Algernon Blackwood

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Algernon Blackwood
Algernon Blackwood.jpg
Born Algernon Henry Blackwood
(1869-03-14)14 March 1869
Shooter's Hill, Kent
Died 10 December 1951(1951-12-10) (aged 82)
Bishopsteighton, Kent
Occupation Writer, broadcaster
Nationality British
Genres Fantasy, Horror, Weird fiction
Notable work(s) The Centaur, "The Willows", "The Wendigo"

Algernon Henry Blackwood, CBE (14 March 1869 – 10 December 1951) was an English short story writer and novelist, one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre. He was also a journalist and a broadcasting narrator. S. T. Joshi has stated that "his work is more consistently meritorious than any weird writer's except Dunsany's"[1] and that his short story collection Incredible Adventures (1914) "may be the premier weird collection of this or any other century".[2]

Life and work[edit]

Blackwood was born in Shooter's Hill (today part of south-east London, but then part of northwest Kent) and educated at Wellington College. His father was a Post Office administrator who, according to Peter Penzoldt, "though not devoid of genuine good-heartedness, had appallingly narrow religious ideas".[3] Blackwood had a varied career, working as a dairy farmer in Canada, operating a hotel, as a newspaper reporter in New York City, bartender, model, journalist for the New York Times, private secretary, businessman, and violin teacher.[4]

Throughout his adult life, he was an occasional essayist for various periodicals. In his late thirties, he moved back to England and started to write stories of the supernatural. He was very successful, writing at least ten original collections of short stories and eventually appearing on both radio and television to tell them. He also wrote fourteen novels, several children's books, and a number of plays, most of which were produced but not published. He was an avid lover of nature and the outdoors, and many of his stories reflect this. To satisfy his interest in the supernatural, he joined the Ghost Club. He never married; according to his friends he was a loner but also cheerful company.[5]

Jack Sullivan points out that "Blackwood's life parallels his work more neatly than perhaps that of any other ghost story writer. Like his lonely but fundamentally optimistic protagonists, he was a combination of mystic and outdoorsman; when he wasn't steeping himself in occultism, including Rosicrucianism and Buddhism, he was likely to be skiing or mountain climbing."[4] Blackwood was a member of one of the factions of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn,[6] as was his contemporary Arthur Machen.[7] Qabalistic themes are at the heart of his novel The Human Chord.[8]

His two best known stories are probably "The Willows" and "The Wendigo". He would also often write stories for newspapers at short notice, with the result that he was unsure exactly how many short stories he had written and there is no sure total. Though Blackwood wrote a number of horror stories, his most typical work seeks less to frighten than to induce a sense of awe. Good examples are the novels The Centaur, which climaxes with a traveller's sight of a herd of the mythical creatures; and Julius LeVallon and its sequel The Bright Messenger, which deal with reincarnation and the possibility of a new, mystical evolution in human consciousness. In correspondence with Peter Penzoldt, Blackwood wrote[9]

My fundamental interest, I suppose, is signs and proofs of other powers that lie hidden in us all; the extension, in other words, of human faculty. So many of my stories, therefore, deal with extension of consciousness; speculative and imaginative treatment of possibilities outside our normal range of consciousness. ... Also, all that happens in our universe is natural; under Law; but an extension of our so limited normal consciousness can reveal new, extra-ordinary powers etc., and the word "supernatural" seems the best word for treating these in fiction. I believe it possible for our consciousness to change and grow, and that with this change we may become aware of a new universe. A "change" in consciousness, in its type, I mean, is something more than a mere extension of what we already possess and know.

Blackwood wrote an autobiography of his early years, Episodes Before Thirty (1923), and there is a biography by Mike Ashley (ISBN 0-7867-0928-6).

Blackwood died after several strokes. Officially his death on 10 December 1951 was of cerebral thrombosis with arteriosclerosis as contributory. He was cremated at Golders Green crematorium. A few weeks later his nephew took his ashes to Saanenmoser and scattered them over the mountains that he had loved for over forty years.

Legacy[edit]

Critical Studies[edit]

  • An early essay on Blackwood's work was "Algernon Blackwood: An Appreciation," by Grace Isabel Colbron

(1869-1943), which appeared in The Bookman in February 1915. The essay is reprinted in Jason Colavito's book A Hideous Bit of Morbidity: An Anthology of Horror Criticism from the Enlightenment to World War I.[19]

  • Peter Penzoldt devotes the final chapter of The Supernatural in Fiction (1952) to an analysis of Blackwood's work, and the book is dedicated "with deep admiration and gratitude, to Algernon Blackwood, the greatest of them all".
  • There is an extensive critical analysis of Blackwood's work in Jack Sullivan's book Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story From Le Fanu to Blackwood (1978).
  • David Punter has an essay on Blackwood in the book Supernatural Fiction Writers.[20]
  • There is a critical essay on Blackwood's work in S. T. Joshi's The Weird Tale (1990).
  • Edward Wagenknecht analyses Blackwood's work in his book Seven Masters of Supernatural Fiction.[21]

Works[edit]

Novels[edit]

In sequence of first publication:

