John Silence

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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I recently purchased a very old edition of JOHN SILENCE by Algernon Blackwood, a classic writer of supernatural tales. I'd encountered his psychic detective - the first such, as far as I know - John Silence, MD in a couple of collections of Blackwood's short stories. This was the first time I read them all (except one which was not included in this early edition, but is available in a Dover edition of the complete John Silence with an introduction by ST Joshi) in sequence. Here are my impressions, copied from my blog, for those who are interested:
John Silence, 'physician extraordinary' is a doctor who has become very wealthy through unspecified means and now only takes up cases of a very special kind. He has spent years learning about the supernatural and developing spiritual powers. He assists people who face some sort of supernatural crisis - the humour writer who loses his sense of humour after a cannabis trip awakens a slumbering spirit in his house, a businessman who returns to the monastic school of his youth to find that the pious brothers harboured a very dark secret, island campers who are plagued by a lycanthrope and so forth.

These stories are very much influenced by the spiritualism of the late Victorian era and as such offer a strange mix of rationalised explanations of the supernatural and a great deal of credulous fascination with hermetic esoterica.

Blackwood's tales are very well structured, building up a vivid, nightmarish vision of horror through his evocative, vivid (if somewhat dense and archaic) language. There is always something original and distinctive in the way the horror in his stories is deployed or combated. A wide variety of settings and characters are vividly brought to life and a number of highly effective supernatural premises explored in gripping, satisfying tales. My favourites are ANCIENT SORCERIES, a tale of an eerie French town, where Silence is only a peripheral figure, and THE NEMESIS OF FIRE, a particularly effective tale that ends with ancient Egyptian evil being confronted in a mouldy underground cavern in the south of England. But they're all worth reading; just be prepared for a tone and pace of reading that belongs to an era that is almost a century past now.
 

j d worthington

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As always, a very good (if brief) review -- glad to see you back again!

The Silence stories, while not, as a whole, Blackwood's best, are indeed very good, and "Ancient Sorceries" is itself well among Blackwood's best -- and, indeed, one of the best supernatural tales of all time. I recall first reading these (with the exception of the story just named, which I came across in the Wise/Fraser Tales of Terror and the Supernatural... an anthology which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone interested in the weird tale, by the way) in a copy of the original edition, which I had got through the interlibrary loan service. (I'm not even sure they'd let such a thing circulate these days, given its rarity and value.) I'd rather like to have such an older edition myself (I have the Dover), as the very physical aspects of the book so beautifully suit Blackwood and his benificent physician... as well as the eerie inhabitants of the other world he encounters. (And if anyone thinks that's a bizarre statement... just get hold of a copy of that edition and read it. I think you'll see what I mean....)

As for Silence being the first such "psychic detective", or even the first such who was a doctor... I believe that distinction goes to Le Fanu's Martin Hesselius of In a Glass Darkly; though there may have been one a bit earlier still....

In a Glass Darkly - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(And, for anyone interested: go to the "Search inside this book" link for the Wise/Fraser volume at the link below, and you'll also see why I recommend it so highly.)

Amazon.com: Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (Modern Library) (9780679601289): Phyllis Cerf Wagner, Herbert Wise: Books
 

Teresa Edgerton

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My favourites are ANCIENT SORCERIES, a tale of an eerie French town, where Silence is only a peripheral figure, and THE NEMESIS OF FIRE

Those are my favorites among the John Silence stories, too. And "Ancient Sorceries" is one of my top four Blackwood stories. (The others are "Sand" "A Descent Into Egypt" and "Secret Worship.")
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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As for Hesselius, he doesn't seem to feature as more than a framing element in 'In A Glass Darkly'. John Silence, as far as I know, is the first psychic detective we actually see doing some psychic detecting. Of course, there may be even earlier antecedents.

Secret Worship is one of the John Silence stories, and another very memorable tale with a great slow build of eerie atmosphere. I have a copy of The Centaur, one of Blackwood's novels, lying around unread. I should remedy that.

