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.
Today marks the 150th birthday of British writer Algernon Blackwood, one of the great authors of supernatural fiction, whose work influenced the likes of William HopeHodgson, H.P. Lovecraft, C.A. Smith, Ramsey Campbell and many others.
Born in 1869, Blackwood was a member of the Golden Dawn, and had a versed interest in matters mystical and supernatural
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.
Today, Algernon Blackwood is remembered chiefly for his short story The Willows, that is considered a classic of weird fiction, The Wendigo, that is the definitive story about this creature from Native American folklore, and for the John Silence stories featuring an early occult detective. All these, and a lot more, can be found on the pages of Project Gutenberg.
To me, Blackwood will forever remain the author of The Valley of the Beasts, another story based on Native American folklore and one that caused me quite a scare when I was about ten or eleven years old.
Blackwood died in 1951, and here is something from 1949, when he related one of his strange stories, on film. Enjoy! (and lookout – as the opening card says, this is for adult audiences)
Yesterday it was Algernon Blackwood’s birthday… his 147th.
Blackwood was one of the great supernatural fiction authors – really one of the founding fathers of the genre.
I read my first Blackwood story, called The Valley of the Beasts, when I was about ten.
It was the last story in a book called Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghost Gallery, and it was like nothing I ever read before.
And so, to celebrate the work of an author I always loved, here’s the audio version of that story I read so many years ago.
What’s Halloween without a good ghost story, or five?
In 1921, Texas-born Dorothy Scarborough, lecturer in English at the Columbia University, edited a selection of spooky tales, and called it Famous Modern Ghost Stories.
The book includes works both familiar (Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen), and less obvious choices (Anatole France, Olivia Howard Dunbar).
One hundred years on, the volume is still a wonderful selection of ghostly narratives, and is highly recommended.