Wednesday, March 15, 2017

“Read a Damn Book – 009: The Willows”

[Originally posted 8 Mar. 2017. ---RFY]

Time for some classic horror!

Algernon Blackwood – The Willows (1907)

The Willows is either a longish short story or a shortish novella by Algernon Blackwood, who is one of the absolute masters of horror. (He even inspired H.P. Lovecraft, and that’s saying something!) This story is about a couple of friends who are canoeing down the Danube and find themselves in the midst of a flood and washed into a strange, marshy area. The water is rushing, the wind is howling, and the sun is about to set, so the travelers decide to make camp on a sandy island covered in bushes and small trees. Events quickly turn creepy, however, as strange noises are heard without sources, odd things float by in the floodwater, the island itself starts to crumble into the rushing waters, and the campers start feeling an unexplainable, unearthly sense of dread.

This is a great, creepy tale, despite being over a hundred years old, and it doesn’t suffer as much as some older spooky stories do in the language department. I know people who think Lovecraft can be a slog to get through, and I personally had a rough time finishing both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN because of the language, so I get it. (I DID finish them both because they are CLASSICS, and it felt weird having not read two of the foundational texts of the horror genre, when I consider myself a horror scholar. I didn’t really care for either book, but now I HAVE read them…) Blackwood is a solid writer, and this particular tale is very well told.

And not only is the story good, but I was also able to find the book as a free download for my e-reader through Amazon! (As local department store owner, Tom Peterson, used to say, “Free is a very good price!”) I would definitely recommend this one for fans of supernatural horror, for people who are interested in older tales (but who don’t want to spend a month reading a true Gothic novel: Wilkie Collins’s THE WOMAN IN WHITE is over 500 pages long and VARNEY THE VAMPIRE is more than 800—but it’s such fantastic, purple prose, penny-dreadful crap that it’s almost worth it!), or perhaps this book might be just the ticket for people who really don’t like camping and want a good excuse to stay home!

—Richard F. Yates

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