Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Short Story Review: The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

Original Publication Date: 1907

Genre: Horror

Topics: horror, psychological terror, other dimensional, camping, travel

Review: There should be a sub-genre in horror fiction: camping trips gone awry, think Deliverance or Friday the 13th. Being in an unfamiliar place makes people edgy. The fear of the unknown is a human trait. The Willows by Algernon Blackwood doesn't use a knife wielding maniac to tap into that fear.

In The Willows an unnamed narrator and his buddy, "The Swede", are embarking on that male right of passage, the road trip. Instead of hitch hiking across America, these two are canoeing over Europe. Things have gone well so far. They've stopped in several places, had some adventures, but it's been no sweat for either of them until they hit the Danube. The river is flooding and things are getting hairy. They're two strong, capable boys though and manage to get themselves to a sandy island covered in willow trees.

They decide it would be best to stay there a couple of days and wait for the flood waters to recede. They set up their tent, despite the terrible wind that constantly blows, and go looking for firewood. It's then that the narrator gets a sense that something is not right. He has a feeling of foreboding that weighs heavily upon him. The fear within him is worse when he's within sight of the willow trees which press upon him. He decides not to tell his friend, a practical guy not given to imaginings, although they share a couple of incidents that give him the heebie-jeebies.

During the night, the narrator has a terrifying experience, yet he still refuses to share his thoughts with his friend. He does notice that The Swede is nervous and jumpy. They agree that they need to get away as soon as possible, but will the unknown forces on the island let them go?

Although this story is one in a collection titled Famous Modern Ghost Stories found on Project Gutenberg, I wouldn't say The Willows is a ghost story. It's more a story of an experience with another dimension. American author H.P. Lovecraft admired and was influenced by Algernon Blackwood and as I was reading I felt like I was reading a Lovecraft story. There is an emphasis on a world beyond our own. It was as if the guys were experiencing a Fringe event!

Algernon loved the outdoors and was quite adventurous. His descriptions of canoeing down the river and the island itself were realistic. I wasn't fond of the explain-iness of one of the characters. It was a bit too much like Algernon explaining things to the reader. I like to draw my own conclusions.

Still I enjoyed The Willows. The author creates a strong sense of place and the creepy factor is way up there. I'll definitely be reading more of Algernon Blackwood.