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The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

The Willows (1907)

by Algernon Blackwood

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This was a surprisingly effective short horror story. ( )
  VincentDarlage | Jan 30, 2015 |
A wonderful supernatural tale that will fill you with dread, every time you read it!


Two companions set out on a canoeing trip down the Danube river. They laugh and enjoy their time travelling and admiring the scenery. The friends camp for the night on a small island where mysterious things begin to happen. One of their paddles disappear, strange funnels appear in the sand and is it their imagination or have the willow bushes that surround the island moved closer? The two friends must find a way off the island before disaster strikes.


I absolutely love this book, I've read it before and it is no less creepy and wonderful the second time around. Personally I think that horror novels/films are most effective when you don’t actually see anything. That eerie sense of not knowing what is there seems to result in such a strong feeling of discomfort. That is very much at play in The Willows. Previously I had never heard of Algernon Blackwood, but this is one of his most popular stories, and part of the reason for that is the complete horror and the story instils. HP Lovecraft stated his belief that it is the finest supernatural tale in English literature. This is a must read for fans of horror and weird fiction.

The story is a fairly simple one, but it’s amazingly executed. The two try to deny all that they have seen and the narrator in true human fashion, attempts to find explanations for the various fantastic things that happen, but as their lives become threatened, they admit to all they have seen and find a way off the tiny island they've inhabited. It’s dark, compelling and a truly fascinating read.

“When common objects in this way become charged with the suggestion of horror, they stimulate the imagination far more than things of unusual appearance; and these bushes, crowding huddled about us, assumed for me in the darkness a bizarre grotesquerie of appearance that lent to them somehow the aspect of purposeful and living creatures. Their very ordinariness, I felt, masked what was malignant and hostile to us.”

The novel makes an interesting study of psychology, and how things that are so ordinary to us, willow bushes, otters and the wind, can turn into something truly monstrous. There is also the question of the reliability of the story, did these haunting things happen to the companions, or is the story simply a hallucination of two people exhausted from travelling?

It is easy to see the effect such a story would have on master horror writer HP Lovecraft. It’s a truly wonderful story and if you’re a fan of weird fiction, definitely stick this one on your wish list. ( )
  ColeReadsBooks | Jan 17, 2015 |
Considering this was recommended to me as the story that H. P. Hovercraft called the best horror story in the world, well you just don't get a better wind up than that. After reading the title story, I must say that I had forgotten how Blackwood was a master wordsmith - his word choice, sentence structure and ear for sounds almost beg for these stories to be read aloud. There is a cadence and an onomatopoeia that adds another layer of luxuriant richness to this story that would be best inexperienced verbally through a rich baritone voice.

Hovercraft was correct. The story is a multifaceted gem, nicely polished and sparkling. It is the quintessential horror short story.
  Molecular | Feb 21, 2014 |
At this point in my reading career, I don't believe I've read better building and rendering of fear than The Willows by Blackwood. The writing--word choice, dialogue--everything around those moments of terror were so evocative, I felt them, all while lying safely beneath a roof, on the sofa. The plot is simple--two men rowing a boat along the Danube River. They camp in an area overgrown with Willows. From that point, the mix of terror in the imagination, and subtle hints in the environment, is simply, excellent. The dialogue too, takes a sinister turn, along with the rushing of wind and gurgle of water. Amazingly well done, this fear, without gore or slashers or zombies. The Willows was a personal favorite of Lovecraft, so I was curious, and now I understand why. I intend to revisit the story and dissect how he did it, but for this first read, I was enthralled. ( )
  ChanceMaree | Mar 29, 2013 |
The Willows is an early example of American horror, published in 1907, and cited as a favorite story of H.P. Lovecraft. I don't read much horror, but this was selected as an October book club read and a Kindle copy was free on Amazon, so I was game.

To modern tastes, the book has a very slow start. The descriptions are excessive. Blackwood creates a menace in the very atmosphere of a place: a small island in a swampy area off the Danube, where two friends are stranded during a high flood. The two are never named--the companion is simply called "the Swede"--but that doesn't detract from the story at all. Despite the slow start, this novel is still compelling and tense as it builds towards the conclusion. The trees, the wind, the water, the sounds--everything has a terrible, dark sense about it, and yes, it's creepy as all get out. It's not a book to read while you're camping in the wilderness or you'll never be able to sleep.

I found this classic to be highly enjoyable. I zoomed through the last half, anxious to see what would happen. If you're up for a very Halloween-appropriate read that's creepy without any gore, grab this free download from Amazon. ( )
  ladycato | Oct 3, 2012 |
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After leaving Vienna, and long before you come to Budapest, the Danube enters a region of singular loneliness and desolation, where its waters spread away on all sides regardless of a main channel, and the country becomes a swamp for miles upon miles, covered by a vast sea of low willow-bushes.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 155742537X, Hardcover)

Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) was one of the all-time great supernatural writers, and "The Willows" is his masterpiece, praised as one of the greatest horror stories ever written. This edition adds a new introduction by John Gregory Betancourt. H. P. Lovecraft, in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature," wrote: "Less intense than Machen in delineating the extremes of stark fear, yet infinitely more closely wedded to the idea of an unreal world constantly pressing upon ours is the inspired and prolific Algernon Blackwood, amidst whose voluminous and uneven work may be found some of the finest spectral literature of this or any age. Of the quality of Mr. Blackwood's genius there can be no dispute; for no one has even approached the skill, seriousness, and minute fidelity with which he records the overtones of strangeness in ordinary things and experiences, or the preternatural insight with which he builds up detail by detail the complete sensations and perceptions leading from reality into supernormal life or vision. Without notable command of the poetic witchery of mere words, he is the one absolute and unquestioned master of weird atmosphere; and can evoke what amounts almost to a story from a simple fragment of humourless psychological description. Above all others he understands how fully some sensitive minds dwell forever on the borderland of dream, and how relatively slight is the distinction betwixt those images formed from actual objects and those excited by the play of the imagination."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:03 -0400)

Set on the snaking, sinuous Danube River, Algernon Blackwood's tale The Willows represents a high point in the development of the horror genre. Indeed, acknowledged master H.P. Lovecraft regarded it as the best supernatural tale ever written. More awe-inspiring and thought-provoking than gory or terrifying, The Willows is a must-read for fans of classic ghost stories.… (more)

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