A Literary Analysis of Algernon Blackwood, by Christopher Deliso

On 14 March, I published a birthday tribute to the great English author Algernon Blackwood, on my Substack TLS newsletter here. Blackwood was a master of preternatural suspense; what is often called ‘weird fiction,’ or spooky fiction, or even horror, though he is somehow in my assessment, much different and more unique than the average horror writer.


I’d enjoyed Blackwood’s stories for several years, and long planned such a piece. However, it was only in researching the above story that I actually realized a strangely appropriate anachronism: that his current view in the Internet age (including the particular most-cited stories of his in his immense body of work) actually derives from the 1920s assessment given to Blackwood, in the then-young H.P. Lovecraft’s own survey on the evolution of weird fiction from its Gothic origins to the early 20th century. This would not be so unusual except that at that time, Lovecraft was not well known, whereas since the 1970s he’s been rediscovered and seems to have achieved cult status in the horror community.


In the above essay, I didn’t waste time on my opinion of Lovecraft as a writer (I am not a fan of his though his critical knowledge is quite admirable). Algernon Blackwood, on the other hand, was a great, great writer, a very gifted weaver of mood in prose. In my essay I try to assess what he is doing and why, in the example of one of his most famous stories.


This story, ‘The Willows,’ narrates the canoe expedition down the River Danube of two old friends, an Englishman and a Swede. It describes what happens when they go beyond the locally-recommended limits of the river, in their quest to reach the Black Sea. Exceeding the physical limitations opens up a supernatural aspect with both historic/mythic and philosophical aspects.


My aspiration in the piece was to simply poinit out some of the travel-writing aspects and philosophical aspects of ‘The Willows’ that made it such an effective piece of multi-genre prose. I also included a link to the original text, and another to an audio version read on the Horror Babble YouTube channel.


I definitely hope to return to covering more of Blackwood’s works, and am encouraged to see in local bookstores that even today, 155 years after his birth, his collections are still reprinted and remain of interest to diverse audiences around the world.