Authors: Algernon Blackwood

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English short-story writer and novelist

Author Works

Short Fiction:

The Empty House, and Other Ghost Stories, 1906

The Listener, and Other Stories, 1907

John Silence: Physician Extraordinary, 1908

The Lost Valley, and Other Stories, 1910

Pan’s Garden, 1912

Incredible Adventures, 1914

Ten Minute Stories, 1914

Day and Night Stories, 1917

The Wolves of God, and Other Fey Stories, 1921 (with Wilfred Wilson)

Tongues of Fire, and Other Sketches, 1924

The Dance of Death, and Other Tales, 1927

Shocks, 1935

The Doll, and One Other, 1946

Tales of the Uncanny and the Supernatural, 1949

Long Fiction:

Jimbo: A Fantasy, 1909

The Human Chord, 1910

The Centaur, 1911

Julius Le Vallon, 1916

The Wave: An Egyptian Aftermath, 1916

The Promise of Air, 1918

The Garden of Survival, 1918

The Bright Messenger, 1921

Dudley and Gilderoy: A Nonsense, 1929

The Fruit Stoners, 1934

Drama:

The Starlight Express, pr. 1915 (withViolet Pearn; adaptation of A Prisoner in Fairyland)

Karma: A Re-incarnation Play, pb. 1918 (with Pearn)

Through the Crack, pb. 1925 (with Pearn)

Nonfiction:

Episodes Before Thirty, 1923 (autobiography)

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Education of Uncle Paul, 1909

A Prisoner in Fairyland, 1913

Biography

Novelist, short-story writer, and mystic, Algernon Henry Blackwood belongs to that tradition of original writers of the supernatural that includes such luminaries as Edgar Allan Poe, M. R. James, Henry James, Sheridan Le Fanu, and W. W. Jacobs. He was born on March 14, 1869, the son of the duchess of Manchester and a gentleman usher to Queen Victoria. Since his father was a leading speaker and writer in the Evangelical movement, Algernon was reared in a strict household in which such activities as dancing, card playing, and drinking were suppressed. He was educated at a school of the Moravian Brotherhood in the Black Forest of Germany. By the age of seventeen, he had become an introspective young man who studied yoga, theosophy, and Buddhism.{$I[AN]9810001398}{$I[A]Blackwood, Algernon}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Blackwood, Algernon}{$I[tim]1869;Blackwood, Algernon}

Having displayed no special talent at the University of Edinburgh, Blackwood moved to Canada at the age of twenty. With some financial help from his parents, he invested in a dairy farm, but the business failed. Blackwood then bought a small hotel business in Toronto, which also failed six months later. After retreating briefly to the backwoods of Ontario, Blackwood went to New York, where he found work as a third-rate reporter for the Evening Star. He hated his reportorial job so much that he escaped from the tedium of his work by detaching himself mentally. Blackwood began reading imaginative literature in French, German, and English in the local libraries. From these books, he derived his interest in the so-called psychic regions. He also found relief in the natural world, which he had begun to prefer over the world of social interaction.

In 1899, Blackwood returned to England and became involved in the dried milk business. He began writing professionally when a friend submitted several of his stories to a publisher without Blackwood’s knowledge. These stories, which Blackwood had not intended to publish, seem to have been written as outlets for those natural desires that his Evangelical upbringing had suppressed. Not only do they reflect the pain and bitterness of his years in New York, but they also express his belief that the average person possesses extraordinary psychic powers. The publication of these stories led to his first book, The Empty House, a collection of ghost stories whose primary purpose is to instill fear in the reader. He considered these stories to be preparations for his more serious studies of the psychic world that were to come later.

Blackwood’s first novel was an exploration into the second of his major interests: the psychology of children. Jimbo, which was actually written before The Empty House, deals with the dream of a child who has been knocked unconscious by a cow. Blackwood’s next novel, The Human Chord, also centers on a child’s fantasy world. After finishing this book, Blackwood moved to Switzerland, where he could live more cheaply.

Blackwood’s third major interest, nature’s relationship to humankind, received artistic expression in his next two novels. In 1911, Blackwood published what is considered his most successful novel, The Centaur. His conviction that all nature is filled with psychic agencies is evident in a collection of nature stories called Pan’s Garden. The most notable of these is “The Man Whom the Trees Loved,” a hundred-page story based on the hypothesis that plants possess a humanlike consciousness. In both of these books, Blackwood drew heavily on contemporary psychology to construct his hypothesis that human beings are themselves the source of the psychic phenomena that frighten them.

