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The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
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The Willows (1907)

by Algernon Blackwood

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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 |
Review from Badelynge
As someone who has had a lifetime fascination with ghost stories and mythology I could hardly ignore the works of Algernon Blackwood. If you have ever picked up one of the multitude of anthologies that profess to contain the best ghost stories it is a good bet that one, if not more, of Blackwood's tales will be included. The Willows was first published in 1907 and is not a ghost story. It is, however, a horror story. Blackwood was a great lover of the natural world and it shows in the elegant first person prose characterizing the elements as described by the unnamed narrator of this novella. Two men are attempting to canoe the entire course of the Danube (as Blackwood himself had done) until they are forced by high flood waters to take refuge on a tiny, crumbling, willow infested island. One of the men is the aforementioned narrator and the other is an initially phlegmatic Swede. Once settled on the shrinking island the two men are disturbed by several unsettling happenings. Blackwood is a master of maintaining an eerie atmosphere; no small feat over 80 or so pages. The narrative that began with such imaginative and beautiful imagery starts to deteriorate as the story teller finds himself trying desperately to rationalise and quantify his experiences. The reader is forced to work harder as the psychological aspects of the story push to the fore. The story works on many different levels and is ambiguous enough for the reader to draw his own conclusions or speculate on the nature of reality and whether knowledge of something is something to be feared more than the unknown. ( )
  Finxy | Mar 15, 2010 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:17:47 -0400)

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