The Willows by Algernon Blackwood


Light play on the river Thame by net_efekt.

…the major products of Mr. Blackwood attain a genuinely classic level, and evoke as does nothing else in literature an awed convinced sense of the imminence of strange spiritual spheres of entities.

The well-nigh endless array of Mr. Blackwood’s fiction includes both novels and shorter tales, the latter sometimes independent and sometimes arrayed in series. Foremost of all must be reckoned The Willows, in which the nameless presences on a desolate Danube island are horribly felt and recognised by a pair of idle voyagers. Here art and restraint in narrative reach their very highest development, and an impression of lasting poignancy is produced without a single strained passage or a single false note.

Thus HP Lovecraft in 1927 from his lengthy overview of horror fiction, Supernatural Horror in Literature. Lovecraft was enthusiastic about many of Blackwood’s weird tales, rating him as one of the contemporary masters along with Arthur Machen. A year before his essay he prefaced The Call of Cthulhu with a Blackwood quote and regularly referred to The Willows as one of his favourite stories. Blackwood’s tale continues to find enthusiasts today, among them the Ghost Box music collective whose Belbury Poly CD titled after the story manages to reference in the space of 44 minutes Blackwood, Machen, CS Lewis and The Morning of the Magicians.


If your curiosity is sufficiently piqued by this point, you can read the story online at Wikisource or Project Gutenberg. Or you can listen to a reading in a new posting at LibriVox. The perfect thing for autumn and the month of Halloween.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Horror in the shadows
Wanna see something really scary?
Ghost Box
The Absolute Elsewhere

6 thoughts on “The Willows by Algernon Blackwood”

  1. Hello John
    this supernatural classic is being narrated on BBC7 this week. Oddly, they are choosing to use palm trees on an island to illustrate it, on the BBCiPlayer, hmm..!
    However, they are also re-playing a humorous spoof with Lovecraftian shades, called ‘The Scarifiers’, starring Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier from Dr Who) and with lots of references for horror/supernatural buffs who enjoy that sort of thing. Wicker Man, of course !

  2. Hi Sue. That’s surprising as I nearly mentioned the BBC version which I presume is the same reading they broadcast last year. Was very good, if frustrating being split into four over several evenings which rather spoiled the mood.

    Thanks for The Scarifiers, tip, will check that out.

  3. I read this one just before or after our mutual favorite “Seaton’s Aunt” by de la Mare. I haven’t been that creeped out by trees since seeing Poltergeist on tv when I was about nine.

    What are your favorite stories by Machen? I didn’t take to Hill of Dreams, but loved The Great God Pan.

  4. There’s two Machens, the writer of weird tales and the visionary. Hill of Dreams is definitely the latter at work. I like both and don’t really consider the distinction much any more. My favourite story is The White People, a unique piece of occult hallucination told from a girl’s point of view. But many of the early stories are as good, if not better, than Great God Pan especially those that comprise The Three Imposters. The Inmost Light and The Shining Pyramid are also favourites.

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