Monday, October 11, 2010

Reader's Diary #655- Algernon Blackwood: The Willows

A bit longer than my usual short story choices, I stuck with "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood for the promise of something scary. Found on the Ghostsandstories website and listed as a classic alongside works by Poe, Twain, Irving and Dickens, I was intrigued. The Wikipedia article on Blackwood, whom I'd not heard of before, refers to him as "one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre." In Supernatural Horror in Literature, H.P Lovecraft called him a modern master.

"The Willows," one of Blackwood's best known stories, fits better under the description of supernatural horror than ghost story, but even that moniker isn't exactly perfect. What I loved about "The Willows" was its connection to the "man versus nature" story. I've read 2 other such stories in the recent past, Charles G.D. Roberts' "The Vagrants of the Barren" and Jack London's "To Build a Fire" and curiously, all 3 authors comment on imagination's role in survival.

"The Willows" begins with beautiful scenery of a canoe trip down the Danube. Some readers may find it a bit tedious. As I've been promising myself every year since I've moved to the Northwest Territories to finally get into canoeing, I enjoyed the descriptions though chastised myself to let yet another canoe-less summer pass me by. However, I couldn't for the life of me see how this was going to be scary. There's a bit of personification of nature, but many of us have done this when we've found ourselves along in the woods or on the ocean or wherever. It only becomes creepy when things start to go wrong.

And there's the hint. "The Willows" is somewhat slow paced, but wonderfully written. Best of all, Blackwood doesn't solve the mystery. When you let yourself be carried along with the narrator's imagination, you become convinced that something supernatural is going on, that some force, perhaps nature itself-- or the willows-- has evil intentions. But when it is all said and done, everything can still be explained away. Was it a "man versus nature" story or was it a "man versus the supernatural" story? You get to decide for yourself.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Teddy Rose said...

This sounds like a worthwhile story. I like man vs. nature stories and would like to see if I think it's that.

I know you already visited but here is the link to mine:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I am intrigued! Especially since I too have had a canoeless summer.

John Mutford said...

Teddy: I'm curious to read your thoughts.

Barbara: Do you typically canoe?