Algernon Blackwood Master of Unspeakable Horror

When most people talk about the early writers of horror they invariably discuss H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft was the master of crafting tales of unspeakable dread, but he learned that craft from another. In fact Lovecraft’s entire body of work would have probably never been written without the influence of one man.

Algernon Blackwood is the English equivalent of Lovecraft and if you haven’t heard of him and you love the idea of eldritch horror or Gothic horror than you are missing out on one of the greatest masters.

If you are just learning of Blackwood and have not read any of his stories yet I would suggest you read “The Man Who Found Out” first. Some of his other fiction is more esoteric in nature and difficult to read. If you have read Lovecraft this type of story is very familiar. A character learns an unspeakable secret and goes insane. Blackwood mixes both science and magic in this story and suggests that the two are linked. I believe this attitude was very common in the period and the story plays on the fears of scientific revelation. The reader seeing this story in 1912 would have been inundated with new scientific revelations which had turned their world upside down. It was not unthinkable at that time that a scientist may discover a secret of the universe that could unhinge people or make them suicidally depressed. The horror of the story works very well on that level. I equate this type of horror with the rise of the science fiction horror movies in the mid 1950’s where the mad scientist creates unspeakable monsters or discovers some atomic secret that could destroy the world. This idea that somethings are better left unknown factors into horror tales in almost every generation.

 

After having read Blackwood I am almost tempted to call Lovecraft a literary thief. This is not to say Lovecraft wasn’t a brilliant author. In my estimation he is a much better writer than Blackwood, but many of the themes Lovecraft explored are found in Blackwood’s earlier works. Maybe thief is too strong. Lovecraft was a genius, but he wrote much of his fiction into the same universe described by Blackwood. Lovecraft merely fills in some of the gaps in that universe.

A.A. Kidd says:

Lovecraft was a great admirer of Blackwood’s short story “The Wendigo.” His story “The Doll” was adapted by Rod Serling into one of the best episodes of Night Gallery.

Lovecraft called Blackwood one of the Masters of Horror as well. I consider one of the purposes of this site to introduce writers like Blackwood to our audience. There are so many great Victorian and early twentieth century Gothic horror writers that have been eclipsed by more popular writers like Bram Stoker. They really need a cheerleader.