Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scary Stuff (October Theme) by Bob Krech

My wife Karen grew up in the Bronx. She had an Uncle Johnny who worked in the warehouse of a publisher in downtown Manhattan when we were in college. The publisher was Dover Books. Dover was (and still is) an interesting publisher. At the time, most of what they published were their own editions of works that are in the public domain. So they had a lot of classics like The Call of the Wild, The Prisoner of Zenda, and The Martian novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. They did lots of other art books, chess books, and books of games, but among the old reprints Uncle Johnny gave me was a classic I never heard of but now re-read annually. Especially when I want to be scared.

The book is Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood (Dover, 1973). Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951) was born in Kent, England, the son of Sir Arthur Blackwood. He had a very unusual uprbringing including ultra-Calvinist parents, education at a Moravian boarding school in Germany's Black Forest, studying at the University of Edinburgh, a period of wandering the wilds of Canada, and landing penniless (he was disinherited!) and sick in turn-of-the-century New York City. His own life would make a great book.

Blackwood eventually returned to England and began writing in earnest in 1905. His experiences proved fertile ground for some great writing and inform many of his stories. He wrote a great number of books and short stories, including many stories for children's periodicals. He finished his career in the forties as a narrator of ghost stories (many his own) on BBC radio and television.

The great thing about Blackwood is that he was a master of mood and setting. His stories sweep, surround, and encompass you. His descriptions are models that I re-read for craft. The stories are almost mystical. No blood. No guts. No gore. But plenty of the supernatural. Here is a description of his work from the introduction to the 1973 Dover edition I still have. "He (Blackwood) could arouse a sensation of terror in the reader, and sustain it at high pitch until the end of the story. The suspense of "The Willows," for example, is hard to match. It has often been rated as the finest single supernatural story in English."

I think Blackwood's stories would do very well with middle and high school readers today, as well as adults of course. Particularly those among us who  want to study how a master writes a great scary story.  I would highly recommend reading Blackwood during spooky ol' October, especially these short stories; "The Willows," "Secret Worship," "Ancient Sorceries," and "The Wendigo." There are many others, but each of these is a gem. And guess what? Dover still has the book in print! Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

5 comments:

  1. Though I've never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Blackwood, his stories sound like the ones we used to read in elementary school that were found on the dime store racks and in school book clubs. Thanks for this "scary" introduction to an author I'm going to check out.

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  2. Man, I gotta get my hands on his stuff!

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  3. "so many books, so little time," as they say. :)

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  4. I love that his stories are still in print!

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