Algernon Blackwood and Clark Ashton Smith

j d worthington

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I'd say that's a fair assessment, overall. Mind you, there are several of his novels I've not read, such as The Human Chord, which I understand is very good indeed; but I think he was generally at his best with novella or novelette length. As for his later tales... as I said, there was more unevenness there, and at times he seemed to have run dry; but even so, the majority of his output throughout his career more than repays the effort not only in reading, but in tracking some of it down....
 

Teresa Edgerton

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The Human Chord is, in my opinion, the least didactic of his novels -- at least of those I have read. It does not rework the themes I have found in his other work. There is a relationship between two characters that is rather cloying, in fact, there are conversations between them that seem to belong in somebody else's sickeningly sentimental novel, but otherwise it is magnificent.
 
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j d worthington

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Um, Teresa... I'm afraid you deleted your original post and replaced it with a new one, followed by a duplicate of the new....
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Very strange. In editing the new post I somehow ended up replacing the old one. Anyway, I have (to the best of my ability and going on memory alone) rewritten the duplicate to express what I said the first time.

Thank you for pointing out the problem, which I probably would not have caught on my own.
 

j d worthington

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It was a good post; 'twould be a shame to lose it. (However, one thing still needs correcting... I think that should be "novella" rather than "novel"....);)
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Yes, novella was what I meant to say (and indeed did say the first time). Novel was a typo because I was feeling frazzled after my mistake. I've corrected it to read "novella" now.
 

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As per my earlier post to you Fried Egg, Blackwood is definitely worth reading more of and already noted his novellas were probably his greatest strenth/medium rather than his shorter fiction.
 

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Oh, I wouldn't say so really - although it depends on what sort of word count you slice these things by. He does have some very fine short stories.
OH I agree with that, I was suggesting that overall however you would find that his novellas are better than his short fiction format. You are correct though, although there are standards regarding lengths of novels, novellas, short stories etc... it is a bit subjective.
 

j d worthington

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A rather nice sampling of his short short stories can be found in Ten Minute Stories, a 1914 collection, when Blackwood was at the height of his powers....
 

Fried Egg

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A rather nice sampling of his short short stories can be found in Ten Minute Stories, a 1914 collection, when Blackwood was at the height of his powers....
It is interesting you should say that because in his suggestions for further reading, Joshi has this to say:

"The best of Blackwood's short story collections are his early volumes: The Empty House and Other Stories (1906), The Listener and Other Stories (1907), John Silence - Physician Extraordinary (1908), The Lost Valley and Other Stories (1910), Pan's Garden: A Volume of Nature Stories (1912), and Incredible Adventures (1914). Collectively, these volumes constitute one of the most substantial bodies of short fiction in all weird literature.

[...]

Blackwood's later story collections tend on the whole toward inconsistency and a decline in inspiration: Ten Minute Stories (1914), Day and Night Stories (1917), The Wolves of God and Other Fey Stories (1924; with Wilfrid Wilson), Tongues of Fire and Other Sketches (1924), Shocks (1935), and The Doll and One Other (1946). Each of these volumes, however, contains at least a few notable tales."

Thus, if I were to follow Joshi's advice I would have overlooked that collection. It is quite good though, you say?
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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I have Day And Night Stories (I find it used to be my grandfather's, as was my copy of The Centaur; another, 70s edition of Blackwood stories was my father; thus making me a third generation Blackwood reader) and I thought it was quite good. Personally, I'm interested enough in Blackwood to hope to acquire everything by him and draw my own conclusions.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Incredible Adventures (1914)

I have the Stark House edition of that. Not one I would recommend to collectors of fine books. (I also have the Stark House omnibus Julius LeVallon/The Bright Messenger) Bad cover art, poor copy editing, no table of contents, and I am not thrilled with the book design. Before I bought it I had read all but one story in it -- but that one story The Regeneration of Lord Ernie which I have never seen elsewhere and until that point didn't even know it existed, made it worth having, in my opinion.

As for the length of his stories, for what it is worth, SFWA considers that a short story is less than 7,500 words, novelette less than 17,500 words, novella less than 40,000. All these are regarded as short fiction. This is what I was using as my definition. I know that some others consider that a novella has to be more than 20,000 words.

I don't have exact word counts for The Regeneration of Lord Ernie, Sand, A Descent Into Egypt, The Man Whom the Trees Loved,The Damned, The Willows but I would be very surprised indeed if each of these were not quite a bit more than 17,500 words -- they are definitely more than 7,500.

He did write some excellent novelettes, too.

(Wikipedia, by the way, lumps in everything shorter than novel length in with his short stories.)
 

j d worthington

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F.E.: It has been quite some time since I last read it, but yes, I thought it was quite a good collection. The main problem with the shorter length and Blackwood is that most of his ideas require a longer development to realize their full potential. These shorter pieces, however, are often very good, sometimes horrific, sometimes poignant little mystical pieces, but all of them I found had their charm....

