East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The first writer that really scared me: Algernon Blackwood

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Some things stick in our minds for decades.
I was eleven years old or thereabouts when I got my copy of the Italian version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghost Gallery, a collection of horror stories (not all of them dealing with ghosts) aimed at a younger audience. Having been raised on Scooby Doo, and an avid reader of The Three Investigators, the idea of a collection of ghost stories was pretty exciting – and I got the book for Christmas that year. It was 1978.

Now this was a case of wrong expectations – the spooky stories in the book were none like Scooby Doo or the Three Investigators, and if a couple were quite humorous, like the three entries from Robert Arthur, none of these stories had the rational solution and the real culprit behind the haunting being shown for a very human bad guy.
This was, probably for the first time in my life, the Real Thing.
These were scary stories.

I am still very fond of the collection and the stories in it – I remember most of them vividly, and there are two stories that I remember as the biggest scares in my youthful life. And this is unusual, because I usually do not get scared by stories – I can feel the shiver of horror, and appreciate intellectually the anguish the characters feel… but scared-scared, look-under-the-bed scared? No, not normally.

Ghost Gallery scared me.
It was certainly also thanks to the illustrations by Fred Banbery.

And two of the stories in the volume, in particular, really hit me hard.
One was The Upper Berth, by F. Marion Crawford – but that came almost mid-way through the book, so the title of first writer that really scared me goes to Algernon Blackwood, with his story The Valley of the Beasts, the second story in the volume. Strangely enough, the Blackwood story appeared originally in Romance Magazine, in March 1921.

And today I got an ebook-as-greetings-card, Algernon Blackwood: The Complete Supernatural Stories, that is exactly what it says on the tin: 1200 pages of spooky stories from a writer that, I found out, has been almost forgotten by many contemporary readers hereabouts. Most people only know The Willows and The Wendigo – the latter because (I suspect) it inspired a lovecraftian take on the Native American legend that found its way in the original Call of Cthulhu RPG handbook.

The ebook is quite fine (and highly recommended), but you can also find a load of Blackwood’s stories for free on Project Gutenberg – if you missed him, this is the right season to read his work.

Born in 1869, Algernon Henry Blackwood was an Englishman that dabbled in Buddhism and actually joined the Golden Dawn, and that after a varied career as a sort of Jack-of-all-trades in Canada and the US (he was a farmhand, a hotel manager, a journalist and what not), settled down back in the UK writing supernatural stories – and ended up penning a dozen collection of horror and weird stories. He also wrote 14 novels, several children’s books and a number of plays (including the Yuletide favorite Starlight Express, that he co-wrote).

Due to his involvement with matters uncanny and supernatural, he often hosted spooky broadcasts on the BBC, between the ’30s and the ’50s, so that some recordings and films of his can still be found on Youtube … things like this…

The kindle omnibus of Algernon Blackwood’s stories goes to join my growing collection of ghost stories books – multi-author anthologies, the occasional novel, and most of all single-author collections.
And I cannot deny this interest in the ghostly started with that fateful book, 41 Christmases ago.

The Valley of the Beasts still haunts me to this day, and is the reason why I don’t like to explore the woodland on my own.
Silly, don’t you think?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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