Saturday, 3 June 2017

Tales of the Uncanny and Supernatural

Algernon Blackwood
Spring Books

Tales include The Doll, Running Wolf, The Little Beggar, The Occupant of the Room, The Man Whom the Trees Loved, The Valley of the Beasts, The South Wind, The Man Who Was Milligan, The Trod, The Terror of the Twins, The Deferred Appointment, Accessory Before the Fact, The Glamour of the Snow, The House of the Past, The Decoy, The Tradition, The Touch of Pan, Entrance and Exit, The Pikestaffe Case, The Empty Sleeve, Violence, and The Lost Valley.

This is the second of these massive anthologies of Blackwood shorts that I've ploughed my way through.  Like the last one this book has lived next to my bed for several months and picked up on occasion when I was between reads or simply needed a fix of the great man, as such much of it's a little lost in my memory.  Looking at it now as I sit down to write this, the over-riding feeling I have of the book is one of nature, of the outdoors and the spirits of place.  A scan through the contents confirms this feeling, at least to a point, as included here are such quintessential Blackwoods as 'Running Wolf', 'The Man Who The Trees Loved', 'The Valley of the Beasts', 'The Touch of Pan' & 'The Lost Valley'.

Amongst the other 17 stories we find Blackwood in full flow.  The skin crawling menace of 'The Doll', the heart tugging poignancy of 'The Little Beggar' and the strangeness and dread of the painting belonging to 'The Man Who Was Milligan'.  Then we have the brief connect with other realms along 'The Trod' and 'Entrance and Exit' other 'people' as in 'The Glamour of Snow' or simply elsewhere in 'The Pikestaffe Case'.

Not everything here works terribly well, 'The Terror of Twins' feels entirely underwritten and 'The Deferred Appointment' is merely a fairly cliched ghost story with little point to it other than a vague impression that a dull life leads to a dull afterlife.  The un-acted upon psychic premonition afforded to the protagonist at the heart of 'Accessory Before the Fact' lends a promising story a rather flat resolution whereas 'The House of the Past' with it's dream imagery and it's psychotic break seem merely to be playing around with one of the great preoccupations (and new occupations) of the times.

The remaining three stories - 'The Decoy', 'The Tradition' and 'The Empty Sleeve' - have little to recommend them, each being fairly run of the mill stories of ghostly weirdness, loss and shapeshifting perfidy.

As with the previous volume a slightly mixed bag of treats but one that definitely erred to the better and with the knowledge that even second rate Blackwood is superior to many of his contemporaries makes this a fun collection to hunt down.

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