Algernon Blackwood's Sesquicentennial

My fundamental interest, I suppose, is signs and proofs of other powers that lie hidden in us all; the extension, in other words, of human faculty. So many of my stories, therefore, deal with extension of consciousness; speculative and imaginative treatment of possibilities outside our normal range of consciousness.
— Algernon Blackwood

Algernon Blackwood was born one hundred and fifty years ago today in the English shire of Kent. Blessed with a name seemingly custom-made for an author of weird fiction, he went on to influence generations of horror and fantasy writers.

As detailed in Mike Ashley's Algernon Blackwood: An Extraordinary Life--a biography I highly recommend--Blackwood spent the first thirty years of his life roaming Europe and North America. After that, he made up for lost time, penning reams of tales--the exact count is still unknown--some of which are considered among the best in the entire weird fiction canon.

As Jack Sullivan, a noted weird fiction scholar, once said, "Blackwood's life parallels his work more neatly than perhaps that of any other ghost story writer. Like his lonely but fundamentally optimistic protagonists, he was a combination of mystic and outdoorsman; when he wasn't steeping himself in occultism, including Rosicrucianism and Buddhism, he was likely to be skiing or mountain climbing." Blackwood spent several years in Canada, which provided the setting for several of his tales, including his classic, "The Wendigo." It was in the Great White North that he first began seriously studying Theosophy. He would later join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which included Arthur Machen and Aleister Crowley in its ranks.

A boating trip down the Danube inspired Blackwood's "The Willows," a story that both Clark Ashton Smith and Lovecraft considered one of the finest weird tales ever written. Smith had this to say regarding Blackwood:

Have you read the early books of Lafcadio Hearn, the horror tales of Ambrose Bierce, the ghost stories of M.R. James and Algernon Blackwood? These should be part of the nucleus of any weird collection.

Lovecraft was even more ebullient in his praise for Blackwood's work:

Aside from Poe, I think Algernon Blackwood touches me most closely... I am dogmatic enough to call ‘The Willows’ the finest weird story I have ever read...

Did Robert E. Howard read Blackwood? The evidence we have would indicate "No." However, I think that it could at least be said that REH knew of Blackwood to the extent that there was possibly some small influence. Howard wrote a yarn in 1925, now lost, titled "Windigo! Windigo!". We also have "John Silent"--a character who appears in one Solomon Kane fragment and one tale of his own. The name is unusual enough that it's hard to see it not being influenced somehow by Blackwood's occult investigator, John Silence.

All things considered, I would have to say that Blackwood, much like Arthur Machen, is more of a "Dutch Uncle" to the field of Sword and Sorcery rather than a forefather.

For those wanting to read more about Blackwood and his truly titanic influence on weird literature, I highly recommend reading M. Grant Kellermeyer's truly excellent essay on the man, which can be found over at the Old Style Tales website. While you're there, feel free to check out the many fine editions published by OST.