own concerns and her loyalty to her husband is at play, and the growing realization that she simply cannot properly and fully understand her husband’s relationship to the foliage in the area is hard to deny. This story contains slow creeping horror, and the same odd mixture of nature as an enemy and alien outlook that makes the more famous “The Willows” work.
There exists a very strong sense of religion in this story, with a specific focus on the wife’s Christianity. She prays and describes her faith repeatedly, and finds herself questioning whether the strange goings-on are in fact evil simply because God has not intervened against them. That’s an interesting line of theological interpretation, granted one that only makes sense if one assumes countless atrocities, some of which the woman would have to have known about, were not evil. The idea of a threat being more alien than simply evil is nothing new to horror, but is extremely well Illustrated here, with something as simple as a tree being difficult for almost anyone to understand as a personality.
The cover, by Mauricio Villamayor, shows a couple of people around a fire talking. It is an appropriate image and could easily be taken from either of the two more famous stories in the book. The fact the it could be interpreted as trees almost reaching down like claws leans it more to “The Willows”, albeit only a little.
This volume features a nice introduction and set of acknowledgments, as well as ending on a note as to where the individual stories in the book could have been found in early publication.
This volume is an excellent early primer on the work of Algernon Blackwood. It can easily be recommended to someone who wants to become familiar with his work, although some of the works may become redundant for an individual with a large horror or occult fiction library. Recommendations to those who enjoy turn of the century horror are obvious, with parallels to HP Lovecraft, Ambrose Bierce, and the horror works of Arthur Conan Doyle coming to mind.
(British Library Press, 2019)