Here's an album with pictures of my copy of John Silence: Jayaprakash Satyamurthy's Photos - John Silence by Algernon Blackwood, Macmillan & Co., London, 1912 | Facebook
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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I have a copy of The Centaur, one of Blackwood's novels, lying around unread. I should remedy that.

That one has some very wonderful and powerful passages in it -- but I would say that about two thirds of it is devoted to belaboring the same points over and over and ...
 

J-WO

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Read The Wendigo recently. First Blackwood tale I've ever encountered. It's his use of the landscape that most impressed me. The tale dripped with sheer agoraphobia- no way am I ever going camping in America's/ Canada's northern climes!
 

j d worthington

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The tale dripped with sheer agoraphobia- no way am I ever going camping in America's/ Canada's northern climes!

Now, that's an interesting take. I can see where one would feel that way, but I never got that feeling from it, I must admit. The feeling of the vastness, awe, and sheer alienness of those woods, yes... but not agoraphobia. I know that Blackwood himself certainly didn't feel that way... he felt a genuinely mystical kinship with such scenes; "The Wendigo" (as with "The Willows") simply shows the darker side of that rather pantheistic view he had....
 

J-WO

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The feeling of the vastness, awe, and sheer alienness of those woods...

Yeah, that's it exactly! They're ants in this seemingly endless wilderness. Powerful stuff. Agoraphobia doesn't quite nail it.

Plus I've always loved the Wendigo myth; a deeply underrated/ underused bogeyman.

I'm going to hunt down more A.B stories, especially this John Silence fellow.
 

j d worthington

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As for Hesselius, he doesn't seem to feature as more than a framing element in 'In A Glass Darkly'.

With the exceptions of "Green Tea" and, to a lesser extent, "Carmilla". In the other tales, he plays more the role Silence does in "Ancient Sorceries"... which, perhaps oddly, makes me think of the role played by the Baroness Orczy's Old Man in the Corner....

If you can track down a copy, you ought to take a look at Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood, by Jack Sullivan. It has one of the best discussions of Le Fanu's work I've encountered, and some very interesting thoughts on Hesselius in particular....
 

Connavar

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Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories sound more interesting to me than John Silence book,stories. Not a big fan of those type of ghost stories.

"The Willows" i have heard about before but i hope this collection fits my taste in classic horror sense. I will go for the new version of the book. Not the old,damaged library version.
 

Fried Egg

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Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories sound more interesting to me than John Silence book,stories. Not a big fan of those type of ghost stories.

"The Willows" i have heard about before but i hope this collection fits my taste in classic horror sense. I will go for the new version of the book. Not the old,damaged library version.
It does appear to span the best part of his career, including one of the John Silence stories and samples from other highly regarded collections.
 

Fried Egg

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Connavar said:
Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories sound more interesting to me than John Silence book,stories. Not a big fan of those type of ghost stories.
I wanted to add that I don't think the John Silence stories are predominately ghost stories attall, the scope of his investigations is far wider than that, to incorporate any kind of strange supernatural phenomena. Certainly the tale I have read ("Ancient Sorceries") is not a ghost story. Which reminds me...
Knivesout said:
As for Hesselius, he doesn't seem to feature as more than a framing element in 'In A Glass Darkly'. John Silence, as far as I know, is the first psychic detective we actually see doing some psychic detecting.
As I have already mentioned, I have only read "Ancient Sorceries" but in that story John Silence seems little more than a framing device too. Certainly not the focus, the protagonist at the centre of the story as is the case in Carnacki for instance.
 

Connavar

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"Ancient Sorceries" sounded good and mostly why i got interested in that collection. Silcene or not it sounded more interesting story type than the other collections.
 

BAYLOR

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Sherlock Holmes ask the Breath of God by Guy Adams . In this novel you have Sherlock Holmes teaming up with John Silence and Thomas Carnaki.
 

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