  • Jimbo: A Fantasy (1909a)
  • The Education of Uncle Paul (1909b)
  • The Human Chord (1910)
  • The Centaur (1911)
  • A Prisoner in Fairyland (1913); sequel to The Education of Uncle Paul
  • The Extra Day (1915)
  • Julius LeVallon (1916a)
  • The Wave (1916b)
  • The Promise of Air (1918a)
  • The Garden of Survival (1918b)
  • The Bright Messenger (1921); sequel to Julius LeVallon
  • Dudley & Gilderoy: A Nonsense (1929)

Children's novels:

  • Sambo and Snitch (1927)
  • The Fruit Stoners: Being the Adventures of Maria Among the Fruit Stoners (1934)

Plays[edit]

In sequence of first performance:

  • The Starlight Express (1915), coauthored with Violet Pearn; incidental music by Edward Elgar; based on Blackwood's 1913 novel A Prisoner in Fairyland
  • Karma a reincarnation play in prologue epilogue and three acts (1918), coauthored with Violet Pearn;
  • The Crossing (1920a), coauthored with Bertram Forsyth; based on Blackwood's 1913 short story "Transition"
  • Through the Crack (1920b), coauthored with Violet Pearn; based on Blackwood's 1909 novel The Education of Uncle Paul and 1915 novel The Extra Day
  • White Magic (1921a), coauthored with Bertram Forsyth
  • The Halfway House (1921b), coauthored with Elaine Ainley
  • Max Hensig (1929), coauthored with Frederick Kinsey Peile; based on Blackwood's 1907 short story "Max Hensig — Bacteriologist and Murderer"

Short fiction collections[edit]

In sequence of first publication:

  • The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (1906); original collection
  • The Listener and Other Stories (1907); original collection
  • John Silence (1908); original collection; reprinted with added preface, 1942
  • The Lost Valley and Other Stories (1910); original collection
  • Pan's Garden: a Volume of Nature Stories (1912); original collection
  • Ten Minute Stories (1914a); original collection
  • Incredible Adventures (1914b); original collection
  • Day and Night Stories (1917); original collection
  • Wolves of God, and Other Fey Stories (1921), honorarily coauthored with Wilfred Wilson; original collection
  • Tongues of Fire and Other Sketches (1924); original collection
  • Ancient Sorceries and Other Tales (1927a); selections from previous Blackwood collections, and pre-publication abridgment of 1932's planned The Willows and Other Queer Tales
  • The Dance of Death and Other Tales (1927b); selections from previous Blackwood collections; reprinted as 1963's The Dance of Death and Other Stories
  • Strange Stories (1929); selections from previous Blackwood collections
  • Short Stories of To-Day & Yesterday (1930); selections from previous Blackwood collections
  • The Willows and Other Queer Tales (1932); selected by G. F. Maine from previous Blackwood collections
  • Shocks (1935); original collection
  • The Tales of Algernon Blackwood (1938); selections from previous Blackwood collections, with a new preface by Blackwood
  • Selected Tales of Algernon Blackwood (1942); selections from previous Blackwood collections (not to be mistaken for the identical title to a 1964 Blackwood collection)
  • Selected Short Stories of Algernon Blackwood (1945); selections from previous Blackwood collections
  • The Doll and One Other (1946); original collection
  • Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural (1949); selections from previous Blackwood collections
  • In the Realm of Terror (1957); selections from previous Blackwood collections
  • The Dance of Death and Other Stories (1963); reprint of 1927's The Dance of Death and Other Tales
  • Selected Tales of Algernon Blackwood (1964); selections from previous Blackwood collections (not to be mistaken for the identical title to a 1942 Blackwood collection)
  • Tales of the Mysterious and Macabre (1967); selections from previous Blackwood collections
  • Ancient Sorceries and Other Stories (1968); selections from previous Blackwood collections
  • Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood (1973), selected and introduced by Everett F. Bleiler; selections from previous Blackwood collections; includes Blackwood's own preface to 1938's The Tales of Algernon Blackwood
  • The Best Supernatural Tales of Algernon Blackwood (1973); selected and introduced by Felix Morrow; selections from 1929's Strange Stories
  • Tales of Terror and Darkness (1977); puts together Tales of the Mysterious and Macabre and Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural.
  • Tales of the Supernatural (1983); selected and introduced by Mike Ashley; selections from previous Blackwood collections
  • The Magic Mirror (1989); selected, introduced, and notes by Mike Ashley; original collection
  • The Complete John Silence Stories (1997); selected and introduced by S. T. Joshi; reprint of 1908's John Silence (without the preface to the 1942 reprint) and the one remaining John Silence story, "A Victim of Higher Space"
  • Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories (2002); selected, introduced, and notes by S. T. Joshi; selections from previous Blackwood collections
  • Algernon Blackwood's Canadian Tales of Terror (2004); selected, introduced, with notes by John Robert Colombo; eight stories of special Canadian interest plus information on the author's years in Canada

Weird fiction[edit]

This list of all Blackwood's known short stories in the Weird Fiction vein is presented in sequence of first publication or, where first publication is not traceable, collection: