by Donald Clarke
Copyright @ 1998 Miskatonic University Press
Algernon Blackwood is
known for his story "The Willows" which is considered one of the finest
supernatural tales ever written. Born in in Shooter's Hill, Kent,
on March 14, 1869, he grew up in a strict Calvinist family. He
the son of the widowed Duchess of Manchester and her second husband,
Stevenson Arthur Blackwood, a clerk in the Treasury and later Secretary
of the Post Office. While in private school, at the age of 14, he
decided to become a doctor. One of his teachers, a doctor
fascinated Blackwood with the powers of therapeutic hypnotism.
determined to be devote himself to psychiatric medicine. At the
of 16 was sent to Germany for a year to study at the Moravian
school in Königsfeld. In line with his strict upbringing he
found the military discipline of the school and by the meditative
and sense of honor and justice. But against the oppressive
Calvinism background, a fellow medical student from India introduced
to the Hindu religion. Young Blackwood became fascinated with the
Bhagavad Gita, the Vedanta, the Yoga of Patanjali, and theosophy.
He finished college at Wellington
Cambridge and spent a year abroad in Switzerland, and the a year in
doing business for his father. He went on to the University at
but left the year after. His intention toward medicine was
Instead, in May of 1890 Blackwood moved to Canada and founded a dairy
It failed. He turned to hostelry but the hotel business didn't
him and he sold his share of the business in 1892.
Financially troubled and in
conflict with his
parents, Blackwood disappeared for a summer into the Canadian
a setting which would reappear consistently in later writings.
spiritually, Blackwood moved to New York City and went to work at the
Sun as a reporter for a small salary. He did make some side money
modeling for artist Charles Dana Gibson, who was a friend of Robert W.
Chambers of The King in Yellow fame. New York was not a good
for Blackwood. He was unhappy, surrounded by crooks and worse.
being conned of his money and framed for arson, Blackwood made the
of befriending and rooming with the unscrupulous Arthur Bigge.
robbed Blackwood and took off. In return, Blackwood tracked the
down and had him arrested. (Bigge's appears as Boyde in
autobiography Episodes before Thirty. He was also swindled out of
sorely needed cash while he was lying on the brink of death, and was
railroaded for arson.
In 1895 he was hired as a reporter
New York Times which gave him a more financially stable
Two years later he left the paper to work as the private secretary to
James Speyer. But in 1899 Blackwood gave up the New World and
to England. Blackwood would say of him time in New York: "I
covered with sore and tender places into which New York rubbed salt and
acid every hour of the day."
In England, Blackwood returned to
sort of. He becamse a partner in a dried milk company but spend
of his time traveling in Europe. In 1900 he discovered the Golden
Dawn, the secret society, a return to the paranormal and spiritual
of his childhood. And he began to write. He collected the meager
produce and submitted it to Eveleigh Nash who published them in in 1906
as The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories. Blackwood followed
with a series of psychic detective stories featuring John Silence,
extraordinary." It was this series of novels and short stories on
which his reputation rose. And he settled down to life as a
moving to Böle, Switzerland from 1908 to 1914. During this
he wrote The Centaur (1910), often considered his finest work, after a
trip to the Caucasus Mountains. A trip to Egypt produced The
A Descent in Egypt, and The Wave. His A Prisoner of Fairyland was
adapted by Sir Edward Elgar into the successful musical The Starlight
When the First World War broke out,
enlisted in the British military intelligence (seemingly a common
for writers in wartime). After the war, Blackwood returned to his
native Kent and produced two more collections of stories Tongues of
and Shocks but the majority of his fiction output was drama or
fantasies like Sambo and Snatch, The Fruit Stoners, and Dudley and
His admirer, H. P. Lovecraft, wrote
in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature: "Less intense
Machen in delieating the extremes of stark fear, yet infinitely more
wedded to the idea of an unreal world constantly pressing upon ours is
the inspired and prolific Algernon Blackwood, amidst whose voluminous
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
things and experiences, or the preternatural insight with which he
up detail by detail the complete sensations and perceptions leading
reality into supernormal life or vision. Without notable command
of the poetic witchery of mere words, he is the one absolute and
master of weird atmosphere; and can evoke what amounts almost to a
from a simple fragment of humourless psychological description.
all others he understands how fully some sensitive minds dwell forever
on the borderland of dream, and how relatively slight is the
betwixt those images formed from actual objects and those excited by
play of the imagination."
While Lovecraft considered "The
be not only "foremost of all" Blackwood's tales but the best "weird
of all time, Blackwood, who was familiar with Lovecraft's work, failed
to return the compliment. As he told Peter Penzoldt, he found
terror" missing in his young admirer's writing, while it was
in his own.
In 1934 Blackwood was invited to
stories on BBC radio. This was a great success. Blackwood
to broadcasting as a playwright and personality. In 1936 he began
appearing on television. In 1949 he received the Television
medal and, in 1949, was made a commander of the British Empire.
earned the nickname Ghost Man. Algernon Blackwood died on
The Education of Uncle Paul
by Algernon Blackwood
1916 Henry Holt and Company
hardback book, 340 pages.
Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951)
was a prolific fantasy and horror writer whose total
production consists of more than 200 short stories, 12 novels, a couple
of plays, an autobiography and even some poetry. Over 50 distinct book
editions of his works have been published in the US and UK, counting
the reprint collections. Today, his books are mostly out of print, but
he is far from forgotten.
His style of writing is very intense
emotionally, and holds a strong fascination for the reader. The supernatural
element is carefully woven into the plot which often turns the ordinary
and familiar into something mysterious and awesome. Many of his tales
take place outdoors in some magnificent setting of nature, like the
wilderness of Canada, the swamplands of the Danube river or the Black
Forest in Germany. Nature spirits, haunted houses, the spirits of the
dead and other ancient sorceries all abound in his strange tales.
Blackwood's private life was almost as odd
and mysterious as his tales. A travelling man, he saw a great many
places in the world. He was born in Kent, England, 1869. As a young
man, he lived in New York and later on settled in Switzerland. Before
that he had been moose hunting in Canada, hiking in Italy, France and
Spain, and touring in Egypt, Austria and Sweden. After WWI, he found
himself back in England. Besides writing, his activities were very
diverse. He served as a secret agent in Switzerland at the end of WWI.
His interest in the supernatural led him to visiting a spiritualist
camp, exploring haunted houses and seeking out gurus like Gurdjieff and
Ouspensky in France at a time when they were fashionable amongst the
artistic jet set of the day.
His talent as a story teller brought him a
devoted audience amongst his nephews and other young relatives. He also
wrote a number of children's books. In his later days, Blackwood
experienced a renewed interest in his work. In 1934 he made his first
radio broadcast and this he took up again in 1941 and onwards when he
wrote a number of radio talks and plays. In 1947 he appeared on BBC TV
as a story teller and became quite popular. This popularity culminated
in 1949 when he received the C.B.E. award at Buckingham Palace. He
continued to work, although his health failed him in the following
years and a stroke made him a convalescent. He died in 1951.
"The Education of Uncle Paul" is a weird
fantasy that explores the land of lost childhood.