Ah, yes... The Doll and One Other (said "other" being "The Trod"). I know Joshi dislikes "The Doll", and it is one of his weaker efforts... but I still think it has a fair amount to offer. It's a bit more traditional a horror tale than Blackwood generally wrote, as well, and this may have something to do with STJ's views. I admire and respect Joshi a tremendous amount, but I often disagree with his judgment on such matters. It is just that I also find his comments on them both interesting and, quite frequently, enlightening....

Teresa: Out of those you mention, I'd say "Lord Ernie" is the weakest of the lot, in some ways... which says a bit about just how very good that selection of tales is....
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Teresa: Out of those you mention, I'd say "Lord Ernie" is the weakest of the lot, in some ways... which says a bit about just how very good that selection of tales is....

I find the scenes with the wind and fire quite thrilling. The Willows, on the other hand, I have always considered over-rated. I realize that it is one of his best known and most highly regarded tales -- one of the first stories people think of when they think of Blackwood -- but I just don't find enough in that one of the unique and specific qualities I look for in his stories. I included it as an example of what he could do with a longer story simply because it is almost universally praised.

The fact that "Lord Ernie" is difficult to find is probably a good indication that few others admire it as much as I do.

most of his ideas require a longer development to realize their full potential

I absolutely agree (except that in his novels he sometimes took an idea right up to its fullest potential ... and kept on going).


I particularly admire his Egyptian stories because I don't, as a general rule, even like stories about Egypt, but in Sand and A Descent Into Egypt he brings the mystery and glamor of ancient Egypt so vividly to life that even I become enamored. (There is a small section in Gautier's One of Cleopatra's Nights that produces a similar effect, but no one else has ever been able to manage it.)
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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I've always liked "Lord Ernie". It's in one of the collections I have and for what it's worth, I think it was the first Blackwood story that really gripped me and me feel there was something more to this author's vision than the usual sort of horror tale I was used to.
 

j d worthington

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Teresa: What you say about "The Willows" is interesting. I don't agree, but it is interesting to hear an intelligent dissenting opinion. For me, this is a tale which grows with each reading, and the very indefiniteness of the whole thing, to me, makes it one of the most powerful weird tales I have ever come across. (This is also, I think, one of the major strengths of Machen's "The White People" and Onions' "The Beckoning Fair One"). And yes, "Sand" and "A Descent into Egypt" are superb evocations of that ancient land; I can also see where the passage in the Gautier appeals, as well... especially in Hearn's translation.

But as for "Lord Ernie" -- as I said, I feel this is the weakest of those you mention, and even so it is an immensely powerful (and beautiful) piece... which indicates how highly I think of all the others, if I find that to be the least of them....

JP... More and more, that has been what has been drawing me toward such "horror" tales. Yes, they are tales of terror, but they also are so deeply infused with awe, wonder, mystery, beauty, and magic so lacking in so many of the contemporary offerings in the field. I ran into a quote from Caitlin R. Kiernan (in a review of her Daughter of Hounds) which puts it very well: "Wonder and awe have always been two of my favorite drugs".

I couldn't agree more....
 

Fried Egg

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I really enjoyed "The Willows" and I preferred it to "Ancient Sorceries". I was a bit disappointed by the way that story drew to a close. I kept thinking what's so bad about a life of leaping around rooftops as a cat at night? Go for it mate! And then it was revealed that it was plain old witchcraft, satanic worship and the simplistic notion of good vs evil. I thought that was a bit of a shame.
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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I kept thinking what's so bad about a life of leaping around rooftops as a cat at night? Go for it mate! And then it was revealed that it was plain old witchcraft, satanic worship and the simplistic notion of good vs evil. I thought that was a bit of a shame.

Well, Blackwood's concerns were spiritual to say nothing of spiritualistic, so good vs. evil is an important concern for him. I think the strength of Ancient Sorceries was the slowly building atmosphere of strangeness, the somewhat blurry and dreamlike way in which the traveller is drawn into the girl's spell. (I'd argue that some of the situations in his stories had not yet become the hoary archetype that they are now, but a good story should stand on its own regardless of age.)

Having said that, there are more interesting ways to explore good/evil conflicts - Russell Kirk in particular seems to have been a master of this sort of thing.
 

j d worthington

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It isn't only that; it is that -- Silence's exposition aside -- , the protagonist was always fated to be a part of this; it is the inevitability of it all, his being a reincarnated spirit of one of the celebrants. In a very real sense, it is a "punishment" for allowing his "beast" nature to overcome his human or spiritual nature. There can be no progress, no choice. Silence believes this can be altered, but there are clues in the story that in this he, like his progenitor Dr. Hesselius, is sadly mistaken...

The entire concern here with Satanism isn't so much "good-vs.-evil" as "light-vs.-dark" -- a subtle but important distinction. Satanism of the period was a refutation of all that led toward either the rational or the spiritual; it was a denigration of what we see as the nobler aspects of the human being; it wallowed in the baser instincts (cf. Là-Bas for a very thorough view of the matter); which, of course, is to deny the ability to grow spiritually. It is an entirely negative response to life and the realm of spirit in favor of decay, death, and the lowest aspects of the flesh.

Yet, as noted, Blackwood also honestly shows the beauties and attraction of this as well... which is also paradoxically part of the horror, for one can so easily see oneself following such a course....
 

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