During the 1920’s, Blackwood arrived at a more personal position regarding the supernatural. He published several collections of short stories, such as The Wolves of God, and Other Fey Stories and The Dance of Death, and Other Tales. His most ambitious novel of the 1920’s, Dudley and Gilderoy, is free of the supernatural excesses that had marred some of his earlier works. At this time, Blackwood was a member of Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a society devoted to the study of magic, whose members included literary figures such as William Butler Yeats. As a result of Blackwood’s investigations into the occult and mysticism, his work reflected a sincerity that set him apart from other writers of ghost stories. He was beginning to view his stories and novels as vehicles through which he could convey his views about immortality and the psychic world.

Even though Blackwood did not write much more than sketches of his travels in the last decade of his life, he became better known than he had ever been before. With the publication of Tales of the Uncanny and the Supernatural, a collection of twenty-two of his most famous stories, Blackwood finally achieved the kind of recognition that had hitherto escaped him. He gained even more recognition by reading his stories on radio and television. Ironically, Blackwood became known as the “ghost man” even though he had struggled for years to be known as a student of psychic phenomenon. He died in London on December 10, 1951, and his ashes were scattered at Saanen-Moser in Switzerland. Despite the success that he enjoyed at the end of his life, Blackwood believed that he had not really achieved his goals as a writer. He wanted to be taken seriously as a novelist, although it is as a short-story writer that he is best remembered today. In most of his stories, he attempted to show readers the way toward spiritual wholeness by making them aware of the psychic world.

Bibliography“Algernon Blackwood: The Ghostly Tale’s Great Visionary.” Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine 5, no. 2 (May/June, 1985): 56-63. Written in the form of a fictitious interview, this article contains much useful information taken from Blackwood’s letters and published essays. Details his early life and development as a writer, his beliefs in spiritualism and reincarnation, and the personal experiences that were the sources of many of his stories.Ashley, Mike. Algernon Blackwood: An Extraordinary Life. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2001. (Pb. in England as Starlight Man: The Extraordinary Life of Algernon Blackwood).Ashley, Mike. Algernon Blackwood: A Bio-Bibliography. New York: The Greenwood Press, 1987. An extensive and detailed bibliography, listing newspaper articles, stories, novels, and other writings. Provides publishing histories and various indexes and cross-references, including an index to themes and settings in the stories. An extensive secondary bibliography lists reviews, articles, and books about Blackwood and his works through 1987. Also includes a complete, thirty-three page biography.Joshi, S. T. “Algernon Blackwood: The Expansion of Consciousness.” In The Weird Tale. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1990. A thoughtful overview, which divides Blackwood’s work into the categories of awe, horror, and stories of and for children. Explores the spiritual and religious underpinnings of the stories.Joshi, S. T. Introduction to The Complete John Silence Stories, by Algernon Blackwood. Mineola, New York: Dover, 1997. A brief but excellent introduction to Blackwood and the Silence stories in particular. Compares John Silence to other psychic detectives and traces the probable influence of Sherlock Holmes. Discusses narrative techniques and Blackwood’s attempts to explain supernatural phenomena in terms of occult or psychic science.Penzoldt, Peter “Algernon Blackwood.” In The Supernatural in Fiction. New York: Humanities Press, 1965. An enthusiastic overview of Blackwood’s work (Penzoldt dedicates the entire book to him), although it is colored by an emphasis on Freudian psychoanalysis. Examines in detail the style and storytelling methods that make Blackwood’s stories successful.Sullivan, Jack. “The Visionary Ghost Story: Algernon Blackwood,” In Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1978. Examines Blackwood, especially in relation to other ghost story writers, aligning him with visionaries and believers, such as Arthur Machen and Walter de la Mare, and against the objective, skeptical storytellers M. R. James and J. S. Le Fanu. Sullivan points out the inconsistencies in Blackwood’s work, the shortcomings in his style, and the occasional heavy-handed occult explanations, but he cannot deny the powerful effect of Blackwood’s writing at its best.
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